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Spelling in the Writer's Workshop

"Teacher, how do you spell ______?"

Is it just me, or is that question like nails on a chalkboard to you? How do we deal with this age-old question our students ask us a million times every day? As teachers, we know that spelling isn't our main focus during writing time. We know the importance of invented spelling, students applying what they know about letter sounds and spelling patterns, and stretching words out.

However, instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to give our students more concrete resources and tools so that they don't feel like we've just rejected them. I want to empower my students by giving them the tools and the resources they need so that they can be independent writers.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

One of my favorite tools in my classroom is my Word Wall. There are some gorgeous word walls out there in Pinterest-Land, but for me, a word wall needs to be first and foremost FUNCTIONAL. I want my word wall to be accessible to my students so that they can easily take words down. In order to make this happen, I put all of my word wall cards on a ring and hang them from hooks on my whiteboard.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

I also encourage my students to use the other visuals in the classroom like anchor charts and posters when stuck on a word. Here is one of my friends who independently made the connection between the literary essay unit to the current persuasive essay unit, took out this anchor chart, and copied down one of the sentence starters. This was, by far, one of the proudest moments I've ever had as a teacher!
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

Another tool we use is these Give it a Try booklet. Students love it because they're not messing up their story, and teachers love it because their students are still using what they know about letter sounds and spelling patterns to stretch out words. It's super easy to use. If a student is stuck on a word, they try to write it three different ways in their booklet. Then they bring it to me, and I will either circle the correctly spelled attempt or write the word on the right side of the dark vertical line.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!
I would say that 75% of the time, my students are able to spell the word correctly on their own. They just need that little boost of confidence to know they spelled the word correctly. An added bonus is that the Give it a Try will eventually become an individualized dictionary for each student! Click HERE to get a FREE copy!
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

Speaking of dictionaries, my students also keep their SUPER SPELLER in their writing folders. It has frequently used words for every letter of the alphabet, as well as color words, number words, and family words. Because I can't even tell you how many times I've been asked how to spell the word "cousin" in the last 11 years!
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!
I've recently updated this resource to also include an editable version, if I didn't include a word that your students need. Click HERE to check it out!

What else do you do in your classroom to guide your students to be independent writers?
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!


Teach the Reader. Not the Book.

I was sitting in a professional development class this spring where we were watching a webinar previously recorded from the Heinemann Group, and one of the instructors made this statement:
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
Have you ever heard something and you thought, "Wow. Just WOW." That's what happened to me when I heard Dan Feigelson say, "Teach the reader, not the book." I felt like I was smacked in the face by a 20-ton truck. In a good way. If that's possible.

For so long I had been doing just that, teaching the book. For 10 years the bulk of my reading instruction was through guided reading. I would pick out books, preview them with my group, students would read individually (yes, I did have the common sense to know that round robin reading is NEVER OK!), and I would pop in and listen to them read, often asking comprehension questions during and after reading that were text specific.
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
Did my readers grow? Of course. But was it because of my teaching? Wellll.... I'm not entirely convinced. Even as I transitioned this past year to conducting more strategy groups and individual conferences instead of guided groups, I still fell back to teaching the book. It's the easy thing to do.

Here's the problem with teaching the book: it doesn't grow the whole reader. Students answering surface level or even higher level comprehension questions based on a book doesn't help the reader when s/he reads his/her next book. And besides, teachers would never be able to keep up. We cannot possibly read and be knowledgeable of every single book that our students will read during the school year.

So how do we teach the reader? 

Instead of focusing on individual books, focus on what skills and strategies students need to work on at their reading level. Fountas & Pinnell, in conjunction with the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project has placed all guided reading levels A-Z into groups called text bands.

What is a text band, you say?

A text band is a single or a small group of F&P levels that have similar characteristics. Within these text bands are instructional considerations related to decoding, word work, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and structure you can work on with your students. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard for students to make the leap from level M to level N? It's because they're in different text bands. And let me tell you, that jump is HUGE!

What's the difference between an M and an N?
In a nutshell...
Level M: Traditional story structure with one clear/central problem/solution in the text. Character feelings change but the traits stay the same.
Level N: Moves away from traditional structure with characters dealing with one (or more) complex problems that are harder to identify. Characters tend to be complicated and conflicted.

Of course there are many more differences between the two, but those are my big takeaways.

 Wondering what the text band groupings are? I made this little chart:
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
I feel like this chart is the missing piece to my reading instruction puzzle. I always wondered why my students struggled to move from I to J. And then J to K. That's because up until Level I, we were hitting decoding strategies hard. Once they get to J, they should have more automaticity in decoding. In J we are switching our focus to more comprehension and students have to hold on to longer stories. WOW. Did that 20-ton truck just drive by again??

So how can I use this information I now know about text bands to teach the reader, and not the book?

