This week I assigned my eighth grade English I students their first writing assignment – a 100 word story. Our theme for this course is “Chance, Choice, or Fate?” and I wanted students to start exploring the theme that we will come back to again and again this year. Starting off the school year with a personal narrative, and a really short one at that, is engaging and doable for my students!
This is one of the stories I have written in the past and share with my students as an example:
In hindsight, I had definitely used the wrong tool for the job. A three second decision had cost me a three hour visit to the emergency room. While prepping for Taco Tuesday, I decided to make my famous guacamole. Grabbing a knife from the drawer, I quickly clenched an avocado in the palm of my hand and aimed for the pit. A blood curdling scream brought my husband racing into the kitchen, only to behold the knife in my middle finger and the pit still in the avocado. I was about to get three stitches and Taco Tuesday was cancelled.**
*Titles don’t count towards the 100 words for my students, but they can if you want them to.
** Did you know that avocado hand injuries are a thing? And on the rise? Tip from a survivor? NEVER EVER google Avocado Hand Injury Images. Here’s a safe article with no gross images though to prove my point: Avocado Hand Injuries
Students turned their stories in on Google Classroom and the next day I had them share with two classmates to get feedback. It took about 10 minutes and students were happy to have the feedback before I looked at their work.
Here’s the rubric I made to grade this assignment – the language is from Ohio’s ELA standards.
100 word stories are a great first week assignment for writers. I learned about my students’ personal lives, got some insight into their writing skills, and it is a writing assignment that can be graded in a relatively short amount of time. At the beginning of the school year, that is a huge teacher win if you ask me!!
I’d love to hear what your writers’ first writing assignment is for the school year! Please share below!
Today was the first day of my 16th year of teaching middle school English Language Arts. Even as I type this, I am in awe (and mostly horrified) at how fast the first fifteen years have flown by. This year I plan to blog more about the things happening in room 213. Easier said than done with 90+ students this year, but I have fantastic readers and writers in my Enriched Language Arts classes, and if last year was any indication, we are off to the races to do some deep thinking and learning about ourselves and our place in the world. I look forward to sharing our journey with you!
Day 1: Welcome to Room 213!
Instead of the typical first day of procedures and expectations speeches, I wanted to do something different this year. I love Ben Bache’s PBL Project Weekly Warm Ups and my seventh grade class was instantly hooked as they studied new apps of the future and created new and exciting apps that will make consumers’ lives easier and “happier”. Tomorrow students will present to small focus groups and revise their app pitches. We will then create final presentations and share in a gallery walk on Friday. As I walked around and eavesdropped on conversations taking place, there will be apps of all sorts being shared tomorrow!
My sixth grade class is brand new to the building and so I presented Adam Rex’s School’s First Day of School as a great conversation starter. I simply asked them to jot down what they noticed as I read the book to them. If you haven’t read this fantastic picture book, I hope you check it out. I love the crayon pictures! School has a rough start, but after awhile he realizes that he’s not the only one who is nervous. It’s a great mentor text for personification, too. We had a great discussion about how the author conveyed the idea of being new to a situation and it not being as scary as you thought it might be.
My two ninth grade classes were given a spelling test on the first day of school! The looks on their faces as I asked them to get out a piece of paper and number 1-30 were priceless. I used The most commonly misspelled words in every state according to Google list that has been making the rounds on social media the last few weeks. We then had a conversation about the infographic and the data it shares. It led to a great conversation!
Tomorrow my two groups of 8th graders taking 9th grade English will be working on a 100 word story using a snap shot of their summer break. Because of shortened periods and a lot of questions today, we did not get to start on them, but this is a very creative group of writers (some of whom successfully completed NaNoWriMo as 7th graders) so I know they will jump right in. Here is an example that I used from my summer vacation last year:
In hindsight, I had definitely used the wrong tool for the job. A three second decision had cost me a three hour visit to the emergency room. While prepping for Taco Tuesday, I decided to make my famous guacamole. Grabbing a knife from the drawer, I quickly clenched an avocado in the palm of my hand and aimed for the pit. A blood curdling scream brought my husband racing into the kitchen, only to behold the knife in my middle finger and the pit still in the avocado. I was about to get three stitches and Taco Tuesday was cancelled.
