Sunday, July 22, 2012

Character Development Activity

 Have the kids pick a famous actor/actress as their main character. (Their character should be approved by their parents since the kids will be watching movies and such. You don't want anyone going home and telling their parents that YOU told them they HAVE to watch some R-rated movie.)

Tell the kids that their job is to become a private investigator or a paparazzi (those phrases sound so much cooler than "researcher"). They must watch movies, look on the internet, read, etc. to learn about the character they chose. They need to learn everything they can about their character (However, IF it arises, I would tell them not to focus on any break-ups or any law-breaking. Usually, simply telling them that it is not appropriate for school is a good-enough reason for them.). The kids should answer questions like: What do they look like? How do they walk? What are their favorites? What does their voice sound like? etc. Give them a time frame to do this, maybe a week. Have lots of mini-lessons planned for writing descriptively and using sensory details. You can print pictures of their characters off so they can do some writing in class also.

This idea will also get the reluctant writers writing in their writer's notebooks because they should take "notes."

When their ready and have collected enough data, have the kids use what they have learned to develop a description of their character.

You can do this with other characters and the setting. You can even have them pick a problem from a movie to write about. REAL writers do this all of the time (reading and watching movies to get ideas).

If you choose to have them do the same activity with other story elements, you can turn it into a project.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Photovoice Project

Photovoice is designed to be a Powerpoint presentation and personal narrative. I find that when the kids can take a large project and take each section through the writing process, essentially publishing or making a final draft in pieces, it works better. This project is no different. The kids think this project is exciting, and it aligns well with the common core standards, including technology.

Photovoice was first introduced to me during my masters program at Ashland, and I have adapted it to use in the classroom. It gives the kids an opportunity to write about themselves (which they love doing) and learn some good writing skills on how to make a Powerpoint as well as how to write a personal narrative. When it is divided into sections that they can complete independently, it seems like a less daunting task to them rather than trying to complete the whole thing at one time.

I think that it’s important not to give intermediate kids any more than 8 subtopics in any writing project. And then those subtopics are small, consisting, in this case, of only a paragraph. Here are the sections that I used for the Photovoice: introduction, where/when you were born or birthday, your favorite place, school, family, hobbies, favorite toy, home, and pets. I also have a section for work at the end, but the kids don’t really have a job, so we’ll skip that. You can adapt your subtopics any way you see fit. Writing about "favorites" is very popular. For each section, the kids take a picture of an object to symbolize that topic (you’ll have to have a discussion on symbolism with them), and then they write about it.

If you want to take the project further, the kids can make the Powerpoints into movies by saving it as a .PNG file. (Click “save as,” “other formats,” and in the save as type drop down menu click “PNG Portable Network Graphics Format.” Then they can open it up in Windows Movie Maker and add music, narration, and such. Just “Google” for a more detailed summary on how to do that.)

If access to technology is an issue for you, you can also do a paper version, which I have done. For my project, I had the kids make accordion books with pockets (take a 12” x 18” piece of construction paper, fold a long side up about 2 inches, and accordion fold it into 8 sections. Use a couple of staples to hold the fold in place if you need to.). The kids glued the photos on the fronts of the pockets and then put the writing onto little tags to insert into the pockets. (Making a Powerpoint is actually probably a little easier because you don't have to resize the photos and print them out. An alternative might be to have the kids bring in objects that they can glue right to the pockets without taking a pic or draw pictures of the objects. They might not, however, enjoy or be receptive to taking away the actual use of photographs.) They used a lot of art to decorate the pieces and some scrapbook embellishing ideas. This works well, too. It’s a lot more exciting than your plain old paper project or even paper with a decorative border.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Transformers Writing Project Idea

Here’s my first writing idea. My students and I actually came up with it as a group. (This goes with my earlier idea of giving the kids “ownership” of their writing projects.)

We were talking about the 2nd Transformers movie. I was telling them about how I had seen it with my Little Big Bro… (He’s my little brother, but he’s 6’4” and I’m only 5’3”. He’s also my bestest friend in the whole world.) Anyway, I was telling my class how I got to see the 2nd movie with my Little Big Bro at the drive-in. We talked about how we all loved the movie (especially the boys) and the special effects were phenomenal. Then I said, “Hey, that would make a good writing project,” and they all agreed.

We ended up brainstorming ideas about the project on chart paper. As a class, we decided that they would need to choose something to “transform” into a robot, there would need to be a bad guy, a problem and solution. To help satisfy the girls, we discussed how they could pick a robot like a hair dryer or iPhone. Their problem could be anything from saving the world to rescuing a helpless puppy.

To help kick start the project, I actually brought in the first movie and showed them the introduction with a quote from Optimus Prime. Below is the actual transcript:

Before time began, there was the cube. We know not where it comes from. Only that it holds the power to create worlds and fill them with life. That is how our race was born. For a time we lived in harmony, but with all great power, some wanted it for good, others for evil. And so began the war. A war that ravaged our planet until it was consumed by death, and the cube was lost to the far reaches of space. We scattered across the galaxy, hoping to find it and rebuild our home, searching every star and every world. And just when all hope seemed lost, a message of a new discovery drew us to an unknown planet called Earth…but we were already too late…
-Optimus Prime
The students took notes on this part in case they thought they could use it later in their own stories. We talked about good leads or beginnings, and this movie intro became the basis for our project and learning. The students had one week to come up with their “robot” character and story elements: title, characters, setting, problem, and solution.