If you are well versed in the characteristics of the text bands, you will know the skills and thinking work your students will need to do in order to move to the next text band. So, for example, I know that if I sit down with a student for a conferring session who is reading a level N book, that child is going to need to do a lot of inferring and putting the pieces together to understand the central story line and struggles & motivations of the main character. I might comment or ask questions such as:
  • "Talk about why the main character does what s/he does."
  • "What does the text seem mostly about?" (and teaching that this does and can change over time)
  • "What is the big, underlying problem?"
  • "How does the setting play a role in the the plot/character development?"
These types of questions can work for any text at this level because they are relevant to all books at the NOPQ text band. And as the teacher, I can coach in to students who are struggling with any of these concepts, as they will need to have them mastered to move on to the next text band.

How can I find out more about text bands? 

I got my information about the characteristics of text bands from the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project. Because I don't know the copyright of the document I have, I don't feel comfortable sharing it out on the world wide web. However, if you do a Google search of "text band characteristics," several links/documents are available for you to do your own research. Personally, I found the ones from Fountas and Pinnell to be the the easiest to locate and pretty straight foward. I also thought this site had some great information on what to work on for each text band if you click on her Band Aids section :)



I hope this blog post has been an "aha!" for you, just like Dan Feigelson's simple statement was to me. As for me, I am really looking forward to digging into the text bands more this summer, so I can really teach my readers. The whole readers.


2016 Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Meet Up!

We had such a blast last year, that we've decided to do it again this year! Please join Jessica from Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten, Paige from Our Elementary Lives, and me for the second annual Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Meet Up! It will be an awesome opportunity to meet, connect, collaborate, and grow your business with other Wisconsin blogging friends.
This year we are moving the meet up to a location a little more centrally located: Madison! The plan is to meet up at Erin's Snug Irish Pub on Saturday, July 30th from 11:00am-3:00pm.
Erin's Snug is conveniently located just off of Hwy 151, one mile off from I-90/94 on the far East side of Madison. We'll meet in the County Dane room to have lunch, give away awesome prizes, and chat and get to know each other in REAL LIFE! We will also sneak in some Teachers Pay Teachers/blogging tips and tricks you can apply to your own small business. You'll also take home a sweet bag of SWAG to kick the 2016-2017 school year off with a BANG! If you want to see the fun we had last year, click here!

To join us, please CLICK HERE!

Please note that you DO NOT have to be from Wisconsin to attend :) Madison, WI is about 2 hours from Chicago and 4 hours from Minneapolis. Please RSVP by July 21st so we can make sure we have enough goodies for everyone! Our space can only accommodate up to 40 guests, so make sure you sign up right away.

We can't WAIT to see you next month!

What's the Deal with Collective Nouns?

Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
I first learned about collective nouns when we made the switch to the Common Core State Standards several years ago. The standard reads: L.2.1a Use collective nouns. And my first thought was, "What the heck are collective nouns??"

So just like every second grade teacher, I Googled it:
Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals,freebies, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
Then I Googled "examples of collective nouns" and got a ton of them. But, really? Do second graders really need to know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? And did you know, a group of geese could also be called a flock, a skein, a team, a wedge, or a plump, depending on whether they're on the ground or their position in flight? REALLY?! Who cares??? It all seemed very surface-y, very rote to me, and from what I've learned about the CCSS, the focus is depth rather than breadth.

So at first I decided to focus on collective nouns that students could relate to: class of students, band of musicians, team of athletes, school of fish...
Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
I found this really great PIN that helps students to see that collective nouns are everywhere around us. But again, besides matching the noun with the prepositional phrase and memorizing a bunch of people, things, and animals and their collective nouns, what's the point? What am I missing???

After much thinking about this standard, I think I finally figured out how I can make it meaningful and applicable to my students' writing. While it's important for students to learn examples of collective nouns, I think the focus should actually be on the verb. Collective nouns name one group of individuals, therefore the verb is usually singular. Consider these two sentences:
Eight geese fly south for the winter.

The flock of geese flies south for the winter.

Notice the first sentence has the irregular plural noun geese, so the verb is plural. But the second sentence has the collective noun flock, which is singular, so the verb is singular. Forming irregular plural nouns is another second grade CCSS, so these two standards would work well together as you teach your students subject-verb agreement when using plural nouns and collective nouns in sentences.
There are instances when a plural verb can be used with a collective noun (Ex. The band of musicians play at the concert), but the reason why is more complicated that what our second graders need to know. Although if you're a grammar nerd like me, if a collective noun acts as a single group, the verb is singular and if the collective noun acts as individuals, it is plural. In the sentence above, each musician is individually playing his/her own instrument in his/her own way. Wowsers! I don't recommend trying to explain that to a second grader :) One way you could work around that example sentence is to take out the prepositional phrase and say, "The band plays at the concert."

