Category Archives: Writing Workshop

I can be ANYTHING!


As most often happens, my plan for writing goals for ourselves didn’t go according to – well plan.  We came back from winter break and needed to readjust ourselves to school by reviewing routines.  We came back from winter break just to have a late start to school one day. We came back from winter break and we just needed to get used to each other again.

So our goal setting conversations shifted to this week.  This actually worked out better because goal setting ties in well with our character trait for the month Commitment.  Our guidance counselor teaches a lesson each month about a particular character trait.  Monday, she spoke with the children about commitment and what it means to our goals in kindergarten and for when we grow up. Tuesday, we quickly reviewed commitment in a “little chat” about trying our best and doing our job as students in the classroom. 🙂 Wednesday brought our read aloud, I Can be Anything by Jerry Spinelli.

In this charming picture book, the little boy dreams of all the things he can be – from a make believe critter to a cheek-to-cheek grinner.  The kids loved all the things and giggled at many of the pictures. We talked about each of the things the little boy could be.  One student said “Um, he needs to pick one!” This led to a discussion of how each of us can be more than one thing.  I am a teacher, book lover, cupcake baker, etc.  To help prepare us for our writing, we used the app Popplet to create a web on the Smartboard of all the things we can/want to be now and when we grow up.

From there, we went into small group writing.  Students made the outline look like themselves as whatever they wanted to be.  We have many future police officers, a few doctors, a couple cheerleaders, and even a unicorn! We CAN be ANYTHING!

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#Kinderblog14, Letters to the Editor


I had a difficult time with this post – which was surprising to me.  Through my Pinterest browsing, I stumbled across another teacher’s blog post about getting her second graders to write more.  Although she made some good points, she also left me with an “uh oh” feeling and had my mind buzzing with questions.  Surprisingly, I used the Common Core as a basis for one argument, despite my issues I have with them (discussed here).

This is my comment:

There is always a little hesitation for me when commenting on another blog, especially if I disagree with something.  So much can be read between the lines, whether it is meant or not.  Tone doesn’t always come across appropriately in comments, texts, posts, and emails. So this #kinderblog14 challenge was just that, a challenge, for me!


Filed under Kinderblog, Literacy, Writing Workshop

Kindergarten and the Writing Process

“Writing might be magical, but it’s not magic. It’s a process, a rational series of decisions and steps that every writer makes and takes, no matter what the length, the deadline, even the genre.” – Donald Murray


Say what you will about Lucy Calkins – especially since her mass marketed writing program has been released.  I hold firm to her (and my) foundational beliefs about the writing process.  All children can be writers. We meet writers where they are, capture them with great literature, and inspire them to find the writer within.

The not fun part is when the writing process gets “put upon” students.  It is presented as a series of “must do” steps just to feel that a piece is complete. It can be daunting and disheartening, especially to our youngest writers.

So how do we present these steps to our emerging readers and writers?  I prefer to model the different phases of the process.  You will not see a step by step guide to the process in my classroom.  There is not a poster of the process as a cycle (which is my preference – a piece of writing can always be returned to if the writer chooses).  I teach five and six year olds and the walls of our classroom are filled with anchor charts they have created. You may see a check list of things to remember.  You may see rubric of what our “best work” should look like.  But you will not see “THE WRITING PROCESS” laid out on our walls.

Throughout the year, we build on our writing.  We begin with labeling, progress to simple sentences, and finally (hopefully) we write multiple sentences with details.  We emphasize adding details – both to our drawings and our writing.  We use graphic organizers (brainstorming), 4 squares (rough drafts), iPad apps and paper (publishing).  We read our writing out loud – to a friend, to a teacher, to ourselves.  We check our sight words with the word wall.  We ask each other questions (editing/revising).

The last two weeks, we have been exploring the ocean and all it offers.  My students this year are very interested in animals and habitats.  We started a project this week that allows us to put two of our favorite things together – research and the iPad.  Using the “plan” below, students began researching an ocean animal of their choice.


Students used library books, Pebble Go, Brainpop Jr, and other sources (each other) for research.  I modeled adding information to the plan after reading or listening to research.  We learn early on that copying every word from a book or the computer is a big NO NO.  We learn that we must use words from our own heads, not another author’s words.  If we write it, we need to be able to read it!  Not to mention that whole plagiarism thing!

