Monday, June 25, 2012

A Bit Sketchy

Inspired this morning by Kate Messner's assignment for Teachers Write Summer Camp, I dreamed of the me I want to be.  The perfectionist in me wanted to rewrite and fix the crooked eyes and whatnot, but I left it alone.  (Trying to practice what I preach.)

Drawing is a powerful prewriting tool.  So many of us tell our young writers, "You can add a picture when you are finished writing."  We actually have it backwards.  To let our kiddos draw before they write is to help them work through their ideas. It is empowering, especially for our reluctant or struggling writers.  

Here are two links if you want more "sketchy" inspiration:
Corbett Harrison's "Margin Mascot," Mr. Stick
Roger Essley's Storyboarding videos

Try perfecting your stick figures this summer.  It is a handy and versatile skill to have in your bag-'o-writing-tricks.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Magic

My daughter is obsessed.  With words and fonts. With images: sketches, water-colors, photographs.  And Pinterest, of course, which is often the inspiration for her creations.  I am lucky enough to be the recipient of lots of her artsy attempts.  Yes, they look an awful lot like the originals, minus the misspellings. One may even say that she has "copied" from other artists.  Guess what?  That is okay.  We all have to begin somewhere.  The more she immerses herself in the artwork of others, the more her own personality, voice, and style will develop and shine.  It is a magical process.

The same is true for any craft or skill.  If you want to be a singer, you listen to and study the artists that sing the way you envision yourself singing.  If you want to learn to quilt, or knit, or dance, you go to the experts and get tips from them.  Each expert is going to put their own "spin" on things, which is likely going to show up in your work, until you decide you want to "spin off" in other directions.

Think about the craft of writing.  Whatever genre or mode we are teaching, we need to allow students to immerse themselves in it so that they can begin to emulate it.  We have to show them the characteristics of real-life examples.  They need to see what "good" looks like.  Hopefully then they will be able to model their writing after the experts, and eventually add an unexpected twist that makes it their own.

It makes sense, if you think about it.  It's not rocket science, but it is pretty magical.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Practical Poetry

Poetry. Prose. Drama.  These words have been buzzing around in my head a lot lately as I work on lessons to address the CCGPS ELA standards.  I got to thinking about a book that has been on our shelf for a while now.... Practical Poetry: A Nonstandard Approach to Meeting Content-Area Standards, by Sara Holbrook.

This slim little gem contains a wealth of ideas about incorporating poetry into all subject areas.  Ms. Holbrook doesn't mean just reading poetry.  She proports that we should be writing it as well. She makes a convincing case for poetry.  Here are just a few of her reasons:

Writing poetry jogs the memory. 
Writing poetry demands keen observation. 
Writing poetry requires precise language. 
Writing and performing poetry stimulates good communication skills. 
Writing poetry encourages good organizational skills. 
Writing poetry encourages reading fluency.
Writing poetry helps us learn about ourselves and our world.
Poetry- written, spoken, or read- is powerful language.

She had me "at hello." After reading just a a chapter and a half, I was ready to jump in.  I skimmed my fourth grade language standards, waiting for a standard to jump out at me. This is what caught my eye:

ELACC4L4b. Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).

I checked my handy-dandy teacher checklist, and chose a root word.  The star of my poem is the prefix  hyper.

Hyper: over, beyond, above.
Hyper is fast.
Conscientious, keen,
Stealthy, and sharp.
The pep in your step,
The chill in the air.

Hyper is not smooth.
Nor is it graceful, or elegant,
Full of swagger.
It is the opposite of a nap
In the hammock in the shade
Of an oak tree.

Even though this is poetry, and poetry is nowhere to be found in our writing standards, I believe this can count as informational writing.  I also think that if we asked students to write a root word poem a week, the meanings would surely stick with them, thus enhancing their ability to make meaning from seemingly unfamiliar words. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Nuance.  I like the word. According to the Free Online Dictionary, the term means subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning, feeling, or tone; a gradation.  

In our Common Core standards, we teach words nuances. Take a look:

ELACCKL4d. Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs describing the same general action (e.g., walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.

ELACC1L5d. Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs differing in manner (e.g., look, peek, glance, stare, glare, scowl) and adjectives differing in intensity (e.g., large, gigantic) by defining or choosing them or by acting out the meanings.