How have you shaken things up and started off the school year in a unique way? I’d love to hear your ideas!
This year my students are up and moving around, mind mapping and blogging on a very regular basis. We are doing Kelly Gallagher’s Reading Minute daily, collecting vocabulary words and using Corbett Harrison’s vocabulary boxes and Writers’ Notebook activities, while reading whole class novels via small book club discussion groups. Yes, we’ve been busy!
After a long week of working hard, I tried something new on Friday afternoon that was pretty successful: Inside Outside Book Interviews. These book interviews are based off of something I saw on Twitter awhile ago, but regrettably, I do not remember the source. While this activity isn’t flashy and is very low tech, students and I had a great time – it was loud, fun, and there was lots of movement. I’ve listed the activity’s steps below, and what modifications we will make next time. I hope that you’ll try it out in your classroom and let me know how it goes!
Inside Outside Book Interviews
- Before starting, have students create interview questions of their choice that center around classmates’ independent reading books. (We started with 5 questions) They will take these questions and their own book to the interviews. Because students had never done this before, a lot of their questions were things like “What genre is your book?” or “Do you like it so far?”.
- Divide the class in half. One group will be in the inner circle facing out, and the other half in the outer circle facing inward. Students in the inner circle have their books, while the students in the outer circle have their questions.
- Explain that the outer students will be interviewing the inner students who are holding their books up during the interviews. After an agreed upon time (5 minutes) students will rotate to their next interview.
- About half way through the allotted time you have for this activity, stop the interviews and have the class assess how things are going. When asked, my students said they were having fun, getting lots of book recommendations, but that a lot of the interview questions required one word answers, so their interviews were not taking very long. When I asked how we could make this activity better, students said that opened ended questions were a must and that having some back up questions were a good idea too. At this time I had the inner and outer circle switch places and start the process all over again. This time around students were asking more in depth questions and talking the entire five minutes.
- At the end of the activity I congratulated all of them for doing their first round of interviews and asked for students to recognize peers that had challenging questions and/or insightful answers. This was great because the students recognized were not the ones that usually raise their hands in class. Love it when that happens!
I’ll definitely be doing these interviews again – probably once a quarter. As they evolve, we’ll work on perfecting our interview questions and how to answer without giving too much away. I’m always trying to make activities like this more fun and rewarding, so if you try these out and modify it in any way, please let me know!
My students have been blogging now for about 2 1/2 months and we finally decided to go PUBLIC. We’ve been writing reviews, bucket lists, poems, stories and working on commenting. We’d love to hear from you and your students. If you have a class blog, leave the link below and we will return the favor by commenting on your blogs, too. On behalf of my student writers, thank you!
Mrs. Mosher’s 2nd Period Blog
This week we have been celebrating Computer Science Education Week in my Focus Reading Intervention classes by participating in the 2014 Hour of Code. Hour of Code is a one hour introduction to computer science that provides the opportunity for anyone to learn the basics. We spent Monday and Tuesday of this week watching a couple of short instructional videos and then exploring several really cool programs.
We started with “Code with Elsa and Anna” and it was a fantastic introduction to working with block style coding. While it was a little slow and glitchy Monday from the large numbers of students all over the world accessing it (Honestly though…what a cool problem to have!) students learned the basics of coding and moved through 20 levels of programming.
On day two, students used Scratch, Lightbot and another block style coding program for Flappy Birds. Scratch is pretty challenging for beginners, and it was fun to watch students designing their own holiday cards and animating their names. Any time 6th, 7th and 8th graders are willingly trying new things, problem solving, and working together is a definite proud teacher moment! It was one of the most animated and excited I have seen my students. I love that students can use their new knowledge of coding and work on projects outside of school. I have a couple 6th graders that are now determined to create their own apps and become Scratch experts.
