Category Archives: Teaching Tips

Bring a Book to School Day – 30 Minutes, 10 Days to a More Literate Classroom, Part 3

You’ve heard of Bring-Your-Kid-To-Work-Day, right? Well, this is pretty much the same thing, but kids are bringing books to school. The idea is a really simple way to connect readers around books.

This idea builds on yesterday’s idea of using Book Talks, and this is usually the first time kids do a Book Talk in my classroom. I generally use this idea about the 3rd or 4th week of school, and then once or twice more throughout the year.

When I launch the activity, I bring in a picture book that I loved as a child, Miss Suzy. This book is one of the earliest I can remember loving, and I share with the students why I loved that book when I was a child. I chose this book on purpose. It is not a flashy new book, it’s pretty battered and old looking, and something that I have owned for years. By bringing a book like that, I make it OK for kids who don’t have the latest, greatest books, and maybe only own a few books. Any book that they have a story about is fine to bring in. Be sure to check out the sample parent letter that I send home to explain this to parents.

This book, published in the 60’s, was a favorite of mine when I was about 5.

So, what kinds of books do kids bring in?

  1. Books they loved as a child.
  2. Books they love now.
  3. The last, really good book they read.
  4. The last, really terrible book they read.
  5. A book they hate.
  6. A book that they connect to.
  7. A book they would like to read but haven’t gotten to yet.
  8. Any book!

The point of this is for students to share stories about a book and build connections with each other. I once had a student bring in a family photo album. I thought that was great. She did a quick Book Talk about making the album with her mom, and lots of kids wanted to borrow her book.

Once the kids have brought in their books, divide them into small groups. Try to give students some choices about the groups so that they end up with other kids that that trust and can be vulnerable with. Because I only have 10 minutes a day for this, we usually need 2 days for everyone to give their Book Talks. Readers gather in groups of about 4, and two kids give a Book Talk each day. For this first Book Talk, I ask them to share the title, author and why they brought the book. Then, they ask, “Does anyone want to borrow my book?” If someone in the group wants to borrow the book, they have to sign the contract promising to bring it back in good condition. Some kids do not feel comfortable loaning their books, and that is OK. As long as they bring in a book and share a story, they have met the requirements of the task. That alone is going to help them build bridges to other readers.

This simple strategy is another way I get kids buzzing about books in my classroom. And, the more they buzz with each other, the more they start selling each other books – kind of doing my job for me! I encourage you to bring this fun day to your classroom! To help you get started, check out the FREE parent letter and student sheet on TPT. And be sure to watch this video for more tips on how to bring this to your classroom!

Book Talks – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom, Part 2

What if you could spend 7 minutes a day to get your kids to read 150 books in a year? Seems worth it, doesn’t it? Well, you can! That strategy is Book Talks!

In just 7 minutes a day, you can introduce one new book to your class. If even one reader reads it, that 150 books in a year (assuming you have some field trips, sub days and assemblies thrown in!) If that sounds good to you, read on for the Nitty Gritty!

Book Talks are a strategy that work with any grade level. I’ve used them in K – 5 classrooms, and they are excellent at one thing – convincing kids to read the book you are Talking. The research is actually mixed on whether they impact overall reading motivation. In my experience, they do, and here’s why.

When I Talk a book, multiple kids get excited about reading that book. It almost becomes a competition, and the book passes from reader to reader, like an electrical current in your classroom. That builds excitement and connects readers. I suppose a researcher would look for causation, and I can’t prove that. But I know, absolutely know, that Book Talks are an essential component of building my literacy classroom, and that kids who read become motivated to read more. So, I know that they work.

This FREE ebook explains exactly what Book Talks ARE and what they AREN’T. It also gives step by step instructions for how I implement them in my classroom. Click here to download Book Talks from TPT today!

Key things to remember:

1. Consistency

2. Invitational

3. No grades!

If you really want to motivate your readers, keep these things in mind.

