Tag Archives: teaching

Primed for Summer Writing

Weirdly enough, this school year ended with 2 minimum days–on a Monday and Tuesday. With the class party dealt with on Friday, what do you plan for those last days of school with first graders?

Inspired by a post I saw on Two Writing Teachers, we began our last two days of school by creating a character–a puppet of sorts–to feature in our writing and to prime the pump for some possible summer writing.

Yesterday morning armed with cardstock, construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, and colored pencils we began creating our characters. Students knew I would make an egret. (They know I love egrets and often feature them in my writing) I demonstrated one way to put a character together…and also started talking through a story featuring the character that was brewing in my head. And then they were off…

As they crafted and created they were also having conversations about their characters. They talked about where the characters lived, their special features and coloring. All the perfect pre-writing you always wish for (and sometimes doesn’t happen). I love this time in the school year when students are comfortable and confident, allowing the creative juices to flow. Once completed, we left the character puppets to dry on the counter.

Today we began with our sketch pads, setting our characters in their places, giving them action and a problem to solve. And again, as students sketched and colored they also talked about their stories.

At this point students were eager to write. We talked about adding dialogue and thoughts, sound words, and setting. And on this very last day of first grade, these students wrote and wrote. They loved that they were filling the page (or more) with their writing. They were excited to read their stories out loud and they were willing to add even more details.

The added bonus is that they also created a list of other stories featuring this character that they may write in the next hours or days or weeks. They left with their notebooks and sketchbooks and their character in hand…and their brains primed and ready for some summer writing (I hope)! I leave the school year knowing that my students left on this last day of first grade as writers, knowing they can put their stories on the page for themselves and others to enjoy.

Would I have students write on the last day of school again…the answer is a resounding YES! It was a wonderful way to spend our last days together, immersed in this community of writers developed over the course of the school year. There were so many things that were hard about this year of teaching, which makes me even happier that these last two days were a joy…for me and for them. They and I left the school year wanting more…that wonderful bittersweet feeling of being happy and sad all at the same time.

How to Be a First Grade Poet: NPM22 Day 19

National Poetry Month is such a perfect excuse to focus classroom reading and writing on poetry. For the last several years I’ve challenged my students to write a poem a day–for every day in the month of April. This year, with first graders and a month that began with Spring Break, I decided to have students write a poem each day they are with me in the classroom.

We warmed up at the end of March with a plunge into defining poetry in poetical terms, creating a collaborative Poetry Is poem as well as individual pieces. (I wrote about that process here.) We’ve explored the schoolyard through our senses and iPad cameras, learning to pay attention. We’ve read books and studied poems and written and written and written.

Yesterday we read The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith and then worked together on a list of wild words that we love. Students added words like waterfall, dragonfly, moonlight, turtle, and dolphin. Words swirled through the classroom as we borrowed from each other, built on ideas from each other, and delighted in the feel of words in our mouth.

Today we built poetry dice. Using a generic fold-a-cube pattern on cardstock, students cut out a flattened cube, wrote their favorite 12 wild words (they made 2 dice), and then folded and taped their finished cubes together. Then came the best part–playing with words and poetry. They rolled their dice, recording the 6 words they rolled in their notebooks. Then they considered those words, how they related (or didn’t) to each other, and wrote poetry. As a teacher of writing, there is nothing more satisfying than watching students transform into confident poets, easily playing with words, experimenting with form and ideas, and bursting to share their poems with me and their classmates.

Here’s a small sampling of poems that emerged from the roll of our student-created poetry dice:

A wolf found a hollow tree.

the wolves sleep at daytime with

very big waves.

A small clown sells big old lemons.

Relax

In spring laying on a Hawaii beach,

watching a cloud float by like

a koala climbing a tree or a

dolphin jumping out of the

water and a coati walking

in a jungle.

Under the sea there was a fish

under a rock

There were a lot of other fish

in the green coral

and the coral was as green as a cactus

and it was as wiggly as a snake.

In the trees, in

middle of nowhere,

there’s a field of poppies.

In the sky there’s an

egret flying overhead

with yellow feet like sticks.

At the beach it’s time for the dolphins to play

in the waves.