Once the plan was complete, they showed a teacher what they had.  We had conferences about how to use the information in the best way. They could choose an app to make their project or actual paper.  Many students chose to create a paper book about their animal.  Either way, what they produced what meaningful to them – and they learned about the writing process along the way.

Here are some examples, still works in progress:




This student opted to leave his planning page in his book.  He thought it would make a great table of contents!


These are writings that I know the students will return to again and again as they learn more.  They have asked to not take them home yet – just in case! Wonderful authors in the making!

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Filed under iPads, Literacy, Lower Grades, Reading Workshop, Science, Technology, Writing Workshop

What the Pigeon Wants



In my opinion, the Pigeon series by Mo Willems is the literary equivalent of a Hollywood triple threat – he can act, dance, and sing.  He does all of these things to get what he wants – ahem, NEEDS! The Pigeon provides great examples of persuasion techniques (yes, more than one, just ask any fifth grader), creativity, economic principles (needs/wants), and powerful illustrations.

This year, my class has truly fallen in love with this author.  In the media center they did an author study and in our classroom we continue to revisit Willems’ stories when the mood strikes us.  The week leading to Spring Break put us in one of those moods.  We wanted to hear the Pigeon books again.  When I read these books, the Pigeon has the voice of a very stereotypical 1940’s gangster.  I try to pattern my voice after a media specialist friend (Sharon Mitchell), but hers is truly better than mine. Anyhow – the pigeon pleads, begs, and yes – stomps his feet with my attempt at a voice.  We have fun with these books.  Students respond back with NO! and other answers to his persuasive questions.  Even my fifth graders in past years would respond to the persistent guy.

The Pigeon helped us discuss needs and wants this go round.  We read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. We discussed the difference between needs and wants and created a class T chart.  In the students’ schedule for the day, their word work option was to complete a Pic Collage using the words need and want.


During her writing rotation, Emma chose to create her own version of The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, The Pigeon Wants a Kitten.  She used the books to model her drawings as well as the pattern of her sentences.  We talked extensively about using the books as models – not copying.  The words in the books belonged to who?  Mo Willems.  And the words on her paper belonged to who?  Emma.  She indeed did some creative editing and the end product was quite cute.


So – when searching for a mentor text that is worth its weight, and in my case the cost of multiple copies – consider The Pigeon series.  He’ll be your best friend!


Ideas span grade levels:

  • Persuasive techniques – does the Pigeon beg/whine/wear down, plead, negotiate, bargain, give an ultimatum to get his way? Also compare with techniques used in the Click, Clack, Moo et al series by Doreen Cronin , I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloffand Earrings by Judith Viorst.
  •  Use of illustrations and how Mo Willems shows feelings
  • How illustrators use the technique of hiding characters from other books ( a la Pixar/Disney) – Knuffle Bunny, Elephant, Piggie, Edwina, and Leonardo find their way into the Pigeon books.
  • Needs versus wants – also use The Pigeon Needs a Bath
  • Voice – characters shine through when saying few words

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Über Books for Upper Grades 2


For me, books have always been a trusted friend.  A friend that is just like me, the complete opposite of me, or me transformed in another world.  Books are mirrors or windows (I think I’ve said this before).  In books, we see ourselves or through to something else.

Reading realistic fiction with my students, picture or chapter books, has always provided opportunities for connections in my classroom. Honest questions are asked, discussions are had, and at times – tears are shed.  And if we are lucky, a student falls in love with a book.  Magic.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about some of my favorite historical fiction books.  Today, I hope you add some of these realistic fiction books to your classroom.

9780142405444_p0_v1_s260x420 bird by Angela Johnson

A sensitive story of a girl trying to keep her family together.  Bird is thirteen and cannot accept the fact that her stepfather has left.  She follows him to Alabama to try and convince him to return to Cleveland to rejoin her family.  In searching for security, she becomes security for two young boys with problems of her own.

9780399239892_p0_v1_s260x420 feathers by Jaqueline Woodson

Two things led me to pick up this book at the bookstore – the author (one of my favorites) and the main character’s name (characters never have my name!).  Woodson is one of my favorites because she speaks to readers with honesty, compassion, and understanding.  Her books tackle difficult topics such as race, gender, and relationships.  In feathers, Frannie begins to view the world around her in new ways after hearing a quote from a poem at school – “Hope is the thing with feathers”.  A powerful read aloud or book club selection, Frannie helps readers realize the beauty of looking deeper.

