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Are you struggling with finding the time to grade your students' writing samples? 

I think one of the problems is that teachers tend to grade too many writing samples. You end up grading every night and every weekend. I believe you can get writing grades without having to take home formal writing samples too often. 

Let me show you how I have managed to handle grading writing samples in my classroom. 

First, my students always take an on-demand or pre-assessment at the beginning of each of my eight week units. I do grade this on-demand, but it does not go in the grade book. That would be unfair to my students since we haven't completed any lessons yet. 

I grade these because I can see where my class is at the start of the unit. I can see gaps right away. It also helps me to set conferencing groups, based on similar needs I discovered from the grading. I also give these on-demands back to my students so we can discuss the rubric together and my students can set goals for themselves. This will help get students invested in their writing. 

I have a total of three big pieces that I grade each quarter and put in the grade book. I have my class complete two masterpieces with each unit. The first one is completed a little slower, while the second is done faster and considered a review. Both get graded and put into the grade book. 

However, I sometimes grade the second orally. Have your students read their masterpiece out loud to you. They can do this in their conferencing groups, out loud to the whole class, or they can even record a video on a device for you to listen to at another time. You are grading for content only, but it is easier and faster because you are grading this at school. 

The day after students finish their second masterpiece, they take their final on-demand assessment. This one gets a grade as well to give you a total of three writing grades per quarter. 
Tips for Grading Writing Masterpieces and On-Demands
1. Choose Your Rubric WiselyUse very user-friendly rubrics. It should be simple to understand. In fact, it should be so simple that your students can understand it.

You can sign up for my free writing course and I'll send you my three free writing rubrics for free.

2. Use Loose PaperMy students write all of their drafts and do all of their revising in their writing notebook. But when it comes time to grade, I don't want to have to collect 25 notebooks. It takes way too much time to sift through the notebook looking for their piece and it's just a pain to carry.

I always have my students write their on-demand writing samples on separate sheets of paper. I also have them do their published pieces on loose paper. This makes it so much easier for me to grade!

3. Make Stacks Based on LevelBefore you begin grading, consider eye-balling each paper and place these into stacks based on what looks like a low, average, or high paper. Then, as you grade, you aren't bouncing all over between levels. It helps you get in a mindset for each level.

Of course you won't always be right. A piece that looks like a hot mess can end up being full of excellent content. That's alright! You'll grade them all fairly.

4. Stop Writing NotesDon't spend time marking up your students' writing. Instead of circling every word that is misspelled and every word that should have been capitalized, just highlight or circle the appropriate box on the rubric for errors.

It's much faster to circle the box on your rubric than it is to write notes explaining yourself to students. And honestly, all of those marks on their paper will discourage them!

5. Schedule Time to GradeGive yourself time to grade at school, not home. Divide your stack into five days. For me, that meant I completed about five papers per day. I had to use my time wisely before and after school. I did this though because I needed to make sure I did not bring home my grading so that I could focus on my family.

You might not be the teacher who can do this, and that's okay. I have teacher friends that couldn't either and would focus one day on getting them all graded. This means papers come home that night, but at least it's only one day.

Do what works best for you, but look at your calendar and block out time for the grading.

6. Don't grade a writing sample every week! 
I know teachers who give a different writing prompt or project every week. They are always knee deep in piles of writing that they need to grade. They get so far behind that they are passing back graded writing weeks after it was written and it isn't helping students to grow as much as it could.

Instead, do fewer writing pieces. Give students longer to revise the one piece and make it into something they can be very proud of.

I know that you will need more than a few grades each quarter and so I will share some ideas for ways to get writing scores other than formal writing samples.

7. Grade a Small Task or Skill Instead of the Entire PaperOccasionally, only grade only one small piece of their masterpiece. You can do this during writing conferences, or as you walk around the room during writing time.

For example, let's say you taught leads and students had ample time practicing this skill. During small groups, have each student read you their lead. Decide on a point system; maybe 5 is a strong lead, 3 is attempted but not strong, and a 1 is no lead, etc. As students read their lead to you, take a quick grade for each lead. You can do this with many different skills.

Another way to use this strategy is that you could walk around and ask each student to give you their informational topic and three subtopics they chose. That can be a quick, simple grade for topics and subtopics. If you need grades every week, this is an easy solution. 

Speaking and Listening Grades
The Common Core has speaking and listening standards built in, so don't forget that writing time is a fantastic time to get scores. You can get speaking and listening grades during small group conferences, or if they present their writing to the whole class. If this is a grade you must have, don't forget to take advantage of writing time to get a score.
Completion and Participation Grades
This is not something you can do every time you need a writing score. Also, your administration may not want you to do this. Mine allowed this, so I thought I'd share.

For completion grades, maybe you asked your class to go work on an ending during independent writing time. The next day, quickly walk around and see if they did what you asked and give them a score for completion. You don't even have to read it! I would not give it as many points as a writing sample, and I would make a note in my grade book that it was a completion or participation grade. Some students struggle with content, and this is a great way to give them a little boost.