  1. Consistency – Use them consistently in your classroom. Try to do it everyday. I know it can be hard to read that many books. In a perfect world, you need to be ready to do about 100 Book Talks in a year because your kids will do some. But even that is a lot of books! Check out my Book Talk One-Pagers to help you meet that goal!
  2. Invitational – Find the hook that invites your readers into the book, and then write down the names of every student who is interested in the book. At the end of each Book Talk, I ask, “Who would like to read this book?” That’s the invitation! Generally, about 10 kids raise their hands, and I write down their names on a sticky note and put that note inside the front cover of the book. Then, I give the book to one of the interested students. When they finish reading the book, they cross their name off the sticky and pass the book on to another student.
  3. No Grades – I know it it is tempting to make Book Talks an assignment and gather some grades. If you do, students will consider it to be an assignment, and the purpose change. Instead of passing on an amazing book to another reader, the goal becomes getting a good grade and pleasing the teacher. I don’t assign Book Talks, and I don’t keep track of who gives them. Some students never Talk a Book to the class, and that is OK.

These one-page book guides can help you Talk a book that you haven’t read, or just remember the important details about one that you have read!

I hope that these digital supports will help you bring Book Talks to your classroom. For more about Book Talks, check out my Bringing Book Talks to Your Classroom video.

Book Talks are one of the simplest, most effective strategies I know for selling books to readers. Give them a try. Soon, you will be looking forward to that moment when you have your readers gathered around you and you ask, “Who wants to read this book?”

Book Ballots – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom Part 1

“Oh, it’s Book Ballots! Quick. She’s going to start the timer! You read the blurb for Artemis Fowl and I’ll read Al Capone. Then we’ll talk and figure out what to vote for.”

That is not a bad conversation to overhear as the students file back in from lunch. Book Ballots is one of those strategies that takes just a few minutes, focuses students’ minds on books instead of lunch and recess, and gives you a wealth of knowledge about your readers. This is a great strategy for “Getting to Know Your Readers”, one of our 10 themes for building a more literate classroom. It also helps you “Sell Books” and “Connect Readers”. I love it when a strategy meets several goals! Here’s how it works.

This is what students see as they file into the classroom after recess.

  1. This makes a great transition. While the kids are at lunch, grab two books that you think will appeal to most of your readers. Set them on the chalk tray and draw a t-chart with the question, “Which book do you prefer?” Boom! You’re done prepping!
  2. As the kids file into the classroom, have them gather around the chalk tray. Set a timer for 5 minutes. (The first time you do the strategy, don’t set the timer because you will explain as you go along. But after that, limit this to 5 minutes.)
  3. Tell the kids they need to vote for which book they would prefer to read. They have to vote, and they can’t put their name in the middle. They have to commit to one book or the other. Students will start buzzing about the books and you’ll start listening.
  4. Here’s where you get to know your readers. In a short few minutes, you are going to get answers to questions like:
    • Which readers have a definite preference right away.
    • Who makes book decisions based on the cover.
    • Who grabs the book and makes a more thoughtful decision based on the blurb or reading a sample of the book.
    • Which genres students in your classroom gravitate towards.
    • Who chooses books based on what their friends are reading.
    • Which students have no idea how to choose a book and hang back.
  5. You will get answers to those questions by observing your students. With such a short time to choose, they will have to rely on their go-to strategy. Over time, students will learn strategies for choosing books by watching each other. You will see new students reaching to grab the book, and knots of students gathered around, listening while one student reads the blurbs. You’ll hear quick comparisons between the books, and notice that students start to pay attention to author and genre as a strategy for choosing books.
  6. As you can see in the photo, I have magnets with my students’ names on them that I use for this strategy. The magnets are also used for attendance and lunch count in the morning, so they do double duty! If you don’t have magnets, you could also have your students write their names on sticky notes or on the whiteboard. You could even just have them line up on the side of the room next to the book they prefer.
  7. When the timer goes off (and I have to admit, if the conversation is awesome, I have been guilty of pausing the timer on my phone. 🙂 ) I make sure every student has voted. Then, I “randomly” choose one student for each book and ask, “Would you like to read this book, or gift this book?” My students understand that “gifting” a book means they pass the book to another student who reads it and then has the responsibility of returning it to the Book Nook.

