How-To Writing for 2nd Graders

It's Wednesday, so I'm back with another writing post.  Today's focus is on How-To Writing (some of you might call it Procedural Writing).  Because each class of students is different, the length of time I spend on this writing unit varies greatly from year to year.  About two years ago, I was able to spend 8 weeks on this unit.  Last year, we only spent 3 weeks on it.

For this unit, I start by reading aloud books that model different characteristics of how-to writing.  I do not read every single book below, but these are all great choices:

If you don't have any money left in your teaching budget, look into what is already included in your curriculum.  Our school is fortunate to have a Reading A-Z subscription and there are several choices at different levels.  Our curriculum also has a few choices that aren't my favorites, but they will do in a pinch (or to leave for a guest teacher).  In either case, the following titles are leveled texts available to me which makes them ideal for small groups: 

As I'm reading, I start pointing out and introducing the different text featuresI want my students to use in their own writing.  We begin to create an anchor chart as a class.  This turns into a writing checklist of things I want my students to include in their writing.  Here's one that we developed two years ago (that I have since cleaned up just for you).  My students put these in their writing folders:

Now that we have all of the pieces, we're ready to jump in and begin writing.  When we started it was winter, so I picked a high interest topic for modeling purposes (How to Build a Snowman).  There are so many options for prewrites.  For this prompt I created a bubble map for the materials we would need.  Then I made a 4-box plan with the most basic transition words.  I drew pictures and added key words and details to write about later.

We always use a bubble map for the materials or ingredients we need.  Then when it's time to do a prewrite, they often choose one of the following to draw and write out the steps: 

One of my favorite resources for How-To is made by the talented Tangled Up in Teaching.  It is filled with graphic organizers, writing papers, and THE BEST craftivities.  Obviously we don't use every single one.  In fact, we only use a few and only at the beginning when we are doing shared how-to writing.  However, it remains one of my favorite TpT purchases of all time!

Seriously, you cannot even begin to imagine how excited students get when they have a fun project at the end.  Here are two of the craftivities we have used in the past: 

Since I do a lot of modeling during writing instruction, students can easily fall into patterns and more formulaic writing.  I use writing minilessons along the way to help them improve their word choice.  Two places to do this are with transitions and action words.  These become anchor charts on the walls and then I make printable resources for their writing folders.  This is what we came up with last year: 

In order to increase their independence, we brainstorm a list of topics that my students are "experts" in.  I use the term "experts" very loosely!  After all, these kiddos are second graders, but the word "expert" empowers them!  Here is a list of topics my class came up with a few years ago (typed up just for you):

I hope you were able to gather some new ideas to jump into how-to writing. Are you ready for some freebies?
If you missed out on the other writing posts, no worries.  Click on either of the images to check them out!

Henry & Mudge and the Funny Lunch (Stop, Swap, & Roll Linky)

When I first heard about this product swap, I couldn't wait to join in the fun.  I was even more excited to be paired up with Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars.  We've actually been paired up before, so it was great to get the chance to collaborate again!  If you haven't stopped by her blog, you need to check it out.  One of the highlights is her weekly Book Talk Thursday.  
Reading Toward the Stars

After browsing her store, I had a hard time choosing, but finally chose Henry & Mudge and the Funny Lunch.  Second graders just adore these characters!  After receiving the product, I was thrilled to see I only needed a few minutes of prep work for printing the pages and cutting out the game pieces.  Just look at all of these goodies! 
(note - the book does not come with the pack)

Second graders love to feel like the big kids when they read no matter their reading level.  This book has 3 chapters, but it is a quick read, too!  Scholastic lists it as Level I (DRA 16).  When students first transition from picture book to chapter book, I monitor comprehension closely.  Andrea has taken the guesswork out of that for me!  

First, there are comprehension pages with fill-in-the-blank responses and two options have been included.  Even though the students are reading the same text, you can differentiate for students based on their comprehension or writing level.

After reading a chapter with a group, we often work on a retell of that chapter.  I love that Andrea has taken this one step further.  For each chapter she has provided a short list of words.  Students must include these words in their retell:

There is also a set of 9 reading response cards in this pack.  Andrea suggests that these could be used during small group time or while visiting a literacy center.  I love that there is a good balance of questions.  Some are directly related to the text and others require students to think beyond the text.

In addition to comprehension, students also focus on compound words.  To go with the theme of the book, you will find a bright and colorful board game with 45 bones.  Students draw a card and determine whether it is a compound word or not.  On the directions page (not shown) there is a spinner and some paw print game pieces that can be used.

In addition to the game there is a practice page for compound words.  After identifying compound words in the text, students practice creating compound words and using them in a sentence.

Some of the other goodies you'll find in this pack include making predictions, vocabulary, a writing extension, and a comprehension check.

Isn't this pack great?  It gets even better - Andrea has been generous enough to let me give away this pack to one of my readers.  Use the Rafflecopter below to enter:

Click on the button below to go to the linky.  Not only will you see products in action, but I hear there are even more products you can enter to win.

Good Luck!

Friendly Letter Writing in 2nd Grade

I decided I'm moving forward with my series of writing posts.  Today I want to delve into what friendly letters look like in my classroom.

