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Hooked on Writing December: How-to Writing

Teaching how-to writing is a great way to enable students to think through the steps of something and record those steps in writing. Being able to explain something, that carefully helps the writer think like a reader, is a great pre-curser to writing anything else. Hooked on Writing December uses 4 mentor texts to help students work through the "how-to" process.



Here's a look at the pacing guide.  Since December might be short for some of you, you could choose to do only some of these lessons or do two in a day, one in the am and one in the pm.



Of course, as always this unit starts out with tips, ideas and mini anchor charts to help you get started. There are mini posters on adjectives and adverbs, paragraph power and a tip page. Each book contains vocabulary cards to enrich your lessons.

The Plot Chickens is the text that starts this unit off this month. It is a really funny book that kids love.



The Plot Chickens is about a chicken that loves to read and then decides to write her own book.  Here friends tell her all the things a good book must have in it. This is a great way to review story elements and extend the initial learning from previous units.  There are extension lessons for beginning, middle and end as well as plays on words with adjectives and adverbs.

The second book, Meanwhile, is a student favorite - especially boys!  


All it takes is a little teacher reading glitter and you've got them hooked.   This book teaches the power of just one word - meanwhile.  It is a great introduction to using adverbs (technically conjuctive adverbs here.)  This story is about Raymond. His mom calls and calls him but he is busy reading his comic.  Comic books always use the word meanwhile to change scenes. What a great idea!  Raymond writes meanwhile on his wall and ends up inside a harrowing tale. "Meanwhile" always gets him out of situations until it doesn't. Unfortunately, Raymond must use "The End" and then he is back at home where his awaiting Mom wants him to do chores.  Students will learn all about paragraphs while using ideas from this book to help them.  There is a paragraph writing rubric to help guide students in their writing and also give them a tool to use for self assessment.

As we practice paragraph writing and using adjectives and adverbs, students are building a repertoire of skills in preparation for the more specific "how-to" writing. Our next book, Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude is the perfect book to demonstrate different kinds of ways an author can organize a book.



This story begins with two students (a boy and a girl) who have to create a story together.   The girl begin by telling about a princess and the boy interjects and introduces a cool motorcycle dude.  My students LOVE this book.  As the story progresses it's a bit of a power struggle of stereotypes.  I explain to students it's a story within a story. Some of the lessons students will be involved in are: creating a T chart of events, drama activities acting out the story, practicing paragraph writing from the previous week and writing a paragraph on their favorite part of the story, and using humor to write "How to be a princess" or "How to be a Cool Motorcycle Dude" using order words and adjectives/adverbs. There is a "How-to" rubric for students to follow and use as a self assessment.


The last book in this December Hooked on Writing set is a Christmas book.  The Christmas Wish is rich with description and picture and is a great example of adventure.


The Christmas Wish has real pictures of a little girl named Anya who wishes to see Santa. She is very responsible and looks after everything before she goes including looking after some things for her neighbor. Anya goes on an incredible journey with the help of animals to get her to the North Pole.   in this week, students will put everything they have learned in this unit together. There are lessons on adjectives for effect, creating a wordless story, and using those pictures to choose a how-to topic for writing.

I hope you and your students enjoy this unit as much as I enjoyed creating it!

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The Power of Shared Reading

I was in a classroom the other day sharing a book with a group of very busy little second graders. By busy, I mean roll on the floor, call out, up on your knees, sit down on the carpet. Up on your knees, sit down. Chat, chat, chat. I wanted to share a book with them before Remembrance Day because it is such a special book. But because this would be a lesson from a coach and not their regular teacher, and the book was quite a long one, would I still be able to gain and sustain these busy little brains' attention? Enter the shared reading experience.



While there are many factors to include when you are thinking about engaging your learners (classroom management, self regulation, positive learning climates just to name a few), I find that shared reading is such a great way to engage your learners if you choose a rich text.

The story I chose was A Bear in War because we are getting close to Remembrance Day/Veterans Day.  I used the vocabulary from my Hooked on Writing Unit 4 to begin the lesson.  This school will be celebrating their 100th birthday next week.  Little did I know how much of a connection that would be.  

As we went through each word as a class, students were immediately enthralled with the words and made so many great connections and attempts at what the words might mean.  We talked about what they meant which spurred more relevant conversation. Even the child that struggles the most was able to contribute. As we went though the words and listened to each other's contribution, I attached the words onto the chart paper. I could see kids reading the words. There were some complex words in there!


The girl in the story has polio and the story is based on true events.  It takes place back in 1916.  This school that these students go to was built in 1916 and they are getting ready to celebrate 100 years.  When I found that out it sent goose bumps down my spine. We were then able to "see" what was going on in the world when their school was opening 100 years ago.  We talked about polio.  I was amazed at how much these little wiggly kids knew and how well they were able to contribute. 

