Flip Your Instruction for Daily 5: Work on Writing

Thinking Back Thursday

Students become better writers when they have a lot of opportunities to write, but what if they are practicing bad writing habits? In the Daily 5 reader’s workshop structure (or any reader’s workshop model), students “Work on Writing.” One common way students “Work on Writing” in a primary classroom is by adding to class journals about topics such as ‘My Pets,’ or ‘My Family.’ These are great writing opportunities about common themes that students love, but it is impossible for teachers to give feedback on every piece of writing that students do in this format, and it is unrealistic, not to mention un-motivating, to have students polish every piece of writing. So the result becomes an opportunity for students to do a lot of practice writing poorly. And if no one is really reading it anyway, it becomes like the busy work stapled in packets lying in piles around the room.

As a teacher, I philosophically agree with the idea that students need lots of opportunities to write, but giving them opportunities to write poorly feels like a coach that says, “Yes–keep practicing even though you’re doing it wrong. It’s better to practice wrong than not practice at all.” THAT doesn’t sound right either! The philosophy and research behind the structure of Daily 5: Work on Writing is a sound one, so what do we do?

Because many of our littlest (and biggest) writers struggle with the open-ended task of generating a story idea, Daily 5 classroom journals solved the problem by focusing writers on a topic. But what if we take it one step further — students focus on a topic AND a writing strategy. For example, when students write in a class journal about “Things That Scare Us,” their focus can be on descriptive writing and using the 5 senses to describe what it is that scares them.

Then the question becomes, “When will I have time to teach mini-lessons like this for each class journal?” This is where blended learning has earned a growing reputation for being the answer to legitimate concerns like this one. I used Educanon to flip this lesson for the classroom journal ‘Things That Scare Us,” using the book I Need My Monster as a mentor text.

Click here to see it.

You can also give students a more authentic audience by having them publish their class journal entries on a blog instead of in a composition notebook. This gives students the opportunity to have their writing seen by other classmates, parents, and even students around the world! Just like dressing up for the choir concert performance, students will want to “look their best” when writing for a larger audience.

Click here to see my unit plan for Daily 5: Work on Writing Gone Digital

Education in the 21st century is anything but static and constant, but that does not mean that we should throw out everything we know about teaching. I believe that the Sisters’ Daily 5 & CAFE structures and strategies are solid teaching practices, but I saw the need for a 21st century update. Summertime is a great opportunity to slow down and reflect on our teaching philosophy and teaching practices. That is why I decided to start this linky party called:

Thinking Back Thursday

Reflecting & building on past teaching practices

Link up and share how you are updating your teaching practices this year!

TBA's Ultimate Linky Party

Lesson Idea: How are people transformed through their relationship with others?

edmodoTo keep up with teaching and learning in the 21st century, I believe that every teacher needs a PLC (professional learning community) to stay connected and to collaborate on ideas in education because we simply cannot (and should not) do it  all alone. Surprisingly, edmodo is not just a place to connect with students; it is also a great place to connect with other teachers from around the globe. It is a very diverse and  active community, so if you ask for help, suggestions, and ideas, you are likely to get it!

In the ‘Language Arts’ edmodo group, Katie Meece, a teacher from Ohio, posted the following question: “I am looking for short reading selections in any genre to fit with one of my 7th grade units. The essential question is: How are people transformed through their relationships with others? Suggestions?”

I was one of 9 teachers, elementary – high school, from around the world to reply to Katie’s request for suggestions. She got advice from Justin Foreman in China, Tammy Owen in Texas, Melyssa Quintana in New Jersey, Marie Wallas in Washington, Deborah Bobo in South Carolina, Amanda Arlequin in New York, Trimonisha Singer in California, John Vallerga in California, and me, Emily Stout, in Colorado. I was so inspired by Katie’s essential question and the world-wide collaboration that was happening, I wanted to craft a lesson around these suggestions for my students too.

