6 Traits of Writing – Ideas

This year is my 2nd year teaching writing. While I have been here for four years, the first two were spent teaching math to the 4th graders while the 4th grade teacher taught Language Arts to my 5th graders. We switched last year for a number of reasons, but because of the switch, last year’s writing curriculum was a bit scattered.

I knew what “paper” was coming next – personal narrative, how-to essay, formal letter, etc. – but didn’t really throw in much “instruction”, per se. I mean, we had several discussions on good introductions/conclusions, and at my school we use Four Square organizers so we spent the first few weeks refreshing the kids’ memories on how to use a Four Square. But there wasn’t much else. And I didn’t like that!

After much thought over the summer, I decided to implement teaching the 6 traits of writing. During the big back-to-school sale at TeachersPayTeachers, I purchased Down Under Teacher’s Six Traits VOICES Bulletin Board Headers and Cards. I created a bulletin board on the back of my bookcases after doing some rearranging (wish I had more wall space, but you gotta work with what you have!). I also purchased Ruth Culham’s 6+1 Traits of Writing to guide my teaching.

I started out the year by discussing the trait of Voice. I was going to start with Ideas but I had some great ideas for Voice that I really wanted to use to get the kids excited for writing!

To begin our discussion, we first talked briefly about each of the 6 writing traits and why we would be learning about them. We talked about how they can make us better writers if we are intentional about including them in our writing!

I love and have always loved the book The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use it! If you don’t know this story, it is a MUST read!! It tells the story of the three little pigs from the perspective of the wolf, who wants to make you think he is innocent. I shared this story with my class, asking them to pay attention to how the author made you feel about the wolf, the main character.

After reading, we talked about how the author was trying to portray the wolf; most of them agreed that he is seen as an innocent victim that we should feel sorry for. I described how this is the “voice” that the author chose to use in his book. He could have made the wolf continue to seem evil, or maybe made it a mysterious story, but he chose a voice of pity and innocence.

I then had the students choose a fairy tale that they could rewrite from the perspective of a “misrepresented” character. I reminded them to think about the voice they wanted to use – how did they want to portray their character? These were SO well done! I gave them about 30-45 minutes total over the course of a few days and allowed students to share when everyone had finished. Some of the fairy tales my students did included “Snow White”, writing from the queen’s perspective, “Hansel and Gretel”, writing from the witch’s perspective, and “Little Red Riding Hood”, writing from the wolf’s perspective. I was quite impressed with how well they did and hope to share some of them with you as soon as I collect their journals in which they are written!

The next activity we did I got from Ruth Culham’s book. I used Spotify to play for the students multiple versions of the song “Hey Jude” by the Beatles.  I love this website because you can search for and play full versions of songs without having to pay for them or download them! I used versions by Elvis, Bing Crosby, Earl Scruggs, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, as well as the original. As I played each version, the students wrote down thoughts about each one – images they got when listening, words that described the version, etc. After listening to all of the versions, we made a big list of everything the students came up with. They tended to enjoy the more upbeat, exciting versions rather than some of the ones that made you feel like you were going to fall asleep 🙂

I asked the students how listening to music can relate to writing. They realized that, even if I gave each student the same topic, no one would write the exact same thing – everyone’s work would “sound” different, just as each version of the same song was so different from the others! I think this is really what drove the point home.

We then made a master list on chart paper of all different voice descriptors (ideas can be found in Ruth Culham’s book) which I will leave posted in our room throughout the year.

As a last fun activity, I read the books Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin. We thought about the voice the author used in each of these – silly, humorous, sarcastic at times – and then I gave the students an opportunity to choose an animal’s diary to write.

I am so excited to move on to all of the other traits. In fact, we started Ideas yesterday, but that will have to wait for another post! I really believe this will pay off in the students’ writing.

How do you teach the 6 traits? I’d love to hear more ideas!!

PS: You should most definitely go check out my friend Jenny’s blog! She and I went to Grove City together and now she is teaching 1st grade at my school. Her classroom is the CUTEST and I am so excited that she is joining the teacher blogging world! Yay Mrs. B!

Parody Play Writing

This has been a wonderful summer!