This simple strategy accomplishes a lot in a few short minutes. Two students walk away with a new book to read during Independent Reading time. Other students walk away with a book to add to their Wish List. You walk away with knowledge about your readers that helps you choose read alouds, match books to kids for Guided Reading/Book Clubs, purchase must have books for your Book Nook, and help kids find great books for Independent Reading. It really is an easy way to Get To Know Your Readers.

I use this strategy several times a week during the first month or two of school. As we get into the school year, I taper off and bring in other strategies (more on that in future blog and video posts!) By the winter time, I probably use this strategy once every week or even once every two weeks. It’s a good strategy to bring back if:

  • You’ve gotten some new students in your class and you want to know how they think about books.
  • There are books in your Classroom Library that you think your readers will love, and they aren’t finding them.
  • You notice some students are not finding books easily and you want to learn why.

For more simple strategies to Get To Know Your Readers, check out these posts:

  • Reader’s and Writer’s Surveys
  • Reading Conferences
  • Quick Reads

And be sure to check out this video which gives you more information on using Book Ballots in your classroom!

30 Days, 10 Minutes to a more Literate Classroom

I am launching a new video/blog series which will feature 30 quick and easy strategies for creating a more literate classroom. Each strategy takes no more than 10 minutes of class time and no more (but probably less) than 10 minutes of prep time. The strategies are aimed at intermediate grades. If you teach grades 3 – 6, I hope some of these strategies help you transform your classroom! If you teach primary or upper grades, some of the ideas will be applicable with a few modifications.

The strategies are organized around 10 themes:

  • Get to Know Your Readers
  • Sell Books!
  • Bring in Picture Books
  • Connect Readers
  • Space and Time
  • Make Friends with a Book
  • Think About Books
  • Write!
  • Plan for Poetry
  • Scholarly Words

Each theme will have several strategies. If you are not already a follower, now is a great time to hit the follow button! You will get an email about each new strategy! Or, just click the hyperlinks to go directly to the blog post. The video posts are embedded in each video post, so one-stop-shopping!

As always, thanks for reading, and Happy Teaching!

Get to Know Your Readers

  1. Reader’s and Writer’s Survey
  2. Book Ballots Blog Post
  3. Reading Conferences
  4. Quick Reads

Sell Books! (or, Channel Your Inner Gizmo Knife Guy!)

  1. Book Talks
  2. Infomercials
  3. Book Pass
  4. Shelf Talkers

Bring in Picture Books

  1. Book Bingo
  2. Book Puzzles
  3. Nab some Non-fiction!

Connect Readers

  1. Graffiti Wall
  2. Shop for a Friend
  3. Bring-a-Book-to-School-Day
  4. Author Trading Cards

Space and Time

  1. Schedule, Schmedule
  2. Read-ins
  3. Creating a Book Nook
  4. Wise and Wacky Wordsmiths

Make Friends with a Book

  1. Quote-Marks
  2. Books on the Moon

Think About Books

  1. Thinking Strips
  2. Genre Sort
  3. Where Does This Book Go?

Write!

  1. Quick Writes
  2. A Writing Odyssey, 2021
  3. Writing Territories, Part 1
  4. Writing Territories, Part 2

Plan for Poetry

  1. Poetry Breaks
  2. Pause for Poetry

Scholarly Words

  1. Word Wanders
  2. Word Hunts

Building a Virtual Classroom Community – Team Shields

Building classroom community is essential for creating a risk free environment for students and building their capacity to learn from and support each other in learning. I teach fifth grade, and friendships are incredibly important at this developmental stage. A sense of community is even more essential during virtual learning because kids need to depend on each other during independent learning time and, more than ever, they need to feel connections with their peers. To help my students build relationships and friendships, I am being intentional about daily opportunities to work in break out rooms on Zoom, and I am pre-assigning the students so that they are with the same kids each day. To help them find connections, we did this activity in our first full week of class. Be sure to check out my video post for a demo!

The idea is simple. Students began by playing a virtual game of Would you Rather, (check out this post for more on how we do that during in person instruction and download these free Would you Rather cards to teach vocabulary related to Powers of Ten on TPT!)

