Thursday, February 28, 2013

Persuasive Writing Surprise!

We had an exciting delivery in our classroom today, and it's all thanks to the Common Core and Weird Al.  Who knew those two things could even be mentioned in the same sentence? 

Without the Common Core, I doubt I would have expected my kids to write persuasively this year.  It's a first for me in my 19 years of teaching.  Donald Graves says, "Indeed, to become a top teacher of writing is to enter into a lifetime of learning."  He sure knew what he was talking about.  I'm glad I took the plunge though.  It's been a rewarding genre to tackle.  

We spent about three weeks writing persuasive letters.  I think one of the most important pieces of this genre, and any genre for that matter, is that the writer deserves choice.  I never said, "Hey kids.  Today we're all going to write a persuasive letter to...fill in the blank...about...fill in the blank."  I would have stolen their thinking power, their voice, and their motivation if I had given them a topic and audience.  I certainly would never have seen today's surprise either.  

One of my writers decided to write to BOB FM, a local radio station.  He had an issue with their lack of Weird Al songs and asked them to take care of that problem for him.  On mail day (we had 3 or 4 throughout the unit), he chose that letter to publish and send off.  Here's what came back.

 Each child in the class got one.

 Here's a picture of my student reading the letter to the class.

 BOB FM wanted a picture of my kids with their goodies.

They even sent him a shirt with his name on the back!

BOB FM gave us a gift, and it wasn't just goodies and a shirt. They blessed my writers with tangible evidence that they have a voice, and their writing can indeed cause others to listen.  This teacher's heart is a happy one.  Thank you Bob Squad!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Relatable Phonics

This post certainly isn't life-changing, but it's a little idea that can make certain phonics concepts a little more relatable for young readers.  Recently we were learning about Qu, so each child got to wear a modified name tag for the day.

I replaced the consonant(s) at the beginnings of their names with Qu.  Did they think that was ever so funny, and of course, it was meaningful as well since their names are the most important words in the world to them.  What about doing this with blends and digraphs too?

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Cat in the Hat Steps 1, 2, 3

I have a new Dr. Seuss tradition in my class.  I don't think his birthday would be complete without a step-by-step drawing of the one and only Cat in the Hat.  Last year my kids and I drew him for the first time, and each one turned out so uniquely sweet and full of personality.  I had no fancy directions.  I simply found the Cat in the Hat picture below and walked my kids through the drawing of it step by step.

Here's an example of how he turned out.  Click on the picture to see the original post and more cute examples.

Recently someone asked for step-by-step directions, so I made some up and here they are.  I hope they will be helpful.

These are the first two steps.  There are many more.  Click on the pictures for all of them.

Basically, I walked my kids through the drawing, step by step.  Then they used a red crayon to color the bow and every other section of the hat.  Next they took a black crayon and traced over all their pencil marks.  Finally, I guided them to make the fur lines that you can see in the Cat and the Hat picture above using their black crayon.  Later, I cut out each Cat in the Hat and glued them to a blue background.  If you and your kids make your own, do let me know.  I'd love to see how they turn out.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013


I always enjoy a good color personality test, especially one that's not complicated or lengthy.  Tori from Tori's Teacher Tips is sharing one on her blog, and I couldn't help but link up.  

I am...

According to the test...

At work: I believe that work comes before play, even if I must work overtime to get the job done.
(Amen!  It's hard to enjoy playtime if there's work to be done.)

In love: I am serious and tend to have traditional, conservative views of both love and marriage.
("Wuv.  Twue wuv."  Thank you Princess Bride.)

In childhood: I wanted to follow the rules and regulations of the school.
(I have always been the ultimate rule follower.  No doubt the naughty kids probably drove me crazy when I was little.)

Some golden adjectives:

I love all those adjectives until I read about the other colors and am envious of some of the characteristics that aren't natural to me.  Regardless, I embrace my golden personality!

If you're curious about your own color, head on over to Tori's blog and join her linky too!

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Hope Doesn't Cut It

I double dog dare you to try this.  It's a humbling but helpful experience.  After looking at my lesson plans, I believe a pattern emerged.  The things my students did that actually helped them become better readers and writers were the experiences where they were authentically engrossed in real reading and real writing.  The things that did not get a star were the few activities that were about literacy.  Regie Routman calls this "stuff."  Activities about literacy aren't necessarily evil, but I can't say for sure they moved my students on the literacy continuum.  I simply hope they did.  My goal is to increasingly do less of what I hope makes them better readers and writers and more of what I know will guarantee their growth as members of the literacy club.  Hope just doesn't cut it.  

Now it's your turn to get out the lesson plans.  Be brave!  I promise it won't hurt...too much.

I consider myself blessed today to share this Saturday Sayings post with a few other wonderful teachers.  I know Kimberley and Crystal will have some inspiring words to share with us all.  I'm off to be inspired!