Participation grades are used similarly and can't be used all of the time either. It can be a great way to boost student confidence though! Let's say that you are working in a small group conference, and everyone is conversing nicely, participating, and sharing their work. Give them participation points for this! If you have students record notes on anchor charts or student printables, give them participation scores for this as well. Were your students in class, participating in pair-shares, on task during independent writing time, etc? These are easy ways to give participation points.

It is important to remember that the majority of your grades do need to come from writing samples. But some of the quick ideas stated above can help you when you are required to get weekly scores.

I hope these tips have helped give you an idea of how you can get grades other than doing a formal writing sample. 

Have a Not So Wimpy Day!

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Every single time I talk about teaching writing, someone will ask me, "How do you get your students to revise their writing?"
Well, I don't really give them a choice.
That's not too helpful!
Let me explain...
First, what is revising? When I first started teaching, I thought that revising and editing were synonyms. I didn't understand why they were two different steps in the writing process when they meant the same thing. #roughfirstyearteacher 
Revising and editing are not the same.

  • things we do to make our story sound better
  • can take days or even weeks to completely revise a piece
  • includes things like making our lead stronger, adding examples to support our reasons, adding more descriptive words, etc.
  • things we can do to make our story look better
  • can take a day or two to complete
  • includes things like fixing misspelled words, correcting punctuation, and capitalizing proper nouns
If you need some tips about helping students to edit, check out THIS post.

It's important to point out that the things we do during the revision stage account for about 80% of the points on a typical writing rubric. The things that we do during the editing stage account for 20% or less of the points on the rubric.
So revising is crazy important. 
It is so important that I would spend almost every daily writing mini lesson on a revision skill.
Provide Specific Revision Mini Lessons
When I first started teaching I would tell my kids that it was time to revise their work. I would say something like, "Now that your story is written, it is time to revise it. Think about adding more transitions, more interesting words, and extra details." Then I would give them 20 minutes to get it done. 

I was always disappointed. Most of my kids did nothing.

"I'm done," they would say after a couple minutes.

It took me a while to realize it, but I had failed them. I didn't teach them HOW to revise. I gave them a list and thought that was enough.

Now I spend the majority of all of my mini lessons teaching a skill needed for revision. I choose one skill per day and model it. Then I ask students to go back to their draft and make those specific revisions. We tackle another skill the next day. 

We are revising our writing for a few weeks.

The results are amazing! Students are learning how to make their work better, rather than just writing a million pieces that don't show any growth.

Click HERE if you would like to download my FREE guide that lists all of the writing mini lessons that I teach.

Don't Make Them Rewrite Multiple Times
I often have teachers who ask me if they should have their students rewrite their masterpiece story every time that they make revisions.


Your students will hate revising, writing, and you if they have to recopy their work over and over.

Plus, it is a serious waste of time.

Yes, their draft is going to get messy. There will be arrows and asterisks all over the paper. There will be crossed out words and maybe even a paragraph that has a huge X across it.

This is normal.

Yes, this will be hard for some students at first. If you teach them how to organize these revisions, they will get better and better. It takes practice.

Even professional writers have messy drafts with notes and arrows all over them!

Teach Students How to Set Up Their Paper
Revisions take space. Before students start drafting, you are going to want to have them set up their paper to save room for the revisions they will be making later.

Here are a few things that I have my students do:

1. Have students skip lines. 
This will leave a little space for adding words, changing spelling, or other small revisions. It's hard for students to remember to skip lines. Before they start drafting, have them make an x on every other line of their paper. They shouldn't write on those lines during drafting.

2. Have students leave the right third of their paper blank. 
This will give them a bigger space for adding sentences or other larger revisions. You can have them draw a line to remind them where to stop or have them fold the paper.

3. Have students leave the back side of their paper blank. 
This will give them space for large revisions such as adding a new paragraph. If your students struggle with remembering to skip the back of the paper, have them draw an arrow across the top of the paper. Hopefully, when they see the arrow, they will remember to move to the next page.

Teach Students a Strategy for Adding Text to Their Work
During the revising stage, students will be adding a word or two here, a sentence there, and maybe even a paragraph right smack in the middle. They saved some open space for these revisions, but it is important to teach them how to use this space.

I suggest teaching students to use carrots, arrows, and even asterisks to show where the extra text will go in their final draft.

Yes, this will get a bit messy. That's okay. 

Provide Colored Pens or Pencils
Some students may benefit from having a special color pen or pencil that they only use for revising. It makes it easier to see the added text when it is a different color than the writing in the draft.

Use Technology AFTER Drafts are Complete
Lots of classrooms are now 1:1 with technology. Even more classrooms have some form of technology available for students to type their work. Some states have even made it a standard for students to type their writing.

Resist the urge to have students start typing too soon!

Always have students start by drafting on paper. They will be far more creative if they are not worrying about typing, the misspelled words that are underlined, and formatting.

After the story is drafted, it's a great idea to have students type their work. It will be much easier to do revisions if they can just click to the spot in the story where they want to add a new paragraph.