And serendipitously, the #verselove prompt over at Ethical ELA was to write a “how to be” poem. Inspired by my students, I wrote mine about them.

How to Be a First Grade Poet

Immerse yourself

in words

from books

and poems

and songs

Open your eyes wide

look carefully

using ALL your senses

Feel the roly polys

under your fingers

Smell the cilantro

from the garden

Hear the hawk

calling as it

swoops above the classroom

Taste the sweet red

strawberries

taking root just

beyond the field

Dance with the words

as they

tumble and roll

calling you to pay attention

Write your world

your thoughts

your feelings

and read them

back with

love and pride

@kd0602

Phew! I can’t wait to see what poetry will emerge tomorrow!

Quirky: NPM22 Day 11

Quirky is a word I love, but still, when I saw it as the #verselove prompt by Kim over at Ethical ELA I felt at a loss. What poem will I write that fits this category?

It’s our first day back after Spring Break–and my first April day with my students. We primed ourselves for National Poetry Month before Spring Break at the end of March by writing a collaborative Poetry Is poem. And today, I brought out a favorite Eve Merriam poem, Peeling an Orange to serve as a mentor text for students. (You can see my experimentation on day 1 of National Poetry Month.) We’ve studied a poem each week of the school year, laying down an appreciation for and familiarity with poetry and the interesting language it is known for. And we write poetry regularly–I love short writing forms (for all ages) and the permission to break rules that poetry allows.

I lay out all of this to establish my own quirkiness as a teacher of writing. My expectations for the 6 and 7 year olds in my class are sky high–and when it comes to writing, they seldom let me down. I establish early on my love for egrets–they make a great writing topic that my students come to know and expect. While they didn’t know much about them early in the school year, they are quite familiar with them now.

Finally–get to the point already! When I picked my students up after lunch today they rushed me, so excited they simply couldn’t stay in line. Mrs. Douillard–there was a snowy egret! What?! I was looking around the playground. Really? A snowy egret on the playground? No–it was flying over the playground. I missed it–but they loved it and loved knowing that I would love it. So, inspired by my students and their excitement, my quirky poem is a Haiku capturing this moment.

snowy egret flies

yellow footed pistons tucked tight

playground showoff

@kd0602

And here I circle back to the first grade poets I love and teach and their Peeling an Orange inspired poetry.

B wrote about lizards

Catching a Lizard

skittering like

the second hand

in all different

shapes and sizes

not very easy to see

but they are still very

tiny.

R wrote her own quirky piece

Squirrels

A fuzzy bushy fearless fighter rodent

when he bites you you immediately put your hand on your cut

and you will get rabies

chattering in the trees

gathering nuts for the winter

And C chose turtle as a topic

Finding a Turtle

A turtle’s shell is hard.

But inside it is soft.

It’s slow but

its heart is fast.

Some turtles

have strong shells

some are weak.

6 Words for the Environment: SOL22 Day 30

Today, March 30, 2022, marks the date of the Worldwide Teach In for Climate/Justice sponsored by Bard College. That is significant because as a writing project, we have spent time and energy this year looking for ways to implement climate teaching in a writing centric way.

With my young students, my approach to climate/justice teaching is to raise their awareness and appreciation of our planet, the people who live on it, the animals they already love, and also include some study of people making a difference (Jane Goodall came up through Scholastic News–so we inquired a bit further about her and her work) and about actions they can take as 6 and 7 year olds.

I have writing project colleagues who adapted the idea of a 6-word memoir into an opportunity for students to write 6 words for the environment. It seemed a perfect fit for a week of minimum days (to allow for parent conferences) just before Spring Break (which begins after school ends on Friday).

So, after they finished some amazing Poetry Is writing (check yesterday’s post for more details), we started to brainstorm words about the earth, about people and animals who live on the earth, and about actions people might take to protect the earth. They helped me write a few 6 word attempts before I sent them back to the their notebooks to write as many 6-words for the environment as they could in 7 minutes.

