Organizing for Writing on the iPad

Why do anything unless it is going to be great? -Peter Block

We have been learning about the rainforest and my students are excited and engaged in learning all about the animals in the various layers.  Recently, the students wanted to write about the rainforest and they seemed to be having trouble narrowing their focus.  Someone said, “My brain is all busy with so many animals.”

poppletAs adults, it can often be overwhelming as we try to process large chunks of information.  I have to make lists or use sticky notes to keep it all straight.  We all have different strategies for managing the information and processing it.  Young children need to be taught how to organize themselves and their thoughts for writing.

One of the apps we use as a visual organizer is Popplet LiteIt is a free mapping app that allows you to brainstorm and capture your thoughts quickly.  The full version of Popplet is $4.99 and offers many other options, including online collaboration, however, the lite version is just fine for our uses.  The popplet above, was created by a student to help her organize her thoughts on writing about the rainforest.  She saved that to her camera roll and then imported it into Pages to write.  pages and popplet

This is her first page of writing.  She wants to add a new page for each of the animals shown in her Popplet.  By adding the Popplet to her Pages document, she now has a visual reminder of what she wants to write about. She can just continue to refer back to it.

Each child had a choice in how they wanted to share their knowledge.  Some choose Book Creator, some chose Pic Collage and some chose Pages.  They all went on Safari and found the images they wanted and saved them to their camera roll.  They also had a choice to organize their pre-writing thoughts in Popplet or on paper.

Because they have choice in this activity, they are very engaged and excited to share with each other what they’ve learned.  The finished products will be reflective of their creative energies and knowledge gained.  It will be far superior work than if I had dictated how and what they would do…after all, when they have choice, they take ownership.

If we are going to ask our students to demonstrate what they know, it should be in meaningful ways so that in the very act of demonstration, they are extending their learning.  Getting organized is a great place to start!

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

For the Love of Words…

The limits of my language are the limits of my universe-Goethe

Kaylee vocabWe are at the point in the school year where my students are able to read most of their sight words and are able to decode many others.  As we flex our thinking muscles, we are working on increasing vocabulary words.

Students learn vocabulary words informally when they are immersed in a word rich environment. Anchor charts with rich words and lists of synonyms can be used to create a word rich environment. Students learn new words through rich conversations, personal reading and daily experiences with read aloud texts.

We are working to increase our Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary during literacy centers.  Students are given 4 vocabulary words that go along with our thematic unit.  In the example above, the words were love, heart, friend and valentine.  The children had to write a sentence in Pic Collage to show they understood the word and then they illustrated their sentence in Doodle Buddy and imported it into the Pic Collage.  They will also be allowed to look for pictures on Safari to demonstrate words soon.  (I was a little hesitant to have them look up images for valentines words…) After they created their Pic Collage, they shared it with their team and read the sentences of the other children.  A colleague of mine uses Strip Designer with her first graders to demonstrate their vocabulary words.  Either of these apps work great.  You can save the work to the photo library or upload to PaperPort to demonstrate workflow.

To teach vocabulary, we must use rich and robust instruction through multiple exposures. Children who acquire a substantial vocabulary are often able to think more deeply, express themselves better, and learn new things more quickly. They are also very likely to be successful not only learning to read, but also in reading at or above grade level throughout their school years.

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Flash Mob Writing Groups?

No matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it.-Carroll Bryant

book writingMy lesson plans said something completely different.  It was unscheduled, unplanned, and… undeniably better than anything I had on today’s agenda.  You’ve heard of a Flash Mob?  A Flash Mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment or artistic expression.  Well, That.  Just.  Happened.  No dancing or singing…this was definitely in the realm of artistic expression.  My students were working on their iPads when a group suddenly gathered in the middle of the room and started writing books.  This group (pictured above) was fully engrossed in their work.  They were discussing book topic, titles, text placement, and content. They stopped briefly, only to ask me to put on some “creative music”.   Once they started, they didn’t stop until they were finished.  Most had written a 4 page book.  Once they finished, they dispersed and went back to what they were doing before.

Flexibility is critical in a student centered classroom.  Kids need to feel comfortable making decisions about their learning…even at age 5.  Shutting down that activity because it wasn’t what I had planned for today, would have killed the creativity and spontaneity of that moment.  (Ok, that hour.)  If we are about the business of creating readers and writers, we have to give them time to read and to write.  I can’t always write on command; however, there are times when an idea strikes me and I can hardly wait to write.  It’s hard to stifle that feeling when you are inspired.

Setting up your classroom so that children can move in and out of small groups and make choices about their learning environment, helps foster a real sense of ownership. Allowing them the freedom to grab that iPad and jot down ideas, research a topic, read a book, or create their own book is what 21st century learning is all about. I will welcome a flash mob like that any day!

Here is Kaylee’s book commemorating the 100th day of school:

I Love 100! by Kaylee

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