Tag Archives: writing

Owning Our Mistakes

My 7th graders got an earful from me today (in the nicest way possible).

  1. They really need to stop starting every sentence with the word so.
  2. They also really need to stop starting every other sentence with and, then, or but.
  3. They also really need to stop starting every sentence with I.
  4. They can always make their writing better.

My goal: To help students identify ways to improve their own writing by using actual anonymous samples from their latest creative writing pieces.


As I was reading their writing from the other day, I noticed some trends in the types of mistakes they were making in sentence structure and overall style.  (Obviously those mistakes have already been pointed out above in #1-3.)

We spent about 25 minutes practicing ways to improve their writing by eliminating those three problems.

I included random lines from their samples – with the intent of making the task authentic and relevant. I told them it was not to make fun of anyone, but to show them that there are ways they can all make their writing better.

(That’s a rule of mine. They cannot say, “I’m done” or “Is this good?” when they are writing.  They must ask “How can I makes this better?”)

Through some revision practice on the Smartboard and their dry erase boards, I reminded them of the rules they’ve learned this year in LA 7: subordinating conjunctions, FANBOYS, simple, compound, and complex sentences, phrases, and clauses.

Before we moved onto their next task –  to write another piece avoiding those three no-nos we listed above – I  passed out their papers and had them analyze their mistakes.

I asked them to reflect and identify their biggest writing problem. I also wanted them to come up with a solution or strategy to make their writing better.

Here are a few examples of their reflections:


I am anxious to read their new writing assignment.  Hopefully, today’s lesson was effective.

One of the boys did say to me as he walked out at the end of class, “You are going to love my story. It is SOOOOO good.  I mean, it’s…it’s…it’s…amazing.  SOOOOO amazing!”

He laughed all the way out the door.

Tools for the ELA Classroom (My Padlet)

I’m on this Padlet kick lately. (Actually, it’s become an obsession.)

I’m finding it so much easier to add resources to a specific padlet page than to bookmark them. I think it’s because I use my phone, my iPad, my Chromebook, my MacBook, and my school desktop computer throughout the day.

I can also easily share this Padlet with my student teacher and my inclusion teacher, as well as all of you!

The added bonus is the visual it provides me. I can look at the image and it jogs my memory (which is getting worse the longer I teach) as to what I am looking for and where to go.

So here is the link for my Tools for the ELA Classroom. If you have anything great to add, please leave me a comment!

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FYI: Easy Access

Did you know the easiest way to access many of my graphic organizers, handouts, and other goodies is to go to the Easy Access page?  It is located in the menu bar or you can click here. Check it out!!

Writing an Argumentative Paper

After reading Side-Yard Superhero I had big plans to have my students write an argumentative paper on big city living or small town charm. I wanted them to make a choice and defend it.  As that time approached, I knew that it wasn’t a realistic assignment.  Most of my students, like most people in this small town, won’t ever leave this town.

So then I thought back to last year and the research project my students did on resilience. You can read about it by clicking the link.  Each student chose their own topic (a disease or illness that they had an interest in) and the final presentations were some of the most genuine and touching I’ve seen.

It only made sense to let them pick their topic this year too.  I did provide a list of questions that I found somewhere online (credit to whoever made this list).  I modified it somewhat and created the three handouts below.

Argument Paper Part 1 – Pre-writing, list of prompts, a prior knowledge sheet, and an opinion sheet for 6 other people – peers, parents, teachers. This was one of my favorite parts  – the students’ response to what people wrote on their paper. I appreciated the cooperation of my co-workers who took it seriously and gave my kids some extra attention.

Students were encouraged to ask others their opinion about their topic. This provided somewhere to start for those who were really struggling. It also made them rethink their own opinions.

Students were encouraged to ask others their opinion about their topic. This provided somewhere to start for those who were really struggling. It also made them rethink their own opinions.

Argument Paper Part 2– This is a 5 page graphic organizer for the intro, body, and conclusion of the paper.  We used the ACE model to write our body paragraphs. If you aren’t familiar with ACE, head on over to I’m Lovin’ Lit and read this blog post.   This is a strategy I found this summer and now all the 6th and 7th graders in our building are using it.

This was challenging for my students, but made them consider all the options. They enjoyed "debating" with each other about the topics.

This was challenging for my students, but made them consider all the options. They enjoyed “debating” with each other about the topics.

Checkpoints Argumentative Paper – I used this checkpoints paper as a way to guide my students through the beginning steps of the process.

