22
Oct

November Writing Challenge - K-8 (modified NaNoWriMo challenge)

If you haven't heard of it, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It's a time for buckling down, setting some word count writing goals, and spitting out an entire novel in one month's time. While I admire anyone who can actually do this (and it would require almost 2000 words a day!) while holding down a full-time job, I think the idea behind it is too good to waste on just, you know, authors.  So, I've adapted the idea to implement a NaNoWriMo type of event in my school.

Since I'm wearing the hat of "writing coach" now, I feel it's my duty (much to the groans of my already over-worked and overwhelmed colleagues) to introduce great writing opportunities for them to use in their classrooms. The school is a Kindergarten through 8th grade school, but with some adjustments, we've now got ourselves a November Writing Challenge.

The Kinders are working on their letters, so their goal per day is to work on certain letters. They'll track their progress on a chart that they'll display in the hallway. If they can practice 2 letters a day, for example,  we can probably have them writing their names legibly on papers by the time the holidays roll around!

First and second graders are working on sentence structure. They have goals to write (x) number of sentences per day. They'll keep track of what they write as a class (See? Throwing some math in there as well!) and will keep track of their number of sentences each day to see how many they write by the end of the month.

Middle grades, 3-5, are working on stories. They'll be tracking word count, and will try to reach personal goals. Since the students in these grade levels have writing binders, they'll have individual trackers to keep a word count per day. They also use chromebooks which allow for easy access to word count totals. The chart is just a November calendar that they'll keep in their binder, and they will write their own daily numbers on it. Some of the more confident writers will commit to a word count per day, and others will just simply track what they do. Either way, they are writing, and that is what counts.

Our Middle School students, grades 6-8, will be writing stories and tracking word count. One of our Common Core Writing Standards is to "write routinely over extended time frames". Well, here is a perfect opportunity for that.  I'm most excited about the 7th and 8th graders - they will be attempting to end the month with a long story that may reach novella length!

Oh, and the teachers? They aren't passive observers in all of this. In the middle of our main hallway will be a chart to track their progress as they write each day as well. Hey, we walk the talk in our school.  Good sports, all of us, allowing everyone to watch as we color in the squares indicating that we have or haven't been reaching our individual goals each day. (As if we don't have enough pressure grading papers on time, right? *wink*)

Each of the classrooms will celebrate on November 30. And they should. If we can get our students excited about writing, and they improve through this challenge, then the effort put into this event will have been well worth it.

Pictures will be posted of how we tracked, and how we did. Stay tuned!

20
Oct

#rockthedrop: Promoting Teen Reading

I love getting my colleagues involved in helping to get kids to read more. So when the annual #rockthedrop campaign rolls around, I put the call out to all teachers in the building to help out. No matter the subject area, reading is a vital component of learning. All teachers know this, so when the call goes out, everyone jumps at the chance to participate.

What is #rockthedrop?  It's an annual organized event that promotes teen reading. You can read about it here:

Operation Teen Book Drop

The "drop", through the help of readergirlz.com, is linked to the #rockthedrop hashtag and can be followed on twitter and instagram. The idea behind it is to leave a young adult book somewhere a young reader would find it. Plastered with a post-it that says "Take me! Free book!", the hope is that a young person will find it, read it, and give it a good home.  A bookmark provided as a free download file on  readergirlz.com asks the new owner of the book to tweet or instagram where they found it.

I love getting the students and teachers involved in events like this. I'm probably just as excited planning the event as any young reader is when they find a free book!  An added bonus is when one of us is lucky enough to witness a book being claimed by an unsuspecting young person who happens to stumble onto their new treasure.  We were lucky this year to hear that two teachers who participated witnessed their books being picked up. Boy, that made them feel good!

It's rare in life that we come across such simple ways to make others happy. Being able to get a good book into the hands of a kid who may grow to love reading because of this simple act is a gift in itself.  Getting students to join in on the giving is an even greater gift.  Teen Lit Day is in April - and #rockthedrop is publicized by readergirlz.com.  Be sure to mark your calendars and look for upcoming dates for future drops. You won't regret it!

