Posts Tagged ‘writing workshop’

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.


Collaboration was the name of the game at all three schools this week.  At each school, I was working with my gifted students on projects that required cooperation, communication, creativity, and critical thinking, the 4 C’s of 21st Century education.

At school #1, students were working on “Mood” stories.  With the celebration of Halloween, most stories took on a scary mood.  Some of my students asked if they could work together.  I considered it and decided to let them, but I was skeptical about whether they could truly collaborate.  I was pleasantly surprised.  They gathered together and used a story board to plan their stories.  They talked and wrote, wrote and talked.  The class was buzzing with the sound of collaboration.

Dawson was writing on his own.  He asked for big paper to use for his story board.  He wrote his “longest story ever!”  I enjoyed his use of text features to create the mood.  This was his favorite part to read aloud.

They all sat down and chanted,”Oh Ouija Board, oh how do you do, show us the spirit that lives here too.” Their hands moved and spelled L I G H T S O U T. At that exact moment the lights went out and the tv came on with static.

In the static they could make out a man that said,” III WWW III LLL LLL KKK III LL LL YYY OOO UUU!!!

At school #2, we are working on podcasts about endangered animals.  Each student chose an animal to research.  One of the best things was when we were able to talk on the phone with a local bird expert.  My students are powering through the steep technology learning curve.  I am hoping we’ll be ready to publish them next week.  We are looking forward to a call with a marine biologist this Monday.

At school #3, we worked with Mystery Science lessons and made a chain reaction machine.  After many tries, I was sure it was going to work for this video.  I ended up giving a little hand in the chain.


I am a strong believer in project-based learning experiences.  My students become motivated and engaged, and they own their learning.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

It’s Dr. Seuss week at one of my schools, so each day is a different dress-up day. Last week I was sick for a few days and then there was the Beta convention, so I missed out on seeing some of my students all week. I wanted to plan better. I got so far as to order yellow mustaches and a used copy of The Lorax. I didn’t put together a full costume, but I let each student choose a mustache style. The rule was you had to wear your mustache while we read The Lorax. Little did I know the thing would tickle every time I spoke. But it made for a festive way to celebrate, nevertheless.

Mrs. Simon's Loraxes

Mrs. Simon’s Loraxes

Following this selfie, we got down to the real business of criticycles. I want my students to be ready for the March Slice of Life Challenge. They’ve been writing a slice each week, but their writing lacks elaboration and interest. I pulled out the sticky notes. I projected a student’s recent post and asked that student to read aloud his/her writing. On the sticky notes, we made symbols for critiquing (+ for something positive, ^ for something to change, and ? for further questions). Following the criticycle session, my students were motivated to return to their posts and edit.

I had forgotten how powerful peer review can be. For whatever reason, we hadn’t done it in a while. My students were receptive to their classmates’ ideas and were motivated to make their writing stronger. I just stood by and watched as they discussed their writing in a meaningful way. I need to remember that sometimes all it takes is a yellow mustache and blue sticky note to turn readers into writers.


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Swan Song, Creative Commons

Swan Song, Creative Commons

I grew up with music in my home. My mother is a pianist. I’m sure she played Claude Debussy’s Clare de Lune. When I went to Google yesterday, I was pleased to find out it was Debussy’s 151st birthday. The link took me to a YouTube video of nature pictures with the harp playing Clare de Lune. It was one of those, let’s-write-to-this inspiration moments. I had planned to pass out pictures from a nature calendar. This was better, music and beautiful nature pictures. I wrote with my students, so I’ll post my poem here. Student work will come later as they do some polishing and make the plunge into posting on a blog.

Hills and mountains
reflect in still water;
Sun bursts through clouds;
A rainbow circles the sky;
And I travel there
with you.

I ask, Do you love me?

How high? you say.

Higher than the mountains?

Higher than the clouds.

Higher than the moon?

Higher than the stars at night.

Higher, higher, still.

Blue Moon before sunrise. Photo by Margaret Simon

Blue Moon before sunrise. Photo by Margaret Simon

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Betsy at I Think in Poems.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Betsy at I Think in Poems.

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Fall Poetry

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Teaching gifted students means I teach multiple grade levels at the same time. This can be both a joy and a challenge. Some of my students come to me for their language arts block, some for math. My two second graders come to me at the very end of the day. They usually come in to an already active classroom.

One day last week when the second-graders came in, I had all the other students seated at the table writing fall poetry. On the projection screen was a collage of fall pictures for inspiration. We had collected words and were in the writing process. Tobie sat right down to write, but couldn’t find his journal, so someone found him a loose leaf page to use. Emily, however, was intrigued by the projector and started making finger puppets in the light. I sent her away to a desk in the classroom. I wanted to make sure she was behaving herself and that she wasn’t too upset about being punished, but when I looked up, I saw her perched on the edge of the farthest desk in the room quietly writing. I left her alone. Later after our lively sharing session, I encouraged the students to post their poems on our kidblog. Emily posted her poem. The next day I got an email from her mother praising me for inspiring Emily’s poem.

As I reflect on my classroom, I often worry about the constant activity and many levels going on at the same time. Sometimes, I have so many balls in the air, I just know one will clobber me in the head at any time. What I realize about writing workshop is that even when it doesn’t seem to be working, it is working. It’s about making writing an integral part of any day. It’s about safety. And it’s about providing the space for creativity to happen. And ultimately, it is about the students themselves.

I am posting Emily’s fall poem today. Originally, there were few periods and no line breaks, but I took the opportunity to have a little mini-lesson with her about this, so you are seeing the revised version.

