Expository Writing with Young Writers

I hope everyone has had a great start to your 2015 year. Mine has started out great! Last week I went out of town to work with my model classroom teachers. The first day I met with everyone K-12. I finally got the high school teachers set up with their devices and learned how to create Google accounts for students. Super excited about students having Google accounts! Now we can start using Google Classroom. I hope to write more about how we are implementing Google Classroom later. The rest of the week I got to spend a lot of time in my first grade classrooms. The teachers were starting expository writing on the topic of animals. I told them about my polar animals unit and asked them if they would like to try it out.

Expository Writing Unit for Kindergarten and First Grade - This unit has everything you need to teach kindergarten and first grade how to research and write informational text. I especially like the station ideas!

I love to teach writing to emergent writers! I know many people tell me writing is the most difficult subject area to teach. I tend to agree but there just isn’t anything better! Watching student writing change over time from the beginning of the year to the end makes a teacher feel pretty special. The progress is AMAZING!! Add expository writing and research into the mix and I become giddy with anticipation!

I had several people ask me about creating an expository unit to go with some of my other writing units. I have a specific way I teach expository writing to students and thought I’d share some of my ideas. This summer, you may remember I talked some about the 5e’s of Instruction (of course, I never finished the series — whoops!). I use the 5e’s to teach my expository writing units with students. The 5e’s are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.

I always start my expository units with researching a topic as a class. For this particular unit we are learning about penguins. I used the RAN strategy to ask students what they THINK they know about penguins. This language was used because, as authors, it is important we write facts and use appropriate vocabulary. Therefore, unless we do research on the topic we really can’t be sure we know correct information.

So I gave students a graphic organizer and had them draw pictures, label, and write a sentence or sentences about their picture. As students were writing, I went around the room and asked them to tell me one thing they THOUGHT they knew about penguins using a complete sentence. I wrote their sentence on a post-it note and give it to them. At the end of the session, I had a few students share their work and added the post-it notes to our RAN anchor chart.

RAN pic collage

The next part of the unit was to explore the topic through research. I usually set up stations. (Read more about stations here or here.) However, the students weren’t familiar enough with the technology so I decided to do it whole group.

We started with the listening station. Before they started listening to the passage, I went over the recording sheet with them so they would know what to look for as they read. Students then scanned the QR code to listen to the MP3 of the passage being read to them. Students had to be taught how to follow along with the passage while they read. I made them read/listen to the passage several times and then called them to the carpet to model how to do a little close reading. I used the dual-page screen view to show both pages on the SMART Notebook software. The picture below doesn’t show it but when using SMART Notebook, I was able to highlight specific information from the passage to show “evidence from the text”. Then had them help me come up with a complete sentence to write on the recording sheet.

Close Reading Strategies

I have to admit this was one of my favorite stations. I think the main reason was because of the easy to read passage. This was just right for the students and they gained a lot of information about the text and had a lot to say. Plus they loved getting to scan the QR codes!

Once the station was complete we shared our learning. We also went back to the RAN chart with our post-its. Most students knew basic information about penguins such as “Penguins eat fish.” or “Penguins have beaks.” However, as we learn more about the topic it is important we use correct vocabulary such as “Penguins have bills”. Also, “Penguins eat krill, squid, and fish.” So these things will be addressed throughout the unit. Students also had a lot of questions (wonderings) about the topic. So we added these wonderings to our RAN chart.

There are six stations in all. I was able to work with students at the computer station and the app station. Students were able to watch a live webcam of penguins from the Pocket Penguins app as well as listen to even more resources from other great sites online. The Pocket Penguins app was such a cool experience for the students because many of them had never seen a penguin before. This is about as close as you can get when you can’t see them in real life.

Pocket Penguins

Next week I plan to go back to start the writing of our class booklet once they have finished their research. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, if you are interested in trying these activities out in your classroom you might want to check out this great resource.

Polar Animals Expository Emergent Writers.001

Jen's Signature

12 Days of Christmas Giveaway

I just wanted to let you know I am going to be giving away a few goodies from now until Christmas over on my Facebook page. If you don’t follow me over there you really should consider doing so. I give away at least one thing per week plus I try to provide you with quick tips for using technology in the classroom. It is a great way for you to get tips and tricks for using technology in the classroom.

12 Days of Christmas

As for my giveaway, I am definitely getting into the Christmas spirit! I thought it would be fun to give away one thing per day from now until Christmas. All you have to do is comment on the post. It would be great if you would share this giveaway with your friends! On Christmas Day I will announce the winners. Look forward to hearing from you over at Tech with Jen’s Facebook page.


