3 Fails and 1 Win

I listened to a BooksBetween podcast today that started with the host talking about “3 fails and 1 win”, and I though it would be a fun format to try for today’s slice.

Fail #1: Apparently the IT teacher and I had our lines of communication crossed because I brought my students down for MAPs testing 45 minutes after I was supposed to. Nothing worse than having to reschedule an entire class’s testing session on the computers. I am definitely not one of his favorite teachers any more.

Fail #2: We are learning about the Civil War, and I found a great mapping activity from History Gal. I wanted to add a research component to it, so I gave my students the blank Civil War-era map, and told them to find a map on the internet and start labeling. It fell apart almost immediately. The students were very confused that the two maps didn’t match up, so they were trying to carve out present-day states from the 1860s map…states that didn’t exist during the Civil War. It turned into such a mess that I printed out new copies of the map, and we started over, with more step-by-step instructions.

Fail #3: One day last week, the high was supposed to be in the 60s, so I dressed for a warmish day. What I didn’t realize is that the high that day was hit at about 8 AM, and the rest of the day got progressively colder. My spring clothing was clearly out of place by the time lunch recess rolled around and we were experiencing winter temperatures. My light jacket did not protect me much during recess duty, and I shivered through the entire 30 minutes.

Win #1: I have a student that I find hard to connect with. On Friday, this student was very excited about a hunting trip that he was going on with his dad over the weekend. On Monday, I actually remembered to ask him about it, and we had a good conversation about everything he did; he was engaged in the discussion and seemed to enjoy telling me about it. For a few minutes, we were connected. A definite win with that student.

Here’s to celebrating life’s failures…and little successes too.



The End of the Literary Essay

All good things must come to an end. We’ve been working on literary analysis for many weeks now, and looking at the quality of the writing of my students this past week, I decided that we were ready for an assessment. It was time to move on from this thoughtful type of writing.

All this week, we practiced what might be called “on-demand” literary analysis. Every day, we picked a new topic, found a quotation from our text to support it, and analyzed it as much as we could in 15-20 minutes. This was also the format of the assessment. The time was slightly more flexible during the assessment, but I wanted them to write a short analysis; I wasn’t looking for a long, multi-paragraph essay.

We started, as we always do before a writing assessment, by making our rubric together. I think it increases their connection to it when we use their language on the rubric. It also acts as a handy review of what we think is good writing based on what we have seen and written so far. The students then have access to the rubric while they are writing as a reminder of what we hoping to achieve.

This time, I tried the single-point rubric, which I first heard about on Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy podcast. It includes just the standards for each topic, with space for written comments that address work that is above and below the standard. This is what my and my students’ first attempt looks like:

In my initial read-through of their paragraphs, I see thoughtful topic sentences that state their topics. I see quotations chosen that prove their topics, with page references (a more recent addition to our writing). Most have some background information to set up the quotation, but at least one student is missing that. Their analysis is great. They clearly thought about their quotations and how they prove their topics. I see predictions, opinions, and questions that they have about their topics in their analysis. I see a lot of introductory phrases to help their thoughts flow together.

I see at least one good conclusion sentence that restates the topic and connects the ideas in the paragraph. Most conclusion sentences show me that we need to keep practicing writing conclusion sentences for paragraphs.

All in all, I am very impressed with the growth I have seen in my student writers. They started with no idea how to analyze literature, and they have finished with a general outline that can use in any kind of literary analysis in the future. They have a great base for more rigorous middle school writing. I am so proud of them and their writing.

Sentence Boot Camp #sol18

Since we have been back from Winter Break, my 5th graders and I have embarked on a “sentence boot camp”. This became necessary when I realize just how shaky they were on things like “nouns” and “what makes a sentence”. Clearly it was time to go back to basics.

So we started with subjects and predicates. What makes a sentence? I used my first Nearpod lesson, and it was great! The class loved it, even the silly Schoolhouse Rock video.  Then, we classified sentences as fragments (using proper terminology to talk about what was missing), correct sentences, and run-ons. Run-ons is what I really wanted to focus on because I wanted to talk about compound sentences, commas, and complex sentences (eventually). But one step at a time…


Top Activity: Sentence Writing Activities and Task Cards by Laura Candler                               Bottom Activity: Simple and Compound Sentences Task Cards by Language Arts Classroom

Day 2: Compound sentences. We started by reviewing fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. We watched Conjunction Junction, did a Nearpod lesson on it, and then did a quick sort on simple vs. compound sentences. They seemed to mostly get the differences between simple and compound sentences.

Day 3: Complex sentences. Complex sentences are definitely more tricky. I made my own Nearpod lesson for this one, and we talked about the difference between subordinate and coordinating conjunctions. We practiced writing a lot of complex sentences, and they did better when the dependent clause was at the beginning of the sentence. For some reason, when the dependent clause was at the end, they kept trying to make compound sentences instead. Hmm..