9780689866968_p0_v1_s260x420 deaf child crossing by Marlee Matlin

This book is a window for most students.  The perspective of a deaf child is a rare one in children’s literature and Marlee Matlin does a beautiful job.  Megan and Cindy become fast friends when Cindy moves into the neighborhood.  They are inseparable.  As summer approaches, their friendship becomes tested when they go to camp together.  Matlin explores friendship and all its facets through the eyes of two young girls.

9780064472074_p0_v1_s260x420 Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

I love a book that is told from several different perspectives.  Some readers find it difficult to follow, bouncing back and forth from character to character, but I enjoy getting the whole story from all those involved.  Seedfolks uses a vacant lot to connect neighbors, stories, and lives together in an inner city neighborhood.  Two years ago, a group in my fifth grade reading class chose to read this book together.  I had to make a judgement call.  I knew some of the content was heavy (pregnant teenager), but I also knew where my students were coming from.  I knew why Valerie connected to it after skimming through the pages (pregnant sister).  I knew Eric would idenifywith Kim’s optimism. I knew that Seedfolks was going to be a mirror and a window for my students. Just as the characters saw promise in the soil, I saw promise in this book.

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Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Caulder Game:  A trifecta of awesomeness!  Although considered more mystery than realistic fiction, Blue Balliett’s series sends readers on journeys through art and architecture, friendship and hardship, trials and tribulations.  Secret messages and codes are woven into each story with pentominoes, riddles, mazes, and more.  Readers are exposed to the art of Vermeer, the architecture of Wright, and the sculpture of Caulder while following friends as they investigate mysteries throughout Chicago and England (Caulder Game).

Maybe you have already read some of these with your students, maybe you’ve never heard of them, but I hope you give them a chance.


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Hickory, Dickory, Tot

Last week, we began discussing word families and rhyming words. In the past, I have focused on different word families for a few days and then moved right on to the next few – Usually progressing through the short vowel word families.
The first day, we started discussing what it means when words rhyme and if anyone could think of rhyming words. I read I Can Read with my Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss and we showed a thumbs up if we heard any rhyming words. Following the read aloud, the –at word family was introduced. –At words tend to be easiest for students to pick up on and they immediately felt successful as we listed all the words on an anchor chart. They practiced with –at words the next two days at writing and word work centers, with books, flip charts, and word wheels.
During shared reading time, we were reading nursery rhymes. Of course, these timeless rhymes lend themselves to word families very well. Last Friday, we read through some classic rhymes on the Smart Board, such as Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Then, students took turns circling the rhyming words they heard.
Once the rhyming words were circled on each rhyme, the fun really began. Students were able to choose any word they wanted to replace the first rhyming word. I modeled scribbling out the original word and writing the new word on top. Each new rhyme was student generated and I did the writing. We sounded each word out together. When a rhyme was particularly difficult, we talked about nonsense words. To make a new rhyme, using a nonsense word, a student would choose a beginning letter and we would add the rime. Since we were focused on practicing with rhymes, we decided the words we came up with did not have to be real words. We made sure each word rhymed with the appropriate partner.

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After the modeling on Friday, my students asked this morning if we could do silly nursery rhymes again today. Of course, I said yes. I pulled up the slides from Friday and erased the rhymes we created. This time, the students were in charge of coming up with a rhyme and writing it on the smart board. This activity proved to be enjoyable once again. A student even reminded a friend that nonsense words were ok – we are focused on rhyming!


Humpty Dumpty sat on a brig(j)
Humpty Dumpty had a great thig(j)
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s babes
Couldn’t put Humpty together zabes


Little Boy Blue
Come blow your shoo
The sheep’s in the meadow;
The cow’s in the boo
Where is the boy who looks after the donut
He’s under a haystack, fast blonut”

*The student who contributed donut was thrilled as he often shouts out donut as an inappropriate answer and this time it was ok.


Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of dogs
Jack fell candy cane
and broke his ane
And Jill came tumbling ogs

We will continue working on word families and writing well past our holiday break. Being able to apply this new skill to familiar text helps the students make connections. The use of nonsense words helps them feel successful. We have more activities to come… Writing our own rhymes and creating word family displays with our iPads. Stay tuned!

