Friday, December 16, 2011

We're Baaaack!

Ok, just because I've been gone from 'blogging land' doesn't mean we haven't been working hard in 4B. I've definitely been documenting a lot of what we've been doing!

To start, it was clear to me that our old way of peer conferencing just wasn't working. Kids seemed to be goofing around, not really helping each other, and it was a waste of everyone's time. It frustrated me when most of my one-on-one conference time was spent managing unruly PEER conferences. I knew something had to change. I decided to revamp our workshop so that our peer conferences would hold both the author and the peer more accountable AND work on our 6-traits language.

I introduced our 'new' method for peer conferencing using this anchor chart to document our process.

After students finish drafting, they are to grab a 6-traits peer conferencing sheet and assess themselves by circling all the descriptors for each trait that they feel match their own writing. Mind you, we did a lot of whole-class practice with scoring writing based on the 6-traits criteria so students would feel comfortable doing this process on their own (and being HONEST!). Through our mini-lessons we've learned that it's possible to have high scores in some traits but lower scores in others. That's how we grow! Here you see Devin circling where he thinks his writing falls on our 6-traits rubric. (Note: The link to the 6-traits peer conferencing sheet above will bring you to an even more updated version than the one shown in this blog posting! Just FYI!)
 Here's another student assessing her own writing after she's drafted.
 This student has finished assessing her writing using our rubric. She decides on a final number score and circles it to the left of the descriptors.
 Then it's time to meet with a peer. (We have a peer conference sign-up sheet in our room which helps students know which other students in the room are also ready to peer conference.) Here you see this author reading his story to his peer. After he's done reading, he will explain to his peer the scores he gave himself and why. It's important for the peer to listen carefully to the author because it will soon be her turn to assign a score to this author for each trait . On the lines on the rubric, she will write to explain the scores she gives him.
 The peer needs to follow the following sentence stems in his/her scoring response:
* I give this a writer a ___ because...
* This writer needs to work on ...
This process requires peers to truly work together, hold each other accountable, and it gets the kids using our 6-traits language a lot more. The second sentence stem helps the writer establish a goal for what to work on when revising! To see more of this peer conferencing process, watch a clip of us practicing this stage!
Our focus lately has been on the trait of organization. We've been looking thoroughly at different beginnings and endings of both student and published writing. Here is our anchor chart documenting what we noticed!
In other Writer's Workshop news, these are a few additional anchor charts we have in our room to help keep our writing organized.
 This anchor chart reminds us of powerful words to use to spice up 'said'!

In reading we have been working hard on purposeful talk.This is so very important to the social construction of knowledge in any classroom!
It's essential to teach students purposeful talk behaviors before even considering literature discussion groups (LDGs). The majority of kids talk like...well, KIDS! So, if we expect kids to talk like mature young people about different texts they read, we need to explicitly teach them how! Talking about Text by Maria Nichols is a great place to start if you're interesting in learning more about purposeful talk behaviors.

I taught each of the behaviors individually through two separate mini-lessons - one day to explain 'hearing all voices' in a concrete way (without text), and a second day to practice 'hearing all voices' using text. Then I taught 'saying something meaningful' in a concrete way without using text, and the next day we practiced 'saying something meaningful' using text , and so on. Eventually all of the purposeful talk behaviors kind of blended together and kids started to discover that we often need to use all of these things at the same time in order to truly talk purposefully about anything!

We did a lot of practicing, and I've been taping students in this process. Here is a clip of students practicing their behaviors while they talk about their families. (We had read a few books about different kinds of families to foster a safe environment to celebrate the fact that we all have different kinds of families!) We also had students practice their purposeful talk behaviors while discussing their best or worst memory in school (which helped warm up their brains for a timed writing activity we did during writer's workshop). Here is a clip! As a class, we watched these video clips to analyze our body language and other purposeful talk behaviors. I think taping and analyzing is a very effective way for students to learn how they should look and sound in an LDG.