ELACC2L5b. Distinguish shades of meaning among closely related verbs (e.g., toss, throw, hurl) and closely related adjectives (e.g., thin, slender, skinny, scrawny)

ELACC3L5c. Distinguish shades of meaning among related words that describe states of mind or degrees of certainty (e.g., knew, believed, suspected, heard, wondered).

In grades 4-5, we are further taking those shades of meaning and looking at using the relationship between words to help make and convey meaning.

ELACC4L5c . Demonstrate understanding of words by relating them to their opposites (antonyms) and to words with similar but not identical meanings (synonyms).

ELACC5L5c. Use the relationship between particular words (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homographs) to better understand each of the words.

I have been thinking a lot about nuances lately.  I think we are really talking about word choice.  How does it affect us as readers?  How can we use it effectively in our writing?

I made an unexpected connection when I heard this song in the car the other night.  Watch and see if you can guess my connection. (Scroll down for an explanation!)

This upbeat, happy song can be used to illustrate the power of the perfect word.  The singer-writer-artist would not settle for just any old color to convey how special the object of the song is.  She was on a mission to find the perfect color, in much the same way that writers must carefully choose their words to elicit a certain feeling in readers. Cool, huh?

I wrote a lesson based on this song.  Check it out here if you are interested!


Reading and writing teachers!  Looking for some summer reading?  Stacey, over at Two Writing Teachers, highly recommends Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement to jump-start your thinking for next year.  This link will take you to a free preview from Heinemann, so you can make a more informed decision as to whether you want to spend your hard-earned dollars and your scant free-reading time on this book.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day 5 of 31 Slices

WWF. For some folks, that stands for World Wrestling Federation, for others it stands for World Wildlife Fund.  I have learned recently that it can stand for something else as well.  Words with Friends.  Have you heard of it?  Have you played it?  This little app is pretty addictive.  It is played very much like Scrabble, and you don't have to be with your opponent to play.  Each turn is taken when you get the chance.  I usually try to get in a few plays when I get home from work and a few before bed, if I am still able to piece together a logical thought by that time.

I have been playing Words with Friends for about a month now.  I play against a few colleagues, my two children, and a few other friends.  Although I consider myself to have a decent vocabulary, and I am a reader, I have lost every single game I have played thus far. 

I mentioned this somewhat embarrassing point to a friend and she pointed out that there is a lot of strategy involved; it is not just about knowing words.  She grew up playing Scrabble and happens to be very good at Words with Friends.  At the mention of the word strategy,  I immediately made the connection to reading comprehension strategies.  There is a parallel here--if we read strings of words, but don't have any strategies for putting those words together to make meaning, then we have lost the proverbial reading game. 

Just as reading comprehension strategies need to be explicitly taught, I also need to be given explicit instruction on Words with Friends tips.  A quick Google search turned up lots of hits for such instruction, including several sites on which you can cheat.  (I have a sneaking suspicion one of my opponents uses it on a regular basis....) With a bit of practice at applying these tips, my scores should improve, much like what happens in the game of reading. 

If you haven't tried Words with Friends yet, check it out.  If you already play, look me up and let's play--I need the practice!

Day 4 of 31 Slices

"What do you want for your birthday?" My husband was so disappointed this year, because what I really needed (and wanted) was clothes. Boring to him, but so fun for me!

Or so I thought.  I ventured an hour and half from home with birthday money and the strict order not to come home with any of it still in my wallet.  I got a late start, since I was leaving after church.  I spent all day out.  All day walking.  All day trying things on and taking them back to the rack.  I came home with exactly three bags, two of which were for my children. For myself, I was able to find a pair of cute khakis and two pairs of tights at the Gap.

I have found on this birthday more than ever that I am in the middle.  I feel too young to shop in the Women's Department at Macy's, yet obviously too old to shop in the Junior's.  Tops are too low cut, skirts are either too long for my short legs, or too short to even consider trying on.   What's a 45 year old to do?

I came home to find my family scurrying around, making preparations for dinner.  There was a glass of wine and a plate full of appetizers awaiting me.  My birthday meal was grilled swordfish, quinoa, and asparagus, with a fresh salad, and chocolate covered strawberries for dessert. 

Today I didn't have much luck in the Women's Department, but I was reminded that I sure did luck out in the Husband-and-Kids Department.