Category Archives: Writing

Story Starters

Story Starter Word Cubes

This is a first for me.  I have been contacted by SmileMakers to preview one of their products, of my own choosing.  As an avid writing teacher, and a writer myself, I chose to review their Story Starter Word Cubes.

It looks like the blue cubes are characters; the yellow ones are settings; and the reds are events or actions.  I imagine rolling the cubes and creating an outline for my story first, and then developing the story elements in rough drafts.

I look forward to reporting back on how the Story Starter Word Cubes help facilitate creative writing.


Writing is a Process: Lessons from Sharon Creech

Thanks to Mr. Schu at Watch.Connect.Read, I discovered this fantastic interview with Sharon Creech and her editor.


I think the quality  of the interview stems from the quality of Creech’s relationship with her editor.  Rather than a deluge of tedious questions, we are given a window into their conversation.  As friends they discuss how Sharon’s past experiences meld into her new story, “The Unfinished Angel.”

Creech describes how she writes short scenes with little understanding of where the story is going.  She has learned to trust her writing process.

Inspired by authors like Creech, Natalie Goldberg and Ralph Fletcher, I have begun to compile small scenes from a story that is brewing in my head.  Like Creech, I do not know where the stories connect, but I have a sense they will.

Five lessons I learned about writing:

1. Write – a little bit each day.

2. Trust the Process – write what feels right, even if you aren’t sure how it all fits together.

3. Be Patient – stories take time to grow inside a writer as they make connections between life experiences.

4. Collect Seeds – capture memorable moments that can be used to build a story.

5. Edit with Compassion and Awe – listen for the voice and the hidden stories within a writer’s work.  As the editor of my students’ work, I can help them grow in both ability and confidence.

“Come Party With Us” – A Lesson in Persuasive Writing

In connection with our unit on Natural Resources, I asked the Magical Minds to write to someone and persuade them to help support a sustainable planet.

I conducted a week’s worth of writer’s workshops on how to write persuasively,  introducing the third graders to powerful strategies and techniques.  Inspired by Emily Manning’s lesson, “Can You Convince Me?” I introduced the Magical Minds to a variety of persuasive strategies, including ethos, pathos, logos and kairos.

Before I sent the third graders to work independently, I modeled how to use persuasive writing in a real-life situation.  Together, the Magical Minds and I wrote a letter convincing ISE’s Director to come to our classroom party. Using this guide sheet, we brainstormed cajoling sentences, and we organized our thoughts using the Paragraph Hamburger:

When we were all done, it looked like this:
Note – participants in our class party were asked to come dressed as a Famous Person in connection with our unit on Change Makers

After effectively coaxing the Director to come party with us, the Magical Minds sat down to the task of writing their own persuasive letters to a person of their choice.  We worked together to create a rubric that would guide them through their writing process, and would later help them understand how well they had done.

How To Investigate Light and Sound

The Goal:

Create quality istructions that explain how to learn about light and sound through an investigation (experiment).

How do we know if we are successful?
We made a rubric, together.  After examining a variety of How-To Videos and Instructions, the Magical Minds and I made a list of the top five things that are needed to create “quality instructions.” This blue poster was the foundation for the rubric, which we also used to assess  our instructions on writing quality comments on a blog post (formative assessment or “practice round”).

Enjoy their projects below, or click here to see our wikispace:

SOLSC: A Case of the Crankies

I stomp my foot. The thunder of my heal hitting the floor is enough to stop all movement in the classroom. “If this classroom isn’t cleaned up in ten seconds… I will keep you late for Drama!”  No one wants to be late for drama!

But, it doesn’t really matter what I say after the words “in ten seconds.”  The message is clear, Ms. M has a case of the crankies.

SOLSC: Vokis Explain Quality Commenting

It’s a perfect storm! Literacy, inquiry, service learning and technology come together in one lovely assessment:

Explain Quality Commenting

Last week, the Magical Minds and I explored what it means to write a quality comment.  We even taught the fourth graders about what we learned.  As they were leaving our classroom, Ms. Terje asked if we might make some instructions that could be shared with others.

PERFECT! We were also learning about making quality instructions.  We are writing instructions for our upcoming Light and Sound Exhibit (a summative assessment for our unit of inquiry). Creating instructions on how to write a quality comment would make for a fantastic formative assessment (a practice round of sorts).

I asked the Magical Minds, “what kind of instructions do you want to make?”  I reminded them we could make a video, written instructions, or a photo explanation.  I showed them Voicethread as a possible option. I was pretty sure they were going to do a video option, but then the idea of using Vokis came up.  “Can we make our instructions using Vokis?” someone asks.


Image by 我是魚夫 via Flickr

I have to admit, I don’t get it.  These speaking, eye-rolling avatars are all over the place, and I just don’t get the appeal.  But, these third graders sure do.  I didn’t see anything wrong with this idea.  Mr. Marcel, our technology teacher, had introduced them to this technology, and they seemed to think they could do it no problem.  I conceded, on one condition – we do out prewriting/pre-thinking together in the classroom.  This was my modeling moment.

Fifteen minutes later we are in the technology lab and they are making it happen.  Vokis are shouting out explanations: “be specific,” “start a conversation,” “use conventions,” etc… The voices are played in slow-motion. They speak in different accents.  There are a couple smiley faces, at least one alien, a dog and a vampire.  And, all of them do a pretty good job of explaining how to write a quality comment.

For a rough version of our voki-spoken instructions, click here.

SLOSC: Beginning, Middle and End Poem

Hammering the inside of dreams,
Sunday morning bells
ring for a quarter hour.

Leftovers pop inside a microwave.
I bring my bowl to the table.
Solitude lures a companion.
“How is your day going?” he asks.

Orange sheets of light
Sink into the horizon.
Eggplants fill the sky.