First, I created this thinglink as a reference library of all the suggestions Katie received for her request for short reading selections that fit her essential question. (Click here or click on the picture to view the embedded interactive media in this thinglink).

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.44.41 PM

Later I discovered the Global Read Aloud project, which is a program that uses one book to connect the world by connecting classrooms globally to discuss the same book. There are different books chosen each year, and when I saw The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on the list, I knew it was the perfect story for the essential question: How are people transformed through their relationships with others?

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, discusses the habits of life long readers in her most recent book Reading in the Wild. One of the life-long reading habits is: “Share books and reading with other readers. Readers enjoy talking about books almost as much as they like reading. Reading communities provide a peer group of other readers who challenge and support us.” The introduction to this book states, “. . . the real purposes of reading include personal connections— that books can touch us all deeply and elicit laughter, tears, and other reactions. These connections are part of the very heart of wild reading.” In my elementary classroom, I want to use connections from the Global Read Aloud to create a diverse community of readers, and  then use this essential question to help students focus on the theme, or heart of a story and share the essence of that story with others by creating book trailers and/or book reviews.

In her book Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller teaches her students how to synthesize a book instead of simply retelling it. One of her first grade students explains synthsizing like this: “At first it is a little bit of thinking. Then bigger thinking comes and you add and add on and you take your old thinking and your new thinking and put them together.” Using the strategy of synthesizing a book, students have to dig deeper into the meaning of the story instead of simply retelling surface details. I think creating book trailers is a great way to get at the heart of the story and truly synthesize it. A good trailer should be no more than 2 minutes long, which means you have to focus on the theme of the story to really engage your readers, not just the surface details we typically ask students for on a story map. It’s not that students don’t need to know how to identify the characters, setting, events, and the conclusion—they do, but to get other wild readers to connect to a story and want to read it, it has to go deeper than that. Here is my synthesis of the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Debbie Miller showed us that her first grade students were more than capable of creating a synthesis like this for books they read together in class, and Donalyn Miller emphasizes the importance of connecting with other readers and discussing and sharing books. With the right tech tools, even first graders can create a book trailer based on their synthesis.   I created a backward plan for how I would implement The Global Read Aloud project in my classroom and how I would integrate technology using App Flow. You can check it out by clicking here. For more resource suggestions, you can follow my board on graphite called “App Smashing & Making Multimedia Projects” by clicking here.

How else have you used edmodo or The Global Read Aloud?

Quick Tip: Thinglink and Screencastify

The 21st century tool of the month for June is google apps. This is a quick app-smashing tip about a free google app add-on from the chrome web-store called screencastify and a free program called ThingLink.

Screencastify is a web 2.0 recording tool that gives you the option of embedding a video web-cam in the bottom right hand corner as you record your screen. ThingLink is a multi-media program that you can access on the computer or the iPad. You can use a picture of any background you choose and add  a little bullseye that contains words, videos, or links to other videos anywhere on the screen.

Here are 2 quick lesson ideas for using these tools together:

If you use Daily 5 in your classroom (or any type of reader’s workshop model), then you probably have all the students in your class create goals around a reading strategy that they are focusing on such as Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Extend Vocabulary. In the video above, I used the “rate graph” from the book Balanced Literacy 2nd grade (a book published by Kagan). ThingLink is the perfect program to use when graphing progress over time. Because it embeds links, video, and words, you can actually record a portion of a student reading and embed the little bullseye on the correct place on the graph. This would not only give you and the student a record of their reading rate, for example, but it would also give you and the student data of the change in his/her reading fluency over time. A video placed on the scale in the appropriate place would give the student a better understanding of what it means to be a 2 or a 3 on the rate graph. When the student has 5 points of data that have been collected over time, then he/she can use screencastify to record a self reflection on his/her change over time in the area of focus.