Obviously, this is not a solution for all teachers. You would need to have enough technology for every student to be able to access their writing every day. In some classes, typing may not happen until it is time to publish.

Teachers often ask me, "How do you get your kids to revise their work." The answer is simple, I teach them HOW to revise their work one step at a time. I intentionally teach and model each skill and then give my students a very small revision task to do during their independent writing time. 

Many of my students probably didn't even realize that they were revising their work for several weeks!

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When I first started teaching, I used to take a few students' writing journals home to edit each night. I would spend my evenings marking up mistakes in my students' writing. I would then meet with them the next day to discuss what they needed to fix. I would do this every single night!

When I did this, we mostly focused on spelling, grammar, and other mechanical errors. I made spelling very important because, at the time, I thought it was the most important skill.

Well, I found that my students did not respond well to this type of editing (like they started to hate writing and were scared of the color red) and changes needed to be made.

I made a big change. I decided to stop editing my students' work. Instead, I found ways to teach students to edit their own work.

5 Reasons I Don't Edit Student Writing

It is too time consuming!

Taking your students' writing home every single night is draining. You need time in the evenings to refresh and take care of things at home. Your students actually need you to take of yourself in the evenings too!

Don't take the writing home anymore!

It discourages my writers!

You likely have students that work so hard on their stories and are very proud of their writing- even with errors! If you take their writing home and mark mistakes all over them with a pen, your students will be very disappointed. They may lose confidence and worry about receiving papers back with markings all over it.

Instead, we need to find ways to encourage our writers!

Editing your students' writing does not teach them to be better spellers!

Your students can probably go back to their desks after you've shown them how to correctly spell words and rewrite them. However, there is a pretty good chance that they will make these same errors again in future pieces.

In reality you are helping students to make that one piece of writing better, but you are not teaching them to be better writers.

Instead, teach grammar and spelling patterns outside of Writer's Workshop. As the year goes on, you should expect your students to apply their learning in their writing.

Mechanics are only a small piece of the puzzle!

I looked over my writing rubric and realized that spelling was a very small part of a student's overall grade. They could get a zero in spelling, but still receive an A on their writing because of the other areas.

I needed to focus on teaching leads, conclusions, transitions, word choice, dialogue, and several other areas. Spelling is not the most important piece and should stop being the top priority when looking at students' writing.

Their writing needs to show their current ability. 

Students are on a huge path of learning how to write. I want to show families where students start at the beginning of the year and where they are as writers at the end of the year. If they are bringing home perfect pieces, I am actually sending the wrong message.

A student's writing should look like their developmental stage. Nine year olds don't have perfect grammar and so neither should their writing! 

With all of this being said, of course we want students to grow and pay close attention to words we know they can spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. I want my students to take ownership of their writing.

I believe we should teach our students to edit their own work, instead of always relying on someone else.

Technology changes things.Many classrooms are 1:1 and most classrooms have some technology that students can use for word processing. In fact, many state standards even require students to type their writing.

Although I firmly believe that drafts should be hand written to encourage creativity, there is lots of value in having students type their writing.

The reality is that spell check and grammar check will help students to correct many of their mechanics errors.

Spell check and grammar check will never help them to correct their weak lead or help them to support their reasons with examples.

Therefore, it is important that we are teaching students how to write better, not just how to spell better.

5 Ways to Help Students Edit Their Writing

1. First, give your students resources and teach them how to use them. Some examples include word walls, individual and whole group word banks, editing checklists, personal dictionaries with commonly misspelled words, and books or articles related to nonfiction topics.

2. You can also teach your students the different editing symbols. Many of your students will love using these symbols and they will see these for many years to come.

3. Allow peer editing time. Be sure you teach and practice your expectations for peer editing at the start of your year.

4. Have students type their final draft. Spell check will not catch everything, but it does help with a few words here and there. Students love seeing their writing typed and printed.

5. If you need to help a student with mechanics, do this in a writing conference but only focus on one paragraph. Think out loud and model the editing process for them, then have your student go back and try the same with their other paragraphs.

Teachers should use writing conferences to mainly focus on the content of their students' writing.  I hope you discover that you have some very talented writers in your room by not focusing only on mechanics.  

We can't expect perfection. It's so tough to look at errors that we know students have the ability to fix. It's just goes against our intuition as a teach.

However, focusing more on content and less on mechanics, we are teaching students to love to write. Students who love writing will always be more successful than those who see it as a chore.

Helpful Resources
Would you like some more tips and ideas for helping your students to become better writers? I have a few of great resources for you!

FREE Writing Email CourseI put together a five day email course that is jam packed with valuable tips and resources for teaching writing in grades 2-5.

The best part is that it is FREE! Just drop your name and home email address in the box below to get started.

Are you ready to get started?

How to Teach Writing Video SeriesI created a series of videos that include all kinds of valuable tips for teaching writing. I suggest watching the whole series by clicking HERE, but you can also just watch the video about editing student writing by clicking HERE.

