April 2017 - Susan Jones Teaching

Get the Most of your Students' Writing

Writing in the primary grades can be a bit scary at times! Many of my first grade students are just learning to read and simultaneously I would like them to write a 3 page personal narrative with an opening, three details and a catchy closing. It isn't always easy, but writer's workshop is one of my favorite things to teach in first grade because the difference made in a year is remarkable.

I wanted to take some time today to share with you a couple tips for getting the most of your students during writer's workshop!

It is difficult to learn to write. It is even more difficult when you are forced to write about something you don't care or know much about. Using the writer's workshop model, I like to give my students the freedom to make their pieces personal. They get to write about what interests them... not what interests me!

When students get to write about topics that are personal to them, they have a much larger bank of ideas to pull from. Do your first graders talk a lot?! HA! Trick question - of course they do! Well, during each unit of study I have my students talk a lot. They talk to one another about their ideas. Their classmates ask them questions about their ideas. They tell their stories aloud to someone who is listening before they ever write a single word on paper. 

When writing personal narratives, I remind my students that during our morning meeting many students have already shared a personal narrative orally when they told us about their weekend. We may have asked questions to get more details about their story and voila! A first grade writing piece is already in the works. 

Now that being said, I do offer prompts from time to time. Some of my students have trouble brainstorming topics to write about, so I like to list a BUNCH of prompt ideas to get them started! This way, my students can still choose what they want to write about. If that still isn't working for a student... we sit and have a 1-on-1 chat to see if I can help spark any ideas!

Here are a few ideas that got my students thinking and conversing in the past:

When we begin writing in first grade, proper grammar and mechanics go OUT THE WINDOW. Now before you get all upset, don't worry - they comeback! I absolutely teach my students how to properly use punctuation and how to vary sentence structures. I teach them how to add details and spell words properly... but FIRST, I just want them to write. 

I find that when my students are so bogged down by their own questions (how do I spell this? does a period go here? how many sentences was I supposed to write?) their ideas often become stifled and the pages are left blank. When I encourage students to just write, write, write all their thoughts out on paper... that is when the magic happens! We can't revise or edit anything without words on the paper! 

During open house each year, I like to share this letter with the parents to help them understand what writing will look like for their first grade child. 

You can download a free copy of this letter and personalize it by clicking above.

The beginning of my writer's workshop block is spent teaching and modeling. Model, model, model. Many skills I teach in writing can be abstract and it may seem difficult for a first grader to actually apply the skill I am teaching to their own writing. 

I need to show them how to do it. For every unit of study, I create my own, modeled writing piece that I use throughout the entire unit. Every day my students are adding details, so am I. Every time my students are editing or revising, so am I.

I set up my paper to look the same as theirs and after I explain a skill, I show them how I apply it to my paper before they go back and apply it to theirs. While it certainly helpful for my students to see me apply these skills, I like to expose my students to other authors who have wonderfully mastered their craft as well by reading plenty of mentor texts.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements (personal narrative)
Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee (personal narrative)
I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff (opinion/persuasive)
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert (informative)
Don't Let the Pigeon Stay up Late by Mo Willems (opinion/persuasive)
Frogs by Gail Gibbons (informative)
A Chair for my Mother by Vera Williams (personal narrative)
Red is Best by Kahty Stinson (opinion/persuasive)

I hope some of these tips can help you get your students to work to their fullest potential and enjoy writing along the way!

If you are looking for some units of study to help you teach first grade writing, I have compiled ALL my writer's workshop units in this huge, money-saving bundle:
It includes lessons, graphic organizers, templates, and much more for the following types of writing:
- Personal Narratives
- Informative Writing
- Opinion Writing
- Writing Reviews
- How to Books
- Realistic Fiction
- Poetry
- Getting Started with Writer's Workshop
- Yearly Writing Prompts
- Author Celebrations
**it will also be updated with every new writing unit I ever come out with free of charge!

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Keep Students Engaged at The End of the Year!

Keeping my first grade students engaged during those last few weeks of the year is always a challenge. A fun one, but certainly a challenge. 

The sun is usually shining, the warmth makes my students start to yawn in the afternoon, and all they can see is another vacation looming in the near distance. Completely understandable right?! I feel the same way those last couple weeks!

The last days as a teacher can be pretty bogged down with report cards, cleaning, meetings, and all sorts of things that pull you away from your room. It can often feel like the last days with your class can slip away all too quickly. 

Well I wanted to share a few tips to help keep your students engaged and learning during the last few days together! These will help you all enjoy your final days.

At the end of the year I like to have entire themed days. That doesn't happen that often in my classroom, so it is such a fun way to break the everyday mold and try something new!