“Be Appy” Monday: The Plickers App

Now that I am finally back home I thought I would spend a little time writing to you about something really cool that happened to me last week. I have been spending some time out of town working with a school district to help them begin the process of going 1 to 1. I have nine model classroom teachers plus I provide professional development to everyone else in the district every other month.


Back in October, I provided professional development to all the teachers on student engagement. I introduced Kahoot, Padlet, and Nearpod. The idea behind my professional development is for teachers to take the information and resources I provide them and try it out in the classroom. When we meet again they hopefully will have questions I can help them with and either continue going deeper or move to something else of interest.

So when I went back last week many teachers were frustrated because they wanted more consistent access to technology. Just being able to check out an iPad cart was not enough. Teachers wanted to give their attention to tools they could use on a consistent basis.

I was intrigued by this and wanted to introduce a tool that teachers could begin implementing immediately and didn’t have to worry if a cart was available. Enter…Plickers. I heard of Plickers a long time ago. But for whatever reason…I didn’t get it. I know I’m a little slow. Fortunately, I was able to attend a conference last month in which someone modeled how it worked during a session. The lightbulb finally turned on and I was super excited for the apps potential in the classroom.

So what is Plickers? Basically, Plickers is a quiz app. Create a login, a class, and then make a quiz. Print out the Plicker cards and download the app. Each student would receive a numbered Plickers’ card to use during the quiz. The teacher shows students the question from the quiz. If the student thinks the answer is A, the student will hold the card facing the teacher with the letter A pointing towards the top. The teacher then scans the cards from their iPad or smartphone to receive the data from their responses. And then presto, instant data.

There are a few things to note. The first one is when the cards are laminated the glare sometimes make it hard to scan. That doesn’t mean you can’t laminate just be aware of this fact. Also, if a student is blocking someone’s Plicker card it may not scan. However, that is an easy fix. When you have the website on live view on your board students can see in real time who has and hasn’t scanned. However, that might be a bad thing. Some students might try to change their answers if they notice other responses. I generally minimize once I have shown the question and let students answer. Then I scan. I show the results once all responses have been generated.

The teachers were so excited about this app. Why? Because they had the tools necessary to use it and use it consistently. I allowed the teachers to spend time during the professional development create their class, print out the cards, and laminate them. The next day I had a teacher stop me in the hall who had already tried Plickers out with his kids. He told me he hadn’t been this excited about a tool in a long time! That is always my goal is to provide information that is helpful.

That is what I want to do for you. If you follow me on Facebook, you might notice I am talking a lot about the 1 iPad classroom this week. If you have an iPad do you know what you can do with it to help your students? Well this is definitely one of the things you can do. So do you want to learn a little more about Plickers and how you can use it in the classroom? Well sign up for my “Be Appy” Monday series and learn about the app Plickers.


Developing Orthographic and Phonological Knowledge Using Technology

When I was a literacy coach I always enjoyed helping teachers with their word study lessons. At the time, the only technology available was SMART Notebook. I could do a lot of great things with the software to help teach students about the print-sound system. However, it took lots of time to make the lessons and I could never really find pre-made lessons to fit what I needed. When the first set of iPads arrived my imagination took off with the possibilities for using apps to reinforce word study skills. Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long because the makers of the apps didn’t seem to know much about developing orthographic and phonological knowledge in students. So I disengaged in the process of looking for great word study apps.

You might notice I do not talk a lot about apps that teach skills. My focus always shifts to how we can leverage technology to help students in the process of creating, problem-solving, and questioning. However, I am sure there are a lot of great “skill and drill” apps out there and I decided to take a look at a few to see if they fit the bill. But first I think it is important to explain the theory behind my beliefs as it relates to word study. According to Dr. Linda Dorn in the book “Shaping Literate Minds”, there are six common beliefs  about spelling.

beliefs about spelling

1. The first belief is students should not be taught to memorize letters and words but be able to attend to the distinctive features of the letter form. Once students become automatic with letter formation their attention shifts to how these letters come together in a left-to-right sequence to represent whole words. Students will begin to see patterns in words and attend to larger units within words.

2. The next belief is to teach children problem-solving strategies for spelling words. There are several strategies students need to not only be taught but be asked to use when trying to spell words. For example, students should learn how to say the word slowly and listen to the sounds in words and be required to use this strategy often until it is second nature.

3. Children should not be given a laundry list of words. Students should have a minimum of new things to learn, so as not to overload their working memory. If students are struggling it might be because they do not understand how words work and are relying too much on memorization.

