Tag Archives: narrative writing

A Great Start!

24 Mar

Well, the school year is officially more than 2/3 of the way done! Last week marked the beginning of trimester three and we are off and running.  This will be my last time teaching a third trimester; next year we are switching to semesters.

I am pretty proud of what was accomplished in trimester 2.  In English 10 A, I really focused on developing our close and critical reading skills and to move into synthesis across texts.  I challenged my students with a full synthesis essay on the American Dream based on our readings.  It was tough for them because they were not used to this type of writing.  However, we worked through and practiced and they stepped up.  They really showed what they learned on the final exams this trimester, too.  The quality of essays greatly improved from what I had seen in the past years and trimesters.  Students even told me they felt more confident going into the exam.  I was proud of them!  I am also gaining confidence in my teaching ability with some of these higher-level skills.  I will continue to work on them the rest of this year and into next year.

Now I get to teach three sections of English 10 B.  This is probably my favorite class to teach!  We start with narrative writing with memoirs.  I follow a workshop model and the students usually respond pretty well.  One of my favorite mini-lessons is the Explode a Moment lesson to help get more descriptive details in the writing.  This one is always fun and the stories students create as we practice the skill lead to a lot of laughter and strong writing moments. We had some great moments this week with this one! I love watching them grow as writers and gain confidence in themselves.

We are also able to do some of my favorite grammar units!  We start with Introductory Clauses.  In grammar, we follow Jeff Anderson‘s model of grammar instruction.  If you are not familiar with his work, you need to check out his books.  I get to borrow his AAWWUBBIS idea and the students create strong sentences and start expanding their writing skills.  These units just make teaching fun.

Plus, the reading has been really strong from the beginning.  We did book tours last week and students checked out books for SSR.  Many students have already been adding books to their To-Read lists.  I have seen students walking in the hall while reading The Selection.  Students keep asking when a book will be back in that they hope to read.  Students are talking more about what they are reading with each other.  I love seeing how reading becomes an accepted and expected part of our routine.  I still am trying to develop their life-long reading skills to carry beyond the classroom, but at least there is a start from all the work being done throughout the year.

There’s really one thing I want this trimester to be all about: fun.  I want students to have fun as they learn and grow as readers and writers.  I want my co-teacher and I to have fun as we continue to grow and learn from our students.  I hope to have some strong communities built by the time we reach June.  I feel pretty rejuvenated and ready to tackle this last part of the school year!


First Week of T3

31 Mar

Well, the first week of the last third of the school year is in the books.  So far, it has been a great start to the new trimester!  I am loving my classes and some pretty cool things have been going on in them, especially in my three sections of English 10B.

On Tuesday, we did our book pass and quite a large number of students were able to find a book they wanted to check out.  In fact, many students begged that we start reading right away.  So that is exactly what we did.  We took 10 minutes to do some SSR so students could get into their books.

Many students are already enjoying their books.  A boy in my second hour who was notorious for just grabbing different books each day has discovered Paul Volponi thanks to Rucker Park Setup.  His direct quote this week: “I actually like this book.”  This helps to verify that my quote – “You just haven’t found the right book yet” – has some merit.

Another amazing thing I have observed is how much my students talk about books now.  When I started teaching, I did not do any SSR.  And even a few years later when I started doing it, we did not talk too much about books.  I have really strived to make our reading lives part of our classroom community.  For example, when I book talked The Fault in Our Stars by John Green in my third hour, I called on a student who had already read the book to tell about it.  Her enthusiasm about the book had another student take it directly from me and a few more to add it to their to-read lists.  I have also overheard many students in all classes ask each other about the books they are reading and actually discuss what they have been reading without my co-teachers or me prompting these discussions.  We really are building a community of readers.

Our first unit is Narrative Writing and students are writing memoirs about their lives.  When we got to our first drafting day, I told them I had a secret to tell them about writing.  I said, “Writing. Is.”  Before I could finish, I heard a student mumble, “Hard.”  I then said, “Yes it is.  Writing is hard.”  She was so grateful to hear a teacher say that about writing.  I’m glad I have am honest about that now because students need to know it is ok to struggle and that we all struggle with writing.

I also have been modeling my own writing for my students in this unit.  I showed them how I changed by topic, which I did not plan to do at all.  I also threw my own personal notebook up on the screen to show how I wrote out my ideas at home the night before.  Pretty much every student in each class wrote something.  Some students also asked to take their notebooks home to continue writing their stories outside of class.  I don’t know if I have ever been asked that before.

