Tag Archive | Writers’ Workshop

Going Graphic: Revising

If you know third graders then you know that they despise revising.  Completely developmental.  And even though they become more comfortable with it by the end of the school year, they still require a bit of prodding to do so.  Because we are writing Graphic Novels, I decided that it would be best to use some qualities of Graphic Novels to focus in on during revision.  But…I stressed how these tips and tricks could be used for any genre.  Even though I was already familiar with these writing tips, the book, You Can Do A Graphic Novel reminded me of them!
The rule of three. Ahhh.. How they loved the rule of three. Third graders love lists and itoften comes up in their writing. This was helpful in keeping their writing elaborate yet succinct. We briefly talked about how quickly we could put our readers into snooze mode by making these lengthy lists.  One of the best ways to keep our readers alive and interested is to limit our lists to three items.  
Then we talked about the rule of three when it came to characters. They all knew each of their characters well, their traits and characteristics. They loved this when they were able to realize how they could make their reader draw this conclusion about their characters. If you want your character to be a certain way, then you should have him/her behave that way at least three times.  They loved this!  Because they had already decided how they wanted their characters to be, they re-read their scripts to make sure they were doing something to show that trait at least three times.  
I enjoyed sitting down to talk to them about how they did this because each of their characters were so unique!  One of the partnerships is writing a vampire comedy and as they were talking about how they made sure their characters Devon was sarcastic and Sassy was sassy, I was literally laughing out loud!  What was even more interesting was that there were a couple of partnerships that had multiple (five and up) characters and they were bound and determined to do this for each of their characters!  We talked about quick color-
coding and/or abbreviation system that they could use to check, and off they went.  
The other Graphic Novel element we talked about was the twist (another great tip from that book).  The twist is the part of the story where something unexpected happens.  We referred back to a few of the read alouds we had done over the school year (The Giver, Tiger Rising, Skeleton Man) and realized that the twist in these stories happened close to or during the resolution.  They decided that this would be the best place to put a twist in their stories.  One partnership is writing a zombie story and they decided to have anti-zombie fighting colonel become a zombie (very Battlestar Gallactica)!
I have to say that one of the best things about revising this way was that there were no, “I don’t need to revise” comments made.  They were happily going back into their stories deleting and adding!  There were probably a few reasons for this.
  1. They are loving the genre.
  2. What they were focusing on during revising was how to make a really good graphic novel.
  3. I called them tips and tricks (thanks, Ralph Fletcher!).

It was nice not having to cajole twenty kiddoes into rereading their stories, deleting unnecessary parts, and adding more details!

Going Graphic: Scripting

All writing begins with an idea.  And writing graphic novels is no different.  We began by going through our notebooks looking for things we may want to write about, characters we might want to develop, topics or genres we may want to explore.  Once the children had a few ideas they jotted their names and three possible ideas on a post-it note. This made partnering them up easier. I wanted them to have fun writing and for them to do this they would need to be writing with similar interests. Once partnered, it didn’t take them long at all to comeup with a story idea.
But, if you know elementary students, and in particular third graders, they hate planning. Or should I say that they don’t feel as if they need to plan? We’ve been using a pretty simple story structure all year: problems, attempts, resolution. Using this structure they began planning their novels. They began with their simple story structure and from there added a few things. We talked about climax and where it usually occurs in a story.
We talked about characters – heroes and villains – and decisions that had to be made as writers: who will triumph in the end? So many of my students were concerned because all of the books that are written for their age end happily and that is NOT how they wanted their story to end. I loved this conversation, being a rule – breaker myself, and assured them that it was THEIR story and they could make that decision if they wanted.
Drafting came easily to them. They were happy to write their script. Quite possibly they just liked the formality of the word script, but they spent six DAYS scripting! Abbreviating a character’s name to show who is speaking was a favorite. But then we got into other aspects of script writing. Want your character to do something instead of speaking? Write it in parentheses. Do you want the narrator to speak, or transition from one scene to another? Use brackets. Using these tools brought joy to the process.