Ben and I have traveled to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Rochester NY, Rehoboth Beach DE, and will soon be spending a week in the Adirondacks in upstate NY with my husband’s family.

We’ve celebrated my nieces 1st birthday, the marriage of several friends, and the passing of the PT board exam.

We have seen many movies, from Brave and 21 Jump Street, to Spiderman and Dark Knight Rises (well, we’re going to the drive-in to see it tomorrow!).

Most of all, we have just enjoyed time together and time with friends and family.

But it is approaching the start of the school year (already?!?!), which means time to get back into the classroom. Every October, I lead a 3-day, 2-night class trip to Philadelphia with the help of several parent chaperones. It’s getting to be the time where I make reservations for our trip. I still can’t believe 3 months from today we will begin this incredible trip! Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled and excited, but I definitely want to enjoy the rest of my summer 🙂

Before getting into all of the fun stuff for next year, I wanted to touch on something I mentioned in an earlier post and something that my class had a blast with at the end of the school year! Now, keep in mind that this was my first year teaching writing (the 4th grade teacher had always taught language arts, while I taught math to her kiddos), so I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing…but I think they learned and had fun 🙂

Our last unit in writing was play writing. In order to introduce this unit, I printed off several examples of plays, mostly silly and interesting for the students. We chose parts and simply read through the script once. After a quick read-through, we went back and looked at any stage directions, words in italics to show actions, and other notable features. We payed attention to how the characters interacted and talked about what made these plays unique.

Once we had looked at plenty of examples, I explained to the class that they would be writing a play together as a class, however our play was going to be a parody of a popular story! We discussed parodies, which they had learned a bit about in previous grades and in earlier lessons, and spent over an hour brainstorming ideas for our play. After narrowing it down to “The Wizard of Oz” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, we learned that a previous class had already done “The Wizard of Oz” which made our choice easy 🙂

I will say, the students were throwing out lots of ideas but we had to talk about what would be widely known to all ages (as we would be performing for the school) and what had a good story line with plenty of characters. It took them a while to stop throwing out crazy ideas (like “Transformers” and “Sesame Street”), but we got there eventually.

After coming up with the idea, we then began to think about the parody aspect of it. We first changed each of the characters’ names – so “Charlie Bucket” became “Ike Pail”, “Grandpa Joe” became “Grandpa Moe”, “Willy Wonka” who owned a chocolate factory with Oompa Loompas became “Billy Bonka” who owned an ice cream factory with Goopy Loopys, “Veruca Salt” became “Veronica Pepper”, and so on. The students were so incredibly creative and did a great job at this! We had very few disagreements and when there was a debate, we simply did a blind vote.

Once coming up with character names, we then went through the actual story and figured out what each scene would include. We talked about main ideas to be included in each scene and what was important about them.

Then came the most time consuming part – writing the script. It’s rather difficult to write a script when you have 13 kiddos all contributing ideas for what each character should say next…but praise God we made it work! I hooked up my laptop to our projector, opened a Word document, and off we went. We decided that we needed a narrator to introduce each scene, so that was a good place to start. We then broke it down, scene by scene, character by character, and ended up with an amazing script! There were a few disagreements, however a blind vote was considered fair by everyone and solved these problems.

After completing the script, I went back through and edited it, adding a few lines here and there for flow and continuity, but honestly, the students did the majority of the writing. Once we had the script complete, we decided on characters. I had each student write down their top three choices. This ended up working fairly well because there were only two parts which were wanted by more than one student (can you guess how we solved this problem?? That’s right, a blind vote!). We then discussed costume ideas, props that were needed, and scenery that could be made.

The students spent most of May working on memorizing lines, creating scenery/props, and writing the songs that the Goopy Loopys would perform after each contest winner would “disappear” in the ice cream factory (ps – these were HILARIOUS!! They did an AMAZING job. I split the class into four groups, one to write each song. They used the tunes of “Moves Like Jagger”, “Black and Yellow”, “We Are Young”, and “Party Rock Anthem” – I found instrumental versions of each of these to play during the performance and it worked out so well!).

We performed the play during the 2nd to last week of school. Everything came together amazingly well (as I knew it would – God has a way of making things happen!) and the students blew me away with their enthusiasm and energy. From their stage presence to their enunciation, they were little actors and actresses 🙂 And I have never heard the rest of the students at my school or the teachers laugh so hard!!