Comprehensive Writing UnitsIf you teach grades 2-5, then I have amazing news for you! I have taken all of the guess work out of teaching writing by creating comprehensive writing units. They contain daily lesson plans, anchor charts, mentor text passages, rubrics and so much more!

Click HERE to check them out!

Have a Not So Wimpy Day!

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Teachers in my Facebook groups are always asking for suggestions for what they should have their students write about. They always get a big list of ideas, but I am the crazy one who says:

"Let them write about whatever they want to write about!"

That scares the begeebers out of some teachers!

I have to be real with you, it scared me too. It scared me real bad. I like having control. I like things to be just so. I didn't want to let go because I didn't know if my kids would come up with good topics or if I would be able to help them with their pieces when I knew nothing about the topic. 

These are all very legitimate excuses. But they are just excuses.

Once you take the leap and get out of your comfort zone, you and your writers will grow by leaps and bounds! 

You can read my top three reasons for ditching the prompts and the questions I get asked most often, or you can listen to the same information on this podcast.

1. The Quality of Student Writing Improves
When students are given the freedom to choose their own topic, they put more effort into their work. 

I have told this story before, so I apologize if you have already heard it. 

I hate snakes. I live in Phoenix and I am terrified of snakes. It might sound like a tough mix, but I have actually never seen a snake in the wild. 

If a teacher had told me that I needed to write a research report about a snake, I would have cried. Literally. Reading books and articles about snakes would have made my skin crawl. 

Y'all, that paper would be crap. 

On the other hand, I had the most beautiful Golden retriever. I am thoroughly intrigued by the many thing they can be trained to do and how much they are capable of learning. Reading books and articles about this would be so fun for me!

That paper would be the bomb!

When your students choose the topics, they are more interested. When they are more interested, they get more invested and put in more work. This leads to better writing! 

We are all willing to work harder at the things we love. 

2. Students Like Writing More
Do you have students that dislike writing? We all do.

And it's ok to have some students who don't love writing. Everyone isn't going to love every subject. That makes sense.

But does most of your class dislike writing?

That's not ok. When students don't like writing, they often don't write as well.

When we tell students what they have to write about, we often take the the joy of writing out of our writing workshop. (This is similar to the way that telling a kid what they have to read can kill their love for reading.)

Writing will always be more fun when we get to choose what we write about.

When our students love writing, we won't have to pull teeth to get them to write independently for a decent stretch of time.

3. Your Writing Instruction Will Improve
Trying something new is scary. And yet, it is in those times of discomfort that we learn and grow the most.

When you give prompts, you start to teach to that prompt. You help students to find resources for that prompt. You help them to come up with the facts or reasons for that prompt. You help them to make that prompt better.

When you let students choose their own topics, you are forced to teach your students how to find sources for any topic. You must teach them how to find facts for any topic. You help them to become better writers rather than just making that one piece better.

You will come up with strategies and lessons that help your entire class. You will have to conference with writers and this will push you. You will try new things.

You will become a better writing teacher.

When I tell teachers that I ditched the writing prompts, I get some questions...

Can they really write about anything?

So I said that my writers were allowed to write about anything. That is not exactly true. They can choose their own topic, but it has to be the same genre that we are studying in mini lessons. 

For example, if we are currently doing a unit of study on opinion writing, my students must write opinion essays. As long as they are doing an opinion essay, they can choose any topic. But, they cannot write a fictional story about a dragon falling in love with a princess during our opinion unit.

What if they don't know what to write about?
Most of your students aren't going to know what to write about. That's normal! Just plan to spend the first couple lessons of every unit teaching strategies for generating story topics. 

Want to know more about these lessons? Check out my FREE what to teach in writing guide. It includes information about every writing lesson that I teach! Click HERE to check it out.

After I teach these lessons, 90% of my students have multiple topics to write about. At that point I give the students who don't have a topic, a stack of task cards with topic suggestions. I tell them to pick one. They are still choosing, but now I have given them some ideas so they don't have to start from scratch.

How will I prepare them for standardized testing prompts?
This is a VERY good question! Many states require students to respond to a prompt.

First, coming up with your own topic and starting from scratch is much tougher than responding to a prompt. Students who receive instruction on the writing process and strategies for revising their work will do so much better on the prompt than those who have only responded to dozens of prompts. 

Secondly, many of the state test are actually asking students to respond to text for the writing test. Responding to test should be something that students practice regularly during your reading block. Remember that writing doesn't just happen during the writing workshop. Integrate! Click HERE to read about how I teach my students to respond to text.

Finally, I know that test scores are important. Admin reminds us all of the time. Still, I know that I have a responsibility to my students to teach them the standards. This includes writing. 

Writing workshop is a powerful way to teach writing and building choice into your workshop will increase the excitement and the success of your writers!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

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As you may already know, I am a huge proponent of the writer's workshop model in the classroom. But finding time for writing workshop can be tricky.

