What do I write about?- Writing Wednesday

writing wed header

To become a good writer you need to spend time writing.  It is a simple truth that drives my love of Writer’s Workshop.  Of course, everything you love also has things that are obstacles to overcome.  In this instance, the huge barrier some kids feel about coming up with anything, anything at all, to write about.

In my writer’s worskhop I do mini-lessons (5-10 minutes) about a skill or technique and then the kids are off to continue their self-chosen writing.  At the beginning of the year, I always have a group of students that stay with me a little longer to try and figure out what they will write about.  Sometimes this is related to their low level of English or their struggle to imagine new options.  Several of my students cannot fit into a general class prompt and need the option to try out a few ideas and discard some before they settle on an idea.

It was for these kids that I created this build a prompt set.  We looked at the basic idea that every story has a setting, characters, and conflict.  They are then able to pick a partial prompt from each category and ultimately build a prompt that works for them.  Lower primary kids tend to just need a very general category to write in.  e.g. Superheroes! Animals! Witches!  Most of my younger students can come up with a story (generally modelled after another story) with that little amount of prompting.  My upper primary students needed more vivid details to get into the prompt which is why the prompts have both pictures and adjectives galore.

how to build a prompt

This didn’t solve all of my writer’s workshop woes.  I still needed to figure out Writer’s offices, effective word walls, and the right pacing of instruction, but it did stop the frustration for kids that needed more help coming up with ideas.  Once they were able to build their own individual prompt, they could start writing.  And as we all know… if a kid starts enjoying writing, they’re going to want to write more.

Build a Story prompt cover

Check out the rest of the Writing Wednesday helpful blogs and products!  This a great group of teacher authors and you are sure to come away with great ideas.

Little Vikings


Investigating Nonstandard Measurement

investigating measurementWe had a brilliant inquiry planned where kids would go outside and we would measure their shadows. Somehow we forgot two things: 1) it is fall and 2) we’re in Scandinavia.  The sun was completely hidden behind clouds which is probably where it will be for the foreseeable future.  So we had to switch up our plan.

I crafted a story about how a long time ago people used to get around by riding horses.  (Side note: We took a vote and PYP1 would still prefer horses to cars.)  To get an idea of how tall a horse was they would measure it with their hands.  I picked a student in the class and showed how I could put my hands end over end to measure her.  PYP 1 thought this was a brillant way to measure.  I then asked the smallest child in the class to come up and measure the same student with their hands.  The predictable result was that our measurements did not match.  PYP 1 revised their previous opinion and wondered how we could ever know how tall this child really was.   

nonstandard measurementWe debated about measuring with things in our classroom.  Pencils were picked but none of our pencils were the same size.  While they were thinking about this, I showed them a Sid the Science Kid clip.  After the clip which talks about nonstandard forms of measurement they were sure that they knew what to do.  

They took everything that they could find in our classroom that had a standard size. (Dominoes, white board markers, popsicle sticks, math cubes, etc) and started measuring each other and every surface they could find.  Today we just let them explore and tomorrow we’ll try the activity again and try to write down the data we find.  We still need to reflect on why using a unit that is always the same matters, but they’ve picked up the conceptual understanding that you need units, what they are and how they work.  (PYP Key Concepts: Form and Function)kindergarten measurement PYP

Jenny (banner)


When Inquiry (or Pirate Ship Building) Goes Wrong

Pirate-FlagWe were so excited.  Our K-er’s had a class discussion and decided that instead of their teachers setting up an in-depth role-play station, they wanted to do it.  We let them know that  we needed the role-play to be able to work with 2D and 3D shapes, allow for science experiments, and have some form of writing.  They took our requirements and came up with the best creative idea: Pirate Scientists.  They would build a pirate ship out of 3D shapes and then do science experiments in the ship.  Brilliant.

We started collecting boxes and all manner of junk, but the K-er’s couldn’t make their ship stick together.  Ticky-tac didn’t work, so they upped their game to try glue.  Our glue sticks didn’t work, so they wanted to make cement.  We finally all came to the conclusion that we needed 1) all of our materials to be the same size – we voted on milk cartons and 2) they needed the strongest-holding-together-thing on earth – i.e. duct tape.  Once we had the right materials our pirate ship made rapid building progress and the kids did indeed role-play as pirate scientists.  They all brought costumes from home and were free to put them on and play in the ship with their “science experiments” and shapes. We had visitors coming to see our role-play area and we even got a shout-out from our colleagues at a PYP course in Vienna.  What more could we ask for?

We loved the ship so much we let it stay up over Christmas break.  We finally all decided we wanted to use the space in the classroom for something else, so we gleefully set to destroying our pirate ship.  The only problem was, we had made it out of milk cartons and despite dedicated attempts to check all cartons, some were used as building materials without being thoroughly cleaned.  We had 8 weeks of decomposing milk hidden within the building blocks of our ship.  Black moldy milk was flying across the room in beautiful, smelly arcs.  Lets just say that  the smell (“really smelly Danish cheese” was the constant yell) and the resulting discussions (why would old milk smell like cheese?) taught us more science than all of our carefully laid out experiments.  Though we are all a little leery of pirate scientists now.

(For your enjoyment, a picture of the partially dismantled pirate ship seconds before the “smell to end all smells” is revealed to the world.)

the dying pirate ship