A Writing Activity: New Year, Dream Big!

New Year, Dream Big ...Very soon, many of us will return back to school and greet the smiling faces of our students whom we have not seen since 2017. Granted, the time spent apart is much shorter than a summer break, but brings with it an important sign of starting fresh.

It’s the beginning of a new year; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be a time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, it was always my favorite time to have students write. Write about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year. Creative titles have always alluded me, so I simply called this New Year, Dream Big.

Students (and me, I always modeled and shared my writing with students) used the following questions to help spur their writing:

New Year, Dream Big…

  1. What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  2. Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  3. Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  4. What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  5. What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  6. What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  7. What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  8. Closing thoughts and reflections?

 

At times, these pieces appeared on student blogs or influenced other writing done throughout the semester. Students were proud of their Dreams and shared them with everyone who would listen. And I was proud of them.

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality!

 

Hat-Tip to Regie Routman and Kelly Gallagher for providing inspiration for this work.

Embrace Your Vulnerability; Write In Front of Your Students

Adobe Spark (20)

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “How do we better instill an idea of risk-taking and struggle in students? How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?”

Teaching writing is tough. When I speak to colleagues, other educators, or reflect on my own training, how to explicitly teach students to write was something that was missed for many of us in the education world. In fact, I don’t remember learning how to teach writing until I started my graduate work. With the lack of training, what typically happens is one of three things: teaching writing is in the form of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules and memorization; or teaching writing is having the students write a holiday essay or a 10 page research paper; or finally, teaching writing is not done at all, rather it is assigned.

Now you may be wondering how this addresses the question posed above… The most important thing educators can do to teach their students how to write is to write in front of them. I can think of nothing more powerful, or more vulnerable, than when a teacher writes in front of their students.

  • Writing in front of students does more to move a young writer forward than any grammar worksheet assigned.
  • Writing in front of students promotes risk-taking by the class as they become a community of writers.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates the struggles all writers face on how best to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages.
  • Writing in front of students helps to demystify the magical aura that surrounds a perfectly polished piece of text.
  • Writing in front of students invites the community to know you and your story which propels them to share their own.
  • Writing in front of students provides a window into your mind as you work through the process of writing.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates that hardly any piece of writing is perfect the first time, even the teacher’s piece.
  • Writing in front of students illustrates writing success is found through practice, lots and lots of practice.
  • Writing in front of students releases the protection of the process and struggle to the students.
  • Writing in front of students provides a model of real writing by an important person in their life.
  • Writing in front of students builds relationships and fosters empathy.

If we want students to be risk-takers, persevere through the struggle, and find success in the process then we must model that as the adult in the classroom. If we, ourselves, are embarrassed or nervous to write in front of and share our writing with students then how can we expect the same from them. The best writing is personal. It moves the readers to have an emotional connection to the story and to get the student’s best writing we must be a model of this vulnerability. The first step in the teaching of writing is to be a writer yourself!

From Topic to Thesis, Teaching Students to Write Argument

From Topic to Thesis

One of the most difficult things to teach young writers is how to develop a thesis that demonstrates an argument-worthy topic. And now with the Common Core State Standards emphasizing argument, teachers everywhere work tirelessly to help students be savvy discerners of information in hopes to develop thoughtful communicators of messages based on evidence.

In my classroom, I found students struggled when creating a thesis and so I used a method I learned in college (Dr. Robbins) to help in this process. It really worked, and students often contacted me years after leaving high school for a copy of the steps they used to help them in college. Students worked through the following 6 prompts to help them narrow their topic and write a thesis:

         Defining the Topic

  1. This paper is about …. (subject): In particular, it is about …. (specific topic):
  2. The Central Question it addresses is who/what/when/where/why/how/whether ….
  3. The answer to this question is important because it is necessary to better understand the larger issue of … (significance):                                                                                                                                                                                                           Establishing Significance 
  4. This larger issue is not (or might not be) fully or accurately understood because … (Reason for doubt or uncertainty):                                                        
  5. It is important to fully and accurately understand the larger issue because … (Cost of ignorance or misunderstanding):
  6. The evidence seems to indicate that the correct answer to the central question is …. (thesis)

Example

Defining the Topic

  • State what you are going to study.
    • I am going to study Virtual Reality. In particular, I am going to investigate the impact of VR on K-12 education.
  • What question do you want to answer?
    • …because I want to find out how it affects the brain of children.
  • How will the answer to the question lead to a better understanding of the larger issue?
    • so that I will better understand why there are differing opinions in the world of academia on this use in the classroom.

Establishing Significance

  • How is the larger issue misunderstood?
    • Scholars, educators, and VR companies are treating this technology integration similarly to all other tools and resources without considering the immersive element of Virtual Reality and implications on the brain.
  • Why is it important that the larger issue NOT be misunderstood?
    • If we fail to recognize the difference of integrating VR in the classroom compared to other technology we could be putting our students’ in harm’s way.
  • State how the evidence demands the larger issue should be understood.
    • As we will see, many argue against the inclusion of virtual reality in the classroom claiming it is still too new to understanding the implications it has on the developing brain.

