Monday, April 29, 2013

Loving Persuasive Writing

One of the things I love about this unit in persuasive writing is that students really get turned on to writing.  One of my brightest students, who has been just writing the minimum all year, told me today that writing is now his favorite subject.  The other reason that I know the kids love this unit is because hardly a day goes by that a student doesn't ask me if they can stay in for recess and write!  Who wants to stay in at recess - in Florida! - and write?  They also ask to write at the end of the day while they wait for buses to be called.  Maybe it's because they find their voice with persuasive letters.  Or maybe it's because they have a real audience and parents and others tend to respond to their ideas.  Whatever it is that gets the children so excited about writing, it certainly is a great way to end first grade!

We will merge persuasive writing with our work in reading with children's author, Mem Fox, by having the children write about their favorite Mem Fox character and book.  Their task is to convince their peers which is the best and why.  Can't wait to see how it goes!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Persuasive Writing

For many students, our unit on persuasive writing is a favorite. It doesn't require the same fluency that a longer report or story require.  The writing is shorter and focused.  One of my brightest students who really resists writing, just told me that Writing is now his favorite subject in school!  I regularly have students that ask to stay in at recess because they want to write and really get upset when we miss Writers' Workshop!  I think this unit is so popular because the students are writing for a real audience.  We do mail their letters and they often receive a response - especially from their parents and family.

After writing persuasive letters, students are given the option to type their letters into the class blog. One of the benefits of this activity is that when we edit, we only correct spellings of words that are on our word wall.  Other, lengthier words, are written the way that they sound and we let those words stand.  We don't correct those spellings because the children aren't yet held responsible for those spellings.  However, when the students go to type their letters on the computer, spell check automatically underlines the words that are misspelled and some of the children want to correct them to the "right" spelling.  This only improves their writing! 
Read, enjoy (and comment on!) some of their letters below.

There is always at least one letter every year that just seems to break my heart and this is the letter for this year...

Dear Dad,
Can you come back, Dad?  Can you please?  Dad, I haven't seen you since Spring Break.  I love you and miss you.  I miss you so much and that's why I've written this letter.
Your lonely son

Don't know if Dad is persuaded by this heartfelt plea, but it certainly is a strong persuasive letter!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anzac Biscuits and Lamington

As we read Mem Fox's Possum Magic, you could see the students' eyes glaze over as she mentioned all the different foods and cities in Australia that are so unfamiliar to our American children.  To make the places come alive for the children we reread the story as each child followed Hush and Grandma Poss's travels on a map of Australia.  Today to give the students a taste for the Australian goodies that Mem includes, we tasted Anzac biscuits (that they ate in Adelaide) - a crispy oats and coconut, maple-flavored cookie.  Tomorrow we will try lamington which made Hush visible in Hobart - or at least our Americanized version!  Our sample is a little pound cake cut into rectangles with cocoa and sugar icing poured over the top and sprinkled with coconut.  Yum! 
Next we're looking for a little Vegemite.  Any suggestions?

Monday, April 22, 2013

All About Mem Fox

Each year we do one Author Study in Kindergarten, Eric Carle, and two in first grade, Kevin Henkes and Mem Fox, and with each author study we do a chart including some facts about the author.  I've never enjoyed doing these charts because basically, I had all the information and I never could get the engagement I wanted with the students.  This year I tried something new. I sent home a homework page that was optional.  I asked the students (and their parents) to go to the author's web site and find out one fact about the author's family, one fact about one of the author's books and then one fact that they just thought was interesting.

This year when we made the chart, the students were totally engaged.  Many of the students had been on the web site and had discovered all kinds of interesting information.  They couldn't wait to share and to add on to what their classmates said.  I added the students' names to each statement and that added to the engagement.  This is a keeper!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Closing persuasive Letters

As we have been reading books that include persuasive letters, we have been keeping a list of ways that the authors close before their signatures.  Bet you'll notice some of these in our persuasive letters!

