Sunday, December 2, 2012

Life's Been Great in 228!

If I could sum up the school year so far in one word, it would be...


This year I have committed to teaching reading and writing workshop and not using our county anthology. I am so fortunate to be able to have the freedom to make this decision, as I truly believe it is what is best for students. However, it is new territory for me (and many of my colleagues), so I have been up to my eyeballs in work. I know that many say reading and writing workshop seems like it would be easier to plan, but if you are doing it correctly it's really a lot more challenging (in my humble opinion). Although there are not as many worksheets/dittos/busy work, planning is based on the needs of the students and therefore requires frequent assessment and careful analysis of student work. So, not only am I grading my students' work but I am also frequently taking notes on it and comparing it to previous work. Despite the heavier workload for myself, I do love it. And the best part do they.

So, what exactly have we been up to? Keep on reading to find out!

One thing I did differently this year is change how I use my response journals. The way they are set up is the same (click here to see blog post about setup), but instead of the students writing about their independent reading, they write me letters about our read aloud. This year, I found a great idea on Pinterest to help me model how a well-written letter should look. As a class, we read The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco. (This was a great lead into R.J. Palacio's Wonder, by the way!) I wrote a letter to the students on chart paper, and then together we identified the components of the letter and discussed the expectations. This letter now hangs in the classroom as an example that they can refer to throughout the year.

I also gave the students "Thinking Stems" that I found in a blog post by Nancy at Teaching My Friends.   to help them discuss their thoughts about our reading. These are glued onto the very first two sheets of their notebooks. In addition, the students take notes in the back half of their notebooks that they then refer to as they write their letters. Not only is the note taking helpful to their writing, but they also use their notes to drive discussion about what we have read.

Character Study Anchor Chart
During the first part of the year, the students and I have been focusing on characters in our reading. I have taught many minilessons about the complexities of characters, beyond just character traits, feelings, and relationships. We have kept an anchor chart about all of the thinking we have done about characters so that the students may refer to it during their reading workshop time. It has been so amazing to hear their conversation about characters and see their thinking deepen in their work. I am so proud of how far they have come! The best part is now they are making tons of text-to-text connections because they have been studying their characters so closely across texts. 

Our growing list of character trait words!
A favorite activity of mine that we did was coming up with more precise language to describe characters. For this lesson, I started out by discussing the common words I see students use when discussing character traits (e.g. mean, nice, caring, kind, etc.) Then, I gave them new words and in groups they came up with synonyms, examples of character actions that would fit with each trait, and names of characters from books we have read that fit each trait. Then, as a class we grouped each trait into one of three categories: Positive Connotation, Negative Connotation, or Neutral. Now my students have access to words that are much more meaningful when they write and discuss their thinking about characters. And, as we come across new "precise language" about character, we add to our list!

 What has been going well in your classrooms so far this year? I would love to hear from you!


  1. I have never thought about having them write response letters about the read aloud-I love that idea! I'm not teaching reading this year. I'm teaching 4 classes of history-2 5th grade and 2 6th grade, and then 2 itty bitty blocks of 5th grade english.

    I have decided to throw away-I mean put up-our english books where we have been doing isolated grammar that DOES NOT STICK. :)

    We will begin writing this Tuesday and write for the REST OF THE YEAR!! Biting nails!


  2. I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award!! Your blog is great and I thank you for sharing your thoughts & resources. Check out my blog for all of the details regarding your award!

  3. So glad you're using reading & writing workshop. It changed my teaching life (I taught high school--now I'm in teacher education). It was so much work initially to launch, but by year 3, it practically ran itself after the first few weeks of training students in the routine each year.