Students met in break out rooms with their team, and began by adding their names using Word Art (my video post on YouTube shows you how to do that!). Then, the team worked through the slides together, each student giving their individual answer to the question. As they worked, they looked for connections – questions where all students shared the same answer. I found that students also engaged in chatting about school, and found connections to things that weren’t on the slides (like one group shared their excitement that we would be studying constellations. We previewed the year with this Escape Room, so they know what is coming!) Click here to download the slides for free – they are editable to add your own touch!

After the teams had worked through the slides (it took about 10 minutes), they returned to the main Zoom Room and shared out some of the connections they had discovered. This helped other teams learn about the groups and also solidified the idea that we are all connected. I purchased lovely shield clip art on TPT from Glitter Meets Glue, so to end the first lesson, each team chose 1 -3 shields that they liked. Before the next lesson, I popped the shields in their slides.

For the second lesson, each team made a final choice about which shield they wanted to decorate. Then they created a team name, and added that with Word Art. Next, they revisited their connection points, thinking of images that would symbolize their connection points. For example, my students overwhelmingly prefer living in the country to the city. Some groups chose country animals (cows and bears….), others chose nature (trees and rolling fields). It was so fantastic to see the different ways they symbolically represented the same concept. They popped the images into their shields, creating a representation of their team.

Because we are all a class, I copied the shields into one Publisher document to create a new header for our Google Classroom. The kids were so excited to see their shields “hanging” up in our Classroom, and they made great connections with the other kids on their team. We will keep these same teams for about a month, and then get new teams to build more connections. Check back for our next cool Classroom Community idea!

For other posts on how to build classroom community, check out:

  1. Launching the Virtual Classroom – Escape Room!
  2. We are all connected – Building a Virtual Community with art
  3. Building a Strong (Virtual) Writing Community
  4. Building a Strong (Virtual) Writing Community – Strategies for building trust
  5. Winning Week 1 – Day One
  6. Winning Week 1 – Day Two

Launching the virtual Classroom – Escape Room!

So, week one of virtual instruction in in the books. We are doing a soft start so it’s more like Day One is in the books! Even though I’m not with my kids in person, I still have the same goals for the first day – launch academics, make connections and surprise them so they want to come back for more! Be sure to check out how I do that in person with this blog post. Here is how I accomplished that virtually.

I wanted to really catch the students’ attention right away and launch some academics. I also wanted to surprise them. So, I decided to start with a digital Escape Room through the year (click the link to get a copy of the Escape Room I created. Edit and use it if you would like to!). Escape Rooms are so engaging because the story carries students through an adventure. The codes and puzzles bring a level of mystery and challenge that is also very engaging.

I created a story line that gave students a preview of the content we are going to study together. That helped accomplish my goal to launch academics. I decided to use Google Slides instead of Forms because I wanted to get the kids used to working with Slides because we will use them a lot in our virtual classroom . I structured the Escape Room with some of the codes that we will use in other Escape Rooms so that I could introduce them as well.

Here are a few of the slides in the Escape Room. You can download your own copy and modify it to fit your content! And if you like this type of activity, be sure to check out some of the digital Escape Rooms I have on TPT!

As we worked through the first challenge together, I was able to reinforce the content we will be learning and also begin to build connections with the kiddos. For the second code, I sent them to breakout rooms. We will use the same breakout groups for several weeks. This was their first time in the groups, and working on the second code helped them begin to get to know each other. We will build those connections over the next weeks with more opportunities to work with the same group.

For homework, each student clicked on one of the links to watch a video or read an article. Then they left a comment on the Graffiti Wall. That gave them practice with inserting a text box – an essential skill that they will use a lot this year and also gave me insights into what they are looking forward to.

This activity worked so well that I will use it again next year! The kids were definitely hooked and I accomplished my three goals – we launched academics, built connections, and did something surprising!

We are all Connected – Building a Virtual Community

It is so important to build a sense of community even though we are not together in the same classroom right now. This summer I spent a lot of time brainstorming and thinking about how to do that. One of the best projects so far has been this art project.

Before school started, we passed out Chromebooks and school supplies to the kids, and I used that opportunity to give each student a copy of this art project which I purchased on TPT. I also included a self-addressed, stamped envelope and asked the kids to follow the directions, and then mail the art project back to school. About half of the students reported that they mailed it on the second day of class, so you know they were excited!