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Love and Some Logic

Love and Logic is easily one of my favorite classroom management resources.  I haven't posted about it much, but it's on my list of things to share more about in the future.  (Here's a little previous post on arguing, and this one is about our one class rule.  Both ideas are Love and Logic gold mines.)

Love and Logic puts out an email newsletter for parents, which often applies to the classroom as well.  Each one provides a helpful tip.  It's easy and free to sign up.  Click on the picture if you're interested.

Depending on whether the tip is useful for parents of first graders or not, I like to create a parent version to send home each week.  I simply copy and paste, and it's ready to go home.  Click on the picture if you'd like a copy.

There are moments when my classroom needs an extra dose of Love and Logic.  If yours does too, you should take a look and see how this resource can help your class as well.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Making it Right

A few years ago I felt the need to teach my children how to say sorry.  This scenario wasn't quite cutting it for me.

Kid 1: I'm sorry.
Kid 2: It's okay.

First off, I'm not sure Kid 1 really meant it or knew what they were even sorry about.  They'd simply learned that saying sorry was the key to getting off the hook.  Secondly, Kid 2's response was sweet but not necessary, because it wasn't okay for Kid 1 to treat them that way.  

This is the way the conversation goes now.  It definitely requires a little more thought than the scenario above.

This is up on our wall.  When there's a need for an apology, the kids head over to the make-it-right spot and take care of business.  It's certainly not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Lessons Gone Bad (Plus Guests)

How many times have I finished a lesson and said to myself, "Well, that didn't go so well."  It happens to the best of us, whether we've been teaching for 19 years or 1.  In my opinion, numerous variables can play a part in the demise of a lesson, but I believe Debbie Diller makes a good point here.  If I spend my time during a lesson fighting off-task behavior and dealing with several interruptions, I have a responsibility to reflectively ask myself these three questions:
  • Was the task too hard?
  • Did I explain and model the task well enough so that the students understood what to do?
  • Did I make the purpose of the task clear?
I can witness to the fact that typically my least effective and most frustrating lessons are not the children's fault.  Their behavior was a direct link to my teaching.  Maybe the task was too hard.  That problem can lead to all kinds of behavior issues.  Maybe, and I think this is very common, they simply didn't know how to do what I wanted them to do.  (Regie Routman says, "I do it.  We do it.  We do it.  We do it.  You do it.")  Sometimes we send them off without enough practice to handle the task independently, and thus they don't handle it well at all.  Maybe they didn't even know why they were doing what I asked of them.  If there's no real-life meaning to it and I haven't made it clear, it's much easier to be off-task.  Granted, there are moments when I feel like I do everything right and don't see the results I want, but most of the time, Debbie Diller is right about this.  Without beating myself up, I need to be reflective and recognize the part I play in those lessons that don't turn out like I had hoped.  Selah.  

I've got a pair of lovely guests today.  Sara and Christy would love for you to pay them a visit this morning.  I'll be on my way soon, because I know what they have prepared for us is definitely worth reading.  I'm thoroughly looking forward to their Saturday Sayings.  How about you?


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Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentimes? (cute video)

One of my goals in life is to teach the world how to pronounce  the word "valentine."  When I say the world, I really mean the world of six-year olds.  This week my little ones got the speech about how our mouths get a wee bit lazy at times and don't quite say words correctly.  "Guess what guys?  There's no such thing as valentime."  Gasp.  It was pretty funny a few days later when one of my boys made sure to tell me that he brought his valentinnnnnes (with a heavy emphasis on the n) to school that day.  Nicely done.

This video is proof that little people do not know how to pronounce that word.  It's a funny video anyway, so you might as well watch.  Enjoy!

Happy Late Valentime's Day!

Thanks Stacy from Simpson's Superstars for inviting me to join your linky today.  If you have something from V-day to share, you should link up as well.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Persuasive Writing Meets Small Moments

I have proof that first graders can write persuasively about things they care about.  They just needed someone to give them the opportunity and to then appreciate their really bad first efforts.  This quote says it all. 

(Click on the quote to read a post about this here thought.)

Honestly though, their really bad first efforts quickly morphed into something worth reading and publishing.  I'm amazed at what they've been able to accomplish less than ten days into the unit.  We have had some help along the way.  Lucy Calkins and this book by Sarah Picard Taylor have been very helpful. 

Without them, I would have never thought to teach the mini-lesson I taught a few days ago.  Up until now, we've been relying heavily upon backing up our opinions with reasons, which is exactly where I've wanted them.  (We had to do something about the excessive use of "pretty please" which just isn't as convincing.)  A few days ago they learned that a significant small moment can also be used to support their opinions.  Honestly, I wasn't sure if they would embrace the concept.  Little did I know.  Check this out. 

