How to Judge Fairly

We are learning many things in first grade lately (that’s good, right?) and many of them are about how to argue!

Yes, I know, you shouldn’t argue with your friends (or your enemies, either), but it is a good thing to know how to make a good argument.

Our newest writing unit is about writing reviews, making judgments and arguing about why something is the best–with reasons to support that opinion.  We started by bringing in collections from home and judging which we thought was the best.  We were supposed to write our thinking, giving reasons that would convince our fellow writers.  It was great how quickly they dug in to this work, and how seriously they considered the choice.

We shared our initial judgments and shared our choices with our writing partners.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working on how to strengthen our arguments, by adding reasons, using strong words and phrases like “You might think…but I think…”, adding in quotes from others, and giving details.  We also learned how to strengthen our reasons by considering the opinions of others.  This was a fun day when we got to judge our friends’ collections and write about whether we agreed or disagreed (respectfully!) with their decision of “best in show.”

Our most recent argument was made as a part of our plans for #weekofkindness: we gathered a SUPER chart of ideas and kiddos had to convince me (and their friends) about which ones were the best.  What motivating writing topics!


We will continue our work over the next few weeks, eventually moving our arguments and reasoning into ways we can make change in our community (which ties in with our study of history and change-makers in Social Studies right now!).  Fun times ahead!  Stay tuned!

Writing About Reading

I figured out today why I have such a hard time deciding what to write on this blog: I like for things to fit nicely into categories/tags/subjects/projects, and so often, the things we do around Rm. 202 are not that way.  I find that maybe I’ve gotten to that place where many of our subjects overlap–just like I’ve always hoped they would!  I know, that sounds like I’m not doing it on purpose (which of course I am, as I carefully plan how and when and why), but I think sometimes when you’re in the middle of something you can’t really see the big picture (isn’t there some quote about forests and trees that would fit here? LOL).

So as I think about how to describe what we’ve been doing in Writing lately, it’s hard to explain just the writing part, because it includes reading (which is perfect, as those two subjects go hand-in-hand anyway, right?).  We have been working on writing opinion letters, with most of our topics being about the series books we’re reading in our book clubs.  Luckily, though, there are lots of other things to have opinions about, so we’ve been trying out that structure with other topics, too.

We’ve gone through many versions, with me teaching mini-lessons and kiddos then trying out the big ideas.  We’ve talking about format of a letter; stating opinions; adding reasons as well as details and support for those reasons; using transition words like one reason is, another reason is, last but not least (which many kiddos were doing already just based on learning them last year!); as well as just using interesting words and making our letter match our audience.  The procedure became that they would write a letter, but then rather than actually delivering it to that person, they’d give it to me, and I’d note what they did right and what they could work on for next time.

We wrote about books, 100th Day of school suggestions, ideas about why their weekends were good, as well as many other things about which you could have an opinion.  I was noticing, though, that over the last few weeks our letters had been getting shorter and less detailed (which was obviously not the goal!).  We had a class meeting and Millie suggested that the reason this was happening was because they had written so many letters that actually they were getting really sick of it and weren’t trying their best anymore.  While this was sad, I totally saw how that could be, and as impressed by her insight.  Others agreed and so I made a plan that we would work our hardest to create our best final letters (to Mrs. Meihaus, our librarian, about our vote for the Show-Me Reader Award) over the next 3 days and then be done.

So as I thought about what we would do for those next 3 days, I knew I needed to give another model to my writers about what that letter should look and sound like.  And since I wanted them to write about books, I did, too.  My letter was about my favorite read-aloud choice, Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher.  It looked like this:


I had hung the letter up there before the day started, and it was one of the first things (thankfully) that kiddos noticed when they came in.  Yeah, the first response was “Wow, that’s long!”  Later on, I had them look at it, studying it to answer this question: How do I write a STRONG Show-Me letter?  Not surprisingly, they were able to notice a whole page full of things that I had in my letter that they needed to put in theirs.


As they made their list, I marked their ideas on the actual letter (notice the different colors and the things we boxed in) so we could reference it later.  I was impressed to see that they had been paying attention, and that they could come up with that all on their own!

After this, I gave kiddos a graphic organizer to use to plan their letter and we got busy.  We’re almost done, so I’ll share our progress in the next few days.  It’s pretty good stuff!

And the Winner Is…

When we came back from Spring Break, we were in the middle of our opinion letter writing unit (I know, I still have not finished the story, but here’s the beginning again if you missed it!).  One of our first writing assignments was an opportunity to both tell me about their Spring Break AND test out their newly learned skills.  Double win, right? 🙂

Here are the directions I gave them:

Kiddos then spent several days planning and writing a letter that showed me their mad letter writing and convincing skills, and that included the most fun parts of their time away.  Unfortunately it took me a little while to get around to choosing a winner, but yesterday we finally sat down to crown the winner.  And the winner is….

It was SUPER hard to decide on the winner (there were two that it came down to and they were SO close!), but in the end, Millie’s letter had all the things we had be learning about: greeting, a stated opinion, 3 or more reasons, transitional words (like one reason is, another reason is, finally, closing, correct spelling and punctuation).  When I read it out loud, it was great to see (and hear) the reaction of the class–they could tell just by listening that it had all those parts.

And since it was a writing challenge, the prize was something to help make her writing even more spectacular–mini gel pens!

IMG_4412  I don’t use competition all the time, but sometimes it works to raise the level of excitement, engagement or even production.  And in this case it just made sense.  Way to go Millie, and other friends of Rm. 202 who wrote some great Spring Break letters!

Best in Show!

We recently finished a pretty great unit on opinion writing.  I just realized (which happens more than I’d like to admit) that I’ve been collecting lots of photos and teaching moments, but not sharing any of them!  And now what has happened is that there is NO way I could write the whole story in one sitting, and NO way you’d want to read it all in one post!  So I’ll just share bits of it at a time.  That’s ok, right?  Thanks for understanding. 🙂

Ok, so our unit (which was taken from Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study), began with an experience related to dog shows.  Well lots of kinds of shows.  Dinosaur shows, bouncy ball shows, army men shows, writing utensil shows.  Our unit began with kids practicing what it looks (and feels) like to choose the best of something, and give sound reasons as to why that was their choice.  I LOVE how even from day 1, kiddos were doing some of the same thinking and writing they’d be expected to do (on a much deeper level) at the end of the unit.  We had jumped into the deep end with both feet!

Kids were asked to bring in a collection of something beloved from home.  We talked about dog shows and made sure everyone understood the idea of “best in show” and how that works.  We talked about how to judge fairly, and I modeled my very own “best in show.”  I was the one who had a writing utensil show.  I know you’re surprised. 🙂


This is the process we used to choose our Best in Show.


My writing utensil collection. 🙂 I used the “How to Judge Fairly” chart to determine which one was the best. It’s the black Flair pen, by the way. 🙂


You’re convinced, right?

After some modeling, practicing aloud with a partner (with my collection, trying to tell their partner which of my items was the best and why), writers tried out the process on their own collections.  Isn’t it fun how many different kinds of collections we ended up with in our room?:

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As the closure for this first day of opinions, kiddos shared their Best in Show thinking with an elbow partner.

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I have to tell you, I was SUPER impressed with how well they did at their very first try!  I think it was a peek into the great work that was to come.  And I’ll share more of that great work in bits and pieces over the next few days.  You’ll come back, right? 🙂