Once I received the art project back, it was very easy to assemble them and laminate them. Since we are not in school, I wanted to put the project on display somewhere the kids could see it. So, I found a local coffee shop with a big wall facing our main street. They were super gracious (thank you Moe’s!), and let me hang up the artwork.

This project was such a great way to start the school year. The kids were excited to share themselves with each other, and the opportunity to share this message with our community was really meaningful to the kids. The project also gave them a sense that we are a team and that we do big things, together. Plus, they think they are famous now! The response from the parents and community has been really positive, too. I think the message really resonates with the adults during these difficult times. It did take some time to assemble and laminate the project, but I think it was well worth the time because the payoff has been huge. I feel like we are well on our way to building a vibrant, connected, virtual community.

A Strong (Virtual) Writing Community Writes to Learn

Have you ever heard a student say, “I didn’t know what I thought until I wrote it down?” (or had that idea yourself)? That statement is a powerful example of why writing to learn is necessary. Until we can communicate our thoughts and understandings, they remain nebulous and wispy. Through writing, students explore and consolidate their own thinking, deepening their understanding and retention.

For a quick, two-page pdf on writing to learn, check out this handout from the Center for Teaching Excellence.

Today, I’d like to talk about one strategy that I have used very successfully in the past that gives students opportunities to write to learn and also increases writing fluency – QuickWrites.

Using QuickWrites in Face-to-Face Instruction

During face-to-face instruction, I use QuickWrites 2-3 days a week. The whole protocol takes about 10 minutes of instruction time. Students get out their writing notebooks and open to a new page. They label the page with the date, and “QuickWrite 1”. I then post one concept, idea or vocabulary word on the board, set the timer for one-minute, and the kids begin to write. It’s important to stress that spelling, punctuation etc. are not important at this stage. After one-minute, I ask them to draw a line to show how far they wrote, and reread what they wrote. They have two-minutes to reread. During this time they circle any errors they might have made and can make small revisions and edits. They also count the words they wrote during the initial one-minute period and write that number in the margin. I then start the timer again, give them a new topic or idea, and the process starts over. We go through the process three times – just 10 minutes! The final step is for students to graph the number of words from their most fluent QuickWrite of the day.

This quick protocol gives you a big payoff!

  1. QuickWrites give students a low-risk opportunity to write to learn. – During that one-minute time, students are free to write anything they know about the term or topic. As they write, they often discover that they know more than they thought they did! QuickWrites are especially helpful in solidifying information when they are used in the middle of a unit because students have some information to write about.
  2. QuickWrites help students get over the fear of the page. – Students may stare at the page, and write very few, or even zero, words. Over time, students get more confident because they are only writing for one-minute. That confidence translates to decreased fear of writing in general.
  3. QuickWrites warm up the students’ writing brain. – The first QuickWrite of the day generally has the fewest words, and the last QuickWrite of the day generally has the most. QuickWrites are a great exercise to do at the beginning of a Writing Workshop where you want students to make good progress on a writing assignment. I find that when students warm up with a QuickWrite, they make more progress on their assignments than on the days we don’t warm up with a QuickWrite.
  4. QuickWrites increase writing fluency. – Over time, students will find they can write more words in one-minute. The graph is a simple way to track writing fluency, and it really boosts student’s confidence. Most students start at 5-7 words a minute and grow to 15-30 words a minute by the end of the year.
  5. QuickWrites provide a solution to that age-old whine, “I have nothing to write about!” – Most of the time students do not write everything they have to say in one-minute. Often they have to stop in the middle of a sentence, or even in the middle of a word! When a student is stuck for a writing idea, send them to their QuickWrites. I guarantee they will find an idea they want to finish.
  6. QuickWrites improve students’ willingness, and ability, to revise and edit. – Because the protocol builds in instant revision and editing, students will build that habit. Authors very seldom write a complete novel before going back to edit and revise. Instead, they add, change and delete as they go. QuickWrites strengthen that same muscle for our students.
  7. They solidify understanding about key concepts, ideas and vocabulary words. – QuickWrites are a great way for students to explore their understanding about a topic. They are not graded – no, not ever! So there is little risk to a student in expressing an idea. I do skim read the QuickWrites unless a student asks me not to, and that helps me know if a student’s idea is underdeveloped and needs more development.