If you'd like a FREE copy of the two posters and the sorting activity above, click HERE! If you're looking for a way to teach singular, plural, and collective nouns (with a little possessive nouns thrown in as well), I have this resource in my TpT store.
Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
It's been updated recently to include the collective nouns component. Check it out HERE!
What's your biggest struggle when teaching collective nouns? Let me know in the comments! I hope my perspective has helped to clarify your own thinking and teaching of this tricky, yet fun to teach standard.



For more language/conventions teaching ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:

Student Writing Keepsake Books

I try not to send my students home with a lot of paper. As a mom myself, I have plenty of clutter around my house; I don't need school clutter as well! But one of my most favorite things to do in my classroom is to make my students a keepsake book of all of their published writing pieces throughout the year.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
Organization is key for this project, so I always start with creating a file folder for each of my students before school starts. I used to store all of my writing pieces by genre but I was always scrambling to assemble the books at the end of the year. Not this year!! Take a few extra minutes to organize by student and it will save you a HUGE headache in the end!
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
Then, as we publish pieces throughout the year, I add them to each student's file folder in chronological order. We always have a few personal narratives, an information report they write from their own knowledge, a persuasive essay, a literary essay, a fairy tale, and my favorite is their final piece which is a persuasive letter to the next year's grade level stating why they should move onto that grade!

During the last week of school, my students and I head outside so that I can take individual photos of them standing against the brick exterior. I don't know why, but I just love photos of kids in front of a brick wall! I use the photos to make the cover of the books. My students get to choose what color card stock they want for the front and back covers. I glue their photos on the colored paper and laminate the front and back covers.

Before I bind the books, I add a table of contents, dedication, and about the author pages.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
Click HERE if you'd like a copy of these pages. 

Lastly, I use my school's comb binder to bind all their stories into books. If you don't have access to a comb binder, you can take the books to an office supply store and get them spiral bound for a few dollars a piece. Yes, it's a little pricey, but the looks on my students' faces when I give them their books is priceless! They chatter excitedly with their classmates, taking a walk down their third grade memory lane. My hope is that these books are stored in a safe place and when my students are "80 years old and all wrinkly" (those are the exact words I use!), they can have a small piece of their childhood to look back at.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.

For more writing ideas, check out my Pinterest Boards!



Beyond Acrostics & Haiku: Teaching Poetry

We are quickly approaching the month of April, which means that a lot of us are gearing up for our poetry unit. Me? I've actually already taught it! My poetry writing unit is my scope & sequence to be taught in January, and I'd love to share what worked for me... and what didn't.

Poetry is SO much more than rhyming verse, acrostics & haiku! I love teaching students the beauty and power of words and language, and I feel like forcing students to write certain types of poems can actually hinder the creative process. So instead of starting my unit teaching the different types of poetry, I focus on teaching students to write thoughtful, meaningful poems. Here are some of the things I do!
Poetry is SO much more than rhyming verse, acrostics & haiku! Check out this post to learn ways to teach your students to focus on the beauty and power of words.

1. Read Poems First!

One of the first things I do before my students write poems is that we is read poems. Lots of poems. I immerse my class with poems. By reading poems, students become aware of the flow and form of poems. Although we all love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, I try my best to not focus too much on rhyming, funny/silly poems. Poetry is a genre that allows writers to share their big, strong feelings, and I don't want my students to associate poetry with only humor. Some of my favorite poetry books/poets are: Silver Seeds, anything by Douglas Florian (Mammalabilia, Handsprings, and he has a bunch of seasonal poetry books), Red Sings from Treetops, Mirror Mirror (this is also fun when studying fairy tales), A Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets, Poems to Learn by Heart... and so many more!

I like to project the poems with my document camera (or you could make photocopies) so that my kids can see the poem while I read it aloud. I read it a few times aloud, and then there are a few things you could do with the poem: I like to hold a whole-class conversation about the poems. Or you could do word study, vocabulary, or fluency work with it, depending on the needs of your class.

I started doing this about three weeks before my poetry writing unit, but next year, I want to dedicate my one of my Read Aloud days per week to do this, starting at the beginning of the year.

2. What Exactly IS Poetry?

It's really important for kiddos to understand that poetry is a completely different genre than fiction or nonfiction. This is the finished anchor chart I used with my class this year, but it was definitely a work in progress throughout the whole unit.
Poetry anchor chart that lists the elements of poems. ALL Poems Have... Some Poems Have...
On Day 2 of my unit, we began to build this anchor chart. We started with the definition and making the list of what ALL poems have. They came up with the first three, but I had to supply the last two: white space and line breaks. They came up with rhythm, repetition, and rhyme themselves, and we added them to the SOME Poems Have side. As we learn the characteristics and elements of poetry, we add them to the list.