 'Keeping the lines of thinking alive' is a tough concept for many youngsters. Sometimes what happens is that students take turns talking, but they don't really build on what the person before them said. In other words, they don't really DISCUSS, they just share and listen. We applauded the first group in this clip because they had good body language and were respectful as listeners, but we discovered their conversation needed to be more 'alive' by asking questions and making connections to each other's ideas and thoughts.

Mrs. Pierce and I taped ourselves doing a weak LDG and a strong LDG. As we watched each example, we used dots and lines to 'map out' our conversations (see chart below). In the weak LDG, we discovered Mrs. Pierce and I shared a lot of individual thoughts. The thought started, and then it stopped. There was really no discussion about anything we said; and Mrs. Pierce wasn't even looking at me during part of our time together! How rude! ;) In the strong LDG example, we mapped out a lot of dots and lines that were connected because we took each other's ideas and built on them. We truly discussed the text to dig deeper.

We introduced several conversational moves for students to use to help get their voice heard in a conversation. Students also have these conversational moves on a bookmark that they keep in their LDG books.

After we learned the respectful ways to speak and act when discussing with others, it was time to teach our kids how to flag their thinking. This is a crucial step to holding a successful literature discussion group because it allows the kids to track their important thoughts while reading so they have ideas for discussion the next day. Here are the 'codes' we use to track our thinking on post-its.
We encourage students to use one of our codes to categorize the kind of thought they have and then write a few words to trigger their thought. This helps them when they get into a discussion group; they'll actually have pinpointed ideas to discuss! Students kept a chart in their Thoughtful Logs with all of our codes on it for easy reference. Here's a clip of our students as they practice flagging their thinking for the first time. The next day, students put all their new learning to the test. We put them in small groups to discuss the text "Slower Than the Rest" which is a short realistic fiction story out of Cynthia Rylant's book Every Living Thing.

On another day, we used a high-interest two-page non-fiction text about leeches to continue practicing flagging our thoughts. Here's a clip of our kids flagging their thinking just after we modeled it during our mini-lesson. Below are some pictures of the kids' flagged thoughts.

In addition to purposeful talk, we've also been studying the historical fiction genre. We've read several mentor texts, including Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner and Dandelions by Eve Bunting.
Our first round of literature discussion books are all within the historical fiction genre. Here are a few of our historical fiction LDGs hard at work:
Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail
Scraps of Time: Abby Takes a Stand
The River and the Trace (I think I put my finger over the microphone at minute 2:00!)

Oftentimes, historical fiction books will have a flashback in them. One group's book, called A Scrap of Time: Abby Takes a Stand by Patricia McKissick, has a flashback that occurs towards the beginning of the story. I photocopied some of the pages to try to explain this technique during a whole class mini-lesson. In the first section of the book, three grandkids are spending time with their grandma in her attic. They find an old menu and ask their grandma why she saved it. Chapters 1 through 12 flash back to 1960, where 'grandma' is just 10-years-old, living in Nashville, Tennessee at the time of a lot of civil rights protests. The menu is from a restaurant where a lot of sit-ins took place. Through the flashback a reader learns all about life during the 1960s. In the final section of the book, a reader finds him/herself back in the present - in grandma's attic, where the three grandkids ask their grandma some questions about her life during the sixties.

There was also another flashback in the story Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner.
We also read The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris VanAllsburg as an example of a flashback in a fantasy book!

In other reading news, here is a picture of the anchor chart that stored all the non-fiction text features we've learned.

In social studies, we've been studying the economy of the five U.S. regions. Students have been reading small sections of non-fiction leveled readers to summarize a product or industry that is important to each region's economy. Students are typing up their summaries and we're calling those summaries 'articles' as they each create a magazine of our economy. Through this project, students have learned to:
* Summarize main ideas
* Center and left-justify their cursor
* Use the tab key to indent
* Change font size, color, and style
* Bold, underline, and italicize
* Safe image searches
* Copy and paste
* Cite their picture resources
Here is the inside of one student's magazine. Next week we will be using this site to create magazine covers!