Rethinking Film and Television

Many of us already use National Geographic, Disney Nature, and Discovery documentaries to enrich science and social studies concepts. Many of us also currently engage our children in critical thinking activities when we partner books with films. If video is overused in this manner the novelty will wear off.  Rest assured, there are other ways. There are a few sites that I use as my go-to sites (other than YouTube) to sprinkle video in to learning. PBS Kids, Teachers Domain, and BrainPOP Jr. all provide brief cartoons that serve as a means to engage children.
PBS Kids is great for primary (PreK-3) with a wide range of shows that cover an array of topics. Sid the Science Kid (one of my four year-old nephew’s favorites) has videos about a variety of topics from weather to friction.  He models what it means to be curious about our world, question everything, and discover our own answers.  Wild Kratts has entertaining informational videos and cartoons about habitats, ecosystems, plants, and animals.  Between the Lions are short music videos about letters and sounds. 
Teachers Domain has clipped Cyber Chase (PBS cartoon) that can be used to support math concepts. Most of he videos are around three minutes and are focused on one mathematical concept.  For instance, one of the clips poses the problem of neighbors arguing over property and the Cyber Squad has to figure out the area.  Another has the Cyber Squad using fractions to solve a sibling squabble.  And yet another helps explain base-ten concepts.  Teachers Domain also has documentary/informational clips that support a wide range of topics and concepts.  One of my favorite ones to use is the flash video that shows seeds sprouting in different degrees of light.  This video really helps children understand how plant need light and will grow in the direction of it.  Best of all, you can narrow your search based upon criteria you enter!
BrainPOP Jr. is perfect for primary intermediate grades. Their format of including a notebook on the side of the film is brilliant in modeling non fiction structures.  Not to mention how entertaining the kids find Annie and Moby!  Recently, my students choose two ecosystem videos to watch. They noted the elements of each ecosystem, decided which they would prefer to live in and justified their decision.  They have also used the videos to gather additional information about holidays and math concepts.  While there is a subscription cost for BrainPOP Jr., there is an iPod/iPad app that provides you with the free video of the week.  If something big happens in the world, like the tsunami and quake in Japan, they are quick to make the related video available. 
Another way to use video and television is through QR Codes.  My district subscribes to A to Z Reading and there are times when I use the printable books.  I find brief videos online that act as a sidebar for the content/topic and create a QR Code for them.  After printing them out on sticker paper, I place them into the books.  The children enjoy scanning the codes to gather more information about what they are reading.  Even better, they like having the choice of whether or not to scan the code.  This is a great way to enrich the content as well as support reading comprehension (building schema).
I also use film and television to teach critical think, writing, and introduce new concepts.  For example, I’ve used a scene from Wall-E to introduce the concept of culture.  We watched all of those humans being catered on, wheeled around from place to place as their waste expanded, and being told what to wear and eat (just realized this would be great to use with the book The Giver, too!).  I have used a FEMA commercial to talk about character stereotypes; talk about angry kids!  I have two commercials, Embrace Life and Travelers, ready to go for point of view and/or graphic novel script language.  Just this morning I used the first 5 minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl to introduce the idea of a splash page in writing graphic novels.  It really helped the kids understand how to introduce the mood, characters, and setting in their graphic novel. 
Sometimes we think that we have to use an entire movie or television show.  Or that we have to always go to YouTube to find what we are looking for.  But, sometimes all we have to do is dig through our video or DVD collection like I did last night to pull out Pirates (okay, I didn’t have to dig that deep).  Or sometimes it’s just knowing the full capability of our cable subscription.  I can access any of the movies that are on the channels that I subscribe to from any computer (plus did you know about HBO 2 go on the iPad?).  That’s how we have been watching Oceans and accessed Wall-E.  The best part is they are engaged!  They are looking at something they are quite familiar, and sometimes numb to, in a whole new way!

Constructing Workshop

I teach using the workshop model. I tend to keep my mini-lessons brief; 5-15 minutes. Followed by students practicing/applying what I’ve taught them up to & including that day. Workshop is ended by us coming back together to share what we tried. During the practice time I confer w/students; reinforcing the great things they are doing& using those to build what they may be struggling with.

Of all of that I enjoy conferring the most. I feel as if my students get my undivided attention. I think the routine of workshop is appreciated by the kiddoes. They know what is expected, & can fulfill those expectations independently (even if they can’t independently do what I taught).

Workshop is great for reading & writing. Each day I’m teaching strategies & the kids know they can choose which to use on any given day. I like to say that I also have a math& inquiry (science/social studies) workshop. But do I? Really? Do reading & writing naturally lend themselves to a workshop model because of their holistic nature? Are math& inquiry, although conceptual, more difficult to fit into a workshop model because of their linear nature? Or do I need to re-educate myself on them?

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