This self-assessment strategy would work well for all reading goals or areas of focus. The Balanced Literacy book has more graphs for different aspects of fluency such as phrasing, expression, rate and accuracy. Linda Dorn has wonderful rubrics for comprehension in her book Teaching for Deep Comprehension that I have used with students, and my favorite vocabulary rubric is Vocabulary Rubrics, Templates, & Graphs for Common Core Instruction from Hello Literacy in the TpT store.

Hello Literacy has a great activity on TpT called Describing & Inferring Details with Picture of the Day: Reading Photos “Closely”. Using this idea of practicing inferring with photos, I used ThingLink and screencastify to record my thinking. This is a great way to make thinking visual! Students could record their thinking with these tools in independently or in small groups during literacy stations.

Thinglink is a cloud-based program that creates a url, which means it can be turned into a QR code. Screencastify can be saved directly to google drive or youtube, both of which create urls as well that can be turned into a QR code. By turning teacher modeling or student thinking into a QR code, you make it visible to others as well.

Hope this quick tip was useful! Please leave a comment on how you will use these 2 programs.

Freebie: Literacy Center Cards

As a thank you for the Really Good Classroom Blog nomination, I am sharing the Literacy Work Station Cards I made for my classroom! You can put them in a pocket chart or use a magnet to put them on the board as your students’ map for literacy centers. Just print them on cardstock or adhere them to chipboard. Places like Staples or Office Depot sell boxes of chipboard that are very inexpensive (just ask the copy center), or save the boxes your shirts come in over the holidays! I hope you find them useful!

Click here for Literacy Center Cards from my store at Teachers Notebook!

Fairy Tales and Fables Unit

I love it when it all comes together!

Weaving a strand of learning throughout multiple areas in the curriculum is a smarter way to teach and a more powerful learning experience for students.

Developed through the study of experts like Linda Dorn, Lucy Caulkins,  Lori Octzkus, and Debbie Diller with some of my own twists thrown in, this unit aligns to the Colorado state standards.

(Click here for the standards link: ‘Why teach a fairy tales and fable unit?)


(click on the books for more information about each title)

Fairy tales: start with the original version

You may be surprised how many of your students are not familiar with classic fairy tales. I purposely do not use the Disney version of fairy tales because they typically do not appeal to boys. I look for award winning books (because it fits in nicely with our book awards), and versions that are as close to the original Brother’s Grimm fairy tales as possible. The books above are some of my favorite versions.

Let your students in on the ‘secret’ about fairy tales. There are specific structures and patterns that make fairy tales easy to identify and easy to write. Students love it when you let them in on secrets that adult authors use! Use the fairy tale text map to identify these patterns and structures. (click here for the Fairy tale text map)

  • Setting— Fairy tales purposely do not reveal a specific setting. They take place ‘long ago,’ ‘far away,’ or ‘once upon a time.’ They do not reveal the time and place so that it can apply to anyone, anywhere. Write the first sentence of the story in the ‘setting’ box to show this vague time and place. My class refers to this as the “Once upon a time . . .” box.
  • Main Characters— Fairy tales usually have very clear ‘good guy(s)’ and ‘bad guy(s)’ because the good guys are very good, and the bad guys are very bad. The story reveals this through their appearance, actions, and words. My class refers to this as the “good guys/bad guys” box.
  • Problem–The problem in fairy tales are very big problems that usually involve death. For example, in Rumpelstiltskin, if the miller’s daughter does not spin the straw into gold, the king will kill her. In Jack and the Beanstalk if the giant catches Jack he will eat him. My class calls this “A Deadly Problem.”
  • Repeated events/words— There is a pattern of 3 that occurs in fairy tales– three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears, three times that Jack climbs the beanstalk, and three times that Rumpelstiltskin spins the straw into gold. The discovery of this pattern is always a favorite among students. They always find patterns of 3 that I have never noticed before! We call this “The pattern of 3.”
  • Magical Element— Fairy tales always include some sort of magic. We know that fairy tales are fictitious because they contain something magical that could not happen in real life: the fairy godmother in Cinderella, the magic mirror in Snow White, or the frog that was put under a spell in The Frog Prince.
  • Solution–Even though fairy tales usually include “a deadly problem,” there is always a way for the “good guy” to avoid it. In Sleeping Beauty the evil fairy casts a spell that will kill Aurora, but one of the good fairies changes the spell to put her to sleep instead. She will wake up if she is kissed by a prince. In Rumpelstiltskin, the queen will not have to give up her child if she can guess his name. We call this, “A Way Out.”
  • Ending–Fairy tales always have a happy ending. The ‘good guys’ win and they live the rest of their lives ‘happily ever after.’  For instance, in Rapunzel, she finds her husband, cures his blindness, and they find his kingdom where they will rule as king and queen. In The Three Little Pigs, the third little pig tricks the wolf, has wolf stew for supper, and was never bothered by a wolf again. Write the last sentence (or few sentences) in the “Ending” box to show how the good guy wins and the rest of his life is happy. My class refers to this as “Happily Ever After.”