Some of the topics my students picked:

  • Later start time for school
  • Being able to work at age 14
  • Dropping out of high school (She has since decided that is a BAD idea!)
  • Eating snacks in class (I’m a fan of that!)
  • Pitbulls as pets
  • Separate classes for boys and girls
  • Exotic animals as pets
  • Seat belt laws

I will admit that Christmas Break, followed by 3 snow days and an in-service day,  cut this project a little short.  We are going to have to go back and work on citing text some more, and we also need to spend some time on the concluding paragraph.  This writing assignment lends itself to a presentation and can cover a lot of standards. We’ll revisit it later next month.

But right now, we are reading The Giver, with a very heavy focus on close-reading, citing text evidence, and improving reading comprehension. Besides the fact I love the book and loved the movie, I am excited to get further into the book with my 8th graders!  But that’s another post for another time!


Change is Exciting

Yesterday we went back to school for one day. Today is a snow day. Tomorrow is the weekend.We will try again next week.

I am, as any teacher is, thrilled to be home today – even if my puppy still doesn’t understand the concept of sleeping in. I was able to make a hot breakfast and now I have time to blog before I venture out in the snow to pick up the kids for the weekend.

All that to say…I am anxious to get the 2014 ball rolling in my classroom. It’s not a new school year, but a new semester and I discovered a few things during break that made me rethink and revamp my plans and my teaching ideas.

Sometimes I feel like I have commitment issues as I change strategies, routines, and techniques.  But as I’ve fully embraced the ideas I’m about to try in my Resource Room and wrap my brain about how I’m going to pull this off and how it’s going to make things better in my classroom, I know that it’s not about being wishy-washy.

It’s about progress. It’s about finding things that work and inspire. Not just for the kids, but for me.

When I get to the point that my lesson plans are boring me to death, then I know that my kids must have gotten bored way before that.

So instead of saying, “For the love, Melanie…pick something and stick with it”…I find myself saying, “Oh man, they are going to love this.”

I admit, it’s not an easy sell all the time. Kids like things to be comfortable. But I know, from my small group, that they secretly enjoy the change-ups and the new ideas.

Yesterday I started with just a few new things….a new writing journal and a modified version of the strategy called Say Something.

Before we dove in though, I told them, in genuine, nerdy excitement about the reading and research I did over break…to help them.

“Wait! You did what? You did research on Christmas vacation? OMG!” is what I hear.

What I imagine them saying in their heads: “Thank goodness! Something new!! You’re the best teacher EV-ER!” 

Throughout class, I heard things like:

“Did you get this from that book you read?”

“Is this from your ‘research’?”

“Is this one of your new tricks?”

I loved that they were being very attentive, trying to catch me doing something new.

Excitement breeds excitement.  If I’m not excited about what I’m teaching, how will my students ever be excited?

How often do you change things up in your classroom?

What are you excited about trying second semester?

Did you do any “research” over break?

Other posts I’ve written about CHANGE:

Whizzing By

For some reason, I have no words for a post.

How is that possible???

Tomorrow is the first day of school and I believe my brain is full, overwhelmed, spinning, fried, all tuckered out…..

Schedules, IEPs, rosters, standards, plans, fighting with the copier….it clouds my head like a fog.

On top of that, baseball and cross country, the bottomless pile of forms I need to fill out for the kids…..It is all dampening my spirit and my excitement.

I need to get out of these work clothes, eat a quick dinner and then try to relax, regroup, and pump myself up for tomorrow.

Five years ago I was in a “transition” phase and had just moved into town from the middle of nowhere. I found the easiest way to escape, clear my head, and relax was to take off on my bike.

The following is something I “composed” while on my bike. The words came to me like something I can’t explain and five years later, they continue to run through my mind over and over and over again every time I ride…a very long mantra if you will.

I know that 3 of my followers have seen this before but I am almost certain they will not mind reading it again.

Whizzing By

First night out
on my bike.
Pick a path
and push the pedals.
New girl in town whizzing by.

Long streets
lined with trees.
Locusts chirpping,
dusk lurking.
Mystery girl whizzing by.

Empty schools,
crowded fields,
gentle hum
of spinning wheels.
Girl, alone, whizzing by.

Flags flying,
colors flashing,
leaves blowing,
branches snapping.
Fast, fast girl whizzing by.

Couples strolling,
kids laughing,
people working,
dogs panting.
Silent girl whizzing by.

She’s not stopping, whizzing by.

Hair blowing,
heart pounding,
blood flowing,
No one knowing.
Who’s that girl whizzing by?

Girl on a mission whizzing by.

Push the pedals,
clear the mind,
today’s events
now left behind.

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