Beginning Narrative Writing

I just wrote a few days ago about exploring genres before starting writing any specific type of writing. Usually, we first dive into narrative writing. 

I  like to start with personal narratives because kids already have a "bank" of ideas- their day to day lives!! As part of setting up our Writer's Workshop, we have already began brainstorming in our Writer's Notebooks.  If you would like to check out my FREE starting Writer's Workshop lessons- check out this post.

Before actually starting any writing, I like for kids to have a great deal of exposure to examples of narratives.  Here are some great mentor texts for personal narratives:

After we have read a few fabulous books, we brainstorm what all the books have in common.  This becomes an anchor chart and checklist for us. I did this in 2nd and 3rd grade.  Here is an example of what we brainstormed in 2nd grade:

I have found that after kids have conquered the brainstorming struggle, the next hump is writing stories in an organized manner that stretches the important details out for the reader.  This can help them understand and visualize the story better.

I learned this technique a million years ago from Caulkins.  She talked about telling a story across your hand.

First, I model this for students.  I literally touch every finger and orally tell the story and then "wrap it up" by touching my palm and closing my hand into a fist.   I also try to include temporal words to help organize the story, like those listed in the picture above.

You can click on the picture to download a FREE copy!

I also give students a blank copy of the hand to write the story on after they have told it across their own hands.  This helps internalize the structure.

When I co-taught, some of students (especially those with language processing issues) really struggled with telling the story in an order that made sense.  The hand strategy above was not structured enough for them.

For these kids, I provided the text frame above.  It walks students through a simple personal narrative.

I also included a sample of a filled in graphic organize so you could show your students how to fill it in.

I also noted teaching points that could be modeled using the sample story included. Then, an example of how I revised to include the suggestions.

I found this amazing freebie from One Lucky Teacher (Erica Trobridge) on Teachers Pay Teachers.

She already did the hard work and listed some mentor texts AND teaching points from each texts!  It is a fabulous resource!

You can get ALLLLL the organizers listed in this post FREE here!  Enjoy!

What do you start with?  Do you also start with narrative writing?



Exploring Genres Before Writing

One of the first lessons that I do before introducing narrative writing is a simple investigation. I do this over 2-3 three days, depending on how speedy my class is! I like to do this before I start teaching ANY genre of writing.  This way my kids have a basic understanding of typical text structure.

On the first day I set out a basket of books at each table group.  In the basket are literary books- mostly narrative.

I give student just a few minutes to browse the basket.  I ask students to look for things that can be found in literary text. I encourage the kids to talk to their table groups. Then we come to the carpet and discuss with our partners what we notice and share it whole group.  Then we create an anchor chart together.

On the second day I pass out a new basket of books to table groups. This time the basket is filled with nonfiction books.  I ask the students to browse through the books a think about what they notice about nonfiction text.

After students browse we sit at the carpet and create a new anchor chart .  This chart is, "What Do I Notice About Nonfiction Text?" If students are able we can move to the next part of the lesson or I just do it the next day.  I post both of our anchor charts about texts.  Then we create a Venn Diagram comparing the two types of texts. It is easy since they have already done all the brainstorming! It is also a great way to introduce the concept of comparing and contrasting.

I like to do this because I think it really gets them thinking and also begins to encourage students to notice the features and structures of texts.  It also has a SECOND benefit.  It gets the kids excited about different books and often my kids want to actually now read and check out the books they just got a taste of! Many times I will keep all the books that I checked out in baskets in the front of the room for awhile.  Then, students can read them when they have time!

Generally, after this I jump into narrative writing.  I will share more about that Monday!!



September Goodies and MORE!

I cannot believe I am actually writing this.

We are halfway through August.  Say what?  It is like I blinked and now Fall is upon us.  But, that is okay. I like fall.  What I don't like?  Hot.  And it is VERY hot here!

Today I am linking up to share some ideas, products, and FREEBIES for September!  This was you can get your plan on early!!

You can click on the pictures of my visual plans and it will take you to a pdf file with all the linked goodies!  There are lots of freebies in there, so make sure to click around!

Oh my word.  I just love Kevin Henkes.  He is so perfect for this time of year.  His books are so relatable to kids, too.  And funny. He also has more than his mouse series of books and they are such quality writing as well.  The link to the book, Chester's Way above it super cool.  It is read aloud and is ALSO done in sign language.  I love storyonline!

Place value, place value, place value.  It is so important, but so many kids are lacking in this area. The Easy Prep Place Value pack is a a baby of mine.  I made it to make planning for guided math a snap.  It has all you pre and post tests, small group lessons, and more. There is also an exclusive freebie in there I haven't shared anywhere else!  Enjoy!

