Grammar Extension: The Empowering Acrostic Poem

Grammar Extension: The Empowering Acrostic Poem

The ideal scenario for the first couple months of a new school year would be a classroom running smoothly.  You want to be comfortable with your daily schedule and know that you can meet the needs of all of your diverse students.

Realistically, some of you may already feel like the expectations and duties increase even more as the fall progresses.  Before you become consumed with the busyness of the new school year, always remember this:  “YOU are a TEACHER!”  You are the one that works to mold the future.  You make an incredible impression and impact in the lives of all the students who enter your classroom. 

This year is a brand new one, and if you’re ready to level-up your teaching, you should consider this question: “What kind of teacher do you want to be this year?” 

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Step by Step: The Value of Following Directions

Step by Step: The Value of Following Directions

For my birthday, I received a beautiful interior sliding barn door as a gift.  I envisioned that this hefty, rustic door was going to be a unique addition that would bring more style to my home.  With a few extra hands, how hard could this DIY project be if we just followed the instructions?  Right?

Well, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be!

Have you ever experienced a situation when you didn’t need to read the directions for a simple recipe or to assemble a new toy?  I’d venture to say that sometimes that works out, but not every time.  Even when you’ve read the instructions, they sometimes aren’t clear enough to get the final product you’d hoped for.  If that’s the case, you may end up with holes in your wall and a barn door that is now taking up space leaning against the wall. (Ugh!)  When it comes to reading the directions every time, I’m just as guilty as the next person—I don’t always do it. 

In the classroom, many students bypass the instructions and head straight to number one on the assignment.  Shurley English students are not immune to this; it happens all the time.  As a teacher, it’s frustrating and heartbreaking to see the defeat in a child’s eyes when they realize they haven’t followed the directions and must start the assignment over.

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Writing Toolbox: Composing Better Sentences

Writing Toolbox: Composing Better Sentences

Whether you teach language arts in the school classroom or your home classroom, you have to teach your kids how to write, right? To be clear, I don’t mean the mechanical parts of writing: holding the pencil correctly, positioning the notebook paper properly, and so on. I mean the actual generation of topics that kids know about and want to write about. I mean the composition of clear, concise sentences that convey what the writer is thinking. It would be nice if kids were natural writers and could pluck ideas (and the words needed to express those ideas) out of their brains at the first sign of a prompt, but most of the time, this is not the case.

What kid writers need is good modeling.

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Shurley English 101: Teaching with Confidence

Shurley English 101: Teaching with Confidence

So, you have purchased your Shurley curriculum, you open the book or access your digital teacher’s manual…and then it hits you! “What’s all this? How am I going to cover all of it? Can I even do it?” If you have had these or similar feelings, don’t panic. It’s going to be all right.

My post today is about confidence. Yes! You can teach with confidence, especially if you are just embarking upon your first journey with Shurley English. I realize that the sheer volume of information about English that we teach might be enough to send you to the edge. But, pull back. Breathe. Help is on the way.

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The goal of Shurley English

The goal of Shurley English

It’s that time of year again, and most teachers are trying their best to enjoy their final days of summer break. It’s hard to believe that some schools have already started professional development opportunities for their staff members.  Before you know it, your own classroom will be filled with a new group of young learners. 

Some teachers are looking forward to teaching a new curriculum this year.  Even though that can be exciting and motivating, it can also cause feelings of nervousness.  Some teachers have a curriculum in place with nothing new to add.  For these teachers, feelings of confidence about the content are more likely to occur. Either way, it’s helpful to be reminded of curriculum goals and to be re-motivated to teach certain subjects. 

If Shurley English training is not on your professional development schedule this year, I’m here to remind you of your goal when you teach the curriculum…

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Micro-comprehension: Applying Text Structure

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As I continue my series about micro-comprehension, text structure processing is next in line. Earlier, I wrote about sentence structure processing. The process of analyzing sentence structure and text structure shares similarities. However, analyzing at the sentence level gives a close up picture of the meaning of the sentence; whereas, analyzing text structure provides the bigger picture of an entire essay or any  longer piece of writing.

Many fluent readers seem to automatically process text structure, but it is probably subconscious. Take a look at this short list of text structures students encounter:

  • sequence/chronological order

  • compare/contrast

  • description

  • cause/effect

  • problem/solution

 

Unfortunately, a lot of readers miss out on whole chunks of meaning because they get caught in the muck and mire of wading through too much information. Tunnel vision sets in, and students simply gloss over the purpose for the passage. Understanding the overall structure of the text can help students avoid some of these struggles. So…how do we teach students to recognize these text structures?

