I am not a purist in anything. I have acquired an immense amount of content knowledge from great professional development programs. Having said that, once I learn something knew, I take the new things that work and combine them with the old programs and skills that have shown proven results with students. So what I do in the classroom is a hybrid of all my experiences. Today's lesson is one of those hybrids.
Many years ago I was trained in a writing program called "Write From the Beginning." This program utilizes my favorite graphic organizers, Thinking Maps. I have taken what I know about the program and made it my own. What you're going to see today is the Val Gresser version of this program.
In my opinion, Thinking Maps, especially the Flow Map, are the best way to teach students how to structure writing. When students use this structure to organize their writing, you are helping them to develop their ideas in ways that make sense and avoid problems of scattered ideas (a common first grade issue!).
We are addressing many language standards in this lesson, but we're focusing on the writing standard of W1.2, which really lends itself to addressing both ideas and organization. The anchor standard for standard two states that students must "write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content." What really stands out to me in the anchor standard are the words clearly and accurately. When I teach writing with our flow map, I am helping students to convey their ideas clearly and accurately because they can't just write random thoughts down haphazardly.
For today's lesson the students will need their flow maps from yesterday as well as their tree maps that have all their fragmented ideas. You will need to project either your Smartboard Elephant Writing.notebook or Activboard Elephant Writing.flipchart lesson. You will also want to copy enough circle maps, Student Copy Circle Map.pdf, for each of your students so they can jot down other ways to refer to elephants. We will discuss in the first part of the lesson how we can vary our sentences by using different pronouns to make our writing more interesting.
We all know we would be bored to death if we had to read a text where the sentences all started the same way. Authors who write books that we can't put down play with language, and that includes playing with ways to begin their sentences. This is also a great time to expand your students vocabulary. I had this in mind when I thought about this part of the lesson. I said to my students, "Before we start writing our paragraphs, we are going to look through some resources and find some pronouns and other descriptive words that we could use to refer to elephants. If we started every sentence with the word 'elephants,' our writing would be too boring. We will use our pronouns and interesting vocabulary to make our writing more interesting."
I gave each of my students a circle map. I had a circle map displayed on my Smartboard. In the center I wrote "Ways to Start my Sentences." I had the students write this on their maps. I wanted my students to see how I read text and think how I would select certain words to use in my sentence starters.
I went to the pachyderm magazine site. I read the part where it explained what a pachyderm was. I did a think aloud. I said, "I really want to use that word - pachyderm. I could start my sentence with 'These pachyderms ...'," and I wrote that on my circle map. I had the students do this as well. Then I went to the National Geographic Site, and I read the caption about the elephant being a mammal. I explained what a mammal was. Then I asked the students, "Now that we know that elephants are mammals, how could we start a sentence using that word?" My class came up with some good ways to start a sentence using the word mammal and we wrote those ideas down.
Then I said, "Now it's your turn. You will get together with your research partners and look at our elephant books. You will look at interesting words and how the author started their sentences. Your groups will get some time to brainstorm different ways to start your sentences. You may trade books with another group when you are done with one book."
Once my students found some interesting pronouns and vocabulary words to refer to elephants, it was time to start writing and creating. I wanted to quickly explain to students that their flow map may be different from their neighbor's because they may have picked different options.
I created a screencast video for what I did to explain the differences in the maps and show students the correct placement of the main ideas and details on their maps. Please view the video here: Explaining The Difference In the Flow Maps - Elephant Writing.mp4, so you can have an idea how you might want to go about and explain these differences to your class.
I have 3 videos for you to view to understand more about this section:
You can see in these videos that I scaffolded for each student based on their needs. The first student in the video needed a challenge and he was doing a good job combining his sentences. You'll also see that same student saying there was a lot of writing to be done. This particular student and I have been working on writing commas in a series. I was telling him that when he was mentioning the foods an elephant ate that it was a perfect time to use those commas in a series. As I was circulating, you'll also see me making comments about conventions. This was the part of the lesson that I honed in on those language standards. You'll see me making comments on using different pronouns and using correct capitalization and punctuation. You don't have to wait until the editing process to make comments such as these. By pointing these things out, I am showing students how all the grammar mini lessons we've been working on throughout the year apply to our authentic piece of writing.
Today we were busy organizing, so my closure was really quick. I asked some process questions of my students just to bring out some important aspects of our lesson. I asked, "Why do you think we spent so much time on our reading skills of main idea and details? How does this apply to what we did today? How does adding adjectives improve our writing? Why was it important that we referred to elephants in other ways?"
I wanted my students to start thinking like writers and understand how closely reading and writing are connected. I also wanted them to synthesize in their minds the specific things they could implement when creating a quality piece of writing.