Top Activity: Dependent and Independent Clause Sort Printable by 2 Georgia Girls                Bottom Activity: Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentence Sort by Love Learning

Days 4-6: Let’s just say that sorting compound, complex, and simple sentences is pretty challenging for them. We practiced a little bit every day, and I’m not sure if we actually made any improvement with it. Sigh. We’ll keep trying. We talked about different parts of speech: adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions. I decided to focus on these since we have already talked about conjunctions with compound sentences, and nouns and verbs when we talked about subjects and predicates of a sentence. We started each lesson by reviewing what we talked about yesterday, using sentences from our read aloud or book club book to find particularly parts of speech. Then, we watched a SchoolHouse Rock video about that part of speech. We practiced expanding sentences using that part of speech on white boards. We put some of our best sentences samples on an anchor chart.


Mentor sentences: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I would say that overall my sentence boot camp experience was semi-successful. They certainly know more than they did before we did it, but we definitely have a lot of practice ahead of us before we really master all of the vocabulary and nuances of the different types of sentences. Luckily we have great books in the classroom to give us an endless supply of mentor sentences. 🙂



The Return of the Literary Essay

The sub report yesterday left me feeling more than a little apprehensive about writing today.

“Wait…did they end up writing anything?”

“Well…they argued a lot about who picked the quotes.”

Insert eye roll emoji here

After having a little chat about my expectations when there is a sub, I discovered the root of the problem: they weren’t ready to do what I had left for them to do.

My plans: With the sub, write one body paragraph of a literary essay we were writing about a picture book. I even wrote an example for the sub to use as a guide. Then, write the next two body paragraphs independently. We had already written the thesis and chosen the quotes. Topic sentence, quotation, analysis, conclusion sentence, done.

Reality: They didn’t know what to put in a body paragraph. They had no idea how to connect the quotation to the thesis. They didn’t know how to make a topic sentence.

After doing another body paragraph together today, they were slightly more comfortable and slightly excited about trying a paragraph on their own. We ended up doing the paragraph step-by-step, with each student writing his/her own individual paragraph and sharing each step of the way. It was long, and slow, but in the end, they had each written a passable literary essay body paragraph. Success!

Moral of the story: Sometimes student misbehavior stems from inability rather than deviousness. A little teaching helps with that, plus a little more scaffolding.


The Literary Essay

My class loves to read. I have written about that a lot because this is the second year in row that I have a class full of readers. They would read all day long if I would let them (I wish I could!).

My class doesn’t love to write. They don’t hate it, and they certainly have grown a lot as writers this year, but it isn’t their favorite way of communicating their ideas (that would be talking, of course).

For this unit, I am combining reading and writing. Hopefully their true love of reading will lift up the lukewarm reception they give writing.

Plus, their writing needs some help.

We wrote evidence-based argument essays last unit, and they learned a lot. They learned how to organize ideas into a thesis, how to find evidence to support their reasons, how to find quotations to support their reasons, and how to analyze their quotations to strengthen their overall arguments.

From their final drafts, they need a lot of practice with this.

So this is where the literary essay comes in. Not only do they get to practice all of the aforementioned skills–thesis, evidence, quotations, analysis–they get to channel that thinking into stories that they love.

Day 2 is already looking better.

We spent one writing class looking at one book together, choosing words and phrases that spoke to us as writers and wrote an analysis of each quotation together as a class. Then, they practiced again with their own picture book and did independent analysis of the quotes that they liked.

I read better quotations and better analysis today than I did during the entire argument essay writing unit. I’m so excited to see what they come up with, and how they string quotations together to make a cohesive essay. It’s going to fun talking about reading and writing together.

Wants vs. Needs

“Not 2, don’t roll a 2, please anything but a 2.”

[Die rolls…lands on a 2.]


In our 5th grade classroom, we are learning about wants vs. needs and scarcity. It’s the start of our unit on economics, and we’re spending the week learning about some basic tenets of economics, including scarcity, trade, economic systems, and taxes.

We are playing a game about being trapped on a deserted island. We talked about what we would need, and they each chose 5 items (from a list) of what they would want with them.

Then, we started rolling the die. Every time we rolled a die, something would happen.

  • Roll 1: Animals got into your food. Lose two units of food.
  • Roll 2: One of your items broke and is now useless.
  • Roll 3: You had a good day collecting food or water; increase your food or water by 2 units.
  • Roll 4: You hurt yourself and need medical assistance.
  • Roll 5: A storm blows; keep yourself warm and dry.
  • Roll 6: Your fire goes out.

