Hello! I don't know about you--but I can't lie. I am excited to have a four day week and a week off next week! I know not everyone has the same break schedule (or even breaks!) so I promise to not rub in that not only am I off next week, but that I am going to be on a small land mass totally surrounded by water! I have a few blog posts that I hope to write this week, but don't abandon me when you don't see as many posts, ok?
Today I wanted to let you know about a unit we are doing in reading and writing--and for those of you who use "Lucy", this may feel a little familiar. We are writing and studying literary essays through "close reading" of familiar texts. We are going to write an essay as a class on Tiger Rising--our beloved read aloud from earlier this year, group essays based on Flutter when we finish, and then students are going to self-select books they have read to go back and dig deeper into to write a succinct but important literary essay. Here's what we have covered so far:
We reviewed the language we used earlier this year with our opinion essays . . .
We started working in pairs and trios to go back and dig deeper into Tiger Rising. This has NOT been easy! We have been wrestling with what to look for!
What I realized after presenting the idea that a literary essay can be based on a character, a theme, a lesson, and so on was that I needed to REALLY scaffold this--I gave them too much information. So I made a decision--we were going to write about a character. (Yes, I know this is the easiest type of essay to write, but this is all really new for my students. I am hoping they branch out more for the next few essays!)
I thought this would be easier! I sent the students off to dig for ideas about the two main characters, Rob and Sistine. I said I wanted them to be able to fill in the blank:
Rob is a very ___________ character. Sistine is a very ____________ character. I thought we could then decide together which character and trait led to the strongest "reaction" from the class. I sent them off to study and hunt and to be ready to share. Oh . . . and share we did.
Seriously! Look at the amazing stuff they came up with! I thought, "How I am ever going to help them narrow this down?" So I asked them to meet with their study teams (the 2 or 3 students working together for this unit) and to really try to defend their thinking. We agreed that all of them were true--but we were on a hunt for the ones that really stuck out. After a while, I called them back and we voted.
Rob was easy--the fact that Rob was a sad character (although we REALLY like the word "sorrow" and felt it captured him more), but Sistine was another story! We could not get agreement at all!
I'm not sure if you can see the numbers--but pretty much everything got a few votes. We took the top 3 vote getters and I sent the students back to discuss further and to really hunt in the text for clear examples. I reminded them that we were going to need at least 3 specific examples to use in our essay, so they needed to be thinking about that with their voting.
We came back, voted again--and narrowed it down to two. It took YET another round of discussions, proof, argument, defense, offense, and pouting (some on my part, by the way!) to decide that:
Sistine is a very bossy character.
I was devastated! I was so convinced that "independent" was a better choice. I told the students that I was surprised and a little disappointed that my pick wasn't selected. One of them reminded me that "the people have spoken".
Anyhoo--this led to our next steps . . . because we still hadn't picked our real thesis--would we write about Rob? About Sistine? I sent them away to think about it and told them that the next day we HAD to decide because we had to start writing an introduction.
I was already exhausted and was thinking that perhaps I should have just TOLD them the thesis statement I had in mind all along, but I am going to trust my gut and say the sweat and tears will be worth it in the end. Cross your fingers--and stick around to see what happens!
We are just about to finish up our third writing unit from Teacher's College/Lucy Calkins, so I wanted to share how it went, what we did, what worked and what (definitely) did not work!
This quarter we focused on writing Literary Essays, which, before working my way through this unit, I could not have explained to anyone! So, since I wasn't 100% sure what a Literary Essay was and I knew my students weren't either, we started by just reading a bunch of sample essays and discussing what they were.
Our writing kit comes with access to several examples of Literary Essays written by students, so we read over a few of them and discussed our findings, and then I put together an anchor chart of all of the things we noticed (or that I wanted them to notice and they didn't).
For the first bend of this unit, instead of using an actual text, we watched the Panyee Football Club Video and used that as our "piece of literature". Although I think it was a bit confusing for them that we used a video in the first bend and then used text in the second bend, I do think that this was a nice way to start the unit because they didn't mind watching, re-watching, and analyzing bits of the video over and over again.
After watching the video a few times, I asked them to look for common themes, lessons, character traits, etc... I emphasized that one way to come up with a claim is to pinpoint something in the text/video that you have seen before and we discussed how the characters worked hard like the characters in many different stories and movies, how people didn't believe in them at first which we see in a lot of stories, etc... Below is a list of all of the claims that we came up with:
After that, I had them pick a few claims and try out writing a thesis statement/lead/introduction (I'm trying to use all three terms so they know that they all mean the same thing). We used the graphic organizer below to do this and when students felt that they had one claim that they could write a strong thesis statement for, they chose that as the one that they would use to write the rest of their essay.
Once we all had our claims and thesis statements ready to go, we worked on collecting evidence from the video in order to create strong body paragraphs.
Finally, they wrote their own essays and I took home a stack of 36 papers ready to grade them all over the weekend. Unfortunately, however, when I started to read them, I noticed that more than half of both of my classes wrote summaries of the entire video instead of actual Literary Essays. They included quotes and plenty of details from the video, but they just did not seem to get that they were supposed to focus only on the parts of the video that supported their claim.
At that point I decided to create a checklist for writing a Literary Essay and I used it to score all of their essays. Before giving the essays back, I showed them the checklist and had them use it to grade two of the sample student essays that we had looked at at the beginning of the unit.
I think that seeing what I expected to be included in each section of the checklist as well as being able to read samples of text that included all of the necessary components really helped them to figure out what they needed to do. I gave them more time to edit and revise using the checklist and their second drafts were much better!
For the second bend, they were able to choose their texts and they completed most of the writing process on their own with guidance when needed or requested. I hung up the chart below and had them stick a sticky note with their name on it to whichever step they were on each day.
Our team agreed that the suggested texts for this bend were a little too long and complex for our students, so we decided on four short stories: (We just googled these titles and found PDFs of them online that we printed for the kids)
Everything Will Be Okay by James Howe
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
The Marble Champ by Gary Soto
Birthday Box by Jane Yolen*
*Disclaimer: I cried when I read this one aloud to the class
We did have to go back and review transition words and when/how to use them in the middle of this bend, so I made this chart as a reference tool:
Now they are all typing up their essays and I will be grading them (hopefully) over spring break!
If you are interested in using any of my anchor charts and/or graphic organizers that I created for this unit you can grab them here!
I have not been doing the best job of keeping up with our Growing Words (a.k.a. Greek & Latin prefixes, root words, and suffixes) this quarter so this week we dove back in to that starting with the Root Words Aqua- and Hydr-, which both mean water.
On day 1 I introduced the root words using my little presentation that you can grab here.
Last week I posted all about my Word Reference Materials unit which worked out really nicely for most of my kids, but I have a few who are really struggling with answering questions about guide words. They just can't seem to wrap their mind around the fact that they need to alphabetize and check if a word comes after the first guide word and before the second guide word.
I've been trying to give them some strategies to tackle these questions like writing the alphabet at the top of their page, putting the words in between the guide words and checking the alphabetical order, etc... I even made them this little anchor chart to refer back to, which sadly got a little crumpled in the laminator.
Here is a digital copy in case you are interested in using it in your classroom!
We practiced using these strategies with a few questions in a presentation that you can grab for free below!