April 27, 2013

Growing Poets

I have to admit, I've never been a huge poetry fan.  Sure, I love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky but beyond them I probably couldn't have named another contemporary poet before teaching this poetry writing unit to my first graders.

Nevertheless, I learned to love poetry when I saw how my kiddos blossomed as writers during this genre.  The kiddos love this unit because it is very multi-sensory.  I began the unit by introducing the idea that poets use descriptive words.  In order to illustrate this point, we prepared numbered bags with different items inside and had the kiddos use their senses to describe what they heard, smelled, and felt.  They came up with some great words like "earthy," "klanging," "bumpy," and "squishy"!

After that the kiddos made lists of special people and special places because poets often use their friends, family, or favorite places as inspiration for their poems. One of our mentor texts for these types of poems is Honey I Love, by Eloise Greenfield.  I love Greenfield's poems!  (My favorite is Lessie).  She writes with feeling and rhythm which the kiddos really learn to emulate.

Throughout this unit, the kiddos kept a poetry journal where they could record and recopy their poems.  They replicated the styles of poets including Valerie Babbit (All the Small Poems) and Joan Bransfield Graham (Splish Splash).  The best thing about writing poetry is that it really seems to bring out the best in some of most reluctant writers.  They especially love taking the perspective of inanimate objects, like Paul Janeczko poems in the Dirty Laundry Pile.
When it came time for publishing, the kiddos selected their favorite poems to revise and edit.  We focused on reading our poems out loud to listen for the "rhythm" and "beat" of the poem.  Although some of the kiddos wrote rhyming poems, I also encouraged free verse.  We learned about leaving "line breaks" and using space on the page to bring the poem to life!

The kiddos loved copying their poems onto poetry paper and adding illustrations.  I compiled all of the poems into a class book, organized book by topic.  We ended up with fabulous, creative, illustrative poems about family members, friends, favorite places, and ordinary objects.

Publishing Persuasive Letters

I took a little hiatus from posting, but am trying to get back into it now... so it's finally time to post about publishing our our persuasive letters.

For our Persuasive Letters bulletin board, my fabulous co-teacher made this adorable mailbox.  We posted the kid's letters with their pictures and addressed envelopes around the mailbox.  The pictures turned out so cute!  I had the kiddos hold my computer up with a screen shot of the item they had requested (to save on printing out hardcopy photos).

Parents got a big kick out of reading the kiddo's letters. I'm not sure if any of the letters were actually successful but at least we learned a lot!

Guided Reading

As I have posted before, I love guided reading because it is a chance to work with my kiddos in small groups and introduce or reinforce skills that they can apply directly and immediately to their independent reading.

I have been working on including a Skill Practice at the beginning of each guided reading lesson to ensure that the kiddos are getting practice with both phonics skills and a comprehension skills.  For instance, I might teach the kiddos how to looked for the root word to help them sound out longer words with -ed or -ing endings.  Then I might teach them how to make connections to help them understand the story better. For example, I might encourage them to think about they have felt when they had to say good-bye to someone special in order to understand how the characters in the story feel.  

After the Skill Practice, I will do the book introduction. I want the kiddos to be as successful as possible during Guided Reading so I make sure they are prepared to read the story and can focus on the specific skills I want them to use.   I point out any important vocabulary words that are essential to understanding the text and give helpful background information about the setting or plot of the story.  

As I wrote before, I have been including a writing task at the end of each guided reading lesson. While the writing task is often related to the comprehension skill, sometimes I have them practice the phonics skill as well.  My kiddos get very excited about Guided Reading lessons because they know they get to read a new book and work closely with me.  I try to keep a consistent schedule for my Guided Reading groups because the kiddos certainly let me know if they miss their turn.  The best part about Guided Reading for all of us is that it truly helps the kiddos improve as readers!

Making Words

"Making Words" is a hands-on activity that a lot of teachers use to help students practice phonics and spelling skills.  Last year, I did Making Words lessons in small groups but this year it hasn't fit in to my schedule.  I still wanted to find a way to let my kiddos play with letters though, so I created these Making Words pages.  (I got most of the letter combinations from this book.)

When the kiddos go to this Phonics Work Station, they start by cutting out the letters at the bottom of the page. Then they can manipulate the letters to create words. I give them prompts to find 2-letter, 3-letter, 4-letter, and 5-letter words.  There is also a "mystery word" which uses all of the letters. I encourage the kiddos to look for patterns by sorting the words by rhyme, vowel sound, or letter combinations (depending on the available words).

The kiddos really enjoy this station activity and often don't even realize that they are practicing phonics skills!  (I do try to point out that many of the words they make are the same words they have just learned during our Word Study time... I can't help trying to reinforce those connections!)