When we were finished our story, students went back to their seats to work on a little teddy bear booklet on the elements of this story.  I would normally have saved that activity for the next day when I reviewed the story with the kids but because I don't return until next week, I wanted to get a feel for their understanding of the story and their written expression capabilities.  As I moved around the room and students were sharing their writing, I could see right away the students that were expressive writers and the ones that struggled. But I noticed that some of the strugglers were also the same ones that contributed the most to the discussion of the book and the vocabulary. I developed this assessment form to help take a closer look at the student strengths during shared reading and where I need to individualize for each student in their literacy development.  You can download your copy here or by clicking on the picture.

So what about those little darlings that could speak so well and make great connections but had difficulty expressing themselves in writing?  

I would certainly plan for lots more opportunity for them to write about topics of choice but also, building their confidence in the shared reading arena will go a long way to developing their confidence as a reader and writer.  This assessment form will give me important information about my small group writing instruction and what levels of support each child will need. It will also give me the formative assessment information I will need to "butterfly in" and provide just the right kind of feedback that these students need as the work to move forward.  I would also then plan a shared writing activity where I would emphasize certain elements of writing that those particular students need while building on the strengths of the stronger writers and modelling new writing skills that they need.

What do you find is the best thing about shared reading?  Do you find it informs your writing instruction too?

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Hooked on Writing November: Personal Narrative Writing

I hope your young writers are enjoying the process of writing as they work though Hooked on Writing.  I have been receiving many positive feedback comments and emails about their students and how positive their experiences have been with implementing this program. Not only are teachers liking the writing component but are thrilled that there is such a large literature component. A true balanced literacy approach to writing and learning.



This month, we will be exploring the world of personal narratives.  Personal writing is a great first step to fiction.  I have always found that my students are very single minded when it comes to writing.  If I start my year writing stories, that is what they become good at. If I start with personal writing, that's what they become good at.  It always seems hard for them to switch their writing focus. I wanted to find a way for them to be able to learn about narrative writing  and personal narrative writing without such a division between the two. Enter Hooked on Writing November.






This unit begins with introducing the narrative (with personal underpinnings).  Memoirs of a Hamster is the 2nd book by Devon Scallion. (The first one was widely popular - Memoirs of a Goldfish.) I chose this one because many children at the 2nd and 3rd grade own hamsters or want to own hamsters so they will be able to make personal connections with this book which is important.  Students will learn about a memoir and create timelines. They will also learn about setting and practice writing about different settings.


I just can't help but love the book Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel.  I know I am not alone.  It just takes me back to a simpler time.  This book is also like a personal narrative but it is fiction. It is a wonderful story that introduces children to unconditional love and kindness and also loss and death but all in a gentle and guiding manner.  Students will write about the passage of time. They will compare pictures of puppies and adult dogs or trees as they go through the seasons. Just how does an author write about the passage of time?  This becomes relevant later when students will then ZERO in on ONE small moment for their personal narrative. I have found this is easier to do when they can see the big picture first. Students will also learn about writing with emotion and how authors show don't tell this. They will use emotion icons to retell the story in groups.



The next story in the progression towards personal narratives is A Bear in War by Stephanie Inne.  Oh my goodness! This is such a wonderful and compassionate story of war and compassion.  This story is based on the true story of a little handicapped girl that sends her teddy to war where her Dad is fighting.  Her Dad does not come back but her teddy does and it is now in a museum in Canada.  Students will learn about perspective here.  They will bring their teddy to school and write in the "eyes of their teddy".  What a fantastic way for kids to learn about perspective in writing before they write through their own eyes when they begin personal narratives.


I wrote about this book before. You can check it out here or by clicking the picture to get an idea for an art project and/or bulletin board idea. 



The last book and writing comes straight from Chris Hadfield the astronaut.  This is a personal narrative that talks about his "small moment" idea which is actually pretty huge in the minds of kids:  the fear of the dark. It is a fantastic story about how Chris overcame his fear of the dark because his passion for space was larger than his fear of the dark. 



Students will make a mini "fear foldable" that the create but don't have to share. Then they write about their passions, what they love! Their "hopes and dreams" writing is then the platform that they use to combine two sentences to create sentence fluency in their writing.  Students will then create a series of pictures that relate to one event in their life that they'd like to tell the story of and which will be their wordless story initially. They will choose ONE of those moments and that will be come their personal narrative.  Students will write their own personal narrative and have opportunities to share it aloud.

I really love how this unit evolved.  Teaching writing can be hard when it is looked at as isolated writing.  I love how this unit has such an ebb and flow of scaffolding ideas and I hope it will help your students to understand and enjoy writing personal narratives. This unit can be used any time even though it has a "war story" in it. Unfortunately that is a part of our life and if anything, it celebrates the understanding and compassion we should have for our disabled people and our veterans and soldiers throughout the year.

Thanks for reading today. I hope you enjoy writing with your students!

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If you have any pictures of Hooked on Writing in action, I would love to see them! (You can tag me on Instagram or Facebook. )

Here are the links to the books used in Unit 4 for your convenience. (Affiliate links)
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