Lucy Calkins and Valentine Writing Partners

Sharing writing with others can be a great experience for some students, but for others, it can be truly intimidating!  Using Valentine shaped writing prompts, a bit of fun and humor helped us successfully segue into writing partnerships which offered a place for our students to learn about positive/negative feedback and trust.

The plan…

First, the connection!  Using a student led rap, students were chosen to name content specific vocabulary that has been learned throughout the year such as:  narrative writing, topic sentence, thesis, supports, conclusion and reread.

Next, the symbol of a “heart” was written on the board and students brainstormed meaning.  Answers ranged from love, to hearts beating, to friendship, to candy, etc.

Then, to actively engage the students, hearts with writing prompts were taped under each student chair (as in the above picture).  They were given reminders to use what we have learned in writing (begin with the statement you were given, write and response, use supports).  A timer was set for 10 minutes and students began writing in response to the prompt.

Then, students were called back to the large group where an anchor chart had been prepared to discuss the purpose of partnerships.  We talked about the word relationship and the importance of working together, listening well and sharing information that can be difficult to say.  We spoke of kindness and respect.

After that, a mock writing partnership was modeled between the cooperating teacher and myself using the same Valentine prompts.  We modeled saying one encouraging word and something to work on.

Last, students were given time to practice a partnership by finding another person in the room that had the same writing prompt that they had.  Students had no idea who they would be paired with, and teachers did not plan particular writing partners.  This activity allowed natural movement in the classroom and lots of smiles as they were often surprised by the partnership!

Students spent 5 minutes reading to one another, sharing a kind word and a word to push the writing forwards.  They returned to seats, completed a quick rewrite, decorated a heart and hung their work on the classroom door for the party.

It was a great way to explain that relationships come in all shapes and sizes.  As we learn and grow, working and writing relationships become important.  This was a small step towards gaining trust and taking risks as writers and a nice way to segue into writing partnerships on Valentine’s Day!


Huge thanks to Elizabeth Korab for telling our grad class… YES YOU CAN!

B    Beauty, Birthed

E    Encouragement, Emancipated

A    Attitude, Accomplishment

U    Underestimated, Ubiquitous

T    Tenuous, Techies

Y    Yes, YES I CAN!

Elizabeth, Thank you for turning type As into type Bs with vision…

Enjoy – this is my new favorite video…

**The double acrostic poem frame by Olukemi Are

Square Panda – an interactive Reading Readiness game using iPad, Bluetooth and Smart letters

Square Panda is a Reading Readiness game with lots of interactive components.  The phonics system includes five fun and engaging iPad apps, a Bluetooth play set, 45 Smart letters, both parent and teacher portals.

Parents download the iPad app which interacts with the board via Bluetooth.  There’s a few simple steps to start the game.  Preschool age kiddos will enjoy the large magnetic like letter pieces which fit easily into the “square” boxes.

The Bowling game was fun!  Children use their fingers to bowl the coconuts and are instructed to find the correct letter and place it in the first box.  Each letter is sounded out until a word is made.

In the Bubbles game, advanced words such as SCALP and SWAM are created.  Children pop bubbles and blow horns by touching animated pictures after each correct letter is found.  Real images are posted when children create a word – a great feature for ELL students.

For the price point of $119.00, one gets 45 letters and 5 games!  Log on to Square Panda and order one for the holidays!

Square Panda Phonics Playset

Storykeepers in the 21st century

Lisa Miller introduces the concept of storyboarding in her book Make me a story (2010).  She describes it as a process of writing a digital story that requires tasks other writing doesn’t require.  It is figuring out what section of text goes with what piece of art, and so it also entails splitting the story or script up into parts.

Miller’s book offers insight on why digital story telling should be taught:

  1. It engages and empowers reluctant readers and writers and different types of learners.  It makes everyone want to write.
  2. Digital storytelling projects can change how students see themselves and their classmates and can build community in the classroom.
  3. Thinking about audience is an important part of the process.
  4. Digital storytelling projects do not have to be complicated to be effective.
  5. Stories can be done across the curriculum.
  6. The process is the point; digital storytelling projects teach writing and technology skills.
  7. The process draws on what students already know about storytelling-and moviemaking.

One of the best takeaways from this book was a link to Storykeepers Resources (see endnote).  Their explanation of digital storytelling “is a lot more than using simply mixing multimedia; it is the delivery of a rich, artistic experience with a storyline driven by THE POINT that has the power to change the brain’s attention and chemistry. Digital storytelling’s power lies in purposefully unfolding a Classcial Dramatic StoryARC that is then brought ALIVE with a palette of digital tools that dances images, sounds, voices, and special effects together into a sensory, emotionally charged experience of a well-written storyline that needed -to-be-told!”  For example:


Digital storytelling is a natural pairing with project based instruction.  It provides opportunities for students to create and interact with their work.  It provides opportunities to create VOICE and PERSPECTIVE, POINT OF VIEW and so many ways to write!