When I asked teachers in my Facebook groups what their biggest challenge was when teaching writing, most said it is finding the time to teach it. 

I believe that you need at least 30 minutes for writing instruction, but 45 minutes is preferred. This can be tricky for some of us to fit in to our daily schedule! I totally get that.

It’s easy to say, “I can’t come up with that time.” But are you willing to try? Are you willing to do something different? Are you ready to get creative? 

All of these solutions will not work for all of you, but maybe you are able to find one or two that will help you find the time needed for writing instruction. Let's jump in with an open mind.

If you prefer to listen to my ideas, you can listen to my podcast. Otherwise, keep reading.

Your first step...
Write out your entire schedule.
I don't want you to write out the schedule you give parents or administration. I suggest writing out your actual schedule with the time it takes for transitions, restroom and brain breaks, walking in the hallway, and even lining up. Now is the time to get real with yourself and write out what your day truly looks like minute to minute.

I have seven questions that I want you to ask yourself while looking at your schedule.

1. Is anything on your schedule not mandatory?Highlight everything that is not mandated by administration. Highlight anything that is not part of the standards you must teach.

Don't worry...I am not suggesting you need to eliminate everything you highlight!

Maybe you have a daily class meeting, bell work, or brain breaks that are not mandatory, but are necessary for your students.

Think about each of these and decide if any of these activities can be adjusted. For example, could you shorten class meetings by five minutes? Can class meetings be changed to only Mondays and/or Fridays? How about bell work? How much time are you giving for this activity? Is it truly all being used productively or is it really necessary? I know brain breaks are needed for students, but can you find a way to make it shorter? Are your students taking too long to recover from the brain break?

Think about these activities and ask yourself if they are absolutely necessary in your classroom, and if so, is there any way to shorten the duration of these activities.

2. How much time are you giving students to unpack and pack up?When I looked at my schedule, I discovered that it was taking us too long to complete these tasks. Every minute is precious in my room, and these were becoming time-suckers! Watch your students and find out what is taking up the time.

Did I teach the procedures and have my students practice these enough? Should I go back and reinforce these procedures? Are the materials in the classroom in a place that makes it easy for students to unpack and pack up, or are materials too spread out? Can you somehow decrease the number of minutes used for these transitions each day? Every five minutes will add up!

3. How many minutes do your students spend transitioning from one activity to another?Transitions are necessary, but are your transition times reasonable? Are your students focused and hustling when transitioning from one activity to another? Maybe you need to practice this process again so that no time is wasted. Maybe they need less materials to put away, or maybe the materials even need to be closer together.

4. Are you coming back from recess, specials, and lunch on time?We all have those days when we would just love five extra minutes of recess. Or days when we were stuck in the copy room and were suddenly five minutes late to pick up our students from specials.

If you are finding that this is happening more times than not, how can you adjust this so that time isn't wasted? Maybe you need to set a timer on your watch for a minute before each of these activities are over so that you are ready to pick up your class as soon as the time is up.

5. Is it possible to teach science and social studies for long blocks on Fridays and teach writing Monday-Thursday?This may not work for all of you, or maybe your admin wouldn't approve of this strategy, but it might be a solution for some of you! Consider it before you dismiss it!

I did this in my classroom and it worked beautifully. I found that when I taught science and social studies every day, I only had 30 minutes for these subjects. My lessons weren't exciting because we didn't have enough time in those 30 minutes to do hands-on experiments, investigations, and lessons.

When I moved these subjects to Fridays, I was able to spend such valuable time digging in deep to the standards for science and social studies. Guess what happened?! My students absolutely loved Fridays and were rarely absent!

Making this change freed up time Monday-Thursday to fit in writer's workshop.

6. How much time are you spending on behavior management?Think about how much time you are spending on behavior management. Time has to be spent on this, but how much time is going toward flipping cards, putting items in to warm fuzzy or marble jars, clipping up or down? Maybe you need an easier system.

Did you make your behavior management system too difficult and with too many steps? Are too many minutes wasted on behavior management? I totally get that we all have serious behaviors at times and these are necessary steps in the process of your classroom management, but are there solutions to help you save time? Is there one child that is taking up your instruction time? What needs to change so that more time is spent on instruction and not on management?

I wish I had an easy solution for this, but each student has different needs. Ask yourself- could I have an easier system for my management that will not continuously take away from instruction time?

Or maybe it goes back to spending more time teaching procedures to the entire class. It's better to spend the time up front than to waste time with behavior issues every day.

7. Are you prepped for the day when your kids walk into the room each morning?This one is a biggie!

Are all of your materials out on a table and ready to go? If you have out all of the worksheets, teacher manuals and books you are using out on a counter, that will save you time prepping between subjects.

How about your computer preparation? Are all of the necessary PowerPoints or websites you are using for the day pulled up and open on your computer ahead of time? Maybe you can come in and open up each item on your computer for the day and then minimize the windows until they are needed. This could save you several minutes each day to have these open and ready to go.

