February 19, 2017

Color-Coded Paragraphs

I'm not sure what the novelty is, but my students LOVE to write with pens. Truth be told, they will write with anything that isn't a pencil! They love it so much, that they will pay (with Dojo Dollars earned during the week) for the privilege of using a pen for the day.

It's not a new concept to use pens or color to help engage students with tasks or to organize writing, but I thought I would share with you how I've implemented and continue to use this strategy to help meet the needs of every student in my class (even those that are most challenged when trying to tackle a writing assignment).

1. Post an Anchor Chart
Classroom Anchor Chart
To stay consistent, I use the same color of marker to code the anchor chart, graphic organizers, and written drafts. The fact that "conclusions" has its own color has shifted the mindset of what conclusions should sound like and how to structure them to fit the writing piece.

I picked red, blue, and black because they are the most common pen colors. However, feel free to choose whichever colors work best for you!

2. Code the Graphic Organizer
As students fill in their graphic organizer, have them use the corresponding color! You can either have the students write in pencil (and then circle the parts in color) or have them write the notes in pen.

Color Coded Organizer
With this organizer, the students were working in their "expert trade groups" to complete the organizer. Using the color helped them determine the structure of the paragraph when moving from organizer to draft. If you stay consistent with color coding organizers, the students will be able to transfer their notes easily because it's the color guiding their text structure and not necessarily the organizer. In a sense, you are keeping the process consistent regardless of changes in the organizer or the content.

3. Draft in Pen
Yup. That's right. Draft in pen. Why not? It's a draft and subject to changes anyway. If following the writing process, it should be changed as it moves to final draft. Whether you skip lines or not, students can adjust their writing later on. I don't let scribbles and cross outs drive me crazy. In fact, I prefer them. It gives the students an authentic look at drafting and dispels the notion that drafts should "look perfect" and that one should erase and re-write in order to edit/revise. Bring on the pens and watch the creativity shift in ways you never imagined!
Student Draft
As the year progresses, students will find their own comfort level with pens and during which parts of the writing process they prefer to use pen. I keep a healthy supply available at all times and stay consistent with the three colors. I do incorporate other way to have fun with pens (#3 Choice Day), but for the writing process, I limit it to what you see in the process outlined above. 

How do you making writing more engaging in your classroom? Comment below. I would love to hear your suggestions!

February 5, 2017

Four Fantastic Ways to Get a Mid-Year Reboot

February has arrived and, if you teach in New York, the glory and wonder of the holiday season has now tapered down to the sludge and muck of winter. Cabin fever is setting in due to minimal outdoor recess and there aren't enough snow days to make up for the lack of energy you have. 

In an effort to combat these midyear woes I offer up four ideas to help give you and your classroom a mid-year reboot.  

#1: Get a Gimmick

If it's the first or third Wednesday of the month, I will be greeting my students at the door wearing my sombrero headband. This cheesy fun is a sure fire way to start the day with a smile. In fact, students from other classrooms have now grown to look for the hat and if I'm not wearing it on Taco Salad Day I have some serious 'splainin' to do!

Another fun reboot that I started this week is "Fat Pencil Fridays". I found a box of old-fashioned fat, beginner pencils and wanted to find a way to wiggle them into my routine. Thus, Fat Pencil Friday was born. The faces were lit up and the engagement was 100% at my "Teacher-Led" station on Friday. They loved it.

Taco Salad Day!
#2: Spontaneous Spirit Week

To bust up the routine of school, sponsor your own Spirit Week! Some suggestions to get you started:
- hat day
- PJ day
- formal wear
- inside out day
- twinsie day
- snowman "winter wear"
- school spirit

If you are really struggling for ideas, ask your students. They are a pretty inventive group and odds are if they were part of the decision-making, they will be more likely to participate. You'll get an extra boost to your room if you participate too!

#3: Choice Day

Designate a day of the week (or a block of the day) to "choice". Students love choice and control over their learning environments. Offer them carefully selected options. Some examples:

- lunch in the room or the cafeteria
- choice of pen color to complete work (especially "boost"ful at the elementary level)
- homework A or B
- solve odds, solve evens
- activity A or B (if you use flexible groupings)
- choose your seat (if you use more traditional seating methods)


#4: Host a Book Tasting Event

This was a hit. I had heard about these in the fall but I hadn't actually completed one until this week. I set it up while the students were at special. It took about 30 minutes start to finish. 

I used:
* plastic tablecloths
* place mats
* genre table cards
* books
* student response "menu"

The students rotated through 5 (out of 7) tables in the room. Each table had a designated genre. The students sampled the books on the table for about 5 minutes. Then, they selected one book to jot down in their menu.

I can say that the level of engagement was high and the students were excited to explore at their next rotation. Plus, students finished the tasting with at least 5 new titles they want to read at a later date. 

My students asked to do it again. We even discussed them recommending books for the tasting and inviting other classes to attend. If we pull it off- I'll keep you posted!



Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully one (or two) of these suggestions will beat back the mid-year blahs. Comment below to let me know what you do to keep your classroom engaging!