Sunday, August 18, 2013

Writing with the 5 Senses

One of my new favorite writing activities for the beginning of the school year is writing using the 5 senses.  One of my goals for my 5th graders is to really get them to find their creative side and get their writing to have more rich detail in it.  I find that when they get really excited about what they're writing, their writing improves drastically.

The first thing I do is bring them to our reading corner and tell them that I'm going to be telling them about a special place that I recently visited.  I draw a gigantic hand on chart paper, each finger representing one of the five senses.  I close my eyes, and go through each sense out loud in which I pretend that I'm back in that special place and describe in as much detail what I hear, see, taste, touch, and smell.  I record these on the chart paper.  This can be done in bullets and short phrases, or in sentences.
Once I finish with my brainstorming, I have my students go back to their desks where they have a brainstorming page with a hand drawn on it so that they can think of their own special place and brainstorm their own ideas.  This (my modeling and their brainstorming) usually takes an entire class period.

***One of the most important things that I tell my students as they begin their brainstorming is to remember that they shouldn't just tell me what they smell, but HOW it smells.  If it smells "good", what exactly does that "good" smell like?***

The next day, I model how to begin their story with a "bang" - a technique that is taught in the fabulous writing program we use called Empowering Writers.  They can either begin with a sound, a thought or question, dialogue or exclamation, or an action.  I model an example beginning sentence and have my students guess which beginning I used.  I then begin a short story about when I arrived in my special place (Lake Como, Italy)  I make sure that I use lots of description and adjectives.  I try to avoid using boring words or phrases such as "nice" or "it tasted good".  Once I write a few sentences (I don't write the entire thing right away), I send my students to begin their story.  Even though they are describing the place they went to, they should still tell it like a story - begin by getting off the plane or train or getting out of the car, and describing which sense impacts them first.  Then move through the day and slowly bring in each of the 5 senses as they explore their surroundings.

The most important thing that will get your students to improve their story is to bring out the specific details from their memory.  I tell my students to SHOW me, not TELL me what they saw, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled.  If they are writing vague sentences, I have them close their eyes and ask them to pretend they are eating whatever food they are writing about and tell me exactly how it tastes in their mouth.  When I do this, they typically begin to get more creative with their descriptions and their story improves.  They definitely get much more excited once they start seeing what they're capable of and they become more motivated to try and write even more creative sentences.
I hope you find this activity just as much fun as I do.  It's a great way to introduce narrative writing at the beginning of the year, because it isn't a lengthy assignment, but focuses on the content of their story.  I'd love to hear your comments or feedback if you end up using this idea in your own classroom.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Setting Up My Classroom: AFTER!

I can't believe how quickly pre-planning has flown by.  I began setting up my classroom about 2 weeks ago (slowly but surely).  Today we met our students who begin on Wednesday, so my room is finally ready!  If you didn't see my before pictures, check them out HERE.  I do not typically like a lot of clutter, so I try to keep things bright and spacious.  

This first picture shows the general "after" of my room.  I like to keep all of my students' books in cubbies at the front of the room to give them more room in their desks.  It's also a great way for me to quickly see who is missing a book!  I keep them all numbered.  I have decided to start the seating arrangement in groups, but with so many kids, I may try out a few different options as the year progresses.  
Here's a quick little before/after collage of my writing desk and hallway bulletin board.  I want to have a fun little corner where I can send students to work on special projects or even a reward for students during writing time.  I took an old wooden desk and spray painted it fun colors.  The bulletin board will have my students' names on the stars and then the first week I will take a picture of each of them to put with their stars.  My class is always nicknamed the "Abro Allstars" to go with my last name.  I love having a tradition each year, so I'm going to continue with it.
Finally, I want to show you some of my classroom organization.  On the left, you can see my classroom supplies.  I have them in plastic bins that I bought from Target last year and stuck them on a shelf that I bought from Target this year and spray painted.  (The spray paint has been peeling off and does not look that great anymore - I probably wouldn't try this again!)  On the top right, I have black plastic shelves that I got from Office Depot for students to turn in their classwork.  Each shelf is for a different subject so I can easily organize them for grading.  On the bottom right is my homework board.  I put it in order so that it matches the students' agendas.  Every morning I have my kids come in and write their homework down in their agendas right away, and then have 2 agenda checkers keep track and make sure that every student has done this so that everybody remembers their homework!  
I hope you like my new classroom as much as I do!  I think I'm just about ready to head back to school now :)