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Carvin’ Up Some Great Informational Writing

by Kelli Lewis

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Gotta teach informational writing this year and need a way to spice it up a bit?  How about teaching it during the month of October and having your students learn about pumpkins…while carving them in the process, of course!? Consider this fun twist on traditional expository writing assignments: Have your students create instructional books about pumpkins, along with a step-by-step “How-To Carve A Pumpkin” guide to go along with it.

Like the idea? Here’s a detailed lesson plan to follow. (This plan was created for first-graders and designed to take one day, but it could be easily modified for older grades, as well.)

Standards:

ELA1W2 b.) The student produces informational writing that stays on topic and begins to maintain a focus.

ELA1W2 d.) The student produces informational writing that begins to use organizational structures (steps, chronological order) and strategies (description).

ELA1W2 h.) The student produces informational writing that may include oral or written prewriting (graphic organizers).

Materials Needed:

-The Pumpkin Book, by Gail Gibbons (available at The School Box)

-sticky notes

-chart paper

-markers

-web/bubble graphic organizer, for informational sentences

-pencils

-pumpkins: choose one of the following, according to your classroom’s needs: 1) small pumpkins for every child, 2) medium-sized pumpkins for each group, or 3) two large-sized pumpkins for you and a parent volunteer to demonstrate.

-carving tools

-large trash bag

-butcher paper/newspaper to lay down on the floor/table, underneath the pumpkins

- “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet for documenting (This graphic organizer should just have spaces for: materials, “First you…”, “Second you…”, “Next you…”, “Finally you…”)

Procedure:

  1. Ask your students: What is informational writing? What is a topic?
  2. Read aloud The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons.
  3. Reread the book again, using sticky notes to demonstrate how to take notes and copy an informational statement as you’re reading. Post the sticky note to the page in which you found it. Make as many ‘notes’ as you have room for on your web/bubble graphic organizer.
  4. Go back through the book and transfer your sticky-note information onto the web/bubble graphic organizer. Demonstrate this process to your class. Write each statement from the sticky notes onto the graphic organizer, around the topic “pumpkins” in the middle of the page.
  5. Have students return to their desks and copy your graphic organizer’s information onto their own graphic organizer. (For older grades, students could repeat this process independently with a second pumpkin story or book).
  6. Discuss the “step-by-step” processes for creating a jack-o-lantern.  Discuss the importance of listing the materials and being sure the steps are in order and nothing is left out. Discuss ideas with your students about what you would write.
  7. Record ideas, as you discuss, onto your “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet.
  8. Decide, as a class, what the “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet should say. Then, start to create the list of materials and steps.
  9. When it is complete, have your students copy it onto their own “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet.
  10. Now it’s time to carve!  As you carve, refer back to the the “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet, made by your class, to see if the steps are in the correct order and that nothing was left out!

Happy carving!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)

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The Plot Thickens: A Graphic Organizer for Teaching Writing

So, it’s time to assign a writing project to your class. You want creative stories with a clear beginning, middle and end. But how do you get your students–from third grade through high school–to craft well-developed tales (and not rambling gibberish that, let’s face it, you will dread grading)?

Here’s a super creative way to teach plot to your students. Just walk them through the attached Plot Skeleton organizer (which was adapted from Angela E. Hunt), and they’ll be equipped with all the elements of a good story.

An Explanation of the Chart:

Main Character Needs: What are the deep needs of your main character (which will turn into motives for action)? Most have an obvious need (like survival for Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web) and a hidden need (like Wilbur’s need for acceptance).

Inciting Incident: What happens to change the course of the story? (i.e. The conflict, like when Wilbur discovers that pigs’ purpose is to become food for the farmer.)

Complications: Events that happen as the main character tries to resolve the conflict. There are usually a couple complications that lead to the “bleakest moment.” Ex: Wilbur tries to escape but realizes the world is too scary for him; Fern is growing up and not as interested in Wilbur anymore; Bleakest Moment: Charlotte dies

Help: What happens to help the character overcome the conflict? Ex: Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by spinning words in her web.

Lesson or Decision: What lesson is learned or decision made by the main character as a result? Ex: Wilbur discovers that friendship is of paramount importance and friends sometimes come from unlikely places.

Resolution: How do the character’s needs ultimately get met or resolved? Ex: Wilbur takes Charlotte’s babies back to the farm, where he befriends several of them and never again feels lonely.

Here’s how to use it:

1. First, model how to fill out the skeleton by completing one or two together (either on an overhead projector or on the board), using books you’ve read together as a class to complete the blanks.

2. Then, model creating a story from your own imagination, and fill in the chart in front of the class, showing them how to use questioning to develop your story (i.e. “What could be the inciting incident that gets the action rolling?” and “I wonder why a character would do that. What could be their inner need?”).

3. Give a copy to each student and have them brainstorm ideas for their own story, using the chart as a guideline.

4. Have students share their plot skeleton charts with a partner at the end of class to get feedback and additional ideas.

5. From the plot skeleton, students then begin drafting their stories.

This chart takes more scaffolding in the younger grades (third through fifth), but it’s worth the effort. These components of a strong plot will ensure quality writing from your students–writing you’ll actually enjoy grading!

To download the graphic organizer, click here!

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Anatomy of a Creative Novel Study

by Kristin Woolums, M.Ed.

A creative study based on From the Mixed-Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Franweiler

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is a Newbery Award-winning novel about two children who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The story combines adventure and comedy, and each year, my 5th graders eagerly tell me how much they love it!