Lastly, we had a chance to meet with our second-grade buddies earlier this month. We split the buddies up into two groups and one group stayed with Mrs. Adams to play holiday bingo.

The other group was with me in the computer lab. Buddies used this site to play a variety of math and English games. One of the most popular games to play was called 'Story Plant' where students could click on different leaves to create the beginning to a unique story. Depending on what leaves were clicked, you would get a different combination of characters, settings, problems, etc. The computer generates a beginning to a story that the kids can print off and finish during writer's workshop!

Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. WOW! So full of so many wonderful ideas (as always). Thank-you for your continual inspiration. LOVE the anchor charts - I'll be "borrowing" a few ideas for my writing workshop. :)

    Runde's Room

  2. This is an EXTREMELY helpful post. Thank you! :) - Victoria (

  3. There are so many great things in this post, I had to print it so that I could sort my learning into categories! Lots to think about...
    I always learn so much from your posts (and I miss you when you step away).
    Thanks for all of the inspiration!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  4. Hey Ms. B!!!
    I listed you as my Blog-to-Stalk on Farley's Linky Party at Oh Boy Fourth Grade.
    Life in 4B is a GREAT blog. You should be celebrated!
    Come to think of it...
    Not sure you ever saw your "recognition" at:

    I hope you'll stop by and visit someday...
    Happy Vacation!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  5. I loved the leaches paper it was awsome!


  6. Your blog is so inspiring. You have such lucky students! Would you be able and willing to post a PDF or word document of the 6-trait rubric your students use? I would love to adopt it into my classroom :)

  7. What's pathetic is that I'm unsure of how to post a word document or .pdf on here! My tech. skills are limited in that area! If you email me, I can send it to you!! :)

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and discoveries!

  9. What a fantastic record of an amazing classroom. Wow. There's so much here! Thanks for sharing.
    I might email you for the 6 traits rubric, unless there's a link above that I saw. Thanks again.

  10. I've actually updated the Six-Traits Peer Conferencing rubric so it's even more kid-friendly than the one you saw and liked in this post!. I have the revised version posted here:

    Hope you love it!!

  11. Wow, this is a great post! I am hoping you'll share your rubric as well, so I already emailed you, but I have another question too. Your peer conferencing poster is numbered 3, so I assume you had a step 1 and 2. I'm just wondering what you had on the previous two anchor charts. I assume you had steps afterwards also. What did you put on those? Thanks for sharing!

  12. These ideas are great! I'm not a teacher but am a mom who strives to find ways to make learning fun for my son. Thank you!

  13. First, I love your blog..... your ideas are awesome and I love seeing other's anchor charts...other's ideas round mine out a bit.

    Second, I'm curious about the flower stem thingy writing program... I goodled...and still didn't find much. I love the idea and what a great way to stimulate a reluctant writer! Can you share more info about it a site or a'to purchase' program?

    Third, I have your updated peer conferencing worksheet in my TPT shopping cart.

    Finally, to speak to the person above...something I've seen others do and I am doing this year... using a clothing rack (sometimes you can get them used or as a second, bringing the cost way down...found mine in a random Auldi grocery store for $5), and tape anchor charts to hangers....then hang. Kids want to review... they go and look through charts...viola. Have dry cleaning often? Use those free hangers! This year I'm color coding my hangers so students know where on the rack to look for what....

    Good luck and thanks again for sharing!!!

  14. Zelano - The flower stem writing thing that you saw in this post can be found here:

  15. Thank you for sharing , there is so many ideas that I want to use in my class.

  16. I absolutely love your ideas! They are great, thank you for sharing. I recently featured some of your wonderful ideas about biography writing on my website Thanks again!

  17. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas!

    I hope it is okay that I used some of your posters on my Anchor Chart Central Blog. I use the blog with my third grade students:

    I linked back to this blog.

    Please let me know if that's okay.

    ~Linda Yollis

  18. Hi
    Love this blog....thank you so much for sharing! Quick questions! On the 'FLag your thoughts' sections how do you explain the 'text to self', 'text to world' etc to the children? Many thanks