One of my friends love the Print and Go! Place Value centers.  She has asked me to make more on different topics (right now I just have Place Value, Addition, and Subtraction).  My goal is to make those this year! My friend just laminated her copies and kids wrote on them with dry erase markers.  You can also just print them, and have kids write on them and turn them in as a record of their learning.

I hope this gives you a few freebies and goodies to make September as smooth as ever! Are you ready for cooler weather, too?

I am linking up at

If you want, click around for more goodies!!!

Click here for this great pack of FREE math centers, plus get tips and updates from me!



Building Classroom Community (and a Give Away for a Class Set of T-Shirts!)

It is that time of year again!  A fresh crop of kids to turn into a family! I do believe that your classroom of students become your "school family." You are together as often as with your own family for many of the kids!

So how can you make sure to build a positive environment where everyone feels valued?

I am a HUGE fan of sitting students in groups.

It does cause the teacher to be more cognizant of classroom management, but it also gives students chances to develop rapport and make friends. It also makes partner and small group activities easy, because the teacher can choose to use the table groups.

One of our very first activities is to write a classroom promise.  This is our promise to each other.  We record how we will act and treat each other.  Then, every student signs it.  Over the years, I have also had students create a personal logo or a picture of themselves to personalize it.

Another way to build students up and together is a class compliment jar. This is kind of like the "fill your bucket,"  but on a much simpler scale.  I kept a jar or index card box (it varied from year to year) with a stack of post it notes next to it. Whenever another student did something kind, a student could write it down and slip it into the jar.  At the end of the day, I randomly pulled out 3-4 slips of paper and read them aloud.  Kids LOVED hearing their names and beamed with pride.  It also made kids aware of acts of kindness.

So in #1, kids are sat in groups. I also liked to provide several areas in the room where students could partner up and work together. It gave students a special place.

Here are a few partner areas I have had over the years in my room.

I took out the table legs.  The kids sat on the floor and worked at the table- and LOVED it!

So all this is great and warm and fuzzy and all, but you also have accept that you will need to explicitly teach kids how to treat each other. For many kids, communicating effectively, listening, and sharing is not intuitive. Every year I taught basic things, like how to share during share time (like in the poster above) or how to listen.

I even wrote a unit on how to communicate in class discussions and work with partners called Back to School Buddies.

In the unit are explicit lessons and activities to teach sharing, listening, and effectively communicating. I also tried to include lots of partner activities that are perfect for getting to know each other in the beginning of the year.

Have you guys hear of  

It is part of the A+ Images, Inc websites. This company is SO GENEROUS.  Recently, they offered bloggers a free shirt, just in return for a shout out (PS-The offer is still good until 9/30/15!).  That is it!  I ordered a free shirt before Vegas.

I look like a cheese ball in the picture, but this is me on my way to Vegas in my custom shirt!  I was actually pretty surprised when I got the shirt.  My expectations were none existent...I mean, it was free!  I was pleasantly surprised when I got the shirt.  The fabric is pretty thick and the screening looked great. I did order up a size, and I am glad I did. I am not sure if it shrank, or I am just not ready to face the music and accept my bust size.  Either is likely! LOL!

When I went to Vegas, I attended a meet up and meet Doug, who works with the company.  He was the nicest guy.  And here is the best part, the company gave away a class set (up to 24 shirts) FREE of t-shirts to a teacher.  I about fell out of my chair when my name was called! Since I am no longer in the classroom, they let me give it away!  Yahoo!

This is just one sample of the possible designs.  Wouldn't that be the cutest thing ever to build your classroom community!?!?!?  A group t-shirt!  There are directions and everything on the website on how to create the t-shirts. Want to win?

Entering is simple!

Do you have any other tips to build classroom community?


Setting Up the Classroom (2015 Edition)

This year I went in again and helped a teacher friend of mine set up her second grade classroom.  It is always fun- I love the back to school season and set up!  The best part is I get to go back home, and spend time with my girls rather than plan! LOL! The perks of staying home with kids, right?

While the pictures below are not of my friend's classroom, I did take them so you can see what teachers start with when they walk in the door for the first time at a school.  Crazy, right? This is the empty classroom right across the hall from her.

When we entered her classroom, it looked like this.

As  you can see in the picture above, we had some special guests! Both of us have kids, so we just brought them along with us.  It was a bit of a zoo with a 1,2,3, and 4 year old with us, but we hung in there! LOL!