4. Students should be given opportunities to use a variety of learning styles when learning new words. Students should be exposed to visual, auditory, and motor functions during lessons and when practicing words.

5. The orthographic system is the bridge between reading and writing instruction. Students should be given opportunities to self-reflect and self-correct their work when writing. This is a skill that must be taught. Ask your students often during

6. Students should have opportunities to work with other students. The social side of learning is very important when implementing a spelling/word study program.

I keep these belief systems in mind when creating lessons and activities for my students in the classroom. Let’s take a look at a few games I made for my students during the holidays.

While I am not going to get into detail about the four levels of analysis in this post (subscribe to my newsletter below if you would like to learn more). I do want to say the biggest problem I have with a lot of apps and games that teach phonics or sight words are the order in which the words are introduced. I believe there is a certain order in which students should be introduced to words.

This is why I decided to make my sight word games EDITABLE so you can add the words appropriate for your students. Here is an example of how it works:

A lot of the games I made allow students to practice their problem-solving strategies when reading and writing. Students build words, record words, and read words during most of the games. I always encourage students to say words slowly as they record words or look to see if the word “looks right”.

Even though I typically only give around 10 words during a spelling test, I did provide 20 form fields in the documents. The reason for this is I believe it is important to practice words from other spelling lists or words that have the same spelling pattern. This way students aren’t memorizing their words but learning the patterns and features.

All games can be played with partners or groups, if desired, and provide lots of opportunities for students to use different learning modalities and self-reflection during the activities. If you are interested in taking a look at the games click on the pictures below:

Preview Cover.001

Preview Cover.001

Fall Freebie.001

As for apps appropriate for teaching sight words to students I decided it would make a great “Be Appy” Monday topic. If you are interested in signing-up for access to my “Be Appy” Monday series along with access to exclusive freebies and my monthly newsletter be sure to subscribe below. This document is filled with a ton of great information including an overview of the four levels of analysis and an app checklist to help you analyze apps you may want to use in your spelling program. I’ve also analyzed four different sight word apps that might be of interest to you. Hope the information in the document helps you.

Be Appy Monday1


Inquiry Learning and Procedural Writing

Procedural text describe how to make or do something. Examples of procedural text include recipes, crafts, and how-to manuals. Since these type of materials are commonplace in the real-world, it is important we teach our students how to read and write procedural text.

procedural text

It is important to keep these guidelines in mind when introducing a unit on procedural text:

1. Start with the text. Examine online resources, recipes, crafts, books, and magazines to explore how procedural writing is structured.

2. Have students analyze the structure of procedural text. Ask them questions about what they are noticing about how it is laid out. Most how-to texts have a common structure students will pick up quickly.

3. Allow students to write their own procedural text once they understand the structure. Start with simple tasks or a common experience to describe each step in detail.

4. Begin to analyze the structure even further by identifying the numeric quantities and measurements used in the materials section or the parts of speech associated when writing the steps. This would be a great time to discuss imperative verbs, point out the adverbs in the text or examine the adjectives the describe the nouns.

I have several resources that might help you when teaching procedural text with your students.

Teaching Procedural Writing to Students
Snapguide in the Classroom
Craftivities Freebies (Scarecrow and Snowman)
Craftivity Units
4 Apps to Teach Procedural Writing to Students (Guest post on Technology Tailgate)

Once students get a firm handle of writing simple how-to’s on their own, shift your focus to introducing the concept of using procedures to conduct investigations. As a side note, I noticed something very interesting when searching for resources for teaching procedural text in the classroom. There were a lot of examples for teaching students how-to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, make a craft, or blow a bubble but what I did not see a lot of were resources for teaching scientific procedures.

A big push for inquiry learning is happening in our schools. We need to allow students to wonder and inquire about topics of interest and study.  Scientists use procedures as they conduct investigations and experiments. They must make their procedures as clear and as detailed as possible so other scientists can analyze and replicate their work.

Start small by conducting a simple investigation. Then as a class write a scientific procedure. Students can continue to practice their skills for not only scientific investigations but other subjects as well. Students should also try to follow the procedures written by other students to see if their directions are clear and provide feedback to make it better.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for exclusive resources for my readers. Also, I have made a special document for you to try with your students over the Christmas holidays. Use the ideas from this document once you have followed the guidelines above and/or tried some of the ideas from my craftivity units. Click on the picture below to check it out.

Teaching Scientific Procedures Christmas Edition.001

Click here to download on TpT.