Some of the themed days I have done in the past include:
-  Sports Day
- Friendship Day
- Let's Make Memories
- Beach Day
- Camping Day
- Game Day
- Food Day
- Ice Cream Day

On each of these days, we still learn/review all the subject areas but every activity ties into the theme! For instance, on camping day we read stories about camping during our reading block, we catch fish and add them during math, and we build our own tents during science! We eat themed snacks and make themed crafts. It's such a nice break from the ordinary!

Here you can see a little look at a few activities we do for a couple of the days:

*the above activities are all from my  fun-filled Countdown to Summer unit.

Your students are used to you. They are used to their classmates. They are used to their routine. Let them know something new and exciting will be happening soon!

Before the last 5 of school days begin, I give my students little hints about what kind of days we will be having in the classroom and let them guess! When they get to school in the morning they can see if their guesses were correct!
^ leave out these materials (toothpicks, paper, play dough) and have students guess what they might be building ^

Give them the following hints:
We use this outdoors.
It provides shelter.
It can protect us from bears!

Some of your kids will guess that we are building a tent and that tomorrow may be CAMPING day! The more you can reel them in and excite them, the easier it is to teach!

Nothing beats boredom like getting up and getting moving! There are numerous studies to show that student engagement and learning increases with the use of daily movement (read more here or here), so use that research to your advantage!

^^hopping on one foot in the great room while completing a place value activity^^

On camping day, we go for a nature walk outside and experience our 5 senses. On sports day, we complete a physical challenge seeing how many different activities we can complete in just 3 minutes. On game day, we play lots and lots of games that have our blood pumping and minds working!

Blow up a beach ball and write sight words, math facts, phonemes, etc. on it! Have students stand up and pass it around while practicing all sorts of skills. Anything that gets them out of their chairs, does us all a favor at the end of the year.

You know it's coming. They know it's coming. Use summer to your advantage! I like to make an entire themed day all about the beach (if you aren't near a beach - make it a water or pool themed day). We use pails and shovels to search for seashells and simultaneously review digraphs:

We read the funny book, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach and we write realistic fiction stories about family vacations at the beach gone all wrong! Whatever you know your kids will be doing over the summer, use it! Reel them in with the FUN that is summer!

As I mentioned before, it can be easy for your last days to slip away with all the extra tasks you are given as a teacher during the end of the year. Try to hold onto the fact that these students are yours and yours only for the next week or so. Next thing you know, you blink and they are onto middle school, graduating high school, or (gasp!) getting married and having kids. Treasure each and every one of those little kiddos and remind them of all the fun you had together!
In fact, I like to dedicate an entire DAY to our memories! We make memory picture frames and draw our favorite memories from the school year inside. We play the game, memory, and review all different math skills. We practice some fine motor skills and make friendship bracelets and trade them with another classmate. Anything to help cherish and enjoy our last bit of time together as a class.

I hope you can take some of these tips and really make the end of your year extra special! All of the activities in this post are contained in my Countdown to Summer unit. If you'd like to see more about that unit, just click below:

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Friendship Day Activities!

If you read my last post about my Countdown to Summer activities then you know I have another day of FUN ready for you! My past post was all about camping activities and my second fun-filled day is all about Friendship.

All these activities are part of a fun new product I came out with for the end of the year called Countdown to Summer! This is a 5 day all-encompassing unit which includes lessons and activities for every subject area! There is MORE than enough for you to have boatloads of fun during the last days of school while still reviewing and learning!

I wanted to show you a little sneak peek of the new activities I included for Day 2, Friendship Day:

Focus skill is data collection and analysis
This activity can be down whole group or in small groups where students will survey their friends to tally the results of different graphing questions (there are 4 total). After students tally the results, they will complete the bar graph and answer questions about the data!

Focus skill is beginning consonant blends 
Students will partner up and play a phonics game to identify different beginning consonant blends! There is a mixed version (shown above) as well as a version for s-blends, l-blends, and r-blends separately. 

Focus skill is making inferences
Is there a better friendship than Elephant & Piggie?! We read this fun book by Mo Willems and make some inferences along the way about how our two favorite characters are feeling! I include an entire read-aloud sheet that has stopping points and questions to ask throughout the book!

Also, no worries if you can't get your hands on this book! I wrote a short story about friendship with response questions to focus on the same skills!

Focus skill is personal narratives
Students are challenged to remember a time when they were a good friend! There is a graphic organizer included to help students' brainstorm their ideas and details before they write their story.

Science/Social Studies:
Focus skill is being a good friend
Students sort through 12 different scenarios to see if it shows an example of being a good friend or not being a good friend. There is also a recording sheet for students to explain their thoughts on what exemplifies a good friend and how they could change those "not a good friend" situations into positive ones!


A little fine motor practice with some yarn for the craft! Students make their very own friendship bracelets to give to a friend!

"Orange you glad we are friends?!" tags with some clementines make for the perfect, healthy snack to pass out on this day!

There will be 5 days filled with lesson and activities total with the following themes:
The Beach

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Same as before, while I am still compiling and creating all these activities you can grab this unit for the early buy in price:

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