Monday, January 8, 2018

Choice in Nonfiction Writing

This year, my teaching partner and I decided that we were going to allow more freedom during our Writing Workshop Nonfiction Unit. We've always allowed freedom in choice (of topic) but we've always chosen the format, usually feature articles but last year we tried out infographics. But this year - we wanted students to write a nonfiction piece where the format and topic were completely the student's decision. As we head towards personalization - we wanted students to have voice, choice and ownership in their writing.

To do this, we did have to work with our students to set up some parameters. During Readers Workshop, students had to be reading a nonfiction book. This could be on any topic and in any format  (chapter book, picture book, graphic novel) but should be a book that could give them background information or ideas for writing. This seemed to greatly help connect reading and writing and allowed students to get a jump start on research. Knowing the end, also helped our kids get ready for writing.

Before completely, jumping into drafting their writing pieces, we had students choose their format. During our Readers Workshop, we had read narratives, feature articles and infographics as a class. We also talked about how form can help us understand more complex texts. Therefore, students were familiar with the various formats and the ways they could be used. Before they started writing, however, we wanted them to take a few notes on what was important about the writing style and craft they were hoping to create.

Click the graphic to be taken to a Google Doc link to note sheet.

I had three Target plastic bins filled with mentor texts for students. One crate was filled with narrative nonfiction titles, one with infographic examples, and one with magazines so students could reference feature articles.  {Click links above for the best book bins for collections, narrative titles I had available and infographics I printed off in color and linked for students.}

Students were tasked to read 3-4 mentor texts and make observations. What were the authors doing in each text? What text features and structures were being used? How are these pieces set up on the page? Notes could be recorded on a simple note sheet we glued in our notebooks.

The following day, we started making our plans using our observations from the previous day. This also helped guide our further research. Plans ranged from extremely detailed to a simple sketch of the layout. All students, were able to create an image that related back to their noticings from the day before -- thus giving them a plan for writing. Then, they were able to spend the next several days researching and drafting parts of their nonfiction pieces.

The end result was incredibly impressive. Blown away, amazing. I read pieces that were informed, researched and most of all looked like REAL writing. Topics were diverse from defenses of a hedgehog to the assassination of JFK. I was also amazed at the risk students took, especially those choosing to write narrative nonfiction over an infographic or feature article. It's amazing how one little change can lead to so many great writing pieces. 

How do you give your students voice and choice in writing?


Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Year in Reading

This year, I've read a lot of really great books. I've read books ranging from YA to picture books. My favorite books are still middle grade fiction but I've enjoyed dabbling in nonfiction picture and reading more picture books this year (thanks to #classroombookaday) then ever before. I've also enjoyed my fair share of audiobooks, Patina by Jason Reynolds was a particular favorite audiobook of the year. My goal this year was to read 100 total books, although I experienced a few slumps this year I'm on pace to finish out the year at around 120 books.

I've tried to pick my favorite books of 2017, although I feel like I'm forgetting a few great titles. Each of these stories are filled with characters and themes that I will bring with me into 2018 and beyond. Such a great year in #KidLit. This year's Mock Newbery Book Club and #Classroombookaday have proven that investing in books and reading, is the best investment any teacher can make. Can't wait to see what the awards season has in store -- but all these books are winners in my classroom.

 What have been your favorite reads of 2017? 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Let's Get Cookin'

Each year brings different readers into my classroom. This year my students are into practical nonfiction - they want to make, take, and do. They want to learn how to code and beat various tasks on Mine Craft. They are also loving DIY and crafting books -- especially cookbooks. I have several students that just can't get enough cookbooks. Several students have even created food or recipe related blogs on Kid Blog.

Before, jumping down the book buying rabbit hole, I gave my students a short Google Form asking what they thought my library needed. Students had the option to respond by author, genre, or title. And they could make as many suggestions as they wanted. I told them I may not be able to buy all their suggestions but would find ways to make sure our classroom library was meeting our needs. After the survey, I noticed that many students were requesting cookbooks. I didn't have single cookbook in my classroom library and to make matters worse, the school library's cookbooks looked dated and a pretty "elementary" for some of my savvy young chefs. So, I set out to find a few great cookbooks for upper elementary readers!

After shopping around and asking for suggestions on social media, I found several great looking cookbooks. Many "felt" like cookbooks and had excellent photographs of foods and steps. The Kid Chef cookbooks also have sidebars with common pit-falls and solutions. Lots of great culinary vocabulary and techniques are covered each of these books as well.

Be Budget Wise: Many of these books are available on Amazon as well as cheaper online solutions like Thriftbooks and Book Outlet. Shop around as the price of a good cookbook (even for kids) can be pricey!

Here are a few of my students' favorites: 
Clicking each image will take you to the Amazon page for each book. 

How you do build your library cater to your students' needs?
What cooking essentials am I still missing in our classroom?


Monday, October 30, 2017

#IMWAYR October

I haven't posted a #IMWAYR in quite a while, so now is as good as time as any to get caught up with some of my October reads! Back to school this year has been insanely busy as I get to know my new readers, learn and teach the new Units of Study and implement #classroombookaday. I may not have been reading quite as much as "usual" but I feel like I'm finally starting to feel on top of things that are happening in the classroom.

So, here's what my reading life has looked liked recently...

