Three Writing Sample Ideas


The first few weeks of school are always interesting.  The students are trying to learn the personality of the teacher, while the teacher is trying to learn the strengths of the students.  This often involves some type of writing activity, where the teacher can gain a writing sample from her new students without the anxiety (or added marking workload) of a formal literacy assessment.  Here are three ideas of writing samples that introduce the students to you and that also make good bulletin board displays:


Autobiography Poem:  I first came across this version of the poem when I was a student teacher attending a writing workshop at my university.  However, I have since found several examples on the Internet.  The poem is 10 lines, with the first line being the student’s first name and the last line being his or her last name.  In between, the student answers basic questions about themselves (ex. what they like, hate, are afraid of, dreams, etc.)  I usually model how to complete the poem by writing one about myself for the class.  I’ve also used this as a biography poem later in the year, where students take a historical figure or a character from a novel and complete the poem to demonstrate their understanding of that person.

Puzzle Pieces: There will be several students with different strengths in the new classroom.  Divide the students into groups of four, and give each group a large paper with four connected puzzle pieces drawn in thick black pen.  Each group works to cut apart the puzzle pieces.  The students then decorate their pieces, and in each corner write a sentence explaining their strengths and how they could help other students throughout the year.  Examples of the sentences include: “I really like Math, and I could help you with your Math homework”, “I’m an organized person, so I can help you clean your binder”, or “I love playing video games, so I could help you beat that final level.”  After students have completed and coloured their puzzle pieces, they meet back into their groups to share their strengths and glue the puzzle pieces back together on construction paper.  You can then display the completed puzzle pieces.

Name Acrostic: Students write their name vertically down the page.  They then think of words that describe them that start with each letter of their name.  The lesson becomes a review of good describing words, or adjectives.  I can involve the entire class in thinking about a good describing word for the unfortunate student who has a “y” or a “z” in their name.  I usually have an example to show the students with my own name, and have the students illustrate and colour their acrostics for a quick bulletin board display.

Please share if you have another writing idea that we can all add to our filing cabinets.

Bright Lights, Spelling City


I occasionally assign spelling and vocabulary activities, and try to find ways that students can study the words that do not involve dry memorization of their pre-test pages.  I found a website that seems to help students practice their words in a fun way.  Spelling City starts with a page where anyone can type in words in groups of five, ten, or as a batch entry.  Students can then decide to take a spelling practice test, listen to the words being spelled, or complete a variety of vocabulary and spelling games based on these words.  I have recommended this website for a practice activity while students are studying at home, as well as using a couple of the games in the classroom as a quick practice in between lessons or in the fifteen minutes before the scheduled afternoon assembly.  I like how the spelling test reads out the words and sentences to give a better understanding of the word’s meaning, and my students have enjoyed working together to play “Hangmouse”.  I would say that this website is mostly for Grade 2 to Grade 6, and I tend to use it as a whole classroom activity when I teach Grade 6 and as a supplementary resource for individual students in Grade 7. I use this website for free, but you can also register and pay a fee to use this in the classroom for all of the students.  This will allow students to play more of the games, and they will also have any of the activities they complete directly Emailed to the teacher for assessment.  I am frustrated that it seems some of the games and practices I used to be able to access for free are now only available through the registration, but I will continue to use Spelling City games in the classroom for as long as I am able.

And the reading list grows longer:

July 30th: Birdland, by Tracy Mack

July 31st: The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis

August 1st: Report to the Principal’s Office, by Jerry Spinelli

August 2nd: Blabber Mouth, by Morris Gleitzman

August 3rd: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

August 4th: Web 2.0 How-To For Educators, by Gwen Solomon and Lynne Schrum

August 5th: Haunted Teachers: True Ghost Stories, by Allan Zullo

August 6th: The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson levine

August 7th: A Child in Prison Camp, by Shizuye Takashima

August 8th: Emily Carr: An Introduction to her Life and Art, by Anne Newlands

August 9th: The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett

August 10th: Astronomy: Out of this World, by Basher (Illustrator) and Dan Green

Teaching with the Newspaper


I sometimes spend so much time searching or thinking about the perfect book that will help the students practice their reading strategies, that I forget about the newspaper.  However, having the students look through their local paper, or gathering current articles for them to read, can also have some real benefits.  An article can be used or adapted for several different subjects.  Having short articles to discuss rather than long pages of dialogue will appeal to those struggling readers.  Looking at comic strips and political cartoons requires a certain level of critical thinking.  Even examining the pictures that accompany the articles provide the students with a chance to determine what is happening in the picture and create inferences.  Finally, it gives students an opportunity to look at a piece of non-fiction that they are almost guaranteed to continue reading in their adult lives.  The website Education World has an article that provides more justification for using newspapers in the classroom and gives several ideas for lesson planning.

In other news, I have met the criteria for my book a day challenge so far, and I have put the continuing list here.  A quick review of each book can be seen on my summer book challenge page.

July 5th: Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

July 6th: Trailing Clouds of Glory, poems by William Wordsworth

July 7th: The Future of the Earth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development for Young Readers, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

July 8th: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

July 9th: DK Eyewitness Books: Shakespeare, by Peter Chrisp

July 10th: Earth from Above for Young Readers, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

July 11th: Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

July 12th: Shattered, by Eric Walters

July 13th: White Jade Tiger, by Julie Lawson

July 14th: North by Night, by Katherine Ayres

July 15th: Broken Song, by Kathryn Lasky

Writing Activities for Boys


I come from a family of all girls, so I’m not always used to the concerns and actions of the boys in my classroom.  Getting married has helped somewhat, because I can always ask my husband things like, “Is it normal for four boys to jump and try to hit the top of the door in quick succession as they leave the classroom?” (answer: yes, yes it is).  Therefore, I sometimes try to take the opportunity to find out more about how boys learn.  Last November I attended a workshop by Diana Cruchley, an experienced teacher, in an attempt to learn how we can encourage boys to become better writers and enjoy writing in the process.  I liked how she started off by explaining what type of environment boys need in the classroom, and how we could think of some of their needs when we are planning our lessons.  These needs included a low-threat competitive environment, a chance for leadership and autonomy, an opportunity to make choices, and a chance for movement and humour.  She then launched right into a variety of activities that we could use in the classroom.  Here is a sampling of some of the great ideas she presented:

• The Overhead Dash: Choose 20 vocabulary words from any classroom unit, and make sure students have had an opportunity to go over the meanings of these words.  Place 10 of the words on an overhead.  Students are in partners, with one facing away from the words.  One student gives clues, and the other student tries to guess the words.  Students get approximately 2 minutes to play, and then they can reverse their roles to play a second round with the other 10 words.  You can set up your own rules regarding the clues.  This gives low threat competition, and the students are practicing their vocabulary.  I tried this in my class with our 20 spelling words, and both the boys and girls were engaged.  When I asked if this is a game we would be interested in playing again, one boy piped up, “I’m up for playing it again today, if you’re interested.”

• Using the tangram story Grandfather Tang as a model, students create their own story about the characters that they create using tangram pieces.  For many grades, this covers both writing and math learning outcomes.  As well, the boys are given some movement, and you could make it into a low threat competition by seeing how long it takes the students to create each tangram in the book.

• Reversing Ideas:  Have students write a paragraph explaining clearly how “not” to do something.  Examples are: 10 Ways to Die on the Fraser River Gold Rush, How Not to Build a Pyramid, or How Not to Present a Speech.  This gives the students an opportunity to add some humour to what might be a boring descriptive paragraph assignment.