 

Look at the list of text structures again. Luckily, these types of text structures come with signal words and phrases that you can directly teach students to recognize. Then, as they read, these words clue them in as to which textual structure they are reading. The NEA published an excellent chart to illustrate this.

 

With practice, students can identify the structure, which prepares their brains to comprehend and retain the information. Students who can readily determine an author’s text structure will have a much clearer mental model of the goings on in a piece of text.

 

Now, here’s an interesting approach that will also inform your reading instruction. First, Shurley English provides graphic organizers (also called advance organizers and prewriting maps) that help students determine the kinds of text they want to write. Since we show students the ins and outs of how to write various text structures (depending on the purpose of the writing and the audience), it isn’t a huge leap for them to analyze what they are reading, based on an author’s chosen text structure. And, they can use our graphic organizers to help them do it! It’s almost like reverse engineering, using texts and graphic organizers.

 

Now, it’s your turn…

  • Select a short passage—any grade appropriate prose will do.

  • Provide your students the appropriate Shurley English prewriting map, or have them select which map will best work for the text.

    • use  a Venn Diagram for a comparison/contrast structure;

    • use the Descriptive map for a descriptive text structure;

    • use the Persuasive/Argumentative map for a problem/solution text structure, etc.

  • Read the passage aloud or have volunteers read it aloud.

  • Have students listen carefully and fill in the information on the map as they hear or read the text.

 

I love using reading and writing skills interdependently because that’s the way those processes actually interact in the brain. Each lends itself to the other as confirmation that the meaning is getting through! As students begin to identify text structures in their reading, you build onto that knowledge to shore up their writing, and vice versa.

 

In my next article, I will conclude my series on micro-comprehension with a discussion about comprehension monitoring. Please join me!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Writing Time: Let's start a blog!

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Journal Writing is an activity that is implemented very early in the Shurley English curriculum.  Students are taught how to create a written journal to record their thoughts and feelings.  Then, throughout the school year, they are encouraged to respond to specific prompts in their personal journals. (If you’re wondering about the benefits of journaling, please check out my previous blog, “The Value of Journal Writing (…and how to get started).”)

Today, I’d like for you to think beyond the written journal and consider developing a classroom wall blog.  This type of activity affords you an opportunity to support your classroom instruction and teach your students how to become responsible writers. 

To begin, here’s a blog for you and your students to read:

Hello, students! Have you ever been in class and felt as though you had something important to say, but you just couldn’t raise your hand to speak up?  Me too! 

Sharing your voice is not always easy.  Writing in a journal is an excellent way to get your thoughts out of your mind and onto paper without speaking in front of anyone.  When you journal, you can record your thoughts and feelings about people, places, things, or events that are important to you. Journaling gives you an opportunity to express yourself!

Did you know that you can also journal online?  It’s called blogging, and it can be a lot of fun! A blog is a journal that you share with others. When you write a blog, you express your own thoughts and experiences, knowing that others will be reading your words.

A fun way to start blogging is to participate in a Classroom Wall Blog!  It is a great place to practice and improve your communication. Remember, when you write your blog….

  • Always take responsibility for how you express yourself when writing in a place that others can read.

  • Don’t write anything private, rude, or unkind.

  • Have FUN sharing your voice!

 

Activity Time:  Classroom Wall Blog

Teachers, this Wall Blog activity is an awesome way to get your students more engaged in journaling, support your grammar and writing instruction, and create a closer sense of community in your classroom. 

1. Define your wall blog space with butcher paper or poster board.

2. Create a fun name for your Wall Blog.

3. Discuss what topics are appropriate for student blog entries.

4. Encourage students to express their thoughts about what is going on in their classroom, family, school, and community as blog topics

5. Have students write their blog entries on notebook paper and hang them on the wall.

6. Incorporate time in your weekly schedule to discuss hot topics posted on the Wall Blog.

After your students practice their blogging skills by contributing to the wall blog, you may consider creating a private, online classroom blog. This will afford your students the opportunity to develop good digital citizenship while under your supervision. 

