Writing Fiction: Developing the Main Character

Well we had a happy week in writing.  Earlier this week I posted about the highs and lows (okay, they were all lows) of having kids write fiction pieces.  Then I read the Lucy Calkins unit of study on fiction a couple of years ago.  Turns out I wasn't actually teaching them how to write quality fiction.  Whoops.

The kiddos spent this week developing their main characters.  The idea is that you have to have this character so well developed that you "know" them inside and out.  We used Tacky the Penguin and Wodney from Hooway for Wodney Rat a good bit for this.  Based on personality, we discuss what their favorite games, books, colors, etc. would be.

This was pretty fun.  Here's what they came up with:

Favorite game: Twister
Favorite color: Tie dye
When he grows up: Circus Clown
Favorite Sport: Cannonball Diving


Favorite game: Solitaire 
Favorite color: Beige
When he grows up: Librarian
Favorite Sport: None, would just get picked on

The point was, even though none of this was in the books, we "knew" the characters well enough to make these decisions.  They had to get to know their character just as well.  So, we worked on this allll week long:

Click on image to download.

It's legal size and I blow it up to 11x17 on the copy machine at school so it's B. I. G.

I model with a character of my own.  Do some of them have characters slightly similar to mine?  Yep, but I'm okay with that.  For struggling writers, this is going to be a challenge, so if they need a little more support that's fine, too.

The Heart of the story is an important section.  It's how I trick them into have a real story, with a real problem, and a real ending.  Muahahahaha.  That was supposed to be tricky laughter.  It's reading more evil though.  Anyway, everyone creates a character that is different in some way that others perceive negatively.  Then, we're going to pull a Helen Lester trick and have that difference solve a problem in the story.  Smart, right?  We're going to plan next week, and I'll share more then.

Here's how I grade it:
Click on image to download.

The last section is very important.  I pull each kid one on one and ask them to explain how three random pieces of information make sense with their character.  This adds a level of accountability to this project and pushes them to really think about their character.  I was super impressed with what I heard from them!

Happy happy happy Friday everyone!

Writing Fiction: How Authors Build a Story

So, let's be honest.  Writing fiction has made me want to stab myself in the eye for most of my teaching career.  Because, one of two things happens:

1.  Sally starts a new school.  She is worried because she doesn't have any friends.  She goes to school. She makes a friend.  The End.

2.  Sally starts a new school.  She is worried because she doesn't have any friends.  She goes to school. There is a magical pony.  She and the magical pony ride to an ice world.  There is an evil queen in the ice world.  The ice world starts to melt, so they go to a rain forest.  They play ring around the rosy with some toucans.  This story is never going to end, is it?

I finally figured out how to stop all that nonsense in its track.  It involves studying how author's build a story, using a super trick from my favorite author Helen Lester, strong character development, lots of planning, more planning, and then finally writing the story.

I'm not going to try to cram all of this into one post because this unit is going to take us weeks.  We started out by reading some Helen Lester's books.  Love her!

As I read each book, we stop and decide what the purpose of each page was-character development, problem, attempts to solve the problem, solution, everybody's happy now.

For Tacky the Penguin, the breakdown looked like this:
Character Development: 11 pages
Problem: 3 pages
Attempts to solve the problem: 11 pages
Solution: 2 pages (or something like that)
Everybody's happy now: 1 page

This was a real eye opener for my kids.  They rush through character development and attempts to solve the problem to get to the solution.  Doing this allowed us to pick apart a book and study how an author builds a story.

Up next: Character Development.  I've got a fun activity to share with you on that one.

Drama in the Classroom

No, not the kind of drama you're thinking of.  There does seem to always be some sort of drama in elementary school classrooms!  Drama-as in elements of drama.
Teach drama and spice up your readers' theater in upper grades with Zoom Playhouse.

I used a Mimio lesson to review the terms and their meanings. Necessary, but where's the fun in that?  If you really want kids to be engaged and understand the text features of drama, let them jump right into the drama.