Miller, L.C. (2010). Make me a story: Teaching writing through digital storytelling. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Unknown. (2016). Welcome to 21st Century StoryKeepers. Retrieved from

Rethinking teaching and learning outcomes in writing with Nell Duke…

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-12-08-34-pmIn Nell Duke’s Inside Information, she provides a great explanation, research and how to engage in project based instruction.  Duke explains that in a project based approach, students work over an extended time period for a purpose beyond satisfying a school requirement-to build something, to create something, to respond to a question they have, to solve a real problem, or to address a real need.  Along the way, teachers build knowledge and skills serve to meet the project’s goals (p. 11).

Duke discusses persuasive writing as “researching the audience is an essential strategy in the initial stage of developing persuasive text; what might be compelling reasons and evidence for one audience may not be as much so for another.  One way to teach this:


Another structure is CCSS which includes (Introduction, opinion, reasons, support for reasons, linking words, concluding statement or section).

Last, a mnemonic, such as IVY ONLY READS SUPER LONG COMICS to help students recall the structure.

Nell Duke elaborates on the  explains that in a project based approach, students work over an extended time period for a purpose beyond satisfying a school requirement-to build something, to create something, to respond to a question they have, to solve a real problem, or to address a real need…Along the way, teachers build knowledge and skills serve to meet the project’s goals (while in the teacher’s mind, they may also serve to address specific state standards, meet district curriculum requirements, and so on).”

In another conversation in Education Week about project based instruction, new skills that are critical as students mesh with 21st-century expectations were discussed including:  creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility” (Glasscock, 2015).

In our school, learning lab is project based instruction in action.  Data is used to determine those who are most vulnerable and those who have certain skills intact.  Projects are created for all.  Learning is fun and engaging!

Duke, N. K. (2010). Inside Information: Developing powerful readers and writers of informational text through project-based instruction, K-5. New York: The Guilford Press.

Glasscock, S. (2015). Project based instruction: A powerful way to teach students to read and write informational texts. Education Week, 1-4.

Sesame Street, Visual Media and the Impact on Writing…It just keeps growing and changing!

How did Sesame Street impact writing?  Well, for those of us who grew up with Sesame Street as part of our daily diet, the visual draw of brightly colored muppets was a first experience of learning through visual media.  Sesame Street continues to offer sound literacy solutions to children by teaching the alphabet, closing the word gap of children through songs and skits.  In fact, the Sesame Street workshop website describes the benefits of literacy over the years.  It’s quite stunning.

In recent scholarly discussions, the implementation of film into secondary or university courses has instigated debates regarding the overall usefulness.  As audiences change with the influx of visual imagery, many instructors believe that pedagogical styles need to become more pliable in relation to new media. The main point – it teaches students to incite reflective responses as they read images and texts.  This is key in understanding meaning.

This author has attempted to open the door of possibilities in the classroom by sharing natural ways to bridge visual media and writing.  For example, the use of drawing, color and various art media provides a segue for student language and vocabulary; GOOGLE map pin dropping on a map can encourage conversations about geography as well as provide opportunities to write short descriptors of folktales around the world; iTrailer is a quick way to showcase student writing; EMOJI provides multiple opportunities for writing in the code of smiles; PADLET provides audience interaction anonymously, Chatterpix is a way to combine children’s art, writing and voice in an animated product.  The list just continues to grow!

Not everything has been successful – images have been uploaded sideways, volume was inadvertently turned off or down, new ways of grading and keeping track of student work anonymously needs to be considered and yet…

I can’t stop playing with the possibilities!  and I can’t wait to read what YOU are trying too!  What are you going to try next?

Glenn, L. (2006). Book review: Visual Media and the Humanities: A Pedagogy of Representation (Kecia Driver McBride). Educational Technology & Society, 9 (4), 244-245.

Reflections on Lucy’s narrative unit – iTrailers and notebook entries

Keeping up with daily mini-lessons, conferencing, reviewing papers, planning the kids notebook entries, Author Day, coaching and oops!  Hmmmmm. Did I add a small group for mechanics and grammar?  I realize now that I put way too much on my plate all at once and ended up feeling much Ali Tipton’s cartoon – needing to find a couch and talk with Lucy!

Reflecting back, here’s some of the highlights!  The trailer was one of the best small moments for all of us!

And here’s a peek at some excellent notebook entries from another class – ones I plan to model next time – totally neat and organized, ones that kids can refer back to later in the school year.



It’s been a whirlwind of a quarter, but I’ve definitely learned so much!!