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Nursery Rhymes and Details in Writing

I have been working with my students on adding detail to their writing.  I don't know about you, but I find that when my kids write, they tend to leave out big chunks of the action either because a) they ran out of space on their paper or b) they see the mind movie but just don't think to translate that onto the paper for other people to "see".    So, in an effort to get the kids to add the details that are missing from their writing pieces, I have broken out some nursery rhymes to help.

Nursery rhymes are high in fun rhyme, but low in details.  This makes sense though, since the purpose of nursery rhymes are to have small children remember them rather quickly.  However, because they don't have many details, each orator can create their own images of what is actually happening behind the scenes in the nursery rhyme, giving way to lots and lots of interpretations.  One of the more well known rhymes, that has some random interpretations, is Humpty Dumpty (hello, an egg magically appeared in this one!!)

So I took the four parts of Humpty Dumpty and asked the kids to tell me the actual tale that was taking place.  We know that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.  But why?  How did he get there?  What was the purpose?  The time?  The actual place?  I pointed out that good writers usually tell the reader the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story and that is what is missing in this nursery rhyme.  I modeled these questions and brainstorming the answers (just in bullet form) for my students.  I then had the students fill in their own ideas about why Humpty was sitting on that wall.

I continued modeling adding details to each verse, one by one.  When we got to the "And all the King's horses and all the King's men", suddenly we were faced with the fact that some sort of royal element was introduced.  Some students wanted to just add that a king *happened* to walk by.  Others went back into their brainstorms for the first verse and added that Humpty Dumpty was really a prince out on a walk, so that it made sense that the king's men would try to help him.  Already, before any real writing took place, the kids were seeing that this needed to be a cohesive story.  That elements found near the end would have to match those at the beginning.

The second day, once all of the details were brainstormed, the students started to turn those ideas into sentences.  I modeled using my own brainstorm how to pick pieces up to construct sentences.  Sometimes I combined two or three ideas from my brainstorm to write a sentence that helped my reader to see just what was going on.  I wanted to make sure that a few of the who, what, when, where, why, and hows got into one complete sentence.  After I modeled a few different sentences for the kids (using the first verse), I let them try.

By the time the kids got to the third verse, they were really seeing how creating sentences that contained several of the "W"s were more interesting and clear.

(Are you interested in the posters I used on my class charts?  Click here to download!)

On the third day, I had my students create a cohesive paragraph that combined the sentences written on day two into a full story.  Again, this took a lot of modeling, but the students were able to do this with relative ease.

So there you have it.  Using nursery rhymes was an easy way for my students to really connect the idea of details driving the story.  They were able to be creative, yet clear and concise in their writing.  It really worked out well for us all! you like my actual lesson plans and organizers to recreate this in your classroom?  You can find them here in my store (though, you probably can do it based on my description here....I know...what a sales pitch ;))   

God, Glory, and Gold -- Zentangle Explorer Ships

Our Explorer unit is in full swing now and things are moving along quite nicely.  After a brief oral retelling by me about how the  world was, for all intents and purposes, two separate entities, since the oceans kept the two major hemispheres apart, we launched into a reading about the various reasons why the early European explorers decided to explore in the first place.

Now, each year I do this with the students and, in the past, I had the students create a little flipbook of those reasons (I wrote about it here in this post). This year, I took a little different approach.  We talked about how there are three main categories that historians have classified European desire to explore -- God, Glory, and Gold.

I gave the students an article which outlined these three reasons fairly well.  Before we read, I talked to them about how when reading informational text, we generally do it with a purpose in mind.  We created this anchor chart together.

Then, I had the students write the purpose of our reading at the top of the passage.  They wrote, "What were some reasons early European explorers explored?"  I also had them write "God", "Glory", and "Gold", using a different color crayon for each of those three words.

As we read the informational article, whenever we came across information answering our purpose question, the students highlighted it with the crayon that best suited the categorization of that information.  For example, if the passage was talking about how the explorers wanted to convert those who they came into contact with, they would highlight with the "God" color.  Just from this simple color coding, they were able to see that a majority of the reasons for exploration were based in the desire to find gold and wealth.

Then, after some discussion, I had the students create a Tree Map on a plain piece of paper.  They then categorized the information, in their own words, from the article they read.

Finally, as a way to display this information, with a little (ok, a lot) of inspiration from Susie the Panicked Teacher, I had the kids draw an explorer ship.  They needed to draw three masts, with two triangular sails on each mast.  At the top of the mast, they drew a little flag that read either "God", "Glory" or "Gold".  On each of the sails, the students wrote the information they had summarized on their tree maps.

The actual boat section took an artistic turn.  Susie gave me a sheet that had about 20 different zentangle patterns.  I asked the students to divide their ship hull into 4 or 5 sections, then draw a zentangle pattern in each one.   They were free to use the patterns I had or to create their own.  They then outlined them in black marker, colored the patterns in shades of brown, and cut the boats out.

My kids loved the zentangle.  They were so focused and zen while drawing.  All in all, I think this was a great way for them to think about the reasons for exploration while still getting in a little art.  Want a step by step for the zentangle art?  Click the link to Susie's blog above.  She outlines how to do it so well....and you can pick up the free zentangle sample sheet I used in my class as well.