We can waste so much time when we are not completely prepared each day. Plus, while you are getting the book out of the class library or the art supplies out of the cabinet- students have down time and that leads to more behavior issues.

Our students need us to teach them the writing process. They need more than just grammar, spelling instruction, and fun prompts to write about. They need to be taught HOW to write. Teaching someone how to write requires intentional daily lessons. It takes time.

I hope you can find ways to fit in writing instruction into your day. Every minute counts and hopefully these tips helped you put together a 30-45 minute block in your day to teach the writing process. 

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

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I LOVED teaching third grade math! If I could have found a way to teach nothing but third grade math- I would have been in heaven. 

I did not like math as a child. I just couldn't understand WHY! I was THAT kid asking, "When will I use this?" "Why does that work?" My math teachers hated me. And because of that experience, I strive to give my third graders a better experience with math. In my classroom, we always talk about why they need to know it and why it works. 

Third grade math is not easy though! They spend Kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade working on addition and subtraction. Then in third grade, we are expected to teach multiplication and division to mastery. We double the number of operations that students have to be competent in and will see in word problems! 

Using key words in word problems may have been a suitable strategy in previous years. However, students quickly realize that many of the addition key words can also be used in a multiplication problems. Many division key words look similar to multiplication key words. It isn't easy! They NEED MORE THAN KEY WORDS! Students need to be taught a problem solving strategy that will work every time. 

In my classroom, students are required to use a four step process anytime that they see a word problem. And they see them ALL the time!

You can read about my routine in the post below or listen to the podcast.

Read the problem.
It might seem obvious that we need to start the problem solving process by reading the problem, but the reality is that students want to start doing something with the numbers before they finish reading. 

I require my students to set down their pencil or dry erase marker and read the entire problem. They focus more on the words when they don't have a writing utensil.

I ask them to visualize what the problem is stating rather than trying to form a plan to solve. 

I have found that they are much more successful when they really think about what they know BEFORE they start drawing and solving.
Reread while drawing a math model.After my students have read through the entire problem once, they will begin rereading the problem.

This time, I ask that they just read one sentence or phrase at a time.

They should draw a math model as they read. The models tend to be much more accurate if students are only reading one piece of the problem at a time. However, sometimes they will get to the end of the problem and discover that their model is not going to help them solve. That's okay! Use the power of the eraser!

I call them models rather than drawings because I want my students to understand that math models are not the same as a picture you might draw in art class. No one needs to be an artist in math class!

Models that my students might draw (because I have modeled them):
Equal Group Pictures
Tape Diagrams (also known as Bar Modeling)
Number Bonds
Number Lines
Write an equation and solve.Most students want to jump to writing an equation or number sentence, but in my class, it can't be done until the model is drawn.

Once the model is drawn students can better understand what the unknown is and write a number sentence that will help them to accurately solve the word problem. I always remind my students that they need to examine the model before writing the equation.

After they solve the equation they need to ask if it is reasonable and then put it back into their model to check for accuracy.
Write the answer in a complete sentence.
I always require my students to write every word problem answer in a complete sentence. I teach my students to go back to the question and use part of the question in their answer. This increases the probability that students will actually answer the question that was asked. 

I also require proper capitalization and punctuation because I believe that integrating writing into math will help students to be more successful in both subjects. 

Do you need more suggestions for teaching your students to write during math? Check out THIS post for my five step process!

Free Posters & Notebook Activity
Would you like a free copy of my word problem strategy posters? How about a student notebook activity to help your students to learn the new strategy? Just drop your name and personal email address in the boxes below and I will send them to you right away!

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I hope that this routine helps your students to be more successful with word problems!

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Teaching grammar got so much easier when I implemented a daily routine! You can read more about my grammar instruction HERE.

This is my basic routine:
Monday: PowerPoint
Tuesday: Notebook Activity
Wednesday: Writing
Thursday: Task Card Scoot
Friday: Assessment

I use THIS resource for all of my grammar instruction.

Students have grown so much with their grammar skills. However, we all have a few students who just can't keep up and struggle with the activities. I love that my routine makes it easy to differentiate for my struggling learners. 

If you prefer to listen to these ideas, enjoy this podcast.

Here are some ways that you can support your students who need extra help in grammar:

Print the PowerPoint.

Sometimes our struggling learners do best when they have something right in front of them rather than focusing on the board.

You can always print the Monday PowerPoint slides with six slides per page. Students can see everything and even write in answers and examples. 

Decrease the amount of writing.

On Wednesday, students are incorporating the grammar skill into their writing. During the first half of the year, they are asked to write three sentences and during the last half of the year they are asked to write five sentences.

That might not sound like a lot, but it can be intimidating for struggling learners. Instead, you might ask them to just write one sentence at first. As the year progresses, you can increase the expectation to be three sentences.

Decrease the number of task cards.

Most of the grammar sets include 24 task cards for the Thursday activity. That might really discourage some of your struggling learners.

You can differentiate by asking them to do just half of the cards. This will give them more time per card and decrease their stress about finishing all 24.

Allow students to use resources when assessing or doing task cards.