Fables are similar to fairy tales, but they have some distinctive differences in their patterns and structures. (Click here for the Fable Text Map)

  • Moral/Lesson: Fables teach a lesson that the reader has to infer because the story usually doesn’t come right out and tell you, which means the ending is not always  a happy one. For example, the moral in Henny Penny is ‘don’t believe everything you hear,’ and she and her friends get eaten in the end. In The Magic Fish, the moral is ‘don’t be greedy’ and the fisherman’s wife loses all the wishes she was granted.
  • Character/Trait: The characters in fables are almost always animals. In order to make the lesson more powerful, fables use animals to avoid pointing the blame at a certain kind of person. Instead, the animal has a distinctive trait that the reader can relate to. For instance, Henny Penny is easily fooled, the fox is clever,  the Little Red Hen shows a lot of perseverance, and the dog, cat, and pig are lazy.
  • Problem: There is an obvious obstacle in fables that the main character has to overcome. The three billy goats gruff have to get over the bridge to get to the grass on the other side, the little red hen needs to make the bread, the frogs in It’s Mine! have to find a safe place to sit during the thunderstorm.
  • Solution: This is how the story is wrapped up. Use the ending to help you infer the moral to the story.

Author/Illustrator Study

Award winning author and illustrator Leo Lionni is considered a modern day fable writer. His main characters are critters that he was fascinated with as a child such as frogs, lizards, mice, and fish. The morals are easy for children to relate to.

It’s Mine: share

-Swimmy: teamwork (swimmy video)

-Fish is Fish: the grass is not always greener on the other side

-Fredrick: everyone has something important to contribute to the group (Frederick video)

-Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse: caring, selflessness

Standing on the shoulders of Leo Lionni, students can write fables using the same kind of characters and morals. They can also illustrate their stories using collage in the same style as Leo Lionni.

Paint blank white paper earthy colors using different textures and brush strokes. (I did some of the painting myself.  I also sent an email home asking for students to paint plain white paper at home and bring it in for our collages. It seemed too messy to let the kids do it in class!) Using these painted papers, students can cut and tear the characters for their stories or poems. Click here for a video from Leo Lionni on how to make a mouse.

Fractured Fairy Tales

Fractured fairy tales are different versions or different view points of original fairy tales. Most kids are familiar with the word ‘fracture’– they know it means to break something (because it has usually happened to at least one of them!). That’s how I explain fractured fairy tales to students. Using the same patterns and structures as the original fairy tales, one piece on the fairy tale text map is “broken” and changed. For example, in the story The Tortoise and the Jack Rabbit, the setting was “broken” and changed to take place in the desert. That caused a ripple effect in the rest of the story. The character had to be changed into a jack rabbit to fit the desert setting. The same fracture happens in the setting of different Cinderella stories around the world. The country where it takes place is “broken” and changed which causes a ripple effect culturally throughout the story. In the story The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, the characters were “broken,” and the “good guys” and the “bad guy” were reversed. Fractured fairy tales are fun stories for kids to read and write. It gives them an opportunity to do some creative synthesizing using the structures and patterns they’ve learned about fairy tales.