Originally published in 1968, one might think that it wouldn’t appeal to today’s youth, but here’s how I foster a love of a novel that’s over 40 years old:

A Virtual Field Trip

Early in the story, the lead characters, Claudia and Jamie, run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I take my students to the computer lab for a virtual field trip to see the sights that Claudia and Jamie would have seen (www.metmuseum.org). The website allows students to see priceless pieces of art that they perhaps would never get to see, so I allow them to browse through the many pieces shown online. Click here for a printable sheet about the virtual tour.

The students supply a few details about their favorite pieces, including a rough sketch, which they record on a note-taking guide (click here to print it). We discuss the proper way to react to art and that there are many pieces that showcase the human body in tastefully, yet unclothed, ways (just a head’s up!).

A Great Debate

There are several ethical decisions that Claudia and Jamie encounter throughout the story:

o Stealing money from the museum’s fountain so they could eat

o Sneaking around and lying so they wouldn’t get caught living in the museum

o Worrying their parents by running away

Each student chooses whether they thought the action was justified or not, and in a traditional debate setting, we civilly discuss the matter at hand. This makes for some very teachable moments, and the students love this!

A Creative Culmination

To end the study, the students participate in a creative “summary-by-chapter” book report. A post describing all of the details about this creative project, including a rubric, is coming next on A Learning Experience. The best part is that this idea can be adapted to any novel!

This wonderful and timeless adventure about two children running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is chock full of adventure, comedy, and a sense of family as Claudia and Jamie learn to survive in the real world. My students enjoy the novel, and I hope Ms. Konigsburg is happy that I’ve taken her exciting novel to the next level by interjecting classroom reading with a virtual field trip, a debate, and a creative book report project!

Kristin’s Chapter-by-Summary book report idea (including a rubric) is coming next on A Learning Experience!

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.

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Books for Reluctant Readers, Part III: Fifth Grade

Welcome to a new series on finding books for reluctant readers! This four-part series will be divided by grade level, from kindergarten through sixth grades. For books for K-2, click here. For books for grades 3-4, click hereby Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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Fifth grade is the grade when I discovered my first true literary love: The Babysitter’s Club. For the next three years, this series would provide my staple reading material; I seldom went anywhere without a copy in hand! The list of books below will hopefully provide the same love-at-first-read experience for a fifth-grader in your life. (Tip: This might be a good list to share with parents or send home for recommended summer reading, as well.)

Favorite Titles:

Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves by Carol Hughes

Perloo the Bold by Avi

Wild Man Island by Will Hobbs

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulson

The Janitor’s Boy by Andrew Clements

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques

Flight of the Eagles by Gilbert Morris

Door to the Dragon’s Throat by Frank Peretti

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

School Story by Andrew Clements

Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? By Jean Fritz

The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars Blue

Willow by Doris Gates

Jason’s Gold by Will Hobbs

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech

Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail by Elvira Woodruff

Call Me Francis Tuckett by Gary Paulsen

A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Because of Winn Dixie by Katie DiCamillo

Series/Authors:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Trailblazer fictionalized biography series by Dave and Neta Jackson

The Seven Sleepers series by Gilbert Morris

Dear America and My Name Is America series by various authors

Star Wars and The New Jedi Order young adult fantasy series by Paul Davids and various authors

Any children’s books by:

• Katherine Paterson

• C.S. Lewis

• Gilbert Morris

Coming next in the series~ Part IV: Sixth Grade Book Picks

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Books for Reluctant Readers, Part II: Third-Fourth Grades

Welcome to a new series on finding books for reluctant readers! This four-part series will be divided by grade level, from kindergarten through sixth grades. by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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There is a plethora of fantastic kid lit for children ages 8-10. In fact, I take it as a personal insult if I ever hear a child in third or fourth grades say that they hate to read. Nonsense! They just haven’t been introduced to some of these outstanding books, below. This list contains a book for nearly every personality and reading preference out there; I promise! (Tip: This might be a good list to share with parents or send home for recommended summer reading.)

Favorite Titles:

The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson
Gooseberry Park
by Cynthia Rylant
Skylark
by Patricia MacLachlan
Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein
Stuart Little
by E.B. White
The Indian in the Cupboard
by Lynne Reid Banks
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
by Judy Blume
Tucker’s Countryside
by George Seldon
Chester Cricket’s New Home by George Seldon
Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Clearly
Ramona Forever & Ramona’s World by Beverly Clearly
Skinnybones by Barbara Park
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
Because of Winn-Dixie by Katie DiCamillo
A View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Series/Authors:

Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard
Cul-de-Sac Kids series by Beverly Lewis
American Girl series by Susan Adler, et al
Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobel
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Cooper Kids Adventures series by Frank Peretti
Trailblazer fictionalized biography series by Dave and Neta Jackson
Any books by:
• Laura Ingalls Wilder • Bill Myers • Beverly Cleary • Andrew Clements

Next in the series~ Part III: Fifth Grade Book Picks

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Books for Reluctant Readers, Part I: Kindergarten-Second Grade

Welcome to a new series on finding books for reluctant readers! This four-part series will be divided by grade level, from kindergarten through sixth grades. by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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I firmly believe that every child can and should love to read. If you have a reluctant reader on your hands, the key is to connect him or her to the right author or book.

Here are some great picks for your youngest readers:

I’ll Always Be Your Friend by Sam McBratney

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobell

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble

Hedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett

Mr. Pine’s Mixed-Up Signs by Leonard Kessler

Poppleton Everyday by Cynthia Rylant

Series/Authors

Marvin Redpost series by Louis Sachar

Arthur books by Marc Brown

Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish

Cul-de-Sac Kids series by Beverly Lewis

Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Any books by: Dr. Seuss • Cynthia Rylant • Syd Hoff • Eric Carle

Next in the series~ Part II: Third-Fourth Grade Book Picks

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