How do you introduce the reasons for early European exploration?

Contrasts and Contradictions

We finally began looking at the Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading signposts this week, starting with the tried and true Contrasts and Contradictions. I wanted to share with you a few of the things we did in class that helped the students to really grasp the idea of a character acting out of the norm for that particular character.

To introduce the signpost to my fifth graders, I began with the "Thank You, Ma'am" lesson in the book.  I highly recommend purchasing the book and starting with this lesson, if you haven't.  There are a lot of great ideas contained within the book itself that will be helpful to you as a teacher when teaching the signposts. Click the link above that will take you to my Amazon Affliate link to purchase the book.

During that introduction lesson, I created this  anchor chart with the students.  They wrote the information in their journals as I was writing on the poster.  Having the kids write this down really helped them to begin to internalize the information.

The next time we visited the signposts, I showed the students the Pixar short Presto.  This is a funny little short movie about a magician's bunny who acts in very unexpected ways.  As we were watching, I had the students note the times when they asked themselves "Why did the character act this way?"  After a lot of laughing on the students' part (it was a funny movie that they LOVED), we created a T-chart on the board.  One side of the t-chart was for "Characters Actions".  The other side was labeled "Why did the character act this way?"  Then the students told me all of the times they jotted down when one of the characters acted in an unexpected way, and the reason for it.

We then did a lesson another day using the book Stellaluna (just like my friend Kathie at Tried and True Teaching Tools did)  I read the book to the students and, again, they noted when the character acted in a way that contradicted with what they thought would happen.  This was a bit more challenging this time, as the students wanted to list all of the things *they* thought were weird (ie: bats eating bugs) and not thinking about that being out of the ordinary for *that* character.  We created the same t-chart as with the Presto movie to map out the contradicting character actions.

Now that the students were becoming more familiar with the ideas of what it means for a character to act out of the ordinary, I gave them a little foldable I created asking them to actually list out the instances in "Thank You, Ma'am" where the Contrasts and Contradictions moments occurred.  (we only did it whole group and orally before)  They worked in pairs to make note of the C/C in the short story.

So that about does it for Contrasts and Contradictions.  I am on to the next signpost next week...and will bring you a new post when I have some new ideas to share :)

Reading Rotations Sheet

A while back, I share with you how I planned to run reading rotations in my room (actually, a year ago this October!)  I have something to share with you now....

It didn't work for me.

I know....a collective gasp just went up among the Teaching in Room 6 followers.  Something didn't work??  How could that be??  ;)

Seriously though, the plan I had mapped out so carefully just wasn't in the cards.  I think a lot of it had to do with my "all or nothing" approach.  I felt like if I didn't do rotations every day, then what was the point?

Well, my school is moving towards a "Universal Access" mode, where I will have a push in aide for 40 minutes per day, and I think this is the PERFECT time to try rotations again.

You can read my exact plan here (which I am going to try again) but I wanted to share the rotation sheets with you, since I many of you asked for them before.  So here they are.

These aren't editable (due to clip art terms) but they will give you a good idea of how you can also structure your rotation plan.  I also included a blank one for you, so you can just fill that one in with your own rotation schedule.

Empathy Scenarios

Continuing on with our lessons about RESPECT, my class moved on to Empathy.  For those of you following along, this lesson went with the "E" in Digital Divide and Conquer's RESPECT posters. 

I began by showing the students this Sesame Street video defining Empathy.  Let's face it, empathy is a hard word to understand and Sesame Street has a knack for breaking hard concepts down for kids.  I will admit, when I first projected this up, there were several groans from my fifth graders.  But by the end of the video, they were laughing and fully into it.  Plus, they understood Empathy :)

Once we had a good working definition of what it means to be empathetic, I walked them through the five steps towards showing empathy in any given situation.  I got these steps from this lesson here, and I thought they were just perfect for breaking down the process we go through when putting ourselves in another person's shoes.

I then broke the students into groups of 4.  Each group was given a scenario in which they could possibly show empathy to the person being effected by the circumstances.  I also gave each student a different colored sticky note.  I had them cut each sticky in half, so they would have a total of 5 stickies (actually 6, but they used that 6th one for a book mark or something.)  On each of the five stickies, I asked the students to write how they would respond to the scenario according to the five steps.

For example, if the scenario was "A student, who studied hard for her test, failed." the kids would write how they would watch that student's body language and listen to her words in step one, or show the student who failed that they care in step five.

Once all of that was done, each student placed their sticky on the "step" on the recording sheet I gave them.  Then, taking the idea from these collaborative posters from Runde's Room, the kids read each idea and combined them into one "best" way to respond empathetically to each step in the scenario.

Finally, each group presented their scenarios and the steps towards empathy that the kids decided upon.

All in all, this was a great way to get the kids thinking about putting themselves in each others' shoes.  They now have a new word in their vocabulary and ways to help them show empathy.

Would you like the two printables I gave the students?  You can get them by clicking here.

If you are following this series, you can find the rest of the lessons below:

R -  Heart Mending
E -  Empathy (this post here :))
STHINKing before you Speak


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