Guided & Independent Practice

After reading aloud different fairy tales, fables, fractured fairy tales and modeling how to fill out the text map, let your students try it. Using easy to read versions of the same fairy tales and fables you have modeled will help make these stories more accessible to everyone in your class. Students can read these stories and fill out their own fairy tale text map. Eventually they can use fairy tales and fables you haven’t already read to them. Here are some easy to read stories that I like to use:

I included e-books from Evan Moor in my list of easy to read fairy tales and fables. One book includes 8 different fairy tales and fables that are written at a 2nd-3rd grade reading level. The other e-book includes 7 fairy tales and folktales written for a K-1 audience. They are printable stories that include activities with each story. Although I would not use all the activities included in these books, I thought it was worth purchasing for the printable stories and the puppet templates.

Felt Board Center: During our fairy tales and fables unit, I include easy to read and familiar fairy tales and fables with felt characters. At this ILA (independent literacy activity) students reread one of their favorite stories, then retell it using the felt characters.

Buddy Reading Center: I make/collect multiple copies of familiar fairy tales so students can read them together. I also include reader’s theater fairy tale plays so students can practice reading different parts.

Listening center: Students listen to fairy tales and fables from an audio book. You can easily create your own audio books and include a guided lesson! Check out Listening Center Plus for more information. Click here for a sample of The Three Little Pigs.

Library Center: Students reread the fairy tales and fables you read aloud to the class and fill out their own fairy tale or fable text map.

Writing Center: Students write their own fairy tales or fables using the text maps to plan out their story before they begin writing. They can also write a poem about a character in one of the stories you have been studying.

Creation Station: Students create puppets for their favorite fairy tale or fable and use them to retell the story. In the style of Leo Lionni, students can cut and tear characters  using painted paper to construct their characters (see the example on the left).

All of these activities can be recorded on video or a podcast  for students to share. See the Make Them Movie Stars post for more ideas.

Cross-Curricular Collaboration

Don’t forget to collaborate with your specials teachers when you have a big unit of study, so they can link their expertise as well. Talk to your art teacher about illustrating like Leo Lionni. Our art teacher has a Leo Lionni unit that she teaches which covers how to create collages in a much more comprehensive way than I ever could. Our music teacher has a play that the students perform based on the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni. The librarian and computer lab teacher will be able to create a lot of connections for your students as well.

Wrapping Up the Unit

Now that your students have become experts on fairy tale and fable structures, it’s time to celebrate with a fairy tale ball!

Start by having students send a formal invitation to their families. Thanks to the creativity of some parents in my classroom, the students crinkled up invitations printed on brown paper to make it look old and worn, then (the parent helpers) hot glued sticks to the top and bottom of the invitation to make it look like a scroll. The students rolled it up, tied it with a string, and brought home their fancy invitations for their families.

Next have your students prepare the entertainment at the fairy tale ball. The activities that they did during ILAs (independent literacy activities) such as retelling stories with felt board characters and the puppets that they created, reading reader’s theater plays at the buddy reading center, writing their own fairy tales, fables, and poems at the writing center, and the Swimmy play they learned in music make great entertainment for the fairy tale ball! This year we are video taping all these activities (rather than making it a live performance) so we can all watch them together. We are hoping that it will make orchestrating the entertainment a little less stressful on the day of the big ball!

Contact parents for help organizing food and decorations for the big feast. Try having a fairy tale feast theme with (plastic) goblets, chicken wings, and fairy tale napkins! Click here for some ideas on making a fairy tale feast and decorating medieval style.

On the day of the fairy tale ball, be sure to have everyone dress in their fanciest clothes. Take pictures of the families for a wonderful keepsake of this special celebration! (Check back soon for more pictures of the latest fairy tale ball)