Fall Leaves

I walk down the path.
It’s morning. The sun hasn’t even risen yet.
I watch the wind carry the leaves across the valley.
I see pumpkins in the pumpkin patch.
I love the colors falling from the trees.
I smell the sweet smell of sugarcane.
The sun is rising and getting warmer.
I feel the breeze. I find some leaves.
I pile up the leaves, and I jump in!
I love the fall,
the best season in October.

Massachusetts in October where leaves turn golden. Courtesy of my friend, Leon, who is traveling and posting beautiful pictures of real fall.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

This summer I participated in the Teachers Write virtual writing camp made possible by author Kate Messner. She had many guest authors teaching and posting writing prompts. From one of the posts, I learned about the young adult character generator. Earlier this year, I introduced this tool to my students. They loved it, and much writing has been inspired by it.

Using kidblogs, my students are working on stories that develop their characters. I am pleased with how motivating this activity has been. One of my students, Matthew, was a reluctant second grade writer, usually satisfied with a few sentences. When asked to elaborate or incorporate figurative language, he would say, “I like it the way it is.”

Now a third grader, Matthew’s writing has taken off in the first few weeks of school. He wrote his whole story in his journal, posted it on kidblogs, pasted it onto paper, drew illustrations, and painted a cover for his book. I don’t know if a summer’s worth a maturity or the young adult character generator was the impetus, but this year Matthew is a writer.

Chapter 1 The Curse
It was a normal Tuesday morning at Denver Catholic High, or was it? Aiden was walking to gym, twitching as usual. Then out of nowhere, it started getting dark, really dark. Then, a giant ghost came out of the dark and said, “Da school curse is a spreading.”

Suddenly, Aiden’s friends came outside as zombies! “What happened?” said Aiden’s still human friend, Jenna.
“I… I don’t know,” said Aiden, frozen. for once in his life. He’s feeling a feeling he has never felt before, fear. He was so afraid, he couldn’t move. He could barely speak and refused to look away from the ghost or even blink.

Chapter 2 The Adventure

“Da only way to stop it is to get da gem of legend,” The ghost said in a country voice.
“What gem?” asked Aiden.

“Here, take da map.”said the ghost.

Aiden read the map and said, “Jenna, we’re going to the beach.”

“OK,” said Jenna.

“I’ll drive,” said the ghost.

“What?” said Jenna and Aiden.

They headed to the beach. As Aiden got out of the car, he said, “Hey, I’m not twitching!” He was happy, but then the ghost pushed them in a cave. They put on headlamps and started walking.

“OK,” said Aiden nervously. His head suddenly jerked to his shoulder, twitching again. ”We, uh, go that way?”

They stopped at a pool of…lava! Only a few rocks to jump on.

“Well, let’s get moving,” said Aiden.

They hopped across, rock to rock. Finally, they got to the other side. They walked until they stopped at the end of the cave.

“Look!” shouted Aiden. The gem was standing on top of a cone-shaped rock structure at the end of the cave.

“It’s beautiful!” cried Jenna, leaning back. The gem was a glowing baby blue color in the shape of a diamond.

Swiftly, Aiden grabbed the gem, “Got it!” He held the gem over his head in triumph. Then he heard a loud caw caw!

Aiden looked up and saw a blue-gray falcon swoop in toward him. Before he could draw the gem out of the bird’s reach, the bird quickly grabbed the gem with its talons.

“There goes all our hard work,” said Aiden. Of course, he was right. They had worked so hard.

They went after the bird. They hopped across the rocks. Aiden found a light, sharp stick and threw it at the bird, but before the stick could hit it, the falcon flew down and accidentally dropped the gem.

“Thanks,” said Jenna.

Chapter 3: Lifting the Curse

“Well, let’s get going!” said Aiden. ”It’s been a great day. I stopped twitching, we got the gem, we lost the gem and got it back. Now, we can lift the curse!”

So, they were off. They went back to school.

Chapter 4: Curse Gone

Aiden and Jenna lifted the curse by saying, “I here-by lift the curse of the Hex, and I shall face anything next! I will not say ‘no’ or ‘I’m afraid’ I’ll face anything, alive or slayed!”

But before the magic could work, a half moth half cat flew toward the gem. Aiden’s allergic to cats and hates moths.

“No!” Aiden yelled, then kicked the creature hard. Whack! The creature fainted in pain.

The curse was lifted! They had done it! Aiden said in triumph, “We did it, guys!”

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30 Day Poetry Challenge: Day 13 Write a poem a child would like.

When I teach writing to students, we workshop our writing pieces.  I write when they write.  I pass out sticky notes. (Kids love colorful sticky notes.)  They label their notes with a plus, a question mark, and a triangle.  We call these notes “Criticycles.”  They are our way of critiquing.  The plus is something you like, the question mark a question, and the triangle a suggestion for a change.  When I saw the challenge for today, I thought, “That will be easy.”  All I needed to do was look through my school journal and find a page full of sticky notes that told me I had caught a good poem.  This poem I wrote in writing camp last summer.  (I am doing two this summer, so leave me a comment or send an email if you are interested.)

We take a writing marathon on one day of the writing camp.  On the marathon, we tour around town with writers’ eyes.  Most shop owners are happy to have us come in when we say we are writers.  On this day, we went into the downtown bookstore.  I had a discussion with one of my students and her mother about the book, “Heaven is for Real.”  Then I opened it up and stole a line.  This jump-started my poem.  The illustration shows the criticycles from my students, so I knew I had a winner.  Sometimes when fishing for poems, we catch one.  Sometimes, we catch a boot.  My students usually let me know loud and clear what I have caught.

The knockout punch is the one they didn’t see coming.
Like the wave that flips your peaceful float
Twirling you under the salty water
whipping you upside down

You can see the air, the reflection of sunlight calls you up
Can you find it?
Will you swim long enough to catch a breath?
Will you find the shore?

Release tension.
Don’t fight the wave.

God will take you in His arms
and carry you home.

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