The Importance of the Writing Plan

Last year I discovered how few of my students were actually using a writing plan to guide their writing. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. After all, we had spent SO MUCH time during the Launching unit to teach and practice how writers plan their ideas before they begin drafting.
But why did I expect them to do this every time if I wasn't modeling it every time? I think that's where I made my mistake. Especially in the beginning, students need LOTS of modeling and repetition.

This year, we've spent tons of time planning our writing with partners and independently with half-page writing planners. I've learned that these half-pagers help students feel less overwhelmed by the planning step of the writing process, and visually just feels more manageable for their little hands. 

Planning is such an important step, and can mean the difference between drafting an all-over-the-place piece of writing, and one that sticks to a focused point. By providing students with options for ways to plan their writing, along with specific, modeled lessons for what it looks like to use each planner, we can ensure students will have much more focused, thoughtful drafts. 

Be sure to download these free writing planners from my TpT store... And for more guidance and detailed lesson plans, check out my entire writing units by clicking on the product pics below.  :)


Read and Respond: My New Morning Routine!


I'm a multi-tasker. As teachers, we have to be, right? With so much to do and with so many interruptions during the school day, we have to figure out how to make the most of our time with students at every opportunity. That said, I'm always looking for ways to address multiple skills in one activity. This year, when I saw that my students needed practice with handwriting, improving their writing stamina, and adding details to their writing (and elaborating on their ideas in general), I thought long and hard about how to address these issues. I decided a quick but consistent routine made sense, and since I decided to implement this routine first thing in the morning, it gave the added benefit of some quiet contemplation to start our day. ;)


While I was creating this resource, I needed to differentiate it for my students, and I wanted to give students the opportunity to "grow into" the read and respond page (without tracing the words). Some students will probably need the practice and repetition of tracing for much of the year, while others will be ready to write more lengthy responses instead of tracing. With both the manuscript version and cursive version, you have both options. 

This October-themed resource has 20 pages of read, trace, respond, and 20 pages of the alternative read and respond... Enough for the entire month! :)

Check out the manuscript or cursive version by clicking on the product pics below!

Strategy for Descriptive Writing

Every year I have a number of ESL students in my classroom. It varies each year, but every year I find new strategies to reach the kids whose first language is not English. It has taught me to be a better teacher, a more patient teacher, and to embrace the small victories. By the time the end of the year rolls around, these students are generally the ones who've show the most growth, and I feel very proud of the work we've done together.

This year will be no exception. The difference is that for the first time in my teaching career, I have only THREE native English speakers in my classroom. After the initial shock of this wore off, I spent the past few weeks barely taking a breath, scrambling to put routines into place that will support these learners through the year, and encourage their independence as soon as possible.

I've spent LOTS of time teaching writing, and many of my favorite lessons revolve around showing--not telling--what's happening in a narrative piece. But this year, even my tried-and-true first lesson didn't work with my ELLs, and so I tried something completely different. And it worked! :)

STEP 1: Re(teach) sensory language. Use examples. Get students involved. Assume they don't know what you're talking about when you ask them to describe what something looks like (because they probably don't). Bring in favorite books and characters, and things that have happened in the classroom that they can all relate to.

Choose a boring sentence that you might see in your students' writing. (In this example, I use the sentence, "I went home.") Without telling the students the boring sentence, stretch it out with descriptive, sensory language, and write it large enough for students to see and study.  Read it together.
Identify the sensory language used in the descriptive sentence. How does the author show, not tell, what's happening? I ask students to turn and talk about their ideas, and then I underline and write the little symbol for the type of sensory language (eyes for what something looks like, etc.)

Students work together to figure out the boring sentence that I've used sensory language to stretch out and describe. They're so excited to figure it out! :)

Give each partnership their own boring sentence to stretch out with sensory language. The goal is for other students to guess the boring sentence from the groups' descriptive language.

Be sure to download the lesson freebie by clicking on the product below! :)

Moving Abroad... Again!

One decision can change your life. Of course, many considerations lead up to that decision, but ultimately one decision has the power to transform your life, your perspective, your way of thinking. For me, the biggest (and best) decisions I've made have been to live and work in different countries. I consider myself very lucky to have a job I love, and one that enables me to make a decision like this. Not everyone is so fortunate, and I never want to lose sight of that.

This summer has passed in the blink of an eye, and the new school year is here already! No matter where you are in the world, this time of year can be overwhelming and full of mixed emotions. To top it off, here I am, a new resident of Riga, Latvia. When I told most people about this move, I received a lot of blank stares and questions about why I chose this destination in particular. Most didn't even know where to find Latvia on a map. But the moment I was offered a teaching position here, I took it. I wanted to be back in Europe, and I wanted to live in a place that would provide new travel opportunities. I'd never stepped foot into the Baltics, and the region fascinated me. To top it off, the school seemed to be exactly what I was looking for: smaller than where I'd been in the past, but big enough to offer a diversity of students, admin, and peers. It just seemed to be the right fit.

I've lived in many places, and in doing so, have attempted to call many places home. (Some are easier than others.) Whenever I move, invariably someone reminds me about the honeymoon period, the time when that new place seems so perfect and that nothing could ruin that bliss. I'm not sure why, but for some reason I completely skipped the honeymoon period of other transitions abroad. But this time... well, I'm actually feeling it. Completely unexpectedly, I have secretly fallen in love with this city. I'm realistic enough to know this could wear off, that I simply could be enjoying the honeymoon period for the first time. But that's okay with me. I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts, and then push myself to find ways to appreciate what I have, to look for ways to learn and grow from new experiences. After all, isn't that what we ask of our students? :)