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Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Little Professional Writers

To be absolutely honest, when I first saw my fifth grade students writing, I almost cried because their writing was extremely below their grade standard.  Since English is their second language and in some cases their fourth language, some students struggled streaming together a sentence while others tried to form a paragraph with little coherence.  I thought, how in the world would I ever get them up to grade level or where do I even begin?  However, one day when I told my father over the phone how overwhelmed I felt about my students writing, he said some simple words that pushed me forward, “Don’t worry, you will do your best… teach them little-by-little what you know and day-by-day they will start to improve.  You’ll see!”  I would hang onto his advice and add some over the top enthusiasm and passion, as this would be the fuel for their transformation into little professional writers.

The Chart Paper Queen
Day-by-day, as they stared at me with big curious eyes eager to learn, I enthusiastically taught them little-by-little.  First, I started to teach them how to write a complete sentence with conjunctions.  I wrote a rainbow list of conjunctions on brightly colored chart paper and they would all say, “Whoooo, it’s so pretty!”  I posted it in the front of the class so they would have no choice but to glance at it all day without realizing that they were soaking it in their brains.  I was known as the Chart Paper Queen!  Referring to the posted chart paper, I would write a sentence on the board modeling how to correctly use a conjunction.  Afterwards, we would write one together and lastly they would experiment using a conjunction independently and share it with their seat partners.

While the students independently created thoughtful sentences, I would buzz around the room giving them feedback and searching for interesting sentences.  When I found a great sentence, I would often shout, “Oh my goodness, I love your sentence, everyone stop what they’re doing and listen to how beautiful this sentence is, listen to how he used the word…” and then sometimes I would hug their sentences or give their paper a pretend kiss.  My silliness never failed to put a smile on every students face and they rushed to try to create the best sentence so they could watch my give their paper a big squeeze.  Finally, I would choose students to display their sentences on the chalkboard so the class could copy the sentences in their notebooks and they would have more examples of great sentences. 

Writing, writing, writing
Next, I tried my best to teach them how to make sentences flow from one to the other.  For this challenging task, I became extra enthusiastic.  Since my students were so low in writing, I felt compelled to use the power of enthusiasm and passion to its fullest; it’s contagious and it inspires people to their best.  I often shared and displayed great pieces of their writing on chart paper and posted it in the class for everyone to view while I became all googly over the displayed writing.  I always found something that I liked about every students writing along with constructive feedback.  I would say things like, “Ohhh I just love the way you wrote about how you were feeling on that day because it makes the reader understand…Next time try this…” My praises were sincere and my passion for writing was definitely contagious.  However, I didn’t expect it to work so fast.  For instance, at first, no one wanted to share their sentences and their sentences were dull and short, but after a week of getting all giddy over a few wonderful sentences, I could see the students trying so hard to stretch their sentences and be creative.  They were fighting over who would share their sentence first and they were always proudly shoving their notebooks in my face so I could admire their writing.  

Get Writing!
While I had notebooks piling in front of my face, I noticed that they had started to color-code their notebooks in the same way that I color-coded all my charts and similar to how I used my colored chalks to color-code anything I wrote on the board (I’m a visual learner and know the benefits of color-coding).  Their writing was so colorful as they color-coded their verbs and conjunctions in their paragraphs.  The color-coding made them more self-aware of their writing as they would search for their past tense verbs to color in a paragraph.  It was evident, that they were starting to love writing and they made my heart soar as high as the mountains.

However, I truly new something magical occurred when one day, a group of them ran into the class after morning assembly telling me that they heard some transitional phrases in the morning speech and they even copied them down on their hands so they wouldn’t forget.  They shouted, “Miss Miss Miss did you hear the conjunctions and transition words this morning in the speech.  The speaker was very smart because he used the word furthermore and at the end of his speech he said, in conclusion.”  I was stunned!  From that day forward, I had unleashed a class of monsters; they were obsessed with listening to how speakers used different conjunctions and transition words.  In fact, one day they even critiqued me; while we were walking to the store, I shouted, “Get out of the road!” and a student added to my sentence shouting, “OTHERWISE you will get hit by a car.”  Then another tried to outdo us, “NOT ONLY will you get hit by a car, BUT ALSO you will have to go to the BHU.”  Apparently, my simple sentence was not good enough and they were having fun making it sound more interesting.  It was a great moment for me.

But it didn’t stop there.  They further shocked me when their obsession spilled over to analyzing the different ways that authors wrote great sentences.  They became passionate searching their library books for great sentences that contained similes, metaphors, colons, transition words, etc.  I discovered that they were studying on their own how professional writers wrote.  Once I realized exactly how brilliant my students were, I got some chart paper and made a long banner that read: WE ARE PROFESSIONAL WRITERS.

I hung it above the chalkboard and I told the students that we were going to do some serious analyzing of professional writers, so that they could become real professional writers too.  For several days, we combed through stacks of library books analyzing how writers wrote, studied fairy tale writing, non-fiction writing, etc. all while they recorded their favorite sentences that they stumbled upon; they filled pages of their notebooks with beautiful sentences from great authors.  Finally, they were ready to start writing paragraphs using their new knowledge.  Eventually, they graduated to writing short essay and finally, they had fun creating fairy tales and moral stories.  

I feel like a proud mom
When I graded their writing on the final exam, I felt like a proud mother.  They had brainstormed before writing with detailed cluster maps and they labeled there essay paragraphs just like I did on our chart paper:  Introduction, thesis, body paragraph, topic sentence, details and conclusion.  Although not every student’s writing was quiet up to fifth grade standard, I felt happy because everyone improved and they were all passionate about writing.  I know that as long as they are enthusiastic to study how other great writers write and they are having fun playing with sentences, then little-by-little, day-by-day, they will continue to improve with or without me and continue on their path of becoming professional writers. (Thanks dad for the great advice: little by little…day by day…)

A few samples of some of my FIFTH GRADERS homework without corrections.  Their writing in the raw.

Sample of their color-coding

Collecting Sentences 

A few short stories they wrote outside under trees

Dilkumari Subba's Fairy Tales - So precious 

Chimi's essay without corrections
This is what I get for a typical homework assignement: brainstorming, labels and color-coding of vocabulary/conjunctions.  
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Pema Choki's surprise speech to my parent's- she went way off topic, but it was pretty cute and we were very surprised


  1. wow I am impressed.Your students did a great job.I read each story.They are great little story tellers and future writers.You must be very proud of their accomplishments. Love Mom

    1. Yes, sometimes they write the cutest stories and letters.

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