This year was a bit different.  She was moving from being a self-contained classroom, to a co-taught classroom. Well, the classroom setting- she was still staying in the same physical classroom! LOL! This meant we needed to declutter and prepare the space for two teachers.  Luckily, her co-teacher is AWESOME.  She wasn't able to be there on the days I was there due to scheduling conflicts, but I used to work with her too.  She is a super sweet lady- she didn't mind us setting up without her.

One of the first things we did was try to arrange the furniture.  This took almost ALLLL morning.  My friend's classroom is a GREAT size, but has odd cabinets, little walls sticking out, and outlets in difficult places.  I think we drug furniture around about 3-4 times before we finally found a set up that would work.  The kids thought it was a great obstacle course.  Oiy!  We are lucky we made it out with all of our limbs all attached! LOL!

The big pile of stuff in the right corner above, is all the co-teacher's materials.  We left most of it there, so she could go through it when she came in a few days later. She really had her stuff pretty well organized and shoved in a corner for us, which was nice.

This is the end of the first day.  We spend several hours, and got a pretty good bit done.  Mostly just getting the furniture in place and the library set up.  Considering our kids were running around like a bunch of wild ones (that had an AWESOME time, actually), I felt pretty good!

We came back the next day down two kids :).  My mom was in town and was able to keep my girls (yahoo for Grandmas!!).  We decided to get down and dirty.  My friends really wanted to get organized this year.  Since that is my passion and love, I was in heaven! LOL!

She really wanted to organize her desk area.  Last year, she departmentalized and taught math, social studies, and science.  This means all her reading materials had been packed away (for the most part). We needed to dig her materials back out and set them up in a way that make sense.

We actually set her guided reading books up like this last year, but she gave them away when she departmentalized to her partner. 

The school my friend is at has a fantastic guided reading collection for each classroom.  She wanted to be able to access them all when planning, so we set up the shelves beside her guided reading to hold all her books.   All the books were sorted into buckets by Fountas and Pinnel level.

The colored buckets (blue, yellow, green, and orange) are her buckets for each reading group. Since school has already started for her, I bet they will start filling up soon ! ;)

We created a nook for her with all her materials.  She has her desk behind her guided reading table with a shelf on top to maximize storage. She doesn't actually sit at her desk, but uses it more to store things.  Since the shelf is on top and the desk is a small one, the footprint of her desk is pretty small- not much bigger than just a shelf.

Behind her table is this set of stackers.  The top three drawers are frequently used office materials.  She has a drawer for dry erase markers and erasers for small groups, post it notes, and fasteners.  That is my catch all name for anything that fastens things together- tape, staples, paper clips! LOL! The bottom three drawers are manipulatives for small math groups.  She had a drawer of base ten blocks, counters, and snap cubes.  This way it is easy to grab the most frequently used manipulatives during small group math instruction. 

Next to the stackers is a cup of pencils so her kids ALWAYS have pencils for guided reading.  No going back to their desks 400 million times to find the "right" pencil.

Next to her desk she kept a rolling cart of materials she used frequently.  On top, she had a green bucket of her Mr. Sketch Markers.  Let's have a moment of silence for our love of Mr. Sketch.

They are magic, right?

In the basket (it is divided like a kitchen utensil basket for picnics) she has her pens, pencils, and Sharpies.

In the very corner of her desk she has her heavy duty stuff- staplers, tape dispenser, hole punches. etc. Since she doesn't sit at the desk, it doesn't interfere with the space.  She can just spin around in her chair at her guided reading table (which is more like her desk) to grab them.

Next, I tackled her buckets and buckets and buckets of center materials.  She had tons of stuff- but couldn't FIND any of it. I meant to help her with this last year, but we ran out of time.  This year it was at the top of our list! 

Since we had kids with us, we tried to use materials we had on hand. She had a bunch of these empty crates so we used those and hanging folders to get ourselves organized.  The system isn't perfect, but hopefully will be simple to maintain.

I just sorted the materials by content.  All the red crates are math materials. I stuck multiple sets of the same center in one hanging folder.  Then, I put sticker name tags on the crate of what skills are in each crate. 

It may not be a perfect system, but when she is ready to teach place value, she can just take out her place value crate and flip through the folders. Hopefully, it will help her!

This is how we left her room (but, we did take the stroller with us! LOL!).

She still had a LONG way to go.  Luckily we did this all before preplanning actually started, so she was able to get some work done later.

I asked her to snag some "final" pictures (is your room actually ever done? 

This is what her room looked like before kids walked in the door.  Cute, right?

The bulletin boards really tie the colors together!  I love them!!!
Have you already started? Is your room ready?

***Edited to Add***

My friend emailed me about her first day.  It was a doozy!  Like for real. She took pictures to illustrate her point.  Aren't these classic?  Now THAT is a long day! LOL!


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