Creating a Writing Inspiration Station

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There’s nothing like the dreaded feeling of sitting at your desk with a blank sheet of writing paper staring back at you.  You see some of your classmates busily jotting down ideas; you see them creating their prewriting map; or you see some classmates looking upward with a pleasant grin, lost in their imagination.  Not you though; your white paper just taunts you with thoughts like these: “So, what are you going to write about this time?” or “There’s nothing to write about; you’re all out of ideas!” 

For some students, it’s very challenging and even defeating to come up with an idea to write about.  As teachers, we know how valuable the process of writing is, but our students may not.  The process of writing is already a lengthy and sometimes scary journey for many of them.  I believe it is important to create a writing experience in which students can be inspired and where they will feel comfortable enough to take some writing risks.  Create a new writing vibe in your classroom by setting up a Writing Inspiration Station.  

The purpose of a Writing Inspiration Station is to help your students experience how special the process of sharing their voice in the written form really is.  The level of comfort a student feels when they know how to write a paragraph, an essay, and write for all purposes is empowering!  The station acts as a quiet place where a student can sit to gain inspiration or to work through the Writing Process.  It can be that special place where a student might spread out and really engage with their writing. 

The Writing Inspiration Station needs to be set up so that your students want to do their work there.  For instance, it needs to be warm and inviting.  Ideally, organize the station with a table and a few chairs.  Stock it with all of the writing essentials—paper, pens, pencils, pre-writing maps, writing outlines, dictionaries, thesauruses, a soft light, and a Shurley English Writing Folder.

In addition, create a bulletin board adjacent to the table so students can easily review writing tips, transition words, Power Words, steps in the Writing Process, or writing samples.  For those kiddos with writer’s block, add a small bucket of writing prompts for each genre of writing to help inspire them.  Change it monthly, align it with the genre you’re currently teaching, and use it as your Teacher-Student Writing Conference space; the ideas are endless!

Use your own creativity to set up a unique Writing Inspiration Station, and see how your students thrive with the new writing vibe.

BONUS:  If you’re looking for some extra writing prompts to get you through the year, try these!

FIRST LINES/LAST LINES

Think of a story that might begin or end with one of these sentences:

  1. Today, I got the phone call.

  2. Heidi dropped the last of her photographs into the trash.

  3. Why wasn’t I surprised that the light switch didn’t work either.

  4. I hoped they remembered the old adage, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

  5. One of these days, I’m going to say no.

  6. I knew that sound. Dragons.

  7. I thought space was supposed to be silent.

  8. Who’s that woman in the photo?

  9. Two years ago, I swore I’d never come back here again.

  10. It’s not unusual to find odd bits of paper tucked into library books for a bookmark, but this time it was a letter.

  11. Some jokes just aren’t funny.

  12. “Moon Base Epsilon failed to report, sir.”

  13. We heard the approaching horses (car) and hurried further into the woods.

  14. I was not ready to admit defeat.

  15. “This is the last straw!”

  16. Josh looked guilty.

  17. Maria looked up from her reading and her book fell from her lap.

  18. I’d always wondered what real fear felt like. I was sorry I found out.

  19. Monday was supposed to be the worst day of the week. Today had it beat by a mile.

  20. We all felt the cold before he entered the hall.

    First Lines/Last Lines Source: http://www.wrightingwords.com/writing-starters/

Word Choice: Simple is Sophisticated

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Writing is a tool for communication, and language is the system of words and the methods of combining them that we use to express our thoughts and feelings to each other.  As teachers, we want our students to think carefully as they select the words they use to covey meaning, but Word Choice can be a tricky discussion. (Don’t worry! I’m here to help.)


Take a look at the following pairs of sentences. What do you notice?

  1. The boys cheered loudly for their team.

  2. The boys clapped, yelled, and stomped for their team.

  3. An unhappy baby cried very loudly tonight.

  4. An unhappy baby wailed tonight.

  5. The tiny green hummingbirds darted quickly around.

  6. The tiny green hummingbirds darted around.

In each of these pairs, could you tell how changing the words a bit affected the clarity of the sentences? Do the words we choose to convey meaning really matter that much? You be the judge.

Throughout my career, I have worked diligently to hone my writing skills. I have come to a conclusion: word choice makes or breaks meaning—every time! Much of my writing from long ago can only be regarded as redundant. I thought that the bigger my words, the longer my sentences, the more clarity I was achieving. Most of the time that was not true. 

Redundancy in writing does not need to happen…nor should we promote it. In the examples above, the second sentence in each pair is not necessarily better. But notice how a change in the word choices makes a huge impact on the sentence clarity—how clear the meaning is.