We are in the age of technology.  Kids are texting and curious about social media.  It's a great time to show them just how unique letter writing can be.  Since nobody seems to send "snail mail" anymore, it is new and exciting for young students.  In my class, we learn about friendly letters and then my students write to a pen pal.  Last year we wrote to the students in another second grade classroom in our building.  Oh, and if you aren't interested in pen pals but still want students to practice with a purpose, you could have students write Friday letters to their families, start a Flat Stanley project, or simply write to a class pet or mascot.

Before I tell my students that we're beginning a letter writing unit, I casually read picture books with letters inside.  As a bonus, I can determine the schema my students already have without them even knowing!  Here are some of my favorites:

Oh, and if you're searching online for picture books, you might come across Sincerely Yours: Writing Your Own Letter by Nancy Loewen.  It's a really good book, but it's meant for the teacher to read, not really a read aloud kind of book.

Once I have gone through my favorite books, I will begin teaching the 5 parts of a friendly letter and I usually start with our anchor chart.  I LOVE seeing anchor charts on blogs & Pinterest, but to be honest, I HATE making them and hardly ever take pictures of mine.  In fact, there are only two things I love about anchor charts (using Mr. Sketch markers and knowing my students are using them).  Here are some pics I found online that helped guide me to making my own anchor chart: 

This one is from Following Optimism in 2nd Grade:

Here's a little freebie that would be great to print and place inside your students writing folders or journals as a reference tool.  This is from The Colorful Apple: 

Another way to teach your students the parts of a friendly letter is with this handy flipbook.  This idea was found over at Teaching Maddeness: 

Sometimes we'll even sing.  Now, if you knew me in real life, you know that the only people I sing in front of are my own children (who treat me like a rockstar) and my students (when NO other adults are present).  So, I make sure that the classroom door is closed and belt out this tune with the kiddos (PS - if you know the original source for this one, please share): 

Soon, we're ready to begin writing.  I start by writing a letter to the class.  Okay, remember how I said I hardly ever take pictures of my anchor charts?  You've been warned.  Here's one of mine:

After identifying the questions as a group, we're ready to start our pre-write.  
It isn't fancy (or pretty), but we always do two things on our paper:  

First, we write out the questions asked along with answers that restate the question.  Who wants to read a letter that says I like blue, pizza, and 9:00?  Writing letters is NOT like texting or e-mailing.  You don't get to go back and look at the questions you asked someone else.  So I expect my students restate their answers.  

Next, we write new questions.  In my classroom the kids must ask 3-5 new questions.  Why 3-5?  Well, second graders don't always realize that in order to keep a conversation going, you have to give the other person something to comment on or answer.  On the other hand, if I don't put a cap on the number, I would have a few kiddos writing our 67 questions.  No joke!  In my opinion, 3-5 is a fair and reasonable number for all of my students.

Once they finish these two steps, they must have an adult check their work.  Then it's time to start their first draft:

Once they finish their first draft, they bring the paper to me for corrections.  Sometimes I correct on the spot and if there are time constraints, I will collect the papers and make corrections another time. 

When students get their corrections back, they get to choose the paper for their final copy.  I usually offer two choices:

Here are some final copies:

Notebook paper is great, but sometimes you just need the "fancy paper" to motivate your kids to write neatly.  If you don't have the time (or patience) to create your own, here are two great places to grab some papers.  First, I love the seasonal paper packs from Forever First Grade by Lindsey Brooks.  The lines are the perfect size for my 2nd grade writers.  Click below to check out the spring pack, but she has them for fall, winter, and summer, too!  The final copies shown above are created by her!

This set is a freebie from Literacy Spark: 

If you still need some great ideas, but don't have the time to look around or gather a bunch of resources on your own, I highly recommend this letter writing pack from Erica Bohrer.  It is filled with anchor charts, ideas that tie in with picture books, crafts, and more!  Click on the picture below to read (and see) more about it on her blog:

Sometime soon I hope to be back with ideas for How-To Writing and Opinion Writing.  In case you missed it, here's a link to the last writing post I did:

Happy Teaching!

Sunday Scoop (4.19.15)

It's Sunday, so I'm linking up with the Teaching Trio for the Sunday Scoop.  I decided to work in reverse order today:

Happy To
Every few months, my in-laws graciously invite my daughter to come visit for a few days at their house which is about 3 hours away.  Not only does this give her some special attention from her grandparents, it allows me to get a few projects done during the baby's nap time.  My productivity has been amazing, but now it's back to reality!

Hope To
Last week I shared a blog post about writing during the Daily 5 block.  It inspired me to share more about what I do to teach writing in my classroom.  I started writing a post about friendly letters and I hope to have it finished later this week.  After that I'd like to work on how-to and opinion writing.

My computer files are a mess.  Seriously.  My time on the computer is unpredictable, so often I find myself downloading something super quick.  When I do this, I don't rename the file and take the time to place it where it belongs.  I spent an hour last night before bed working on it and I still have a ways to go.  Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this.  How many days does it take to form a new habit?  I need to work on this....

Have To
We have been invited to a few birthday parties in the next few weeks.  My daughter picked out the presents and now I just need to wrap them.  