So with that, I leave you with a picture from “Ike and the Ice Cream Factory”. I wish I had more, but I was involved in the play (helping move scenery, playing the background tracks for the Goopy Loopy songs, etc.) so I couldn’t take any until afterwards. Oh well, such is the life of a teacher 🙂

From Left to Right: a Goopy Loopy (they were supposed to be “ghetto”!), Ike (wearing the white shirt), Goop Dawg (the kids with the sunglasses on – he was the head Goopy Loopy), Billy Bonka (in the awesome purple outfit), a Goopy Loopy (in the sideways hat; he also played Mr. Pail), another Goopy Loopy (in the other sideways hat), Michael PC (in the Angry Birds shirt), August Bloop (in the Pens jersey), Veronica Pepper (in the white dress), Grandpa Moe (in the suspenders), Scarlett Boulevard (in the red shirt), Mrs. Pepper (in the blue dress; she also played Mrs. Pail), and the narrator.

If you are interested in having a copy of our play to use with your own classroom, let me know! I’d be happy to share the love.

Have you ever written a play with your class? How did it go? Any tips or advice for next year??


Update: Facebook Fun

I realized that I never gave an update to our Number the Stars Facebook character analysis!

The students LOVED this project and I can’t wait to implement it for other novels we read 🙂

To finish up the Facebook page, each group decided on something their character would write on each of the other characters’ “wall”. They typed this up and we attached them to the page, so each character has a wall post from the other three. They were so creative!

They also typed up their list of character traits and support (a quote/phrase from the book) and we included this under “Analysis” on the back of the page, under the wall posts.

After the Facebook pages were done, each group created a life size cut-out of their character, adding physical features as described in the book. We hung these up in the hallway, along with the Facebook pages. The students also wrote poems about characters from the book, so we hung these up as well. The display looks awesome!  Unfortunately, our classroom is on the top floor – it is only 4th and 5th up that high, so not too many people ever venture up to see it. But we have gotten many compliments from parents and others who have passed by.

Check out the finished products!

In case you are interested, here is the link to my TpT store where I have my Facebook Profile Page for sale: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Facebook-Profile-Page-Character-Analysis

Can you think of other fun ways to incorporate this into your classroom? I was thinking that it would be fun to do when learning about famous people from history, such as presidents or inventors. Any other ideas??

March Madness!

Growing up, I was never really into basketball. I was terrible at playing it, my city doesn’t have a team (Pittsburgh has everything else, but no basketball!), and the only college in Pittsburgh that could have been good (Pitt) wasn’t.

That all changed when I went to college and saw the hype over March Madness every year!

Many of my new friends came from tried and true college towns, such as Columbus, Lexington, or Charlotte, whose teams consistently made it into the tournament. I thought it was crazy that they treated their college teams like Pittsburgh does with the Steelers – and if you’re from Pittsburgh, you know exactly what I mean! The thought of basketball being so huge was foreign to me, but after watching the games and getting caught up in all of the excitement, I am now hooked.

It became even more exciting last year when Pitt was a #1 seed! In addition to being a Pitt fan, my BFF got me rooting for Kentucky – the #1 overall seed this year and an amazing team. We attended a game last month at Rupp Arena and it was UNREAL. Seriously. If you have never been to a college basketball game at a large school with a good team, I highly suggest you go. The players ran into the arena with fireworks shooting overhead – in an indoor arena! Crazy.

Anyways, all that being said, I am now a huge college basketball fan and love this time of year, so I really wanted to do something fun with March Madness in my classroom. During the month of March, our whole school studies one country – this year we’re learning about China – so rather than each individual teacher planning her own unit, we each teach a lesson to the whole school. This leaves many afternoons open for other activities. I was excited to do some March Madness activities because it would tie in math, geography, reading, writing, and research skills!