Dear Mom, I love you mom.  Remember when we went to the flower patch and we were picking flowers together when I was three?  It was fun, really fun.  That's why I love you, and you are the best mom in the world.  I really love you.  Love, Dejia   

I've already decided Dejia's letter will be a perfect student sample to share when I teach this lesson next year.  I'm so glad I was able to accept their first bad efforts.  It's paying off!  

I'm by no means a persuasive writing expert, but if anyone is curious about additional posts on the topic, check them out here and think about purchasing the book I mentioned above. It's a great resource.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Lost Tooth Club (freebie)

I had planned on sharing this at the beginning of the school year, but other posts took over.  Since lots of teachers are teaching about dental health these days, I figure why not now?  

When someone loses a tooth in my room, they get to sign a laminated tooth that's on our calendar wall, which is a really big deal.  At the end of each month, we transfer that month's tooth data to a graph, erase the names on the tooth, and start all over.  Here's a copy of the Lost Tooth Club graph for anyone who just might be interested.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Talk With, Not At (Guests Too)

(Click above for previous Saturday Sayings)

I have a confession.  I don't think I'm great at this.  I do make sure my kids to talk to their neighbors throughout the day.  Yet I'm afraid there's too much talking at each other than with.  I know this is something that's within a first grader's ability, but it's up to me to create the atmosphere where it can happen.  As someone who has been communicating for 41 years, I sometimes forget that the little people I teach have only been around for 6 or 7.  Most of them won't learn this skill on accident.  The give and take of communication and ability to build upon one another's ideas must be taught, so it's certainly not their fault.  Regie Routman is right when she said, "When my teaching breaks down, it's almost always because my demonstrations have not been sufficient."  It's my lack of modeling and intentionality that keeps them from communicating well.  I'm actually in the midst of teaching this skill now and making a note in my plans to teach it much earlier in the year.  (Duh.)  I know the thinking and learning that will result from talking with each other, rather than at, will be much richer and deeper.  Better start learning how to do this now.

Guess what?  I've got guests today that I'm very excited to share with you all.  They've got their own Saturday Sayings this morning.  Ready to be inspired?  Head on over and see what Laurie, Rachel, and Kiira have to say.  I'm so looking forward to their thoughts!



Teacher Kirra:Maestra Kirra
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Friday, February 8, 2013

Mailing Our Opinions

Today was mail day in my classroom.  Each writer got to choose one of their persuasive letters to revise, edit, publish, put in an envelope, and send off.  
  • Our principal received some letters about problems kids noticed around the school.  We've got Noticing Notebooks to keep track of issues in our school and world beyond.  Look here if you'd like to know more.  By the way, he's planning on writing back.  Can't wait to see what he says. 
  • Lots of parents and a few siblings got letters about wishes, wants, and problems.  Sorry Matthew, but I've got a feeling your parents won't be too keen on the pet snake idea.
  • Destiny wrote a letter to one of my boys about a problem he was causing for her at recess, and she was so polite about it.  Talk about conflict resolution.
  • A local radio station will be getting a letter from David asking them to play Weird Al songs.  How does a six-year old know about Weird Al?
  • I was even the recipient of some letters.  Apparently the noise in our classroom gives Libby a headache, which makes me laugh since our noise level is always very reasonable.  I also discovered that Jordyn wants longer books in her book basket.  This was an interesting one, so I had to share.

FYI: Writing Workshop isn't silent in my room, but Matty's point is well-taken!  :)  

One of the things I'm loving about persuasive writing is teaching little people that their writing can be used as a powerful tool to change their world.  What a gift that is to them.

I'll be looking forward throughout the next week to hear about the letters they get back from their readers!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I'm Thinking of a Number Task (freebie)

I love a great math task that's open ended, engaging, and easy to use.  This one came from a math class I'm taking through my district.  It's called "I'm Thinking of a Number."  I've included pictures of what I wrote on the board, as well as pictures of what kids did.  Two heads are better than one, so they worked in pairs.  Here goes...

I'm thinking of a number.  My number is between 20 and 40.
Is it 22?
My number is greater than 22.
Is it 33?
My number is less than 33.
Is it 27?
My number is greater than 27.
Is it 31?
My number equals 31.

Thus ensues hooping and hollering!

Needless to say, the kids loved this game.  I loved it too.  It gave them a change to practice number sense, place value, greater/less than, symbols, cooperation, etc., and it gave me a chance to see who needs more practice with these skills.  (Nope, 6 doesn't come between 20 and 40.)  

Click on the pictures below for your own copies.  A single sheet allows for numbers to 100, because they can use more than two cards to create a number.  Obviously the first sheet is more concrete, the second abstract.  If you teach larger numbers, add some hundreds to the mix and you're good to go as well. 

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