1.  Real actors read through their scripts independently several times to understand the story.  (I think their director usually isn't chopping paper for a project during this time, but whatever.)

2.  Real actors have a couple of read throughs to practice as a cast.

3.  Real actors block out their movements so they know where to wait, come on, stand while on stage, and exit.

4.  Real actors practice multiple times to get everything just right.

5.  Real actors make illustrated signs to hold up so everyone knows who they are in the story.  Okay, maybe not, but it's easier than costumes.

6.  Real actors perform for an audience (also known as our book buddies).

We had a blast!  The kids loved it, I loved it, and they learned a lot.  After our performances, I put our drama text features list up on my Mimio. They used their script to explain all the terms to their book buddies.

It's a little trickier to find reader's theater for the upper elementary set.  Zoom on PBS Kids GO! has tons of fun scripts on their site.

I got the laptop cart on Friday after our performance, and the kids used this for their buddy reading time.  It was a big hit.  Most of them have an element of humor-just enough to grab on to your reluctant readers.  This is a great link for student computers/iPads as a new choice for computer stations.

Hope your weekend is drama free!

Valentine's Day Love

I love love love Valentine's Day in elementary school.  Love.  It's one of my favorite holidays by far.  Last year, I found this idea on a blog I follow.  It was a big hit (especially with my boys!)

                                                                   Source: thecraftingchicks.com via Megan on Pinterest

How hysterical would this be:
on top of a treat bag with one of these in it:
Only $5.25 for 36 from Oriental Trading.  It's a steal.  I mustache you to buy some.  I'll stop now.

I found some more super cute Valentine's Day ideas on Pinterest, where else?
                                                             Source: asmallsnippet.blogspot.com via Megan on Pinterest

                                                                 Source: fabulesslyfrugal.com via Megan on Pinterest

I'd recommend putting some Starburst or something similar in this one so all the bus drivers and custodians don't hate you.
                                                                           Source: love-the-day.com via Megan on Pinterest

Feeling inspired?  Here are some printables to use with your own Valentine cards.
(Seriously-I cannot stop making collages on Pixlr.  They're cute and saving me a ton of space uploading pictures.)

So, stick some candy (or a mustache-whatever) in one of these treat bags by Wilton.  Michael's & Hobby Lobby have them:
Print out your tags, fold, staple, and you're ready for the big day!

Inference Fun

Yes, that's right.  Inference and Fun in the same post title.  That's pretty bold.  We're back to school this week, and I'm pretty sure their brains aren't going to be fully functioning back on a school schedule.  Mine's certainly not!  We're working on inference this week.  I'm going to follow up this week with some heavy duty lessons from the Comprehension Toolkit.  First, I want to help them see that their brain does a lot of filling in the blanks. Or inferring.  This week was sort of like Inference Light.

So, I spent a lot of time coming up with this amazing lessons.  Okay.  That's a lie.  I got on Pinterest.  I even started an entire Inference board.  That counts, right?  Here were the ideas that guided my inference lessons this week.  Starting with Leslie Ann from Life in First Grade.

Um, fun, right?  Dig in your teacher's purse?  I adapted this by taking pictures of objects in my purse and my teaching partner's purse and putting all the pictures into a Mimio file.  I tried to take a mix of items they would know are mine, know are my teaching partner's, and some that could work for either of us.
It wasn't the deepest of activities, but I wanted something simple to show them that their brain sees objects (or hears something or reads words) and puts it together with what they already know to make an inference.
We used these pictures to complete this activity:

This is the most awesome pin.  It's actually an  entire board of super awesome pictures and questions to help kids make inferences created by Rachel Lynette of Minds in Bloom.

I used the pictures to make my first scoot activity.  I'm jumping on the scoot bandwagon.  Just a mini scoot, though.  I made a set of six pages that look like this:
They'll record they're answers here:

And finally, an inferring song! Seriously!  Since, the Pinterest link is broken, and I can't carry a tune in a bucket, I consulted my trusty teaching partner.  Teaching With Moxie says she thinks it's to the tune of The Addams Family.  I think she's right!

