I am soooooo excited to share with you how I started my writing lesson this year! I tell you, I will always start my year this same exact way!! I'm never going back to...whatever it was I started with! ;O)
I came across a product called Build a Better Sentence by my friend Erin Cobb. Well, if you know Erin, then you know everything she creates is phenomenal! AND....wait for it....it's a FREE PRODUCT! Score, right? Well, little did I know how much a difference this freebie was going to make in my life (and the lives of my students!!!)!!!!!
(PS- Erin did not ask me to review this product and she quite honestly didn't even know I had it...it's just that AMAZING that I have to share it with you because I REALLY want you to try it!)
So, you know how it goes at the beginning of the year as you think about your lesson plans. Where do we start? What are the kids going to be able to do? What are we going to expect that they can do but they can't? All of those thoughts go into your first lessons. And it's scary. And sometimes stressful. But we all know that at some point, we have to jump in and just see where we can go.
So, I don't know about you, but being a 4th grade teacher, we heard a LOT about the new wave of testing that is going to be heading our way during our preplanning. Our principal is very clear when she talks about the writing part of the standardized testing. I mean, I'm pretty sure we all break into a cold sweat every time state testing is mentioned because, well, we all know that all multiple choice tests are completely different than selected response (the new fancy words for multiple choice), constructed response, and extended response tests.
I mean, we have to face reality. They WILL have to be able to write clear answers to the questions. Period.
So, that was on my mind when I was thinking about my first week's writing plans. I mean, you would ASSUME that 4th graders would know how to write a sentence, right? (you know what they say about that word assume- yeah, it really is true about that word.)
Well, they can write sentences. Sentences like: I like football. I play football. I'm the quarterback. I love to dance.
Yes. They can write sentences.
(Now, I didn't mention that several of them did not use capital letters or periods....but it's true....they didn't. So is it really a sentence? Maybe not...)
Anyway, as I was thinking about past years of students and how I thought they could write sentences but every year we really had to work on it, I started thinking. I mean, they are going to HAVE to write good sentences for their responses. And, even though it seems so simple, I really wanted to give them a foundation on HOW to write a good sentence BEFORE we jumped into full blown paragraphs.
I mean, I knew the 9 and 10 year olds were going to look at me like I was nuts for telling them "We are going to start out by learning how to craft a great sentence!" but I really didn't care. Because IT'S IMPORTANT!!
So I kept thinking and thinking and then, I hit GOLD. I remembered a product that my friend Jessica had told me about last year and I thought, let me look at that product and see if this is where I could start. Sure enough, JACKPOT! I found the Build a Better Sentence product tucked nicely in my TpT file and opened it up.
I made the decision right then and there to start with that. It was the best decision I could have ever made!
We started on day 5 of the school year (which was a Monday). We pasted in the first notes sheet in the pack and then I had them write a sentence in their journal. Sure enough, the sentences were around three to five words long. But that was ok because we were going to fix that!
Then, we pasted in the "Add a How" part (I have a picture below). We highlighted what was important. I modeled how I would use this helpful information in my own sentences. There were 3 ways to add a how. We tried all three ways. I had them help me write the sentences. They copied my examples in their own journals. Then, at the end of the lesson, they went back to the page that had their original sentence and tried to add a how to their own sentence that made the most sense. Of course, then we shared because that's the best kind of motivator for them!
Day 1, done. Seriously. That was all we did for writing that day. And, it was enough.
Day 2, Tuesday, we reviewed what we had learned the day before. Then, we pasted in "Add a Why." This is an easy one, and comes pretty naturally. Stick the word because in any sentence and you can already make it better! Fabulous!
We followed the same routine. We chose a different highlighter and highlighted key information. I modeled my same original sentence, but we added a why part. Then, they added a why part to their original sentence. But here's the beautiful part. They didn't just want to add it on to the first little sentence. They wanted to add it to the sentence that had the how part. Awesome!! Add it on my friends! Make an even better sentence!!