3. Options, Options, Options!

This year, I went to the Dollar Spot and scooped up as many different kinds of papers as I could find. Giving students the option to choose papers of all shapes, sizes, and colors can assist with the creative process, and sometimes even spark an idea for what to write about! Here is what my poetry writing station looked like this year:
Poetry Writing Station: Give your students the option of using paper of many different shapes, sizes, and styles. It helps with the creative process!
My kiddos also had the option to write in their Writer's Notebooks.

4. Idea Generation

Coming up with topics to write poetry about is tricky. So we make lots of lists of people, places, things, and ideas that are important and special to us. We also make lists of things that make us happy, sad, scared, or angry. Topics that give us big, strong feelings often spark the best poems. I also love to write poems about every day objects and see them in a new way. One of my coworkers brought me a hot chocolate from Starbucks one morning, and it sparked the BEST poem!
TEACHERS! Model writing poems in front of your class. Show them that anyone can write poetry!
Click HERE for a freebie poetry ideas graphic organizer!

5. Look at Your Subject in a New Way

The beauty of poetry is being able to look at ordinary things in extraordinary ways. I like to take my kids on "field trips" throughout the school so we can study our subjects. We've been to the playground, cafeteria, and our favorite place, the courtyard, so we can get up close with our subjects.
Take your students on a field trip around your school to give them ideas for writing poetry.

6. Boil Down Extra Words

Even though we teach kids to write phrases or even single word lines, they still gravitate to writing complete sentences... or at least in third grade they do! I'd bet if you're a primary teacher, your kiddos would have an easier time with this, haha! So I teach my kiddos to read through their poems and cross off the extra words, helping them to choose precise words with intention.

7. Share Your Poems!

Poems are meant to be shared. To be read aloud. I bought these 8-pack of blank books from Target in the Dollar Spot ($3 per pack) for my students to publish their poems. Our poetry anthologies had a Table of Contents, at least 5 published poems, and an "About the Author" at the end.
These $3 packs of blank books from the Target Dollar Spot are the perfect place for students to make a poetry anthology!
Here are a few poems that my students wrote. They BLEW my mind!
Examples of poems written by children. These are from third grade students! AMAZING!!
Third graders wrote these! Can you believe it?! And the amazing part is that all four of these poems were written by some of the lowest readers in my class! DISCLAIMER: I did write the bottom two for one of my loves, but I just copied her drafts :)

We also took a day to share our poems with our writing partners and then those who wanted to were able to sit in my teacher chair with the microphone and share their favorite poem they published.
Poems are meant to be read aloud! Give your students the opportunity to share their poems with their friends and loved ones.
Poems are meant to be read aloud! Give your students the opportunity to share their poems with their friends and loved ones.

So Do You Teach The Various Styles of Poetry?

Yes I do, but not until the end of the unit. We focus on the words & the elements of poetry as well as the revision process first, and then I show students several types of poems. We spend a few days discussing typical rhyming patterns for poetry, acrostics, haikus, and shape poems, but our main focus is on free verse. I encourage my students to think of their subject first, rather than choosing a type of poem and then trying to make it work. Nothing drives me more crazy than an acrostic poem with the student's first name and then a random adjective for each letter...



I hope some of these ideas have given you some inspiration for your own poetry writing unit! What is your favorite thing about teaching poetry to your students? Let me know in the comments below!



For more poetry ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:

Cooperative Learning Peep Project

A few days ago, I was perusing Pinterest, and I found this pin which led to this blog post. She used classroom supplies to build a Peep catapult! It was meant to be a STEM activity, except I'm not a STEM expert by any means. However, I love cooperative learning activities, so I decided to take that approach and and bring this gem of an idea into my classroom. And the day before Spring Break was the perfect time to do it!
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes supplies needed AND a freebie.
Since my focus was on cooperative learning, I told them they were to use the supplies to create a "launcher." Here's what I had available.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
I also told my students that if there was anything else they wanted, I could see if I had it in my storage cabinet. They all wanted craft sticks, but unfortunately I was out. Note to Self: Get craft sticks for next year!

I randomly put my students into groups of 2-3. They had to first plan the supplies they would use and to draw a design on this planning sheet. This process took groups anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Then they came to me to get their supplies. I gave my class about 30 minutes to work on their designs.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
We did need a few a ton of reminders to fill out their planning sheet along the way; they were VERY engrossed in the building of the launchers!!

After the time was up, we all sat in a line and each group took a turn to launch their Peep. Most launchers were successful, although two Peeps did end up flying backwards! HAHA!! I wish I would have had the chance to snap a photo of all the Peeps scattered on my floor, but my kiddos were super speedy in cleaning up when we were finished. I suppose I can't really complain about that! Here is a photo, though, of all our launchers:
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
I hope you are able to find some time to give this a try in your classroom! And if you do, leave me a comment and let me know how it went!
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
These girls were SO proud of their creation!


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