Here are some of our drops from this year:

rock-the-drop-elizabeth-1  rock-the-drop-cecelia    rock-the-drop-bethann  rock-the-drop-7-kaitlynrock-the-drop-1 rock-the-drop-3rock-the-drop-5 rock-the-drop-beth-allen   rock-the-drop-bethann rock-the-drop-dorothy-tucker rock-the-drop-gina rock-the-drop-hoerster rock-the-drop-madge

 

 

 

 

rock-the-drop-2  rockthedrop-prep

 

 

 

15
Oct

Writing with Senses - Descriptive Writing

One of the first things we try to drill into the heads of young writers is to "write using senses" - describe for the reader using sight, sound, smell, touch.  This is one of my favorite activities for demonstrating to students how they can do that, and all it takes is a trip to the home improvement store's paint aisle.

I usually do this with middle school classes, but this past week I tried it in a 5th grade classroom and the kids loved it.

paint-chips-1

Bright colors are great for younger writers.

 

 

First, head out to your local paint store and browse the paint chips.  Look for some visually stimulating colors. With the 5th graders I went bright, but with the older kids I was able to mix it up.  You'll want to grab the single color chips that have names that the kids will be able to visualize.  For example, I was able to grab a  bright green chip called Amazon Parrot, and a gorgeous yellow called Warm Sunrise, among others.  You'll find many great names - Pacific Surf, Tropical Paradise, Cowboy Hat, Desert Oasis, Wet Riverbed, etc.

As I mentioned, for the older kids, I stuck with more muted colors which were named a bit differently, with names like Midnight Fog, Sea Spray, Thunderstorm, Harbor View, Gentle Moss.

paint-chips-2

Middle School kids can be challenged with more difficult names.

 

 

 

For the activity, you'll need a graphic organizer such as the one I've shown below. You'll review with them the importance of "creating a scene" when writing, of being so graphic that the reader feels as if he is right there with you in that moment. Also, read a great passage or two from a book that they can relate to, pointing out how the author uses different senses to help the reader get pulled into a scene.

I drew an organizer on the board and then used the name from a paint chip (not revealing to them yet what they would soon be doing!) and asked them to help "visualize the scene using the name". After brainstorming a bit, I told them to now continue with a few words knowing that the name corresponded to a color - and I showed them my paint chip.  Harbor View - was the name and evoked great scenery of standing on a dock looking at sailboats. But the color was grey, so now we looked at it as a rainy, or foggy day, and that changed our descriptive words.

paint-chips-3

A sample brainstorming for "Harbor View"

 

 

I told them that writers can be inspired by anything - even paint chips - and that doing practice writing exercises will help authors  become better at their craft.  Then I distributed their own copy of the graphic organizer and followed that with one paint chip. They couldn't choose the chip.  It was dealt to them to give them a bit more of a challenge. They were told to write words and phrases inspired by both the color and name on the chip.

paint-chips-4

Just a simple graphic organizer will guide them.

 

 

 

Following a fifteen minute brain dump into our graphic organizers, during which everyone participated enthusiastically, the next task was to write a one-to-two paragraph "scene" based on what the color and chip brought to mind.

For example, for the grey Harbor View chip, it came out something like this:

"The early morning fog settled heavy onto the water as I walked to the end of the dock. The stillness of the air seemed peaceful, and allowed the mist to envelope me, swallow me up. The faint sounds of gulls and voices of fisherman, their yellow raincoats barely seen, were about the only sounds I heard. Fog horns interrupted my thoughts, and I watched as small boats and fishing vessels moved carefully about. The grey skies reflected my somber mood. A chill went through me, but the smell of the salt air still made me feel wonderful, and I continued to watch as the harbor's day went on despite the weather."

The students glued their paint chip right onto their graphic organizer and stored it in their Writer's Workshop binder as a reminder to write using senses.  The paragraphs they wrote became part of their writing portfolio.

 

This was definitely an activity that they enjoyed, and hopefully will try to do with other writing props.