When students are completing task cards on Thursday or their assessment on Friday, you might want to let them use their interactive notebook. The notebook doesn't necessarily contain the answers, but it does remind students of the rules or patterns.

You could also print THESE free posters four to a page to make a resource ring for your struggling learners. Again, they can help students to remember the rules and patterns.

I hope that these ideas will help you to differentiate the activities in your grammar block so that all students can grow and be successful!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

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Have you ever felt like you have no idea what to teach during your writing mini lessons? Do you read your students' writing samples and then still have no clue where to start with what lessons they need? 

Mini lessons need to be short and meaningful. That can be very hard to do! It's pretty easy to get off track in a lesson, especially when ten students all have a story to share when you mention your dog as an example in your mini lesson, right?! 

To help you keep your mini lessons focused, meaningful, and beneficial, I've compiled a FREEBIE with a list of skills I believe should be taught during this time. 
This freebie includes a list of mini lessons that you should use when teacher four different types of writing: personal narratives, informational reports, opinion essays and fiction narratives. 
Besides just listing the skills that you should teach, this free guide also gives you suggestions for teaching the mini lesson!

I am so excited to get this free resource to any teacher who teaches writing in grades 2-5!

All you have to do is drop your name and personal email address in the box below. I will get the free guide sent to you right away!
Thank you! Your freebie will be emailed shortly! Be sure to add my email address to your contact list so that the message does not get sent to your junk mail. jamie@notsowimpyteacher.com

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No more guessing! You might have to add or subtract a skill based on your students, but at least you have a good road map!


Have a Not So Wimpy day!

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I don't love standardized testing, but it is a necessary evil. I don't agree with judging schools, teachers or students on the results of one test. I don't believe that money should be handed out or taken away based on test scores. I am certainly not a fan of schools being graded on test scores alone. That being said... testing isn't going away anytime soon. Please don't kill the messenger!

I have written lots of articles that will help you to plan test prep activities that will help to prepare your students and still be super fun!

Do we even need to bother with test prep?

Through the years, I have heard many teachers say something like, "I don't do test prep because I teach quality lessons all year." Have you ever had a teacher tell you that? It sort of ruffles my feathers, because it makes it sound like teachers who bother with test prep are doing so because they weren't good educators the rest of the year. 

This may be just my humble opinion, but even quality educators SHOULD bother with test prep!!! 

Click HERE to read why.

The Dos and Don'ts of Test Prep

Only quality test prep will help your students! If you are not using test prep time to review important skills and strategies while building your students up- you are wasting valuable time. 

I have compiled some test prep dos and don't to help guide you as you plan for your class test prep. 

Click HERE to check out my tips.

Test Prep Theme

No matter how much we dislike the tests, we have to give them. So why not throw in some fun?!!! I have some ideas for you!

Several years ago, I decided that it would be fun to have a theme for test prep. I LOVE themes! Since it happened in the spring, right when spring training is going strong, I decided that baseball would be the best theme. Lots of my students play Little League and so they get very excited about the baseball theme.

Click HERE to see my ideas for this theme.

Ways to Use Task Cards for Test Prep

It's all about the TASK CARDS! Task cards are another way to make the test prep a little more fun.  I printed up a big stack of math and ELA task cards and then found lots of quick and fun ways to use them. 

Click HERE to read about 10 of my favorite ways to use task cards for test prep.

Work Hard. Play Hard. Test Prep Activity

This was my favorite test prep activity! Combining some review pages and games that students are familiar with, filled up our "Work Hard- Play Hard" day. My students had so much fun with this activity, they actually groaned when I told them it was time to clean up and pack up! 

Click HERE for ideas about this test prep activity. 

My Favorite Test Prep Resources

These Reading Test Prep Centers are the perfect way to review both literature and informational text standards.

These Math Test Prep Centers include 10 engaging centers that review the biggest and most challenging standards at each grade level. These are perfect for your students to complete before your end of the year testing. I math centers for grades 2-5 and I specifically have a test prep set for grades 3-5.

My Game Day Test Prep resource is full of baseball themed printables and craftivities you can use to get your students excited about testing. It's the perfect resource for teaching about test taking strategies.

I hope that these ideas and resources help to make your test prep more enjoyable and meaningful for you and your students!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

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When I added math journaling to my math routine, I am not going to lie, it was PAINFUL! My students would often just write one word answers. And the ones who wrote a paragraph made NO sense.

Reading them was my least favorite teacher task and always made me feel like my students just weren't getting it.

And it dawned on me- I had been teaching math, but had failed to teach them how to explain their thinking!

Fast forward a few years and lots of tears and tacos later- I think I have finally figured out how to teach my students to write about math.

Let me share the step-by-step lessons that made a huge difference for my students.

I elaborate on all five steps in my process below. I would also be happy to send you a little cheat sheet to help you to remember the process later when you're writing lesson plans. Just drop your name and email address below and I will send that right away.