We then connected these lessons to making inferences about the story we were reading.  Making inferences is a tricky concept for kiddos.  I'm hoping these lessons will serve as anchors for the rest of the school year when we make inferences in the books we're reading.  A girl can hope, right?

Made it Monday

Today was a work day at school and I loved it!  Since the kids aren't back, I was technically still on vacation, right?  So one more totally off topic post, then I'll return to actually teaching stuff.

This is my first Made It Monday in a looooooong time.  A very long time.  Um, since August.  What can I say?  It's been a very busy school year.  I  made up for lost time over Christmas break, and it was heaven!  Thanks to Tara from 4th Grade Frolics for hosting this!

I went on a crazy organizational kick in my office.  One small room, one very disorganized space.  I'll let the pictures do the talking:

There was some good, some bad going on in our office.  So, I hit up my own personal paradise: The Container Store.  Here's a little eye candy for you:

Now there's a whole lot of new goodness in this room!

Yes.  I am now obsessed with the Pixlr Collage tool.  If you missed it, the tutorial is here.

And because I'm incredible nosy, I throw a bone to the rest of you Nosy Nellies.  My husband occupies the other side of this room.  His obsession with organization is not on the same continent as mine.  The only reason he has any storage is because I forced it upon him.  Imagine that.  And yes, my husband is forced to use a desk with a skirt.  That skirt hides a multitude of sins.  We built that table and she doesn't look so pretty under there.  Plus there's more of those Michaels craft cubes under there.  Only don't tell my husband they're craft cubes.

I solved a much need organizational issue for my brain, too.  I have lesson plans for school, a big family calendar at home, but my blog life was starting to get out of control.  Between my blog, designing blogs, and my digital paper stuff, it was too much to keep up with.  So, I solved my problem by making this little beauty:

11x17 inches of organizational gorgeousness.  I had it printed at Office Max, and it sits under my keyboard.  Organization + Pretty = Bliss.

You can go find out what everybody else was doing here:

5 on the 5th

It's time for another 5 on the 5th!  I started this series last month as a way of highlighting all the great ideas out there in blogland.  I'm sharing ideas I've used, plan on using, or are just plan awesome.  5 on the 5th even has its own Pinterest Board.  You can follow it here.

And now, on to the good stuff (in no particular order):

Stephanie at 3rd Grade Thoughts (apparently I'm obsessed with her because she was on last months post too) read The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.  Stephanie shares how she uses it in her classroom and a whole bunch of resources she found.  I'm still figuring out how I want to use these.  I think our New Year's resolution writing will be a perfect way to introduce this.  In typical awesomeness, she also made a fab set of posters to go with it.

Tiffani at Crazy About Second shared this great idea for student gifts.  So smart!  I'm filing this idea away for later.  You can buy shower board at Home Depot very inexpensively, and they'll do the cuts for you.  They usually charge per cut, but after finding out I am a teacher, they usually don't charge me.

Mrs. S. at The Peanut Gallery had a really fun idea for teaching dialogue that I think would also be super fun for teaching point of view.  Justin Beiber and George Washington having dinner together?  Instant student engagement.  AND this unit is free in her TPT store.  Craziness!

Gina at Third Grade Tidbits wrote about Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop.  I find profession books fall into one of two categories: Ideas or Implementation.  You need big ideas, but you also need practical implementation for real life classrooms.  I haven't read it yet, but I'm excited to start.  Seems like this will give me some great ideas for real life implementation.

Finally, not one but two of my bloggy friends wrote about some lessons they've learned about blogging.  Diane at Teaching With Moxie shared how to get more followers (in a be true to yourself kind of way) and Heather at The Wild Rumpus wrote the 7 lessons she's learned as a newbie blogger.  Thanks for reminding us to keep it real ladies.
Teaching With Moxie  The Wild Rumpus

Happy January!