Saturday, April 13, 2013


So... at the suggestion of friend and PLP Editor John Norton, I have downloaded Kathy Cassidy's new "book,"  an e-book, Connected from the Start.  I know Kathy's work because she is a 1st grade teacher who has been "the" voice for how first grade teachers can connect to the world.  My techy friend, Melanie Holtsman, has been sending me links to Kathy's work for years.  I started by downloading a paper copy of the book.  As I sat down this morning in my comfortable chair with my paper copy of the book, I soon realized this was going to be a different reading experience indeed!  There are live links throughout the book and I wasn't ten pages in before I had to get up out of my comfy chair, go to my computer, and check out one of the videos.  A few more pages and I had to see if my Skype account was still active.  I was remembering how we Skyped a teacher who went to Japan last year for the opening of the games of Major League Baseball.  The kids were so excited.  Why haven't I used that more in my classroom?  It really wasn't so hard - except for managing the time difference.  So as I searched first grade teachers in Skype, I tried to think of a project that might be interesting.  We have just started a new author study so I put in a request for any class that might also be studying Mem Fox.  We'll see what turns up!

Twenty pages in and I've reconnected with my Twitter account (which I admit to not using very much - I just couldn't seem to find MY place on Twitter), because Kathy suggested searching by the hashtag #1stchat! An hour later and I've been through dozens of links to amazing suggestions and apps. Can't wait to get to Chapter 6 which is all about Twitter!

Now this is going to be one interesting read!  I think I need a more comfortable chair at my computer! So... back to the "book" - but I just had to take a moment to share!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Teaching our children about forces that can change the Earth's surface today. After watching a PowerPoint of before and after land forms, Mrs. Ruark unveiled the lab. They discussed the rocks, sand, clay and humus that they saw on the slanted board.  Then children were off to their journals to draw the "before" landscape,  Finally they predicted what they thought would happen if we added air and/or water.

The students then gathered so they could watch and participate in each step of the lab.  Just sitting the students so everyone can easily see is a management technique!

We started with a little air through a straw.  The children noticed that the sand moved around just a little as the child blew a little stream of air.
Next the wind picked up a little and the students noticed that much of the sand moved, but the rocks, clay and grass stayed put.
A spray bottle provided the light rain.  The children noticed that the water made the dirt a little darker so that it looked a little like mud but didn't really move the soil around.

Then finally it was a flash flood!

And the children watched as the water moved much of the sand, clay and even rocks.  They also decided that the grass stayed put because  the roots helped to keep the humus in place.

After an excited discussion, the children went back to their journals to write the conclusion to the experiment, observing the air and water can move soil.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Practicing Spelling Words

Each week the children have six sight words for spelling. Since most of the words are not spelled phonetically, the spelling has to be memorized. The children have to learn to see the word in their head. We practice the words in many different ways. Today we had one partner spell the word on the other partner's back, one letter at a time. Then they changed partners. Such a fun way to practice.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Soil experiment

Several times a week we have Science.  Every couple of weeks the children participate in a lab/ experiment and it is their favorite part of Science.  We started today's lab with a PowerPoint showing different types of soil in our area.  Mrs. Ruark showed the children where she had been to collect rocks, clay, sand and humus.

Next the children helped her add each of the types of soil to make a soil milkshake. 

Add a little water and then... shake, shake shake it up!
The children then went to their Science Journals to predict what they think will happen to the soil if we leave it to set overnight. 

How do you think the soil will settle?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cross Genre Bulletin Board

This month's bulletin board stands on the shoulders of all the writing that the children have done in Kindergarten and First Grade. This unit encouraged children to write in the genre of their choice.  It began as part of a shared event, our Starry Starry Sleepover, which is where the background paper and title come from.  Students were encouraged to write a small moment about the actual event or that write a report on any of the solar system's planets, stars or sun that we had studies, or write a fiction story about aliens and pretend sleepovers.  One student even wrote a procedural paper on how to draw Star Wars figure!  The possibilities were endless.  When students first choose their own genre, they tend to lose some of the foundational knowledge that they have about the genre, so it was evident early on that they were going to need a rubric to help them through the process and to remind them of the standards and expectation for each genre.  Below is the narrative rubric that they used. After the initial writing, the students were free to choose any topic that they wanted.

