Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Going Deeper with Author's Purpose

This week has been a little crazy at school because we're starting MAPS testing. Computer problems, anyone?

What was supposed to be an hour long test turned into much longer, and we're only on day 2. I haven't had a day yet that I've been able to pull all of my groups, and today was worse than most. Hopefully they will all be finished by Friday so I can start a normal schedule next week.

I have been able to push in to my 4th grade classes for an author's purpose lesson, though, and I thought I could at least share it!

A few years back, I wanted to create something to help my students get past "PIE" for author's purpose. I knew they weren't really understanding enough, so I made this little pack.

I first ask students what they think an author would really say if they were being interviewed about why they wrote their book. I want them to realize it would be silly for them to simply respond, "To inform". Then we brainstorm a few things they might say (I usually go with J.K. Rowling since I have older readers).

After that, I explain to them how they can find different pieces of evidence to help them determine the author's purpose: characters/topic, setting, choice of language, details, and genre. We talk about each of those pieces and then practice with a book.

The only section that really takes a lot of explaining at this level is language. They all want to write "English" and move on with it. I have to give lots of examples for each part. Here are my examples:

  • Persuasive books will have words such as "should", "the best", "don't", etc.
  • Informational books will always include facts. You only need to choose one or two to write.
  • Entertaining books will have story elements ("Once upon a time"), characters, and events that are not necessary for the story line. I explain that if there are any funny or scary lines, these would be good to include.

If I had more time, I would show how to fill out the sheet on an informational or persuasive book as well as a fictional story, but I could only do one. This year I chose to read a chapter from Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Chapter 10: Paul) because it's one of my favorite. Plus I know it will hold the students' attention even without pictures. You could do this activity with any book, though.

I also included a few practice paragraphs for students to try writing the author's purpose a little more. They need a lot of guidance at the beginning, so I usually ask them to work with a partner or even a table to come up with the purpose (as I walk around to each group and help) until they're a little more comfortable with it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Five for Friday

Today is the end of week two for us, and I'm slowly getting back into the groove of life and schedules. I mean, blogging two days in a row? That hasn't happened in almost a year!


I didn't end up decorating my door until last Friday because I was just too tired to bother with it. Then I saw this on Facebook and sent it to our librarian wishing we had doors on our library to do it. Yes, we have an open library. In fact, our classrooms didn't have doors until 8 years ago. True story. Apparently there weren't inner walls originally, but I digress...

Anyway, then I realized I could just get some white paper and do it on my door instead. So I looked through my Wimpy Kid books and found a page that I liked, and then I made it happen. I'm pretty proud of it (and praying it doesn't get messed up)!


I just started to work with a few kids Wednesday, so I don't have much in the way of teaching yet. However, I did work with my fourth grade students on context clues using Miss Rumphius. I just marked a few words in the book ahead of time (I actually did this lesson last year and left the marks in the book for later) and was ready to roll. We stopped at each word and discussed what it might me based on the pictures and other words on the page. You can do this with pretty much any book. Just be sure to look ahead and plan what words you use so the students can actually figure them out.


We had Back-to-School Night on Tuesday, which was pretty uneventful for me. Since I'm a Reading Specialist, I usually don't get any visitors. This year was no exception. I did, however, enjoy a yummy Barbecue dinner thanks to our PTO. And I may have also indulged on a brownie. Which leads to...


I've been having trouble kick-starting my weight loss after having Caffrey. Maybe it's because of how insanely busy life has been ever since then? Anyway, a lot of my coworkers did the 21 Day Fix and saw great results, so I decided to try it out. So far, I'm really just doing the diet part (sans shakes - I tried one and thought it was AWFUL. Fortunately I didn't buy them or I'd be out a lot of money), and today is day 11. I've lost 3 1/2 pounds and am feeling pretty good, but I have to admit I really miss my desserts!

How fitting that the state fair will be in town when my 21 days end! I'm just going to have to be really careful that I watch my portions and don't go crazy when this is over. And hopefully I can get on some kind of workout routine soon. If Caffrey will ever start sleeping through the night, it would help!


This weekend, the UCI Road World Championship is coming to Richmond. Apparently it's a big deal, especially if you're into biking. I'm not. What I do know is that it's shutting down parts of the city for two weeks and causing a lot of chaos.

We go to church in the city, and they actually have cancelled services for both weeks because of the race. One of the schools in the city is closed both weeks, and some others are closing on certain days when the routes affect them drastically. We won't be able to get out of our neighborhood this weekend until later in the afternoon, and we don't even live in the city. It's crazy.

But since the church BUILDING is closed for two weeks, all of the group leaders are hosting cook-outs at our houses and inviting friends. So if you live in the Richmond area and want to hang out this Sunday night, email me and I'll give you the info. We'd love to have you over!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Teach Students to Write a Good "Hook" in FIVE Simple Steps

Some of you may know this, but my husband is a high school Criminal Justice teacher and works next door to me. We ride in to work together almost every day. He switched careers 3 years ago when our first son was born, and he makes an EXCELLENT teacher!

