This is HARD!

I am a writer.  I am not a published author, but I see myself as a person with an opinion, something smart to say, someone with ideas to express.  I do that is many venues, and one of them includes following along in each writing cycle that I ask my students to go through.

Usually this is a relatively easy task.  I’ve been writing for myself for years now, and have TONS of ideas to choose from in my many Writer’s Notebooks.  And as long as the genre is something non-fiction, I’m ok.  And then this time every year a fiction cycle rolls around and I start to get nervous.   For whatever reason, writing a story is just not something that comes easily to me.  It seems that every story I do end up writing has something to do with Santa Claus or Christmas.  Other than that, I got nothing.

So when we got to Thursday–drafting day–I should have been ready to sit down with my students and use my own seed idea and nurturing notes to draft, I had a little confession to make instead.

“THIS IS HARD!” I started.   I had to admit to them that I was not ready to draft.  I had to tell them that, in fact, I didn’t even have a start of an idea.  I had NOTHING!  Ok, not nothing–I did have 7 years of Writer’s Notebook filled with ideas, but nothing that spoke to me and said, “Hey, Mrs. Bearden–write a story about this!” or that could easily fit into a Santa or Christmas story (that’s all I know how to write about, remember??).

So on drafting day, instead of drafting, my job was to figure out my idea.  But I needed help.  And I knew just the people to ask. 🙂

As my students worked on their own drafts, then, I went back to work digging through my notebooks to find anything that I was at least a little bit interested in.  I wasn’t really even sure what I was looking for, but I did end up finding a couple of cute stories from my childhood.  Then one about my little brother.  And another about something funny my husband did when he was a kid.  And so finally my wheels starting turning…

After a few minutes, I at least had a start:

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What I came up with was an idea to incorporate many stories from my childhood (about me, my brother, my dad, my husband) into one, set in an old house I used to live in. The trouble was figuring out how to do that.  All I had to do was just begin to mention all of this to my students and within about 10 seconds I had at least 10 possibilities–one that even had a link to Christmas!  Love it.

And do now my hard work continues as I try this weekend to come up with my draft.  And believe me, it’ll have to happen, regardless of how impossible it feels to me now.  They’re counting on me.  I ask them to do it, so I should be able to do it, too, right?  I’ll let you know the answer to that when I figure it out.  Hopefully before Monday. 🙂

What’s your favorite genre to write?  Is there one that’s easier or harder for you?  Tell us about it!

Trying Something New: Writing Warm-Ups

So hopefully by now you’ve seen posts about how we use math warm-ups to reinforce and extend what we’re working on in our current math unit.

Well…math warm-ups have been working SO WELL for us, that I finally got around to trying something I’ve been thinking about for a while–writing warm-ups.

First a back story…

Everyone knows that learning the mechanics and grammar of writing is important.  But what is the best way to teach it?  For many years, I did what many people do–give kids lots of sentences to edit and correct, hoping that they would then transfer that “learning” into their writing.  One year I even turned daily edits into a weekly quiz, so that I could be sure I was assessing this work we were doing.  And I guess it worked ok.  Kids showed me that they knew how to capitalize correctly, use basic punctuation and pick the “right” word depending on the question they were asked.  But yet they didn’t do a great job of doing this in their writing.  It was like they had never encountered the rules for punctuation, capitalization or grammar.

This puzzled me, and I was curious about what else I could do to improve these skills in my students’ writing.  After learning from a smart friend of mine, and doing a little reading on my own, I had some different thoughts about what was better practice in this area.  For one thing, I abandoned Daily Edits.  These exercises, after all, only gave my students exposure to these skills in isolated situations–situations that made them unable to transfer the knowledge.  The thinking in not doing them, is that when all that students see is the wrong way to use mechanics and grammar, they may subconsciously be learning that wrong way to do it.  It’s totally against the logic of why I did those activities, but after I heard it, it made perfect sense.

So fast forward a few months: I began doing a punctuation study as a means of helping  my students discover and learn more about how writers use punctuation.  I wanted them to see the right ways that writers use punctuation to make meaning; I wanted them to learn why they should want to know how to punctuate correctly, not just “because my teacher told me to follow these rules.”

And so for several years I’ve also wanted to try something else.  Something that finally happened this past week.

The basic idea of the Writing Warm-up is to show my students a piece of writing (that I choose specifically based on what I want my students to discover) and ask them what they notice.   I want them to look for things the writer does with words, spacing, punctuation, etc., that they could then try in their own writing.  And unlike with daily edits, I can highlight a specific skill by showing them a quality piece of writing demonstrating the right way to do it, rather than one filled with mistakes.

So far we’ve only had three of these warm-ups, and here they are:



This first one, from a beloved read aloud we finished recently, had all sorts of “good stuff” to discover.  I specifically picked it because we were trying to figure out more about how to use the semi-colon, but obviously they found many other things I hadn’t expected.  We worked on this one together with the document camera so everyone could see it on the big screen.  They had their own copy of the text, too, so that they could take notes if they wanted to.


IMG595This one gives you a better idea of logistically how we manage these warm-ups.  Unlike the math version, we use the ActivBoard instead of the easel.  Instead of doing them in the morning, our writing warm-ups happen right when we return from lunch and recess.  Their “bellringer” before they head to read aloud is to check out the text, then jot an idea on a post-it what they think they can learn.  They put the post-it on the text near the thing they noticed.  Then, at the beginning of our Writer’s Workshop lesson, we return to this text and have a quick conversation before moving on to the main daily lesson.



Another excerpt from our current read aloud Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer, one that I chose specifically because of the dialogue included.  We’re in the middle of a fiction writing cycle, and there is an expectation that they will include dialogue in those stories.  We’ve already discussed how commas work in this situation, and so this is an extension–how you start a new paragraph each time a new character starts, to help your reader keep track of who is speaking without having to write “he said” each time.  The cool part is that most of them mentioned this without me even prompting them!  Good stuff.

The verdict is still out on whether these warm-ups will do what I want them to, but then again we’ve just started.  At the very least, it’s a good start for us, and my writers love them, so there’s good potential.  We’ll keep you updated. 🙂

How do you teach grammar and mechanics?   What do you think of Writing Warm-ups? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think. 🙂