The students learned pretty quickly that matches and blankets were very useful, while food and water could disappear really quickly (since they used some up each day).

It was fun to watch them watch their supplies grow and shrink with each roll of the die.

They enjoyed it so much that we are going to play it again tomorrow, adding in the element of trade. How do people get what they need but don’t have? They trade for it! I wonder what they would be willing to trade for a set of matches…

Sources: I found this game on this site.

A Little Yearbook Love

Seven third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. 38 Friday afternoons. One yearbook.

That’s the goal anyway. We have a long time until we submit the yearbook in June…luckily.

Last year, I had five fifth graders, one fourth grader, and two third graders. This year, as all of my fifth graders have moved on to middle school (sniff!), I have a very young yearbook club, with four new third and fourth graders and only two veterans.

Lucky for them (the yearbook? my sanity?), this is my second year, so I can bring all of last year’s expertise to this young, enthusiastic group.

At the beginning of the year, there isn’t much for us to do yearbook-wise, so we take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Sometimes we take pictures of the school. Sometimes we take pictures of the playground. Sometimes, we get to take pictures of each other (so exciting!). There aren’t many school events that we need to document in the first few months.

Once Halloween hits, though, we are off and running. Halloween is our first big all-school event, so we were out in full-force, taking pictures of everything that moves. 300 pictures later, I think we are finally getting the hang of it.

I saw my yearbook crew being courageous and asking random students (not just their friends) to turn and look at the camera. Hooray for diversity!

I saw my yearbook crew taking lots of pictures. We have looked at enough blurry, off-center pictures to know that we need to take a LOT of pictures in order to get one good one (or the approximately 10 we will use for the yearbook page). Hooray for quantity!

I saw my yearbook crew looking like real photographers. Moving around the get the best shot. Moving right to the front. Moving from group to group. Lots of movement. Lots of pictures. Hooray for quality!

Looks like we can start building our first yearbook page of the year. Yes!


A Good Writing Minilesson

This year, I have tried to be more intentional with my writing instruction. My students wrote a lot last year, and they certainly improved–some by a lot–but I wasn’t sure what I had actually taught them.

So, I planned my narrative unit more intentionally this year. I started with a week of writing first drafts, and then we dove into the revision process by learning a lot of different strategies.

Now, we’re in the editing stage of our final small moment narrative draft. Today, we talked about dialogue. I knew that some of my students included it in their pieces and that they understood the basic structure of dialogue, but I saw this as a place where we could make a big impact by looking at the punctuation and paragraphing of writing dialogue.

As I often do, I turned to a picture book to use as a mentor text.


Not only does this book include many examples of well-written dialogue, it is funny and includes hilarious idioms that were fun to discuss with my students.

We created a list of guidelines for including dialogue in our writing, starting with what we already knew and adding more as we read the book.


I feel like this was a good lesson. They learned something practical to use in their writing, it will make their writing a little more polished, and it was fun to do a bonus read aloud.


Time Travel

Sometimes traveling can actually feel like time travel. This weekend, I went to visit my sister who lives in Denver. For most of the weekend, it was 75 degrees with blue skies, lots of sunshine, falling leaves, and cool fall breezes. The perfect fall weather.

This morning, autumn was gone. I woke up to a thin layer of snow covering the ground, with more falling fast. Thank goodness I brought a coat and gloves. The clouds were low and grey, and I couldn’t see the mountains. While it’s been a few years since my last snowstorm, this definitely felt familiar: winter.

By the time I returned home to Austin, there had been another shift in the weather: 90 degrees with sunshine and not a cloud in the sky.  I was sweating in my sweater and boots. Definitely summer.

The different seasons I experienced this weekend was enough to give me whiplash. All I needed was a good rainstorm, and I could’ve experienced all four seasons in 72 hours.

I got on the plane amidst a snowstorm and stepped off the plane surrounded by sunshine. I woke up in winter and fell asleep in summer. Ahh, the joys of travel.


Setting the Example

I tell my students (5th graders) that they are the leaders of the school and that they need to set a good example for the younger students in the school. They need to behave like the rest of the school is watching them and learning from their behavior. They need to be responsible and respectful. While we talk about that a lot and they show that leadership in small ways, the opportunities for them to be real leaders are few and far between.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity.

The 1st grade class was visiting our classroom, presenting their poster on fire safety. The 5th graders were being a good audience, despite the fact that they obviously knew the material already.

Then, we all hear the siren. We were having a lockdown drill.

My 5th graders immediately jumped into action. They closed the blinds, covered the windows on the doors, crouched on the floor. They were silent. They were focused. They were calm. They were taking it seriously. The 1st graders got to see the 5th graders in action as real life role models: organized, motivated, helpful, and respectful.

I was so proud of them, my leaders. 🙂