Saturday, January 10, 2015

Writing Workshop with a Techie Twist

CONFESSION: I used to really struggle with writer's workshop.  I had a hard time meeting with all my kids and managing the herd while I met with small groups.  I hated writing prompts on my bored.  I would forget which prompts I had already used.  It was boring.  I had good intentions, they just didn't work out very often.  Well, since I have started incorporating technology, my writer's workshop is super easy to manage.  I meet with all my kids on a regular basis, and have no issues with managing the class while I do it.  Want to know my secret?  Here it is!

Materials for my writers workshop are:
Stickers cut into groups of 4-6.
Craft sticks with numbers (one side red and one side green)
Writing journals
PowerPoint Prompts

I start off by making journals for each of my students.  I make a new journal each month and include enough pages to give us one page for each school day.  My school buys a TON of primary lined story paper each year, so I use that with construction paper for a cover.  I have created journal pages to make your own journals if your school does not provide lined paper.  These are included in my PowerPoint Prompts.

While my kids are out at afternoon recess, I just open my PowerPoint Prompts.  I have a prompt for every day of the month.  I click on the number that matches the date.  This ensures that I don't repeat or forget which prompts I have used.  I have also included random prompts that go with holidays and themes during the month.  I did this to make my journal prompts more versatile.  Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is January 15th, but you might want your class to write about it on the Friday before, the Tuesday after, or any other time it fits!

Another thing that I love about using PowerPoint Prompts is that they are much more engaging than a prompt written on the board.  I have included a variety of topics and writing skills.

These PowerPoint Prompts also have built-in quiet music.  You can choose to play the music or not.  This is a totally versatile tool!
As soon as my kids get back in the room and see the prompt on the board, they know to take out their journals and get busy writing.  This is a quiet, independent work time.  They are not allowed to ask for help with spelling.  Sounding words out independently reinforces phonics skills and makes them more confident writers.  I encourage them to use their dictionaries, but they can't ask me or classmates for spelling help.  I give my kids about 20 minutes to work on writing then they leave their journals on their desks and come to the rug.
I choose a stick from my cup and that student must share with the class.  They bring their journal up and read it to the class.  Next, I put it under my document camera and we critique it as a class.  The document camera lets the whole class see the writing on the board!  When I started this, I was worried that my beginning writers would be embarrassed or that kids might be mean to each other.  I was really careful about how I set it up and just the opposite has happened.  They are super supportive of each other and always proud to share.  We always find some things we like about the writing and some things for the student to work on.  This public sharing really motivates the kids to work hard and use their time wisely.  Once I started using the document camera, I saw a HUGE improvement in their handwriting!  They want to impress their classmates.  Everybody gets positive feedback even if it is "I like your picture" or "I like the way you did a lot of writing".  The kids are always kind to each other.  I love the way that this brings the class together and helps us feel like a community.  They see that they all have things to work on and things that they all do well.  We each have our strengths and weaknesses and we can help each other.  Some kids have incredible creative thinking skills, but need to work on using their dictionary for spelling sight words correctly.  Some kids have beautiful handwriting but need to work on punctuation.  I always guide the conversation and ensure that there is plenty of praise and just the right amount of critique needed to encourage and motivate without putting anyone down.  The document camera allows the whole class to discuss writing in an authentic and purposeful way.  It keeps the whole group engaged and participating - which means I am not trying to keep them busy while I work with small groups!

I have goals for writing.  My school does report cards every six weeks.  (BOO!)  The first six weeks of school, I want them to master one sentence.  Every day when we journal, their goal is one sentence.  I want a capital, punctuation, and it makes sense.  The second six weeks, we are working on two sentences.  We continue increasing our writing goals until the end of the year when we are writing paragraphs with a minimum of six sentences.  If the student who is sharing has completed our writing goals, they get a sticker on their journal.  I will make corrections and write notes while we are critiquing under the camera.  If students do an exceptional job, I call this "second grade writing" and they get two M&Ms.

More about the stickers -
The reason that I cut stickers into small groups, is because it helps me regulate how many students I am choosing.  I tend to try to choose too many and they get bored with it.  BORED = NAUGHTY!  Don't make that mistake.  By only picking 4, 5, or 6 students, they stay interested and look forward to our writing time.
More about the sticks -
I have had the same set of sticks for years and years.  I wrote numbers on the sticks (my kids all have an assigned number).  I painted one ond of the sticks red and the other side green.  I start with all the sticks green side up, red side down.  I remember that green means "GO".  Go ahead and pick them!  Red means "STOP".  Stop you have already picked them!  I pick a green and flip it over.  This helps me choose every student every week.  Once all the sticks are showing red, I flip them back to green and start over.  