Easter wasn't that long ago, but I want to get the plastic eggs put away before I trip or find one hiding under the couch.  I am fully aware that there will be a day my daughter opens up our storage closet, finds the eggs, and decides it's time to hunt for them around the house.  Until then, I want them out of sight!

I invested in a Fitbit a few months ago.  I'm getting closer to reaching 10,000 steps every day, but not quite there yet.  If I put out my goal in the blogging universe, it's like holding myself accountable, right?  Ha!  I should probably move this one to "hope to" since I'll be stuck in the car for many hours today.  

Head over to the Teaching Trio to see what everyone else is doing today!

Daily 5 - Work on Writing

I've been toying with the idea of doing a series of writing posts.  I thought I'd start with how I provide kids with something to write about during Work on Writing.  Stick with me to the end and there will be a few goodies waiting for you.

A couple of years ago, a colleague introduced me to Flip's Fantastic Journal by Angelo DeCesare.  My students connected with the text right away and each year we began to build our classroom expectations (illustrations, # of sentences, handwriting, etc.) around our own fantastic journals (just your average, everyday spiral notebooks).  As my students progress as writers and build stamina throughout the year, I increase the expectations.  For Work on Writing, our fantastic journals are a staple!

There are usually two kinds of writers in every classroom - those who can come up with an idea and those who say, "I don't know what to write about!"  Despite planning and delivering minilessons, there will always be days that students struggle to develop their own topic.  I decided it was time to have a fall-back option for those kids (kind of like a no excuses policy for writing topics). Now I have a weekly menu they can use (I usually introduce this in October, after I've done every minilesson under the sun about gathering ideas for writing):

If you haven't had a class mascot or pet, I highly encourage you to make the investment.  It is highly motivating for your most reluctant writers.  If your mascot stays in the classroom, Monday is the perfect opportunity for students to write to the mascot sharing about their weekend.
My students used these adorable pups for friendly letter writing practice.  As a bonus, each student got to take the pet home a few times during the year and the only requirement was to write a letter to the class sharing about their adventures. You can read more about our class pets here.

Do you have kids who can talk, and talk, and talk, but when a writing tool is in their hand they have nothing to say because they can't remember?  I have found success when I provide a visual to keep them on task and writing.  Our district adopted MONDO for reading a few years back.  One of the tools included was an oral language piece.  It was intended just for that - oral language.  For my students who do not struggle with oral language, I wanted to offer it as a tool for writing.  It is a large flip chart of colorful photographs.  They are not always great, but they do provide students with something to say (through writing, of course).

Lately I've noticed a trend over on TpT....photographs are becoming a BIG deal!  I'm seeing them on product covers everywhere.  Jen Jones (Hello Literacy) has put together these two packs.  They are intended for describing and inferring key details, but in my mind they are visual candy and will have my students writing like crazy! 

Integrating writing into your reading block is a great way to reach your students who don't know what to write about.  When it comes to reading responses, some students are naturals and others need more structure and guidance.  For my students who have a natural talent for responding, I offer a few starters.  Once they have been taught and modeled, the students keep these in a sheet protector in their reading folders:

For my struggling readers and writers, sometimes we will tackle these in small group settings together.  In this situation, we will often use our response spinners.  I also give my students bookmarks with strategies and response starters (which are great for reading group AND independent reading): 

For the students who need more structure and guidance (and even those who don't), I have reading response sheets on hand:

These response sheets came from this pack:

I also have these two graphic organizers in my store as freebies:

Remember the fantastic journals my students work in?  Every Thursday students are encouraged to go back and reread their early writings.  Most of the kids giggle at themselves and then celebrate how smart and skilled they've become (teacher win).  It's a great time to practice revision (adding details, omitting off topic sentences, improving word choice, etc). 

About once a month, I pull out a collection of first drafts my class has written to a prompt. Students work on editing with a buddy and then write a clean copy.  On the days that I do this, we start during our writing block.  Then students finish up during Daily 5.

Still need an extra carrot to dangle in front of your reluctant writers?  Implement Free Choice Friday as a reward for building stamina all week.  This is your chance to really get them motivated:

In my room, this means students get to choose special spots (normally the kids have a certain day they get to work around the room).  Yes, that means they can write next to a friend, on the floor, in the windowsill, etc.  Since they know my expectations, they also know they can lose this choice and 99% of the time they work so hard to keep the privilege.

If that doesn't work, sometimes I'll bring out some special writing tools.  Kids love using the teacher's pens.  For kids who are working hard, I'll quietly walk by and leave a little pen by their side.  You'd be amazed at how quickly the 3 students nearby straighten up and get their pencils moving, too!

If those ideas don't work, take some inspiration from Show & Tell and implement Author's Chair.  Some kids just LOVE to be the center of attention (for the record....I was NOT one of those kiddos).

Thanks for sticking with me until the end.  Click on the picture below to grab some freebies:

Here's a copy of the Writing Menu mentioned above:

I hope you found some useful ideas to take into your own classroom.  Head over to A Burst of First to gather even more fresh ideas for Daily 5.  Happy Teaching!

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