Tag 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.


SOLSC: Rethinking Reflection

Conferences are over. Portfolios have gone home (for a week or two). The last two weeks were filled with groans as the Magical Minds slaved over their reflections for their portfolios. This isn’t what I want. My greatest hope as an educator is to inspire and empower life-long learners. Reflection is one of the best tools I can offer them.

How do I make reflection engaging?  I begin with reflecting on how I reflect:

  • I talk, a lot.  These conversations allow me to process events and make mental connections, which lead to insights and fresh ideas.
  • I have a persona journal, which I write in maybe once a week with my more emotional ramblings
  • I have a work journal, which holds notes from meetings, ideas for lessons, thoughts on kids, etc…
  • I have a to-do-list journal, which is primarily a record of what I have accomplished and what I hope to accomplish
  • I have a blog, where I challenge myself to match my teaching methods with what I know about best-practices.
  • I use twitter to ask questions, share thoughts and engage in digital conversation.

Ok, so I am a bit of an uber-reflector.  But, it’s authentic.  This comes from me, and my need to evaluate and improve.  Thus, this is what I am thinking about trying next time with portfolios:

  1. Digital Pieces / Works: The most amazing things my kids do cannot be captured on paper. The kind of learning that is taking place in our classroom is best caught on video, pictures and audio.  Their best works are digital.  For those who love paper, keep the paper. But, take a photo, too so that kids can reflect on it digitally.
  2. Digital Reflections: It’s tough for most of my third graders to think and write at the same time.  I want the quality of thinking to shine through, not penmanship.  Digital reflections have the potential of freeing kids from the writing, and thus focus on the thinking.
  3. Capture “I Did It” Moments on Video: Teach kids to use the built-in camera to share an “I Did It”moment.  I’m thinking about putting a toy monkey on top of the computer, and asking the kids to “tell Mr. Monkey about what you learned.”
  4. Choose the Learning, Not the Work: Right now my kids choose what to share from a pile of materials that I have returned to them (with feedback on sticky notes).  I want to turn the process around.  I dream of a weekly schedule where on Fridays the kids and I review the goals set out for the week and list what we have learned.  From this list/mind map the kids would choose a photo/video/recording that captures what they learned.
  5. Blog It: I am totally sold on kids having blogs.  Granted, I am still figuring out the best way to use them in class, but using them for reflections seems like my next experiment. With a blog, portfolios  can build gradually and authentically.  After choosing a work on Friday, kids can use the weekend to write their reflections on the blog.
  6. Online Photos and Videos: The kids and I should be constantly adding photos and videos to an online source.  I can teach the Media Specialist how to do this, and then also teach the kids how to access this media and use.
  7. Options and TIME: I can model for kids where I keep my reflections, and then give them options of how they would like to keep their own.  Finally – TIME.  This is the rarest of resources, and most valuable.

SOLSC: Third Grade Bloggers


Sitting at a round table, I am surrounded by third graders.  I hear their pens grating against paper.  They are preparing to teach the fourth graders how to write a quality comment.

“Be nice”
“Be specific”
“Start a conversation”
“Make a connection”

A few giggles here and there.  They know I am writing about them.  I am writing aloud.  I invited them to join me on the Slice of Life Challenge, and this is me modeling.

We are waiting for a few kids to finish their thoughts.  I fill the moment with writing.

Making a Movie: Getting into Character

Reading Character Description

Since the first week of school the Magical Minds have wanted to make a play or movie.  Finally, I have given them time to grant this wish.  We spent three weeks studying scripts, developing characters, brainstorming setting, drafting our own script, building a set and filming.

Step One: read and examine models of scripts.  Two of the girls brought in their script for the ISE musical, and I pulled some examples from our classroom library and the internet.  We chose to focus on making a folktale, this year’s theme for Book Week.  It didn’t take long for the kids to fall in love with the story of Stone Soup, which they quickly decided to retell using their own characters.  And, most importantly to this group of third graders – the setting: Candy Town. Thus the story of “Stone Cake” was born, because in Candy Town they don’t make soup – they make cake.  But before we let the project get away from us, I put my foot down and said, “We will first focus on character.”

Step Two: Writing Characters. This step began on the web, and the Magical Minds wrote their first character sketches on their kidblogs.  I was, unfortunately, not terribly impressed by their descriptions.  To help them get into their character, we had a puppet-making session.  And, when their puppets began to talk to one another I knew their understanding of their character was increasing.

Meet the cast of Stone Cake:

Lucia the Girl, Tricksy the Fox, Lilly the Rhino (later became a mouse), Lazy Dog, Gummy Bear, Candy Cane Cat

With a much stronger sense of character, we sat down together and added to the descriptions.  Bouncing ideas off each other, the class built up imaginative and detailed descriptions of their characters. To give you an idea of the change here is a before and after:

Character Description of Gummy Bear Before Puppets:

Hello my name is Gummy Bear.  Everyone says that I’m lazy, well I am kind of lazy.  I live in Candy Town.  During the day I play with Lazy Dog and Candy Cane Cat.

Characters Description of Gummy Bear AFTER Puppets:


What are other ways to help improve the quality of character description?
How do you use a writer’s notebook to bring out the detail in characters?
What are some of your favorite mentor texts for character description?