 Here are a couple examples of our actual writing journals.  The prompt was "Would you rather paint or run?"  The student on the left knew that he needed help spelling exercise and could so he used his dictionary for those words.  He thought he could spell want and and, so he did not use the dictionary for these words.  We talked about that in our critique.  We also talked about reading over your work to make sure it really says what you want it to say.  He forgot a couple words, but he thought he had written them.  It wasn't until he read this to the class that he realized he left them out.  Our critique needs to be positive so we always find things we like and praise, praise, praise!  This kid was trying and there were lots of things he did right.  We recognized those things and gave plenty of compliments.  One student commented on how she liked the way he labeled his picture.  Another said they liked the way he used nice spaces between his words.  I want all my kids to leave writer's workshop feeling successful.
The student on the right is a more proficient writer than the one on the left.  At this point in the year, we are working on three sentences, but I would consider this "second grade writing" because I would be happy to send this kid to second grade with these skills.  While his writing is really good, we still find things for him to work on.  This creates a feeling of equality in my little writers and helps prevent them from feeling inadequate or boastful.  We said we liked the interesting words the student on the right used.  He will "draw a master piece" and be "famous".  We like how he chose to write the letters FUN in all capitals.  It was a great opportunity to talk about why he chose to do this.  When I asked why he did this, he said he liked how Robert Munsch used all capitals in some of his writing.  What a great opportunity for the whole class to hear one of their peers say something so inspiring!  This would not happen with my old small group writer's workshop.  What does this kid need to work on?  We gave him the goals of writing more!  He is ready for more sentences!  He had the word went instead of want and noticed this when he read to us so we also gave him reread as something to work on (the same goal as the first student).
This has been an amazing solution to writer's workshop.  It is so easy to manage and allows me to meet with every student every week.  The best part is, the kids love it!  This is by far my easiest block of time each and every day.  It allows me to assess my students and give them feedback with almost no prep!  LOVE THAT!  This year, I am creating four bundles of PowerPoint Prompts to use with writer's workshop.

Here are the links to the bundles I have in my store:

I have made a short demo video that shows how easy it is to use this resource:

Until next time,

Sunday, January 4, 2015

January Goals Gift Card Celebration

I am a firm believer in setting goals.  I set goals for myself every day!  Getting laundry done, lesson plans finished, projects completed, etc.  To keep myself motivated, I also set rewards for finishing my goals.  I believe that setting goals and writing them down is hugely important.  I have decided that 2015 is going to be the year of TpT goals.  I have always had my own goals, but I want your help to accomplish some of them.  I am going to give away a $10 gift card for each goal reached!  When you win, you tell me where you would like me to get your gift card from.  You choose your prize!  I am going to do this every single month all year long!  That means this is year, I will be giving away almost $500 worth of gift cards!  Holy smokes!

Here are January's goals:

Goal 1: 100 Blog Followers  (currently at 83)
Why follow this blog?  This is a great place to get more info on my products, ideas and resources to use in your classroom, and grab some freebies.  How do you follow?  Click the "Join this site" button on the right side of this blog.

Goal #2:  1,200 Facebook Likes  (currently at 1,037)
My facebook page is the best place to keep up on the latest products and updates.  This is also the best place for communication.  If you have an idea, question, or suggestion, this is the place to post it.
Goal #3:  15,000 TpT Votes (currently at 14,223)
Are you leaving feedback for your TpT purchases?   You earn credits to use toward free products!  Only about 1/3 of buyers leave feedback.  You can to to "my purchases" then sort items by "needs feedback".  This will help you make sure you got them all!  I recently figured out that I have earned over $140 worth of FREE TpT products just for leaving feedback!  How awesome is that?
Goal #4:  2,900 TpT Followers (currently at 2,757)
Why follow me on TpT?  You get a notification whenever I add new products.  You can also receive messages once a month telling you about sales, new products, or updates.  To follow, click the small green star below my store name.  When you are following, it shows "following".

How can you help reach these goals if you are already doing all these things?  Tell your friends!  Spread the word!  I love to celebrate milestones with big sales and giveaways.  Okay!  Finally time for the best part!  THE GIVEAWAY!  This raffle will run all month.  Winners will be selected the beginning of February.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway