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Kids love books . . . especially fun, creative, silly books.  My 4th grade students loved the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I also got two books that are in the same vein but geared toward girls.  They didn’t make it to my classroom as my daughter snagged them and is reading them voraciously.

Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

Imagine my excitement when The Reading Zone posted a contest by the author of Dork Diaries where you can win a purse belonging to the main character, Nikki.  Oh, my daughter wants it!  She wants it bad!

Still, I love these books for kids and can happily recommend them.  And, happily recommend you go visit The Reading Zone where you will learn all sorts of great books for middle grade and middle school kids!

Putting things– tangible things — real things — into the hands of  students when asking them to write and to learn, works.  And works well.

I am blessed with a mother who shares willingly so that I can be a better teacher.  In 4th grade in California, we cover California history in Social Studies.  I asked my mother to please share some of her bagillions of pieces of broken arrowheads and knives and spear points and pieces of half-worked obsidian so that I could bring this alive to the students.  And, of course, she did.

So, last week, I put the pieces of obsidian into the hands of the students.  We talked about it — how the rock itself was made, how the Piutes (who are the local tribes where my mother lives) made them, how the always found a beautiful place to sit and look for them, how my mother has a gift for finding them and I’ve never found anything other than chips.

And, then I asked them to write.  To describe with vivid, juicy details their piece of obsidian.  I asked them to make it come alive in their writing.

We brainstormed things we could say together.  How they looked, felt, sounded, smelled, and made us feel.  I asked the kids to please not taste the rocks!  🙂

And, then, they wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.

Fantastic.

Even better was the next day when they drew.  I asked them to please draw a piece of obsidian.   Their excitement level was huge.  They drew and drew and drew and drew.  They added details and texture and drew.  Some drew more than one version . . . one side and then the other, what it looks like when you hold it to the light.  They were so fully engaged that when I asked to stop for lunch . . . they were disappointed.

So, yea, hands on stuff . . . that works!

In our study of California history, we study Dia de los Muertos.  We have generated lots of writing about the holiday and lots of art work.  We brought in pictures of our deceased loved ones and shared good memories of them.  We read books about Day of the Dead and we watched videos that talked about the holidays and showed real celebrations in Mexico.

But nothing showed us the true importance of this holiday until we went to visit a nearby Mission — Mission San Juan Bautista. The mission is both a Catholic church and a California State Historic Park. When we visit the mission, we tour the State Park buildings and we go through the Mission Museum and the actual church. When we went into the Church, we saw their Dia de los Muertos altar. We were all so moved by it.

Day of the Dead altar inside the Mission Church

When you look closely, you can see the amazingly joyful Calacas skeletons.

Calacas on Dia de los Muertos altar

Calacas  on Dia de los Muertos altar

I know that when we write next week about our field trip, there will be mention about the real altar they saw in the Mission.  But whatever they write about, I know that we have shared an amazing experience that built our understanding of California history and that will help us all understand our place in the state.

In all my years of teaching (which count 4 now, thank you very much! 🙂 ), I have done one thing consistently:  Poetry Friday.  However, this is the first year that I’ve really been organized about it.

Nearly every Friday, I introduce a new form of poetry to my students.  With any luck, I have a book that I can read with examples of the poem style.  The students and I are building Poetry Portfolios.  Some Fridays we devote to organizing our portfolios and finishing unfinished poems.  Their portfolios contain a table of contents where they add each form that we study then there is a page with information about each form and a sample of the form.  Following that page, they put their own poem from that form. So far, we have studied FIB, Group, Acrostic, and Shape poems.

I love teaching poetry because even reluctant poets or poor writers or struggling students can be successful at it.  A poem isn’t daunting.  It’s short and feels achievable.  Some of the poems that have been produced are breathtaking.

I’ll share more about this project as the year goes on.  So far though, it’s all good.

What
Joy!
Sharing
My passion
For words, images
I know they will express themselves.

© 2008 Liza Lee Miller

All is moving forward in my classroom.  Math groups are happening.  Social Studies is moving forward.  Spelling is underway.  Reading is progressing.  Writing is my big area of focus this year.  I want to look back at this year and think that was the year that I really started teaching writing well.

Thankfully, some of our stars are aligned.  Our district sets benchmark assessments three times a year in different writing genres.  This guides our curriculum in writing for the year.  The first genre is Personal Narrative.  So, we’re moving forward.  Today, I started reading to the kids from Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry.  It’s a delightful story about an unusual 2nd grade girl who tells stories about herself.  At the same time, we started using our 5 subject notebooks to start this unit of study.  We started with what the class in the book learns about writing Personal Narrative which is that they need to have a beginning, middle, and an end.  They also are about you and you are the main character.  The kids got excited about it.

Along with all that work, we are doing Poetry every Friday.  I’ve done that for three years now.  It’s a huge success and I’ve gotten a lot more ideas now about how to go on.  We started last week with writing Fib poems.  I love them — they are quick and easy to write and the kids really enjoy it.  One of the sections in our 5 section notebook will be for poetry lessons.  We also intend to cover Summary and Response to Literature. I know that’s only 4 sections — maybe I’ll come up with some else for after the last benchmark.

I am gathering books to read for our personal narrative touchstones.  I have a few pieces.  I’m also gathering resources from around the InterWebs to be get me started.  I’ve never been one to feel the need to re-invent the wheel.  I’m excited about it.  I can sense the kids are excited about it.

I know this year won’t be perfect but I also know it will be better than any previous year has been.  Buckle up, class, we’re writing now!

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