This first week was exactly what I needed for a reset and recharge.  I look forward to seeing where we will go this week and in the weeks to come.  I hope this positive energy keeps flowing through June.

A Peek Inside: English 10B

24 Mar

The new trimester begins this week.  Can you believe the school year is already 2/3 of the way over?  Every year is faster than the last.  I said good bye to my seniors (I plan on sharing some of their reflections later this week) and am gearing up for new classes.  This trimester I am teaching one section of ELA Lab and the rest of my schedule is English 10B.

English 10B is one of my favorite classes to teach!  I absolutely love the 10th grade curriculum and in particular, I really love this class.  Here is a little tour of what we will be doing the next three months.

Along with daily SSR and grammar lessons, we have three major units throughout the trimester:

  • Narriative Writing
  • Of Mice and Men novel study
  • Choice Books

Narrative Writing

Of all the units of writing I teach, this is by far my favorite.  One thing I do appreciate about the CCSS is the fact that narrative writing is part of the conversation.  Students really find their voices when able to tell their stories.  I also see their confidence grow as writers.  Plus, I learn so much about them.

We begin by looking at some mentor texts in narrative writing.  I have chosen memoirs from a variety of different authors.  We look at what we like about the writing and discuss what the characteristics of memoir are.  Then we start to brainstorm possible topics for our own memoirs.  I have typically done lists in the past; this year I am turning to Penny Kittle’s work in Write Beside Them for a number of different activities to get the juices flowing.

Then, we write.  Last year, I set up my class loosely following a workshop model. I model my writing and drafting then give students ample time write in class.  It is difficult at times to get them to start writing.  Students want everything to be perfect the first time and don’t always understand the messy process that is writing.  My hope is that workshop will help them discover that.

We focus three mini-lessons on specific narrative skills: revising leads, exploding a moment (or two), and adding dialogue.  Students work on revising memoirs to include these techniques and I confer with them as to how they might.  We spend a good portion of time discussing revision and working on polished drafts to conclude the unit.

I hope to incorporate opportunities for students to share their writing.  I haven’t done much of that before.  I think it will help build community in my classroom and make students feel more confident about their own writing.

Of Mice and Men Novel Study

This is probably my favorite book to teach!  We start with some work with informational texts on symbiosis.  Yes, this English teacher brings in some science.  We do some close reading strategies to understand symbiosis and relationships.  We also watch a short video to help students understand the concept.  Finally, we read a story how maggots and leeches (yuck!) can actually be helpful to humans in order to understand how complex relationships can be.

Then we get into the novel.  Using Cris Tovani’s book So What Do They Really Know?: Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning I started setting up some reading workshop.  We have a reading focus for each chapter.  For example, in chapter 1 we focus on building the characters of George and Lennie.  We read some chapters together, but I’m working towards more independent reading as well.  I also use Tovani’s Inner Conversation Logs for students to become aware of their thinking.  I will confer with students as they read independently.  Students in general really get into this novel and I love the conversations we have during the reading of the novel.

In the past, the assessment for this unit has been a persuasive essay dealing with the issue if George was justified in killing Lennie.  I want to try something new this year.  As I have written about before, we have had a lot of conversations about persuasive vs. argumentative writing and this was a topic at MRA as well.  Working with different levels now this year has shown me that students need more experience using sources in their writing.  Over the last few years, I have come across a large number of articles that deal with the morality in holding people of lower mental capacity responsible for their crimes.  I want to bring in these sources as well as the novel for students to explore the bigger topic that surrounds our discussions.  My colleague who is also teaching 10B seems on board with this.  I will update later what we do with this idea.

Choice Books Unit

Students have a choice of three books to read independently and discuss in groups:

The mini-lessons focus on what makes an effective discussion.  We still look at our thinking while reading using a variety of methods to record thinking.  My main goal, however, is to “beef up” the conversations students are having.  One of my favorite lessons is talking about fat questions vs. skinny questions using the picture book Rainbow Fish.  We also work on follow up questions and how to build up the discussions they are having.

A special treat the last couple of years has been the opportunity to Skype with Gae Polisner.  She tells us a lot about writing and takes questions from students that read the book.  I am playing with the idea of doing a read aloud again this year.  I might use her new book The Summer of Letting Go so more students can take part in questions about her writing.  I just have to hang onto one of my two copies as seniors who read The Pull of Gravity as sophomores really want to read the new book.

I am looking forward to teaching this class again.  I am very lucky that I enjoy teaching so many of the classes that are on my schedule.  I can’t wait to see where this trimester leads my students and me.