After that, we played it by ear and took off from there, refining the idea as we went. For the final projects, I googled images based on what they said they would like their robots to be, and we attached them to our final copies to display in the hallway underneath their pictures.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Secret to Writing

One of my favorite subjects to teach is WRITING! I love helping the kids come up with ideas for stories, and you can always hear me say, “Hey, that would make a good writing project,” at least once in every conversation I have with my class, whether it be during math, social studies, or reading.

So, what if writing is the subject you like to teach least, or your kids walk in to your room saying they hate writing? Here’s a little secret. One of my favorite quotes to share when it comes to writing: 

“The only way to do great work is
to love what you do.” ~Steve Jobs

This is so true! Kids don’t like to write. Why? The #1 answer: “It’s too much work.” By the time they reach the intermediate grades, it’s become a tedious task and is no longer enjoyable. They have learned about editing and revising and the writing process. (This might be why you don’t like to teach it.) Who can blame them? They have spent countless hours editing and revising their work. When they try to turn it in, one of the first things they might hear is that they misspelled a word or they are missing a punctuation mark or (my favorite) “this doesn’t make sense” (I bet they don’t even know why it doesn’t make sense), and they need to go back and edit and revise. After all that, who would like writing?

Tip #1: Quit telling them to go back and “fix it” and put the “FUN” back into writing. Remember what Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” This is not to say that editing and revising and “fixing it” are not important because I completely believe that they are. (I’m going to edit and revise this as soon as I’m done typing it.) BUT, if a child doesn’t like writing to begin with, the teacher telling them to go back and do that tedious, time-consuming work surely isn’t going to help. Editing and revising isn’t the MOST important at this point. It makes sense, right?

In the first week of school, I get the kids to rate each school subject as to whether it’s “Boo!,” “Okay,” or “Awesome!,” and we make a graph on chart paper. Year after year after year, writing always gets “Boo!” from the majority.

Your first task as their teacher is to get that rating up. Get the students to LOVE writing! How? At the beginning of the year, don’t focus on the tedious editing and revising. Focus on the fun part, the creating. Since I love to write, for me it’s a little easier: If I’m excited, they’re excited. Also, be democratic. Let the kids decide what to write about. You can steer them in the right direction, but ultimately, it needs to be their decision. Give them ownership.

But, what if you don’t like to write? The answers are simple: Don’t do what you don’t like (about writing), and don’t be “THAT teacher” that nobody likes. When I first started teaching, the two subjects I disliked the most were writing and social studies. I was a science teacher and a reading teacher. Today, my two favorite subjects to teach are writing and social studies. Funny, right?

Sit down and ask yourself, “Why don’t I like writing?” (or another subject that you don’t like). When I did this for social studies, it turned out that it was because I didn’t like the way I was taught: “Open your books to chapter 4.3. Read that section and then answer the review questions at the end. I will collect your papers at the end of class.” (Can you hear him? The “Wonder Years” teacher with the monotonous tone? I can.) That is truly a boring activity, and when you are told to do it day in and day out, of course the whole subject becomes boring. I don’t want to be “THAT teacher.”

Then I thought, “Surely, I must have enjoyed social studies at some point in my life.” To this day, my favorite social studies/history teacher was a college professor who taught American History from the Civil War to the present. Our text book for the class was Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, an historical fiction. He was also from Singapore. Point being, he took a subject he knew very little about and made it interesting. He could have told us to open our books to blah, blah, blah but he didn’t. He used discretion, but he also taught us what he believed was important about each event, whether it shone a positive or negative light on things. Best of all, he treated us as human beings, never as someone who couldn’t handle “the truth.” I want to be “THAT teacher.” With writing, first step, get them to love it. Then you can slowly add in the rest.

Now it’s your turn. You be “THAT teacher.” Decide what aspects you liked and didn't like about your past writing teachers and mix them to create YOU as a writing teacher. Remember that “Boo!” at the beginning of the year? Test it again at the middle and end of the year. If it goes up, you’re doing something right. If it stays the same, reflect and change YOU, because it’s not them.

Final Tips: Get excited. Use discretion. Treat the kids like writers. Read, read, read, read, read. If they do it, you do it. When it’s time to edit and revise, look for evidence that they did, DON’T nit-pick. Final projects should be crafty and creative, not “normal” looking. Don’t move on until they are ready (Remember, when it comes to the learning, it’s not about you, it’s about them.). Always and only praise for a job well done when it comes to writing, especially if you know writing isn’t their favorite and/or you saw them working really hard (even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever read).

Most of what’s to come will be about ideas for writing projects, but I thought I needed to get the preliminaries in. Based on personal experience, I have come to find that most kids don’t like writing, and most teacher don’t like to teach it (Do you see a connection at all?), so I thought it needed to be addressed. Take my advice for what it’s worth…or not. The choice is yours.