Then, they had to select their favorite of the 6-word statements they had written to feature on a mini poster. Some struggled to figure out which of their 6-word pieces to use (“They’re all good!” You’ve gotta love the confidence of first graders!) while others knew just what they wanted to write and draw on their poster. And even with phonetic spelling and some questionable counting of 6 words, they had important messages to share. Here’s a small sampling:

Pick up after yourself
Beautiful plants, beautiful earth, beautiful life
Please clean the planet, with others
Be green to save the Earth
I love our earth and sky

Building time to learn about and think about positive actions to protect our precious planet is essential to our longevity as a species. My students know they can make a difference and they are ready to do their part (and urge others to help out too).

Let’s not give in to doomsday thinking and instead cultivate a love for this incredible planet and everything and everyone who resides here. Together we can make a difference.

Tulips and Poetry: SOL22 Day 29

As March comes to an end, National Poetry Month is right around the corner. To get a bit of a head start–especially since we begin our Spring Break next week–I decided we needed to immerse ourselves in some poetry this week.

Poetry is nothing new in our class. We study a poem each week and then illustrate it, creating an anthology of poems we’ve worked with during the school year. We’ve written some poems of our own here and there. But the time is right for a deeper dive.

Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer is a perfect book to get started. The first graders loved that the poem Daniel wrote was a compilation of the answers from all the animals that answered Daniel’s question, “What is poetry?” And it set the perfect stage for our own Poetry Is… brainstorm. After a start yesterday, we took this idea further today, stretching out ideas and embellishing them with vivid description. Here’s a few examples:

  • Poetry is a glass of warm hot chocolate on a cold, snowy winter day.
  • Poetry is a grasshopper jumping and hopping and bouncing all around the fields.
  • Poetry is a coconut with the flavor inside and the outside is so hard and thick like a layer of armor.
  • Poetry is a slippery fish, as beautiful as a butterfly.
  • Poetry is the sound of my dad snoring.

And somehow, in my mind, poetry and flowers are a perfect pairing. I had purchased some tulips and daffodils from Trader Joes over the weekend, knowing I wanted students to have a close up look at these symbols of spring (that are not commonly found growing around here). Yesterday students used a black oil pastel on watercolor paper to do a directed drawing of tulips in a vase. Today, we used liquid watercolor to create vibrant paintings of these beautiful spring flowers. The results are stunning!

Watercolor paintings drying on the classroom floor.

I plan to matte them along with the “Poetry Is…” writing. And I think I may have each student contribute one line to create a class Poetry Is poem for a poster to hang on our door! After all, National Poetry Month is right around the corner!

Growing Advocates and Activists: SOL22 Day 12

I love writing project work and the ways that teachers are the driving force behind proactive change. A conversation with a colleague a few years ago–about the need for climate/environmental education to become “ordinary,” something that students experience regularly, in all their classes, throughout their education career–has stuck with me. And as a result, this year in our local writing project, we convened a group of SDAWP educators to explore that very idea with an added twist: how can we make environmental literacy and justice both ordinary and also have writing at its center?

Today was our celebration and the opportunity to hear details about the work that teachers in this group accomplished. Each put together a 5 minute overview of the work, highlighting student engagement and involvement through writing.

Wow! I felt like I could see these young people growing into advocates and activists right before my eyes. They wrote and spoke with passion about our world, recognizing its beauty AND our need to take better care of it for their future. There were letters, informational pieces, persuasive essays, narratives, poems, artwork, speeches and more. I felt my heart grow three sizes just witnessing this incredible work facilitated by my writing project colleagues.

Our next step is to figure out ways to take this work beyond our group, to and beyond our larger writing project community, and to establish this as something students can expect throughout their schooling. The beauty is that these teachers did not take away anything they were required to teach, instead they worked this content into the learning the students were expected to experience anyway.

There will be more to come…

Surfing Pelican; @kd0602

On Saturday: SOL22 Day 5

It’s so hard to set that alarm clock on Saturday morning, and even harder to get up. Today was the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Spring Conference, and despite how hard it was to get up, I knew that once I signed on and engaged that I would enjoy the experience. And my colleagues didn’t let me down.

As the SDAWP director, a lot of the work for the conference was already done. But today I still had some responsibilities to get the conference started and I had also agreed to introduce some of my colleagues and their work in the first and second sessions. I’m always nervous when I have to be in charge of Zoom stuff…luckily I was able to make my colleagues co-hosts and they took care of themselves. There were small glitches along the way–one of the Zoom rooms for the concurrent sessions wouldn’t work and we had to move it to another Zoom. But in spite of the technical difficulties, overall, things turn out well.