These three QuickWrites are from the same student, early in the school year. The first topic was Harry Potter, the second was the vocabulary word “denominator” and the third was the topic “pets”. The horizontal line shows how far she wrote in one-minute (7 words, 11 words and 20 words). You can see that at some point in time later, she added to all three entries. The third QuickWrite about pets was the genesis for a narrative that she wrote and published later in the year.

Often, when I am teaching a specific skill, I ask the kids to return to a QuickWrite and do a quick revision to add in the new skill. For example, when we were learning about using transition phrases like “for instance” to strengthen informational text, this student returned to her entry about the denominator and added an example. QuickWrites are a valuable place to try out a new skill. Now that you have a picture of QuickWrites in the regular classroom, let’s explore ideas for using QuickWrites in the virtual classroom.

QuickWrites in the Virtual Classroom

This year I will be using digital writing notebooks for the first time. I still want all the benefits of QuickWrites, even though I won’t be starting the year face to face with students. Here’s what I’m going to try. (You can find my Digital Writing Notebooks on TPT, and free videos to implement them on my You Tube Channel.)

One of our first writing lessons will be setting up our digital notebooks. I have created a Google Slides document with the basic layout, including a Table of Contents. The students will have some creativity to decorate the “covers” and Table of Contents using clip art (I will share my collection with them using Wakelet). One of the things I love about going digital is that we will be able to add slides easily and keep everything organized. Usually the QuickWrites are scattered wherever in their journal. This year, we will put all of the QuickWrite slides at the beginning of the Slides document. Students will be able to add more slides as needed.

To begin with, we will use QuickWrites in Zoom Rooms (for the update on how this lesson actually went, click here!). I think it is worthwhile to spend some time teaching the kids about how to do this. After our initial Zoom Room to customize the Writing Journals, I will ask students to split their screen with their Writing Journal taking up a little more than half of the screen and the Zoom Room on the other portion. I will set a timer, give them a topic, and they will begin typing. After 1 minute they will stop and insert a horizontal line. They will count their words and insert a comment, and highlight any errors, then the process will begin again.

Once students have the process down, I will create a Menu with an embedded timer and 9 topics. Students will do 6 QuickWrite Activities individually each week. For accountability, we will start Zoom Rooms by having them share something from a Quick Write (in a Breakout Room) that they may want to add to during the lesson or that they enjoyed writing.

As with all things Distance Learning, this is going to be a big experiment. Will I get all of the benefits from regular QuickWrites if the students are doing them individually? I don’t know! I am expecting that their typing fluency will be different from their writing fluency, and I think that digital QuickWrites will have an additional benefit of improving typing skills. But, as always, if something isn’t working, I will tweak it until it does. Stay tuned for updates on how this all plays out. And if you give it a try, let me know!

Building a Strong (Virtual) Writing Community – Get ’em to love writing!

If you’ve been following this series, you know that we are exploring how to build a strong writing community whether you have face to face instruction time or virtual instruction or some blend of both. The first post in the series outlined four principles that I’m focusing on as I work to build a virtual community for my students this year:

  1. A strong writing community helps students love writing.
  2. A strong writing community reinforces the idea that we write to learn (about ourselves and our world) and to communicate ideas and feelings.
  3. A strong writing community reads – a lot!
  4. A strong writing community trusts each other.

We started with building trust because, without that, we will never achieve a strong writing community. Today I’d like to focus on how to help students love writing. In my physical classroom, I have generally worked to achieve this by:

  1. Modeling enthusiasm for writing.
  2. Giving students choices within the writing workshop.
  3. Giving students plenty of time to write.

Let’s explore each of those ideas to see how to make it work in a physical classroom or a virtual one.