Cross Genre – Child’s Choice

Name ________________

3rd Nine Weeks, Chets Creek, 2013 

Gives time, place or occasion (setting) and introduces the characters
Time, place or occasion is confusing or may be missing; may or may not introduce characters
Does not establish a context or introduce characters
Develops a story with at least two events
Story is hard to follow
Events are out of order or missing
Information and Detail
Includes details to describe incidents and people; uses dialogue
Includes some detail or may attempt to use dialogue
No detail; no dialogue
Provides a sense of closure
Closing is unclear
Does not include a closing
Drawings match the topic
Illustrations do not add to the story
Few illustrations are included and are not related to the story
Uses capitals at the beginning of most sentence, uses capitals for proper nouns; capitalizes I
Capitalizes inconsistently even with editing
Capitalizes inconsistently and uses capitals in the middle of some words even with editing
Uses a variety of punctuations at the end of sentences
Some punctuation but some is missing
Most punctuation is missing even with editing
Spells almost all sight words correctly using the word wall; uses rules when spelling unknown words
Spells  some sight words from the word wall correctly; writes the sounds heard in unknown words
Writing is difficult to read
Spaces between words so that piece is easy to read
Spaces are inconsistent
Spacing is so difficult that it makes the piece difficult to read
Uses more sophisticated revision strategies such as adding a flap/ spider legs or cutting the paper to add content in the middle of the paper
Uses a caret to add a word
Does not revise

Presented here will be two of the translated narrative pieces with the teacher commentary.

Space Hamsters
by Nicky

One time there were four hamsters.  Their names were Leo, Mark, Jack, and Snacky.  They were special hamsters.

“COOL,” said Leo.  “But what’s that?” said Mark. “That’s a warning light,” said Jack.  “I want a snack,” said Snacky.  “What’s that lever for?” said Snacky.  “Don’t touch that!” said Leo.  But he touched it…

“NO!  We’re not ready to go to Venus!!!” said Leo.  “How do we steer?” said Mark.  “I want a snack!” said Snacky.  “I think I know how to steer?” said Jack.  So he tried and he did it…

And he stepped on the gas pedal and he wasted all the gas!  They screamed, “Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah!!!”  “I wanted a snack for this whole trip and now I’m going to die!!! So now, can I have a snack?” said Snacky. “NNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO!!!” said the others.  BOOM!!!  “AHAHAHAHA…” “Wait a minute.  I think we’re alive,” said Snacky.  Jack felt a tap, tap, tap and he screamed.  “Ah ah ah ALIEN!”  said Jack.  He jumped into Leo’s hands!  It was another space hamster!

“Oh, hi,” said Jack. “What’s up?” said Leo.  “Hay!” said Mark.  “What’s your name?” said Jack.   “Giovanni.”  “WWWWOOOWWW!! Nice name!” said Jack.  He was sarcastic.  “Where’s your space ship?” said Mark.  “Over there,” said Giovanni.  “Have any gas in it?” said Leo. “Yup!” said Giovanni.  “Yay!” everybody said.  “Let’s get on and go!” said Jack.  “Okay then, let’s go,” said Leo.  So they lifted off!

Space Hamsters



Nicky opens his piece by establishing a context, introducing the time (one time) and the characters (hamsters named Leo, Mark, Jack, and Snacky).  He lets the reader know that these are special hamsters.  He could have helped to orient the reader further by adding the setting so that the reader knows from the beginning that the hamsters are on a space ship.  This becomes more obvious as the story develops.


Nicky develops a story line with humor (Snacky repeatedly wanting a snack). The story flows from take off to landing on Venus and then meeting an alien hamster.  He develops the problem of being out of gas and a solution of finding gas from the alien so the spaceship can lift off to continue the adventure.

Dialogue and Detail

Nicky does a nice job of moving the story along with dialogue.  All of the hamsters speak at some point to carry the story. 

He correctly describes Jack as being sarcastic when he says he likes Giovanni’s name when he doesn’t like the name, which is advanced vocabulary for a first grader. 

Nicky often uses onomatopoeia (BOOM!) and uses all caps to let the reader know when words are meant to be really strong and loud.

Nicky uses several revision strategies including adding word(s) using carets and actually cutting his paper in half when he wants to fuse an illustration with writing other than the original instead of starting a new sheet.


The piece has a concluding sentence (So they lifted off!) that provides closure to the story.

Language Use and Conventions

Nicky usually uses basic capitalization and punctuation correctly. He uses a variety of punctuation including an ellipse to build suspense.  He uses slashes (/) instead of commas when he lists the characters’ names but this shows that he knows that it is a list of things that need punctuation.  He attempts to use the punctuation in dialogue correctly and does a nice job, as a first grader, often using the “talking marks” correctly.

Cinderella’s Sleepover
by Addison

Cinderella asked her mom if she could have a sleepover and her mom said yes.  “OK,” said Cinderella.  “Now I need a list of the princesses that are my friends.  I’ll start right now.  I’m going to invite Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Snow White, Belle, Sophie and Anastasia. Mom can we have a sleepover upstairs?” “Yes,” said mom. 