Can you spot the redundancies in the first set? The culprit here is the use of a weak verb and an adverb that is too predictable. By simply replacing the general verb cheered with three specific, active verbs (clapped, yelled, and stomped), the reader gets a better mental model of what the author is saying. These specific verbs convey what most of us think of as cheering.

How about the second set of sentences? Can you see how the verb wailed in Sentence 4 says exactly the same thing as in Sentence 3, but it does more clearly? This is an example of reducing the number of words but improving the meaning.

Finally, observe how I omitted the adverb quickly in Sentence 5. I ousted the adverb because we don’t need it. If a hummingbird darted, we already understand that the bird moved fast; consequently, there is no need to use the adverb quickly.

When you work with young writers, you will be doing them a big favor if you help them learn how to spot the sentences with too many words, with redundant words or modifiers, and with non-specific verbs. When you equip students with these skills, you will teach them not only the value of making better word and phrase choices, but also the elevated sophistication of writing simply and clearly.

 Note: For an in-depth discussion on Word Choice, I invite you to visit this previous post.

Writing Extension: Exploring Appreciative Inquiry

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Spring brings longer days and more light into our lives.  It’s the time of year when flowers bloom and tree buds turn into luscious leaves before our eyes!  With everything outdoors transforming anew, it’s so hard to capture the attention of students experiencing spring-fever!  So, why not capitalize on the fresh change of seasons, using a writing activity that will inspire students to appreciate spring and ‘Carpe Diem’ at the same time! 

Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase coined by the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should make the most of each and every moment of life while one can. Latin scholars translate the phrase to mean “pluck the day (as it is ripe).”  In order to do that, a person must learn how to appreciate what’s going on around them.  Learning to appreciate can translate into a more positive approach to thinking that can last a lifetime if knowledge, skill, and practice are applied. That’s where the poetic principle of Appreciate Inquiry comes into play.  It simply means that what we spend time focusing on and studying shapes our interpretations, learnings, and inspirations!  (Do you focus on what you want or what you don’t want?  Whichever it is, you’ll likely find it.)

For this lesson, students will follow the poetic principle of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as they carry out the following steps: 

  1. Define the Topic,

  2. Discover (explain the best of what is),

  3. Dream (imagine what could be),

  4. Design (develop what should be), and

  5. Destiny (compose what will be). 

The topic should be written on the board for everyone to see.  Students will get out a sheet of paper and write it at the top of the page.  Topic: A Spring Day in (City/State)…Carpe Diem! 

Since the topic has been predetermined, students will learn to appreciate spring a little more by engaging in the steps of Appreciative Inquiry.  The initial step requires students to Discover.  In this moment, they will be asked to find, emphasize, and bring attention to any factors that are included in a spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem!   They will focus on explaining the best of what is! Often times, it helps to think about positive experiences from the past, or if possible, you can have students venture outside to witness spring taking place in real time. Some additional questions include: 

  • Is there anything surprising going on around you? 

  • Does anything touch your heart or move your spirit? 

  • What seems to be going well for you in this moment? 

As students generate ideas, they will list their ideas on the sheet of paper.

Once students have discovered the attributes of a spring day in (city/state), the next step in the AI process is to Dream.  Ask students to use their imagination to enter a state of dreaming and begin to daydream about what could be or needs to be included in the best spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem…ever!  The sky’s the limit, and no dream is too big!  Some questions to help students dream include: 

  • What could make this spring day even better? 

  • What would you add? 

Students will make a list of dreams, leaving room for details that will be developed in the next step of AI.

The next step in AI is called Design.  During this step, students will write concrete, actionable steps that could turn their dreams listed in the previous step into reality.  They will literally explain the steps that would have to take place for their dream to come true.

Last, but not least, Destiny is the final step in AI.  During this step, the student must decide on how they will personally contribute to the dream (Step 3) and the proposed design (Step 4) of a spring day in (city/state)…carpe diem.  Students will write their destiny statements beneath each dream and design statement.  (Example:  I will…)

After students have completed the 5-steps of AI outlined above, they will use the information to write a 5-paragraph essay.  Students will prewrite, write, edit, revise, write a final draft, and publish: ‘A Spring Day in (City/State)…Carpe Diem!’

Resources: Use the following link for access to various prewriting maps to aid your students in their journey!