These steps help to clarify the topic and define the significance. Once students figure out their argument and why it is significant, research and writing are anchored in answering the question and finding evidence to support their argument.

Write. Create. Publish: 4 Student-Centered Writing Projects to do Before Summer Break

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At dinner, I was informed by my third and seventh grader that they had 23 days left of school. Wow – 23 days – the school year has flown by. As the weather turns warmer and classroom windows begin opening once again, it is important to maximize the small amount of time we have left with our students. Writing and sharing their voice with the classroom and globe will foster engagement, relevance, and practice with essential skills all students need.

Below are 4 of my favorite Student-Centered Writing Projects to do before Summer Break:

  1. Future MeScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 9.52.30 PMFutureMe.org is a free website that allows students to send an email to their future self. Users get to select the date it will be delivered, whether the letter is private or can be posted on a public forum, and can attach images to the email. Students will love seeing an email pop up in their inbox that they had forgotten they wrote. While content can be a variety of things or left entirely up to the student, here are a few questions that my students loved to write about: What are you most proud of from this year? What is one new thing you want to try this summer?  What are you going to miss the most from ___ grade? Who did you get to know better this year? What are your goals for next year?
  2. Curated Google SiteScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 10.11.40 PMAt the end of each year, create a memory website full of pictures, videos, and student work samples. When I did this in my classroom, I had students share their favorite pieces with me so I could collect and curate them in one spot. This reflection can be coupled with writing where students are  The new Google Sites is perfect for this type of project. Living in the cloud, Google Sites is accessible for everyone and it integrates easily with Google Drive making curation easy! No Google Sites, don’t worry, Padlet would work too!  
  3. Flipgridflipgrid_all_devicesCatch the# FlipgridFever and have students create a Grid of Gratitude for support staff or retirees. Flipgrid is a collaborative video discussion platform that lets users create and respond to each other via video. Use Flipgrid to thank support staff in the building or a beloved teacher before they retire. Creating short videos is engaging and meaningful to students and allows them to use a contemporary mode to share their thoughts.  
  4. 6 Word MemoirClass of 2012 6 Word MemoirsCredited to Ernest Hemingway for writing the first, 6 Word Memoirs is a favorite writing activity to use at the end of the year with students. Having students share who they are at this moment in time using only 6 words requires reflection, analysis, and succinct writing. Adding an image or video to the project reinforces the multi-modality that can be used to share their work with a public audience. As a teacher, they were always my favorite writing projects to read. Here is an example from my former classroom  Student Examples Check out Smith Magazine for more publishing and sharing opportunities for students!

Soon, students and teachers alike will be leaving the doors for the last time to begin summer break. Make these last days together impactful, encouraging growth in self, and fostering relationships. And please share! If you try any of these ideas, tweet and share a picture to #MakeLitREAL

G-Suite to Support Student Writing, Google Teacher Tribe Podcast

Day 3 Digital Storytelling

When I got the inquiry to record a podcast with my friends Kasey Bell and Matt Miller on their weekly Google Teacher Tribe show I jumped at the chance to talk about the many options to support student writing using GSuite. I met Kasey and Matt at the Austin Google Teacher Academy (now called Google Innovator) and am a huge fan of their work to support teachers and students at a global level.

I have recently seen a reemergence of podcasts as a way to connect and share information and stories and was honored to be part of their “Tribe”. Listen to Podcast 13 where I share information on student writing and how Google can support the process and be sure to subscribe to their podcast for more Googley Information.

Shaelynn’s List of Google Resources, Apps, Add-Ons, and Extensions to Support Writing

Brainstorm Drafting/Writing Revising/Editing Publishing
Draw

Mindmup

Mindmeister

Coggle

Brainstorming Race

Google Scholar

Google Books

Google Save

GSuite

Explore in Docs

Translate

Voice Typing

Google Similar Pages

 

 

 

Keep

Highlighting Tool

Grammarly

Read & Write

Bitmojis

Text Help Study Skills

 

 

Any GSuite

Blogger

YouTube

Google Sites

 

 

 

 

Assessment/Feedback Apps/Exts./Add-Ons Citations Copyright-free Images
Joe Zoo Express

Orange Slice

Kaizena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Tab

Google Similar Pages

Grammarly

Google Save

Screencastify

First Draft News Check

Hypothesis

Hemingway App

Storyboard That

Soundtrap

Book Creator (Coming Soon)

Powtoon

Sketchboard

EasyBib

Cite This for Me

Apogee

Wayback Machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Noun Project

Pixaby

Unsplash 

Realistic Shots

Life of Pix 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me know if you have others to add to my list and be sure to check back soon as I am releasing a book in the fall that will support all your literacy needs through an EdTech Redesign! Sign up on this Google Form to be notified when my book is out!