To start our our March Madness unit, I explained what March Madness was and how seeding worked. Each student was given a bracket to fill out in order to predict who would win each game, all the way to the championship. They also predicted a score for the championship game, just in case of a tie 🙂 We mounted their brackets on construction paper and hung them up in the room. Every day after games are played, I update their bracket by either crossing out the team if they guessed incorrectly or drawing a star if it was correct. Each round is also worth 32 points – for example, in the first round when there were a possible of 32 predictions, each game guessed correctly was worth 1 point. In the second round with only 16 possible predictions, each game was worth 2 points. The third round games were worth 4 points, and so on, each time totaling 32. I write their totals on the board so that they can keep track of who is in the lead. I also include their totals for each round on a chart that is posted above our brackets.

Whew – sorry that was a long paragraph! Here is one of my student’s brackets right now:

Here are all 14 brackets:

After we filled out our brackets, each student was given a list of all 64 teams in the tournament, their wins-losses for the season, and a blank. They paired up with a friend to calculate the winning percentages of each team. We then looked at which teams had the highest and the lowest. They were allowed to make changes to their bracket based on this information – and several of them wanted to 🙂

Here’s my copy (it’s a mess b/c we wrote lots of other stuff on it too!):

Once all of the students had done this, we next discussed what state each team comes from. They wrote the state name or abbreviation next to the team on their percentages page. Next they determine how many teams were from each state. We found out that the state with the most teams in the tourney (5) was North Carolina! (One thing I emphasized was the fact that the teams in the tournament are not the states’ only teams! They seemed to think that because Hawaii has no teams in the tournament, it means they have no teams at all…so we talked about how these are the best of the best!)

Each student received a map of the U.S. while I had a larger one hung on the board. We then filled in each state with a different color based on how many teams that state has in the tournament. For example, NC has 5 teams so we colored it orange; KY, OH, NY, and CA each have 4 teams so we colored them purple; etc, creating a key in the corner of the map.

Here is a student-colored map…

…and mine on the board:

Once we colored our whole map, we determined the fraction and percentage of states with 5 teams, 4 teams, and so on. We also looked at the distribution of teams, noticing that the majority of states with teams are in the eastern part of the country. We discussed why this might be.

Our next task involved each student choosing a team they were interested in learning more about. I created an information page for the students to fill out while doing research about their team. It involves everything from basic information, such as the team’s mascot, colors, and coach, to more detailed, such as the heights of each player and their field goal percentages (and looking to see if there is a correlation between the 2!). I found some websites for the students to use while conducting their research and set them off on their own.

Update: I have since uploaded the team research fact page I created to TpT – check it out! http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/NCAA-March-Madness-Basketball-Tournament-Team-Research

Now, I only have access to 6 or 7 computers in my room and the 4th grade room next door, so I created something for the rest of the students to work on while the other half was doing their research. I compiled a list of all of the Rounds 1 and 2 games that had been played and recorded the final score, as well as in what city the game was played. The students answered 13 questions about these games, including what games had the highest and lowest total points scored, what games had the highest and lowest points scored by a winning team, how many upsets there had been, which teams traveled the farthest/least far to play their first round game, and which two teams that played each other are farthest from/closest to each other geographically. They were allowed to use a calculator and an atlas to help with these questions.

So what do you think?! This is what we have done so far; I am hoping to have each student present the information learned about their researched team, but I am trying to figure out a creative yet simple way to do so. Maybe a poster?

There will also be a prize for the student who receives the most points based on his/her bracket. Right now one of my three girls is in first place! I think the boys were a bit shocked by that…haha. I was quite proud 🙂

It’s been fun to see the students come in each day to check out their updated brackets and see how they did. I think many of them are watching the games at home too, because they like to ask if I watched a particular game and if I “can believe that they won?!” or some comment like it.

This has been an exciting way to keep our March busy and fun, and thankfully the students are enjoying it too!!

Facebook Fun!

As I mentioned in my last post, we are currently reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. The kids are SO into this book – every day, they beg to read “just one more chapter”!

In order to help my students get a better look at the characters in the novel, they are doing a character analysis in groups. Each group chose a character from the novel to focus on.

Their first task was to create a list of 5-10 personality traits as well as quotes/sentences that supported each trait. They next made a list of physical traits, describing what their character looks like. If it wasn’t talked about much, I had them describe what they THINK their character would look like.

I then explained that they would be creating a mock Facebook profile page for their character – and let me just say, they got SO excited! Most of them know what Facebook is due to a parent or relative having an account, and they thought it was so cool that they would get to make one for someone!