For more fun with familiar rhymes and songs check out Alen Katz’s and Bruce Lansky’s popular books:

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Writing as readers, reading as writers

Today was one of those great days – where so much learning happens that you’re not sure how you’ve gotten them there.  I owe this type of day to listening – listening to my students.  Since the end of last school year, I have been exploring what personalized (student centered) learning means in my classroom.  In the end, what it means to me is listening to my students.

This week, we have been talking about fall.  The season of fall led to discussion of other seasons.  We read A Tree for All Seasons at the beginning of the week.


The book follows a maple tree through all seasons of the year.  Winter captured their attention immediately.  Hands flew up in the air – syrup comes from trees?  The discussion took another direction, syrup.  Their scientific minds were churning, asking questions and thinking about how it all could work.  Our inquiry continued today with an experiment, but that will be another post…

In the theme of following the turns my students take on our path to learning, the writing mini-lesson for today was completely based on their questions.  Often, when teaching my kinders writing concepts, I can get caught up in the process.  When really, deep down, all I want them to do is consider themselves writers.  It was how I was taught to teach writers.  Yes, I was taught the writing process and writing workshop.  But the main point driven home to me by JoBeth Allen (near and dear) was that our stduents must see themselves as writers.  We are all writers – whether we like to write or not.  We do it every day.  It is a part of our everyday life.  Whether we are texting, tweeting, blogging, emailing, journaling, listing, or writing stories – we are writing.  We. are. writers.  Even as I know these things, I have “off” days.  Days when I ask myself – what would JoBeth do?  What would Katie Wood Ray do?  What would Lucy Calkins do?

My literacy class reminded me with a quote from Katie Wood Ray (jumbled and shortened – but this is the jist): “Focus on your writers, rather than a finished piece.  The process is not something you do, it is something you use.  Writing is an amazing, powerful tool to rock the world.  What are you going to do with it?”

Wednesday, I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  This book is a good reminder that we all have bad days – that was my point for reading it.

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However, my kids noticed something about the illustrations that shocked them.  “Why do the pictures not have colors?”  Of all my years of reading this book, no child has ever asked me that.  I admitted I didn’t know.  We have been tweeting everyday and one student suggested we tweet and ask.  Judith Viorst is not listed on twitter, but we hashtagged it to see what would happen.  This one question sparked a mini-lesson in my mind.  We would connect reading and writing (yet again).

So today, I brought good ole Alexander back out and asked what we remembered about the story.  The students gave great summaries.  Then, I opened the book and showed the pictures.  “Oh yeah, there are no colors!”  We discussed why the author may have done that.  We discussed why we didn’t like it.  I then held up two photocopies of a page from the book – one untouched and the other I colored.


“Which version do you like better?”  All said the one with colors.  The reasons varied from “It’s prettier” to “I know what he looks like”.  We then explored another Judith Viorst book.  We wondered if all of her books were like this.

download (2)Super, Completely and Totally the Messiest has a different illustrator.  However, the illustrations are half color/half black and white.  We noted that the important parts of the pictures (the parts that matched the words) were color and the rest (background) were black and white.

All this student led exploring brought us to the mini-lesson for the day.  Details.  Using details in our writing in kindergarten most often starts with our picture.  I told the students I wanted to write about a day I went to Battery Park with my family.  While we were looking at the water,  we saw dolphins.  I started drawing.  I drew the fence that blocks the sidewalk from the water and stopped.  I asked if I included everything I told them in my picture (No).  I added water and dolphins, then asked again (No).  I continued with this process until I completed my picture.  The details of pictures became very important.  We couldn’t see anyone’s eyes because everyone was looking at the water.  My nieces are seven and three so they were smaller, etc.


After checking my pictures for all details, we began to craft my sentences.  First I wrote, “My family went to Battery Park”.  I said I was finished.  Most students argued that point by reminding me about the dolphins.  I then modeled adding a second sentence by writing, “We saw dolphins”.


I know it seems long – but honestly, the entire mini-lesson took no more than a mini-lesson should (15-20 minutes).

From this point, the students went into center rotations ready for writing groups.  Using the guided writing method, my assistant and I are able to conference with children everyday.  Today was no different – “What do you want to write about?” was the question of the day.  Our more confident writers sat down and immediately started writing first.

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Our more self-conscious writers, started with their picture just as I did.

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Even writers with developing motor skills found success today.


Today was one of those days – a day you love your job, you love being a teacher.  The only difference is, I wasn’t really the “teacher” in the traditional sense.  They were in control of their learning – and that makes all the difference.

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Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Writing Workshop