Day 1: Teacher ModelingIn my classroom, the first day of teaching students to write about math is all about the teacher.  I will be doing all of the work today. #eatyourwheaties

I display or write the math prompt on my board. I will carefully read the prompt (more than once) as I think aloud. I will underline and circle key words and chat with myself about what operation or steps I need to use to solve. I will draw a picture or other visual representation of the problem. I will then write a complete paragraph to answer the prompt. I use one of our math journal sentence starters.

I go back and reread my answer to make sure it makes sense and that I used proper spelling and grammar. I display my rubric and check my work using the guidelines. I make adjustments to my answer.

This is key: I do NOT ask for any input from the students. 

Yup, you read that correctly. This actually makes my students uncomfortable because they are so used to leading and driving class discussions. Many students will put their hand up in the air to try and offer suggestions or answers. I do not call on them.

Trust me- this is not the norm in my class, but I have discovered that many students NEED to see me do a journal prompt. They can't be distracted with having to write or come up with answers. Students have trouble listening when their hand is in the air or when they are trying to form a response in their head. They just need to listen to me think through the problem.

I know this is not engaging, but it has made a huge difference in my students' understanding of math journal expectations.

To spice it up, at the end of the lesson, have students tell their partner some things that they noticed you did while writing about math. You could make a list or an anchor chart if you have time.

Day 2: Teacher GuidedThe next day, I open the lesson by reminding them about the way I read, drew and wrote about math the day before. You could have them share again with their partner.

Next, I give every student the exact same prompt. We add them to our math journals. Be sure to give expectations for how you want these glued in! I had a little guy glue his to the middle of the page. Sigh...

I still display the prompt on the board, but I ask students for input.

What should we do first? What do you think are key words? What are we being asked to do? What operation do we need to use? What kind of drawing would help? What kind of math vocabulary can we use?

I still draw the picture and write the paragraph, but I do it with their input. I guide them. I strongly encourage them to write the answer just like mine. They are practicing the writing, but are not having to come up with the answer on their own.

Plus, they will have a sample in their notebooks or a journal prompt done to your standards. They can refer to it later when they are journaling independently.

After we write, we get the rubric out. (I have all my students keep one in their notebook for simple reference.) We grade our response together and then make adjustments to meet the expectations. Don't skip this part! Students need to understand how they will be assessed. They need to understand the expectations and practice going back to revise.

I like to close with a quick pair share. What steps do mathematicians take when writing about their thinking?

Day 3: Pair ShareI love day three because I start to hear students talking just like me. That always makes me smile!

Today, I start by reviewing the things we have talked about. I have students glue the prompt into their notebook and then I have them work with their shoulder partner to complete the prompt.

While they are working, I walk the room and give lots of reminders. Don't forget to draw a picture. Don't forget to write in complete sentences. Did you use any math vocabulary? Most of my kids do a pretty good job on this day. A few partners need more help than others. I focus my efforts on these students.

When most students are done, I like to have a few students share their responses. I carefully select students to showcase. As a class, we use the rubric to assess their responses. Then, I have students work on assessing their own writing. Students are always very proud of their work!

Day 4: Guided Math GroupDay four is the first day that I ask students to complete the journal prompt on their own.

The only catch is that I have them do it during their guided math group. I observe carefully as students work independently. I will offer reminders if I see kiddos forgetting things. If I see a student who is way off base, I will assist them. Since I only have 6-8 students in each math group, this day really gives me a chance to observe and informally assess.

When they are done, we will use the rubric to assess all of their writing. We will end the group talking about any changes we need to make for the next time.

I keep a list of students who might need some intervention or are not ready for independent journaling. I want to be sure and pull these students for an extra practice session very soon. I also need to decide if they are struggling with the journaling or with the math skill. These observations help me to guide future instruction with each group.

Day 5: IndependentThe final step is to have students complete journal prompts independently.

I often have them do this during an independent math center. Be sure to choose prompts that cover skills you have already taught in great detail. If you use brand new skills, students are usually not able to dig deep enough to complete the journal prompts. I usually choose topics from the previous unit.

You can also differentiate by giving different prompts to each of your groups. I only give one per week, but you can easily give more.

At first, I grade every student's journal prompts at the end of the week. #gulp

This is not easy! I use the same rubric that the kids have. I like to write them some little notes too. We are having a mathematical conversation!

After a couple of weeks, I have a list of students who are strong math writers, some who are close and some who are still struggling. I will no longer grade every person's prompts every week. I just don't have time for that! Those who are doing well, may only have one prompt per month graded. Those who are approaching may have two prompts a month graded. My strugglers will practice more in guided math groups until they are ready. I give them very regular feedback.

This five day procedure has been very successful in my classroom. Even my lowest writers are doing a fair job. They have room to improve, but their responses don't bring me to tears anymore!

Need some math journal prompts? Click HERE to grab some!

Don't forget to grab that free cheat sheet!

Thank you! Your freebie will be emailed shortly! Be sure to add my email address to your contact list so that the message does not get sent to your junk mail. jamie@notsowimpyteacher.com

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