I created a mock Facebook profile page for each group to fill out about their character, which includes information such as birthday/age, relationship status, hometown, favorite tv show/book/movie, about me, and “likes”. It also has spots for two “friends” at the bottom, including their picture, name, and relationship to the character. On the back, there is room for “wall posts” from other characters – I plan to have my students write on each other’s “walls” as their characters. There is also an analysis section, where I will ask the students to write their list of character traits and support from the book.

My students started working on this today and were having so much fun! They were asked to create a rough draft of sorts, so that they knew what they were going to write on the actual page and could copy it neatly. They used what they knew about their character from the book to create the page, and they are looking great so far!

This group is almost done – they just have to go over their words in black pen:


You can check out the page on my TpT site: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Facebook-Profile-Page-Character-Analysis

Do you do anything like this with your class?? I’d love to hear about it!!

Sweet Heart Writing

Last week on Valentine’s Day, I wanted to do a fun writing activity with my kiddos. After a bit [ahem, an hour] of searching on Pinterest, I tweaked some ideas I saw and came up with Sweetheart Writing!

Each student was given 6-8 Sweetheart candies…you know, the ones with the sayings on them like “hug me” or “sweetie pie”…as well as a piece of red cardstock and a glue bottle. The goal of this assignment was to write a letter to someone using all of your conversation hearts. Some kids wrote serious letters to their parents; others wrote silly letters to imaginary characters. One student wrote a break-up letter, another wrote a real love letter to a “stranger”!

The kids had a blast completing this assignment and kept asking for more hearts – not to eat, but to fit into their letter! I loved writing their finished copies and they enjoyed sharing them with the class. Here are some for your enjoyment:


*Sorry that some of them are hard to read – without the flash they were too dark!*

So as you can see, they did a great job and were quite creative with how they used the hearts.

One of my favorite things about Valentines Day in 5th grade is our service project. Rather than purchasing store-bought Valentines for everyone in the class, we had parents send in supplies to make Valentines to send to the kids at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh! We spent one afternoon spread out on our carpet using pink and red card stock, sequins, ribbons, and LOTS of stickers to create cards for the kiddos who might not otherwise receive them. We really tried to focus on loving those who might not feel God’s love and I hope my students understand how much their cards will mean to the kids who received them!

What do you do with your 5th graders for Valentines Day? I find that as they get older, it is harder to do the crafts and games that are so popular in the younger grades. Do you have any fun ideas??

Groundhog Day Fun

Fifth grade is a difficult year to find fun activities to do for holidays that aren’t too juvenile but still worthwhile. After some searching and combining ideas, I came up with this!

I gave the kids a page of facts about Groundhog Day to read for morning work. They had to highlight three or more facts that they learned or found interesting. Lots of kiddos thought it was cool that Punxatawney Phil actually lives in a library during the year! Many of them also didn’t know that Punxatawney is really not too far from our hometown of Pittsburgh.

Later in the day, after discussing the interesting facts that they found, I wanted to do a quick, fun, yet still educational Groundhog Day craft. So I pulled together several ideas that I had seen on Pinterest and on various blogs. We created the head of a groundhog by using lots of different hearts – an upside down large brown heart for the head, a medium brown heart cut in half for the ears, a medium white heart upside down for the teeth, and some used a small pink heart for the nose. They had fun adding eyes, whiskers, and other features to the face!

After decorating the face, the students cut out two brown “paws” and glue the groundhog head and paws to the top of a piece of pink paper. On the paper, they wrote a paragraph from the perspective of Punxatawney Phil describing what they like/don’t like about their important job. These turned out great! Some of them were so creative 🙂 Here in PA, we have a groundhog who advertises for the Pennsylvania Lottery named Gus, “the 2nd most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania”. Several of the students referenced Gus in their paragraphs, talking about how Gus is jealous of them or they wish they had lots of money like Gus! So funny!


Anyways, I was really pleased with this activity. It didn’t take up too much time and included several important academic skills as well, such as following directions, writing in first person, and sharing with the class. They had a blast creating their groundhogs and I loved seeing how different they all were!

Did you do anything fun on Groundhog Day??

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