“Mom, can I buy some things for the sleepover?”  “Yes,” said Cinderella’s mom.  “I don’t know what I should buy.  Now I know,” said Cinderella.  “I’m going to buy a chocolate fountain and some Princess beds and some games like puzzles. I’ll buy some chairs so we can play Musical Chairs and I’ll buy some pillows so we can have a pillow fight. Mom, when should we go to sleep?” “I know,” said Mom.  “You should go to sleep when it is midnight.”  “Yay,” said Cinderella.  “Mom?”  “Yes Cinderella?”  “When should the sleepover begin?”  “I know when the sleepover should begin.”  “When?” said Cinderella.  “The sleepover should start right now.”  Yay,” said Cinderella.

I’m going to call my friends now.  “Ring, ring. It’s Cinderella.” “Hi,” said Ariel. “Would you like to come to my sleepover?”  “Yes,” said Ariel.  I’m going to call my other friends now.  Ring, ring, ring, ring.  “Hi,” said Snow White.  “Ring, ring. “Hi,” said Belle.  Ring, ring.  “Hi,” said Sophie.  Ring, ring. “Hi,” said Anastasia.  “Yay, I’m done calling my friends.  Now the sleepover can begin.” 

“Yay.  Friends, time to pillow fight!”  The pillow fight was awesome.

Time for musical chairs. It was very fun.  Ariel said, “I want to do it again.”  Then she started to cry because she wanted to keep on doing it but at the puzzles, she stopped, because it was so much fun.  “Now it’s time to chocolate fountain.”   “Yay,”said Ariel.  “Yay,” said Snow White.  “Yay,” said Sophie.  “Yay,” said Anastasia.  “Yay,” said Belle.  “Yay,” said Sleeping Beauty.

The puzzles were awesome and we got them all right, and now it’s time for chocolate fountain.  The chocolate fountain was yummy.  Actually it was awesome.  Now it’s time to sleep.  They all snuggled in their beds and in the morning they all left.  It was awesome.

Cinderella’s Sleepover



Addison opens her piece by establishing a context.  She introduces the main characters, Cinderella and her mom, and lets the reader know that Cinderella is asking her mom if she can have a sleepover.


She develops her sleepover story by going through a series of events including who Cinderella is going to invite, buying supplies, calling the Princesses on the telephone, enjoying sleepover fun and then going to sleep

Dialogue and Detail

Addison fills her story with dialogue, especially questions and answers, and lets the talk carry some of the story. 

Drawings illustrate and expand the text.
Onomatopoeia is added when Addison uses ring, ring for the telephone.


Closure is in the sleepover coming to an end as the Princesses snuggled in their beds and then leave in the morning.  Addison also includes a reflective statement, It was awesome.

Language Use and Conventions

Addison has good control of capitals and punctuation.  She uses a variety of punctuation, including trying to punctuate dialogue.  She understands that the “talking marks” are put around the words that the character actually says and she actually tries to figure out where commas and question marks in the middle of the sentence go.  Her piece is easy to read because she spells most sight words correctly and approximates more complex spellings.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Persuasive Paper

This week we begin to talk about writing papers with opinions.  To introduce the unit we reread a favorite book from Kindergarten called Click Click Moo.  It's the story about how cows found an old typewriter in the barn and typed letters to Farmer Brown demanding that he supply electric blankets for the cold barn.  It's the perfect book to show our students how words can make a difference.

We discussed how we could also write letters, like the cows had done, to change our world!  We discussed how we can get our thoughts onto paper, sometimes ending up with a messy copy, but when we want to really impress people with our opinions and letters, we have to make a really neat copy that is appealing and easy to read.  We showed the students several examples of "fancy" paper, so they could see the kind of paper that writers sometimes use when they want to really impress the reader.  Then we asked each student to design his own special stationary paper.  Each child went right to work designing a special piece.  We told the children, that just like any publisher, the Ruark-Timmons Press would be publishing some of their designs for other students to use.  The students each displayed their sample and the class voted on their favorite designs.  We ended up with about eight different papers.  Of course, a few students didn't think any design was better than their own, so we assured them that they could always design a one of a kind paper when they got ready to write their final draft!  This exercise excited the children and I hope it will inspire them to work hard to get ready to write that final draft.

Get ready because this is a group that is going to rock the world!