  1. Model enthusiasm for writing. – OK. I hear you. You don’t like to write. It’s painful, it’s arduous, it’s just no fun! Got it! It turns out, I do like to write. I have always liked to write. A blank page feels full of possibility to me, and I can’t wait to see what will emerge. I like the struggle to find the right word or turn of phrase….. You get the picture. But here’s the secret. Fake it until you make it! Here’s an example. I have never liked math. In fact, I have spent many hours openly loathing it. But I know I can’t show that to my students because they will borrow that hatred from me and make it their own. So, when I’m introducing a deep, thought-provoking rich task, I rub my hands together, smile with glee, and say, “Oh man. This is a great one! We are going to have so much fun with this!” Perhaps I overdo it a bit because in their end of the year reflections, most of my students told next year’s class that I love math as much as coffee (clearly, not true!) But, a strange thing happened as I pretended. I actually grew to like math. In fact, it’s become one of my favorite things to teach. All through pretending…..
  • In a physical classroom, this is easy to do. When we decorate our writing notebooks, I flip through and exclaim in excitement over the blank pages. And then I stop, dramatically, and say, “Wait, I’ve got an idea. I have to get it down right now. Can you guys go do some writing and give me some quiet time to get this figured out?” The kids always say yes, and then I start writing, apparently so involved in my writing that I don’t notice them sitting there on the rug, then slowly trickling back to their seats and getting to work. They think they are working quietly so I can write, which is hilarious! And it doesn’t matter if I don’t have an idea. I fake it!
  • In a virtual classroom, I think it will be more difficult, but still possible. Certainly I can model enthusiasm, but how to show them that excitement? Well, I actually think I could do the same thing with some modifications. This year my students will create a digital writer’s notebook (check out these posts on how we will do that using Google or PowerPoint). So, as we get that pulled together, I will stop, dramatically, and then say, “Wait, I totally have to write something down. Can you guys do some writing too? Don’t leave the Zoom Room. Let’s just write for a few minutes, and then we’ll finish this up. I just can’t let this idea get away!” The difference is, I will have to have an idea because my digital notebook will be right on the screen for them to see. I think I will keep it short – maybe 5 minutes – and I might play some music. And to hold them accountable, I will send them to a break out room after 5 minutes to share what they wrote. I don’t usually do that in a physical classroom because I can see whether they are writing or not and hold them accountable that way. But, I think this modification will do the same thing.

2. Give students choices. – This is key, and I don’t see many changes whether I have a physical classroom or a virtual one. Teachers always want to know how to accomplish this when you have standards and report cards and other requirements to meet. Very simply, I give kids choices on what they work on each day and on what they turn in for a final grade. For example, I usually begin the year teaching lessons on strong narrative writing. Over and over I remind the students that they must turn in at least one narrative piece for a grade this trimester, and I remind them that the lessons I’m teaching will help them make their narratives stronger. 95% of the class will choose to work on narrative writing while I’m teaching about it. In fact, as we workshop, most students will write a couple of narratives before settling on one to really refine. I set up periodic check points where they turn their work in for feedback, but not a grade and I also give them feedback during conferences. I actually think that will be easier with digital notebooks (although I won’t be doing one-on-one conferences with students virtually). No more hauling notebooks home every night to give feedback – all I need is my computer. Yeah! As I close the unit on narratives, we talk about presentation and publishing. Most students have a narrative that they feel is good enough to turn in and get graded, but it is their choice. If they feel like they wrote an amazing poem, they can turn that in for a grade, as long as they remember that they must turn in one narrative before the end of the trimester. Then I choose another mode and we move on. I also do on-demand “assessments” in the mode that I need for the report card, so I usually have plenty of grades by the time the trimester ends. I think all of this will be streamlined in a virtual classroom. Finally, something that is easier to do virtually!

3. Give students plenty of time to write. – This is usually no problem in a physical classroom. We have time carved into every day for writing. Usually my mini-lesson lasts 15 minutes, and students have 30 minutes to write. How to make that work virtually… Hm. This is my best thought, based on experimenting last spring during distance learning. Flipping the writing workshop. I use a lot of mentor texts in my mini lessons. I have started to video tape myself reading the mentor texts and scanned in the text so students can follow along. I’m making narrated slideshows for the kids to watch BEFORE our Zoom Room. Then, during the Zoom Room, we can talk briefly about the mentor text and I can stress the teaching point again. Then, I’m going to play some nice music and ask the kids to write during the Zoom Room, and I will write too. After 15 minutes of writing, I will send them to a breakout room where, as a group, they will complete a short Google doc reflection about how each student did with accomplishing the goal of the lesson. Again, we have to build in accountability for the work, and I’m hoping this strategy gets everyone started on the writing, and that many of them will continue writing after the Zoom Room. The goal should be 30 – 45 minutes of writing a day, and we will hopefully build up to that.