I so appreciate the SDAWP teachers who stretched themselves to present today. It’s such a hard time for teachers. We are tired and not feeling like our best selves in the classroom. It takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable to share your practice with your peers in a conference setting. Our keynote by Christine reminded the teacher audience about the importance of teachers and their role in our society. She reminded us of Robert Fulghum’s credo All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten from 1990 and shared an update from 2003. We spent a couple of minutes reading the two and noting some of the important concepts like clean up your own mess (seems like some corporations might need this reminder) and don’t take things that aren’t yours (hmmm…some powerful people might need to hear this message again). She ended with some data about what parents say about teachers and their effectiveness during the pandemic (a lot of positive numbers)–some things that are not what we continually hear in our mainstream media. That short keynote session with uplifting messages for teachers set the tone for the three rounds of teacher-led sessions.

I was inspired by beautiful short-form writing (Haiku and 6-word compositions) written by students about nature and protecting the environment, I learned about the ways teachers were finding relevant texts to help their students see themselves and the diversity of voices in our world, I saw examples of students using writing and their voices to influence change in their community, and I walked away with a renewed commitment to the power of education to make a difference in the lives of our students and in our communities.

I was also reminded that the work of teachers will never be done. Sometimes successes are hard to see and some days do not go as we plan or as we would like. Some gains are baby steps, finding a glimmer of hope in students’ early attempts to put new learning into written form. Some wins are obvious–like the teacher sharing her student’s essay about the need to ban “lighter than air” balloons and a news clip of the student speaking at a local city council meeting where after she spoke it was announced that the ban was passed unanimously. But even with that obvious win…you’ll still find balloons on the beach, like I did on my walk after the conference.

I’m glad I got up early this morning and learned with and from my colleagues. I left the conference with more energy than I had when it started, which is good since there is still so much work to be done.

Word-le-ing Around

Like so many others on social media (at least my feeds), I have been participating in the Wordle craze. I like that I can only play once a day, that it is limited to 6 guesses, that the words are all 5 letters long and that the whole world is playing this one word each day. There is something about limitations that funnels my focus, and while my first guesses often seem fruitless, somehow I usually pull it out by guess 4 or 5.

The first graders in my classroom have been playing a math game called digit place. In this game, I think of a 2-digit number and students make guesses to determine what it is. With each guess I indicate whether there are correct digits and whether they are in the correct place. For example, if my number is 12 and students guess the number 27 I would put a 1 in the digit column to represent a correct digit (the 2) and a 0 in the place column to show that it is not in the correct place. Subsequent guesses narrow down the possibilities leading students to a correct response. At first there were lots of random guesses, but the class is becoming strategic and quite successful. (I’ve had third graders who played this game with much less strategy and success!).

We’ve been focusing on 4-letter words ending with a silent e in the last week, building word ladders and noticing how this e causes the other vowel to be a long vowel. Students are building their skills and getting better at changing just a single letter to make another word that fits the rules of this ladder. Today, I found myself thinking about Wordle, digit place, and word ladders…and decided to try my own version of Wordle–first grade style.

So…I introduced this new game to my students. I drew 4 lines to represent the 4 letters in the word I was thinking of. I grabbed a black, blue, and green white-board marker announcing that letters in black were not in the word, blue meant the letter was correct but in the wrong place, and green meant the letter was correct and in the right place. I wasn’t sure how this game would work out–or if it would even make sense to my students. But…it was great! Students loved this process–and caught right on. I could hear them telling each other whether a guess was a good one (“…we already know there is not an “s” or “h” in the word…) and the game definitely caught their attention. We played several rounds today…and I remembered to take a photo of the last one.

My social media involvement was put to good use in the classroom today. I love having a new engaging, educational, and no prep game in my back pocket for those few minutes that need filling from time to time. Wordle for first graders–and we don’t even need the internet!

Bubbles

With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)

So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.

The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!

We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.

In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.

The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.

These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.

Here’s a couple:

To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.

There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!

Is it Worth it? Reflections on Poetry

I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.

It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.

As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.

And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
  • Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
  • All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
  • A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.

250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.