I purchased Ryan T. Higgins' latest gem as birthday present to myself and I'm so glad I did! It may be my favorite of the Bruce series so far. Bruce, the mice, and the goslings are all back and looking for a new home! The end papers and "undies" of this book are my favorite of 2017! We also read all the Bruce books for #classroombookaday and the students were not disappointed either. I highly recommend this book as a read aloud for any classroom.

I had seen so much social media press about this story. So I had to pick up a copy and read it for myself. This story was great and did not disappoint me or my fifth graders. Loved the messages that change takes time and everyone gets to create their own destiny. I also loved that Bad Seed taught us that no one is perfect even bad seeds trying to be "good."

This was a recent read. I picked up a copy at our local book festival, Books by the Banks. I loved all the photographs of shelter dogs and their rescue stories. I wish there was a little more about each dog or their new lives but I think this will make a nice addition to my classroom library along with my other photography based books like Strong is the New Pretty.

My audiobook for October was Dumplin' and I'm a Julie Murphy fan for life. I love her writing style and the story of Willow Dean. I can't wait for  the next installment Puddin'. From the Dolly references to the local beauty pageant - this book takes the crown! Loved Willow's sassy and bold voice while also showing that she can be insecure and vulnerable too. A great audiobook and fantastic story! 

I'm absolutely loving the voice of Karma is in this new middle grade novel. Perfect for upper grade readers that are starting to notice changes in themselves and with their friends. Karma's dealing with a lot from family changes to the seventeen hairs she discovers on her upper lip, this story is sure to connect with lots of kids, especially girls who find it hard to fit in during those middle school years. I can't wait to finish this book and share it with my students! I'm also super excited to meet author Kristi Weintge as she's coming to a local indie, Blue Manatee Bookstore in November!

I picked this book up last year prior to the Newbery awards. But I just couldn't get into it. I wanted to love it as I absolutely love Medieval historical fiction (major Karen Cushman fangirl! Catherine Called Birdy & The Midwife's Apprentice were my jam back in 6th grade) and really enjoyed The Canterbury Tales in high school. But alas, I just couldn't dig into it. So, I rebooted this time as an audiobook. I'm enjoying the audio although it is a little hard to keep track of all the characters telling the tales even though there is a whole cast of narrators. I also almost put it down again but I've reached the farting dragon and I think I'm finally hooked enough to finish this story! Finally, starting to feel like the story is coming together and moving in a direction I can get behind.

What are you currently reading?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

#Classroombookaday Read This... Then That!

Our #Classroombookday is going strong this year. We read a picture book every day Monday through Thursday. If you want to learn more about #Classroombookaday check out the hashtag on Twitter or the Nerdy Book Club post by Jillian Heise.

Today, I thought we'd match up some great picture books and novels! I know many of my students are making thematic connections between picture books and novels so why not pair up some picture books and novels! Plus, you could easily read one of these picture books Monday - Thursday and then share a novel counterpart for a #FirstChapterFriday!

If students love the humor and fractured fairy tale genre of It's Not Jack in Beanstalk by Josh Funk then they will love any of Liesel Shurtliff's fairy tale retellings including Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Both of these "remakes" of classic fairy tales add lots of humor and dynamic characters to the mix. Imaginative and creative, both these stories have students reimagining these famous tales while laughing along the way! Both stories also make for an excellent read aloud as each "Jack" has such a strong voice and personality. I can't recommend both of these titles enough. If they are not currently in your classroom library, you'll want to order them ASAP!

I'm in love with After the Fall. After meeting Dan Santat two weeks ago and hearing him read After the Fall, I hope a shiny sticker will be on his cover come February. I was surprised and amazed by his new creation - if you haven't read this story yet, put a copy on hold at the library NOW. Do it. You'll thank me. As I was thinking back to novels with a similiar theme, I instantly thought of Garvey's Choice. Written in verse, Nikki Grime's story centers around a main character that is also trying to face his fears (and his father) while finding his place in the world. Both stories teach students about perseverance and having the courage to be who you were always meant to be. Although both characters often doubt themselves or are fearful at times, they eventually have the courage to let their true selves shine.

Both We're All Wonders and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, teach us that differences don't define us but instead make us "wonders." In some ways we are all wonders and that's what makes the world such a special place. Both Auggie and Aven have physical disabilities yet they don't let those differences stop them from living their lives. While both experience stares and sometimes glares, they both stand proud are not afraid to be themselves. Aven's voice will be one you won't soon forget and I'm hoping the Schneider Award Committee notices this middle grade gem!

If you're looking for some great reads about taking risks, then you'll want to pick up Jubari Jumps and Amina's Voice. Both Jubari and Amina are facing some scary challenges from climbing up the highest diving board to a Quran reading competition. At first, both characters are afraid to try something new and face their fears. With a little help from their families (and friends), both characters face their fears with more confidence. Both stories are great for teaching growth mindset and the power of "yet." 

Nerdy Birdy and Real Friends are two stories that are a must own for any elementary classroom library. Nerdy Birdy has a problem, he doesn't fit in with some of the other birds like the eagle and hawk. He finally finds birds that are just like him - nerdy! But he soon learns his fellow nerdy birdies may not be the true friends he's been looking for. Similarly, Shannon in Real Friends realizes she may not really fit into her group of "friends." Both Nerdy Birdy and Shannon, must seek out true friends that will appreciate them for who they are. Students will identify with both main characters as many middle grade readers also struggle to find those "real" best friends. Filled with themes of friendship and kindness, these books are for creating meaningful discussions around what it means to be a true friend.

What are your favorite picture book and novel mash-ups?
Happy Reading, 
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