Here is what it looked like in our journals:
Day 3 we pasted in the "Add a When" part. Now, I knew they wouldn't know what a preposition was because we teach that in 4th. But, there were examples on the sheet so I knew they could use that to give them direction. Plus, I knew that they would start to recognize prepositions since they had been exposed to this, so it was a win-win!
We highlighted important parts and then I modeled. Well, I had a sentence and then I had them tell me how I could make the sentence better! Again, they added to their sentence from the first day. Well, actually they added to the sentence from the day before because they REALLY wanted to have better sentences! Then, they shared!
Day 4, we added the last part, "Add a Where." We did the exact same procedure as the days before. Plus, we talked about prepositions again! Then, they added to their sentence.
I had a student raise his hand and ask, "Do you think if we add it to our better sentence from yesterday that it will be a run-on?"
Hm. Good question my friend. The perfect opportunity for me to talk about how just adding words and more words does not necessarily make a good sentence. We talked about how crafting a good sentence could actually have all of the parts, but most of the time they don't. But, as long as it flows and makes sense, it's ok.
Then, I also took the opportunity to tell them that they can add some of these parts to the beginning of the sentence. It doesn't have to be at the end. Like for a when, they could start their sentence with "After school, I played football outside with my friends because I was bored." See, that sentence has all the parts, but the when was moved to the beginning. We just had to play with it until it worked!! It really created a great discussion, and it was all about writing a sentence!!!
Here is what it looked like in our journals:
But, here's the kicker. Now they have it in their notebooks. And there is NO EXCUSE for writing sad sentences!!! No excuse I tell you (and I tell them)!
Here's where it really hit. We have been doing mentor sentences as well. When we went to revise a sentence (which was already a good sentence), one of the first things my students did was open up their writing journals and start consulting the notes! WHAAAAAAAT????? I didn't even have to hint for it!! And it was that SAME week we had just started practicing writing sentences!!! I wanted to die of happiness! All I had said was, "Remember, revising means we take a good sentence and make it better" and they were off! They started yelling out ways we could put the Build a Better Sentence parts in to make it better!! Hooray!!!!!
(By the way, we call Build a Better Sentence "BABS"- it works pretty well! I'm pretty sure Erin did that on purpose because the file was titled BABS when I downloaded it! She's so smart! It's a lot faster to say "You need to look back at BABS" then to say it all out!)
So, last week we were writing similes and metaphors for a class book. I explained that they needed at least one part from BABS in their sentence. They had to bring me their sentence before they could start on their book page. Sure enough, a few did not have a BABS part. But, all I had to do was read it, look at them, and say, "Where's BABS?" They would say "Oh, yeah, I know exactly what to add!" and run off and add it and bring it back and it was a better sentence!!
This has been so huge for me and my students!!! I mean, really!! I never used it last year when I found out about it because it was so late in the year. But, I'm so glad that I started out with it this year!!! I will ALWAYS start with this! EVERY YEAR!! I kid you not!
It seems so simple, right? It is!! I've said it before on this little blog, and I'll say it again! Simple is often best! When you over complicate things, it's not as effective! Keep it simple!! It will be successful!
If you haven't gone back to school, I highly recommend you trying this first thing! And, if you've already started, it's not too late!!! Add this into your instruction! Seriously!! I promise it will be worth the time!! (I apologize for it taking me so long to blog about this!)
Each day that we did these lessons, I facilitated the learning, but my kids created the sentences for me and then they created their own. They LOVED sharing their sentences, and they felt so proud of them! Sure, I could have just had them paste all four mini-posters in their journals and told them they needed to use them from now on in their sentences, but what good would that have done? I wanted to make it interactive! I think it was! So, I am linking this up to Erin's linky!!
Ok, so NOW I want you to click on the Build a Better Sentence product and go download it! Did I mention it's FREE??? I mean, I feel like I need to pay Erin just for how much it has made a difference already in my students' writing!! For real!!
AND, she has a paid product that you can also get that has even MORE resources for this! Click HERE to find her Build a Better Sentence Workshop Center!
I hope this was helpful for you! I surely want to kick myself for not using it before this year!!
Also, be sure to go check out all of the other ideas linked up to Erin's linky on making learning more interactive!
I hope you are having a great week!!!