Here are my awesome students showing off their Hour of Code certificates!
Please check out Part 1 of this series “Getting Started is Half the Battle”
When starting blogging in the classroom for the very first time, I found that my students have varying backgrounds when it came to the Internet, let alone blogging. As teachers who use technology every day, don’t take for granted that your students do too. Some of my eighth graders have several Tumblr pages, while others don’t know how to successfully navigate around the World Wide Web. Yes, really.
My first step was a little show and tell. I showed students this blog and used it as a “mentor text” of sorts. It was a hit. Not necessarily the content, but the actually blog? Insert high five emoji here. I showed off the main parts of a blog – title, heading of post, content of post, categories, comments, etc. You can have students point these out too.
Next I asked students to do a super quick brainstorm on what their blog’s theme would be and then do a quick pair share with their table mates. Definite student buy in at this point!! I then gave students pieces of 11 x 17 paper and asked them to design their blog using the main parts and include at least one post. They worked on it for almost a whole period and then were asked to bring it back completed in two days for our next step.
Gallery Walk time!
I love gallery walks around the room for assignments like this. When we do gallery walks, students are 1. given 3-5 post its to write positive comments on them to stick on whatever they are sharing and 2. it is silent so everyone can focus. I also mention that we should make an effort to make sure everyone has comments on their project, which seems to always happen.
I love this intro to blogging and it really helps out with formatting in the long run. It gets kids excited and ready to jump to their own space online! Next up in this series will be Part 3: Where Should We Blog?
I am a big believer in having my students write every day. Every. Single. Day. No matter what’s going on, we always make time for writing in our notebooks. At the start the year, we organized our notebooks into specific sections, made Heart Maps that captured future writing ideas, and decorated the outside of our notebooks with 5 Word Memoirs. Every month we use Corbett Harrison’s Sacred Writing Time Bingo Cards and students have a plethora of choices to pick from during writing time. I always promote student choice, but the cards are safety blankets that students can always use if they wish. Since we have been using the cards for a few months, there is now a noticeable excitement around the room when I pass them out, as students check out their options. We immediately go through each column and students star the ones they are interested in and jot down ideas in the boxes too. Hurray for writing routines!
Last week I decided to switch things up, and try something new. I chose the first chapter of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry as our mentor text and distributed copies of it to students. Recently having started this book myself, I was enjoying it because it is one of those books that grabs you from page 1. The first chapter starts with the female main character in a very desperate situation. She wakes up after possibly being drugged, has no idea who or where she is, or an answer to the biggest question, why there are two men trying to kill her. Major teen reader appeal!
The title of chapter one is “Day 1, 4:51 PM and when we finished reading the 4 pages, I asked students “What did you notice?” and we proceeded to discuss several things that stood out:
- The title is very specific – Day 1, 4:51 PM. “This is an important detail. It was obviously done on purpose.”
- The beginning sentences are noticeably short and get longer as the main character wakes up and adjusts to her surroundings. “Cool idea. It makes you want to keep reading because so many things happen so fast at the very beginning!”
- The chapter ends with a MAJOR cliffhanger. “Wait! What happens next? We can’t just stop!”
Talk about insightful observations! Of course students wanted me to continue reading to find out what happens next, but I told them that it was now up to them to decide what happens. I threw out some directions – “Start the story 5 minutes, 5 hours or 1 day later and show what happens. Use suspense and descriptive details just like the author did. Go!” Students did some of their best writing of the year and after 20 minutes had gone by, hands shot up all over the place because they all wanted to share their stories. Proud teacher moment, let me tell you!
For the next week, the majority of my students continued their stories on and off during Sacred Writing Time and that is the proof that it was as successful lesson! A pro tip teacher bonus – I also had a drawing to see who got to check out the book first.
When writing activities come together as seamlessly as this one and students have FUN while working hard on pieces they are proud of – it builds community, writing skills, and an awesome story to tell all of you!
Happy writing, everyone!