Since he is teaching dual enrollment and because law enforcement officers have to do a lot of writing, he actually spends a significant part of his year teaching his juniors and seniors how to write quality research papers and reports. This morning, he was telling me that his juniors were struggling with intros, and I sighed in that knowing voice. We all struggle with this, right?

But it made me think back to a professional development we had a few years back that was literally the best PD I've ever had (and we got him for two days before school started and one more day during the year)! Fred Wolff from Six Traits Live! is engaging and gives lots of simple tips to incorporate into your classroom all the way from Kindergarten up through high school. I've blogged about him twice here and here (both times on sentence fluency), but today I want to share 5 steps for teaching students to write good hooks.

Compile a "text set" of some really good hooks. 

Make sure you have a variety. Picture books, articles, newspaper, etc. Also make sure to include as many different types of hooks as possible.
    • Start with a joke
    • Set the scene 
    • Use a quote or interesting fact
    • Give an example or scenario

Show them what doesn't work and talk about why. 

Read some papers or even books that start out boring, and let them decide for themselves that they wouldn't want to read any further.

Read a few examples of what does work. 

Just like any other skill, we need to be exposed to quality work so we know what it looks like. The more examples you can provide, the better. Talk about why these hooks are so much better. What makes them interesting? What types of words are they using?


The more students write hooks, the better they will do. And nothing says they have to write an entire paper every time. Let them just practice hooks for a while. Without having the stress of an entire paper hanging over them, they will be able to focus on this one skill and really make improvements.

During one Six Traits Live! PD, we were each given index cards at the beginning. At random intervals Fred would tell us to come up with a "hook" (of course, this was after he had read and modeled some good hooks first). We didn't have any other guidelines. No topic. Nothing. Our only purpose was to write the most interesting hook we could. Then we turned them in, and he chose some of the best.

Later, he read four hooks to us. One was from one of our peers, and the rest were from actual books. We played four corners to decide which of the hooks was not from a book. It was so neat to see how many of us were fooled into believing our peer's hook was from an author!

Continue the Exposure and Encourage Students to Help.

Put good hooks up around the room. Have students look for good ones as they read and add them to a collection.

After this PD, I was inspired to create a door decoration that used some of my favorite hooks from different children's books (a text set, if you will), and it's available for download here.The pencils have the hooks, and it's ready to just cut out and put up!

I'll leave you with one of my personal favorite hooks, and the first person to name the book it comes from will win my Mega mysteries bundle! (Contest now closed)

"It was one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays. One of those days that when you breathed out your breath kind of hung frozen in the air like a hunk of smoke and you could walk along and look exactly like a train blowing out big, fat, white puffs of smoke."

Good luck!

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Week Down, But Classroom Still in Progress

Normally my room would have been done two weeks ago. I basically just take the paper off my bookshelves, decorate, and I'm done in a day! Not this year, though...

We ordered a new program for Title I - LLI - have you heard of it? I'm really excited because it goes with our Fountas and Pinnell assessment program (made by Fountas and Pinnell also). What I didn't know, though, was how BIG it was.

THESE are just MY boxes. For grades 3-5. That's 21 big boxes of materials each weighing an estimated 40 pounds. Trust me. I almost dropped one on my foot.

So instead of decorating, I spent my work week purging and moving other resources into a book room we had to create JUST to make space for all of this in my tiny room.

All of the shelves left of the filing cabinet are now gone. I saved some of the games and was able to move them elsewhere, but those shelves were full of books last year.

The new system is so big that they're having to order huge shelves (like 18' deep) to fit it all. Right now I still don't have them, so the boxes are all set up and stacked in my room. I'm praying they get here soon because I start working with kids next week, and these boxes are too heavy to keep unstacking to find the box I need.

For now, though, I do have my door ready to show off. I'm so proud of it!

It took about 1.5 hours, but I did it all on my own! The excerpt is from Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw. The fact that it's about Shel Silverstein made me laugh! I think my kids are going to love it, and I just might keep it up all year.

Hopefully my shelves will be in soon and I can give a complete tour of my room all finished and pretty!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

GIF Your Face

So today was day 4 of 7 teacher workdays for us, and we were in PD all day learning how to use Chromebooks (which I'm very sad that we have to wait another year to get our own). We were playing around with apps, and I found GYF (Gif Your Face)

GIFs have become my new favorite toy on my phone. I just downloaded the GIF Keyboard app and have been sending all kinds of fun ones to friends when I text. This one is neat because you can create your own and even add text, which I haven't tried yet.

My friend, Jess, and I had fun trying to make one about how PD makes us feel, but someone added bunny ears and messed it up. Still, it was fun!

GIF Your Face

The app is free, and all you need is a webcam. I did have a little trouble copying the actual GIF instead of a URL when I was on the Chromebook, but it was easy when I pulled it up on the computer. Anyone have advice?

I'm thinking of using these with my fifth grade students as a way to illustrate different feelings vocabulary that they aren't familiar with. Then we can share them and have it available for future reference. I think this will make each "feeling" a little more memorable!