So, will all of this result in students loving to write? Well, I think so, but I don’t know so. I know that it has worked in a physical classroom. But starting with virtual is going to be a whole, grand experiment! As always, I will put these ideas into practice, and tweak them and throw out the things that don’t work and try new things until I get it right. That’s what we teachers do!

I hope that you will leave comments about things that you try so we can all learn from each other. Be sure to follow me to get the rest of the posts in this series, and I will also update this post as I refine and get better at this. Stay tuned!

For a related post, be sure to check out Launching the Digital Writing Journals! And if you like them, you can purchase the Digital Writing Journals on TPT (they come with free instructional videos for students which you can see on my You Tube Channel!)

Intersection Allies

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I had the wonderful good fortune to spend the first part of this week at a virtual conference called “Be About it: Unpacking White Privilege, Bias and Anti-Racist Instruction”. It was a powerful conference and I’m feeling even more inspired to be part of the solution. The concept of intersectionality came up frequently from many presenters. Which lead me to dig through the mountain of books I’ve purchased during the quarantine to find “Intersection Allies”. I purchased the book a few months ago, intending to use it with my fifth graders. Things (like distance learning) got in the way, but I’ve dusted it off, and I still think it is an absolutely marvelous book. I can’t wait to share it with my students!

The book is written in charming verse. Each page features a different child, each with a unique situation that might set them apart. One is in a wheelchair, another is a recent immigrant who must translate for her mother. One of the most moving illustrations shows a young girl participating in a Black Lives Matter protest. The rhymes help move the rhythm of the book along and help build a feeling in the reader that what unites us is more important than what divides us. The premise of intersectionality is expressed beautifully about half way through the book by these words.

Race, religion, citizenship, class, and ability:

Each of these intersects to form identity.

Age, gender, size, and skin color, too,

Can make living life different for a friend than for you.

Intersection Allies, by Johnson, Council, and Choi

I think this book has a powerful message that is expressed in simple terms. Little kids can understand big messages, so I think this would be a wonderful book for 2nd – 5th grade classrooms. Older students might think the illustrations are a bit young, and the book is probably too long for most 1st graders.

Here are some possible teaching points.

  1. Authors write to express an idea. This book is perfectly set up to help students discover the theme. In fact, it is expressed, twice, in large print. The final page of the book says, “Where there’s room for some, we make room for all. Friends can be allies no matter how small!” This book lays out plenty of evidence to support a central message or theme of inclusion.
  2. Understanding characters can help us understand ourselves. Each page features a different character. There is rich opportunity for analyzing characters and, in turn, shedding a light on ourselves. Invite students to connect with a character and to explore that connection. They will have to dive deeper than outward characteristics to do so, but that is exactly the point!
  3. Point of view – This is a really interesting part of the book. It is written in first person, but each page has a different narrator, and then there are pages, like the quote above, which address the reader in second person. Tracking the narrator is part of the complexity of the book for young readers, but the illustrations are super helpful with that. You could have a great discussion with kids about using the illustrations to help you comprehend this piece of the text.
  4. Authors use a predictable structure when they write. I would teach this structure as a compare/contrast structure. Several of the characters actively compare themselves with another character. For example, one character introduces herself this way. “My name is Adilah, and just like Kate, what I wear inspires endless debate.” Again, I think this ties in beautifully with the idea of using characters in books to better understand others, and ourselves.

This is absolutely a top shelf book for me. I think the language is beautiful and the ideas are inspiring. If we all spent a little more time “making room”, what a difference we would make! The simple message will inspire your students as well, and before you know it, we’ll have made the world a better place, together!

Here is a free character analysis to help you use Intersection Allies in the classroom.

Be sure to check out my other posts on great resources to use in creating a more just and equitable classroom.

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