Gnomes Read, Write, and Think

"Yeah, I've seen those things they think are gnomes," said Ron, bent double with his head in a peony bush, "like fat little Santa Clauses with fishing rods…” -JK Rowling

Archive for the tag “homework”

Informational Text: The Lens of History, Research Reports

We have picked our writing up again. (Some of us with extremely glazed looks in our eyes!)

Here’s what we know so far:
When we write historical research reports we have to focus on great writing but also we have to focus on being good historians!

Good historians write and revise with the lens of geography in mind. They write with a map in their hand! They pay attention to how geography impacted history. They include information about geography in their writing.

Good historians write and revise with the lens of timelines in mind. They research dates and understand how events in the past (precursors) impact later events. They include information about time in their writing.

Good historians and good writers do not just move information from place to place. They do not just copy facts from books or the Internet. They include facts they learn from other authors and then they analyze those facts and SPECULATE about those facts in writing.

All of this is new. All of this is difficult and somewhat uncomfortable. Students are experiencing a lot of disequilibrium as they grow as writers.

At home, this may look like a somewhat messy, disorganized notebook. There may seem to be papers flying around. This is a sign of new learning. Yes, the more organized the better, but at this point we are working on many things at once: geography, timelines, research, mentor texts, drafting and revising.

Students will be moving back and forth in the process of writing. One day, they may be researching, taking notes and reflecting on those notes. The next day, they may use those notes to draft a section of their historical research report. The drafting process should include students analyzing and speculating in a written form in their drafts. On another day, students will be revisiting parts of their drafts they have already written and revise them through the lens of geography, or timelines, or something else.  The drafts will come along in fits and starts, organically. This is not a linear process and feels messy. That is a sign of growth and learning!


Where We Are: Realistic Fiction

As we break for the Thanksgiving holiday, here is where we stand in our realistic fiction project:

We have covered the following territory:

  • Created lists of possible ideas to include in realistic fiction
  • Looked at blurbs on the back of novels to uncover ideas for fiction
  • “Thought on Paper” about what we wanted out stories to become
  • Defined characters for our stories and wrote about the motivations and struggles the characters face
  • Created a Visual Portrait of a Story (VPS)…(see sidebar)

Next steps include intensive work on the following mechanical issues that came up in the last assessment:

  • How to punctuate dialogue correctly (see sidebar)
  • Paragraphing (!)…students should not only be writing in paragraphs but THINKING in paragraphs at this point!
  • Incorporating complex sentences into our writing (this is a huge concept and will take years to master, but we begin with small steps…)

We aim to publish on December 5 and the final assessment will take place on or around December 6.

There is no official writing homework over the break but students are more than welcome to work on their first draft.  With paragraphs.  Please.

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Coming Up Next: Realistic Fiction

Our next writing unit, starting late in the week of October 29, will be realistic fiction.

Goals for this unit include:

Students will explore possible ideas for plot, thinking carefully about how to craft a story that adheres to a narrative arc.

Students will increase their abilities to plan a narrative and continue to refer to the plan as they draft.

Students will use mentor texts and a knowledge of the genre of realistic fiction to inform their planning.

Students will build stamina, producing longer pieces and producing more in one sitting than before.

Students will plunge deeper into the process of revision, writing a succession of dramatically different drafts instead of just “doctoring up” one draft.  They will also work to revise as they write, instead of waiting until they have a huge draft compiled.

–adapted from A Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop, Grade 4 by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues from the Reading and Writing Project


Personal Narrative Progress

In class, students are using school computers to create a high-quality draft of their personal narratives.

What should students be working on at home if they are typing a draft at school? Revision and editing!

Students should use the personal narrative checklist in their writer’s notebooks to revise and edit their narrative.  Adults at home can offer to read and provide feedback, too.  This support is very much appreciated!


I have written about a small moment in time.
My personal narrative contains a SO WHAT?  I have shown why my story is important.
I have shown how the characters felt and what they thought.
I have written 4-5 paragraphs and my narrative has a strong   beginning, middle, and end.
I have used transition words.
I have correctly written dialogue using a variety of tags.
I have used figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification,   etc.)
I used interesting, precise, accurate words.
I re-read my narrative many times and added, cut, and reworded to   improve it.
I have proofread my narrative many times for spelling, punctuation,   and grammar.  My narrative is as   mechanically correct as I can make it.

Personal Narrative Homework for October 15

Write a great lead!

Choose a technique (either the one from Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon or the one from Sandra Cisneros’s “Eleven”).  [Picture of the poster we made in class  is posted below to help you.]

Sample leads from Mr. Danielson’s class:

It was in the middle of a sunny, cool October day.  My literacy class and I exploded out the door for our favorite part of school: free time! There was a slight fall breeze and the fallen leaves crawled around the grass.  The sky was so blue it seemed like a robin’s egg or like you could see forever.  We had slaved for five whole days to earn this precious ten minutes of freedom.  We swung from the monkey bars like primates and were disgusted by the pile of deer scat waiting for us by the swings.


I feel like I know what to do.  It’s on the tip of my tongue.  I just don’t understand why I’m not doing it.  Class starts in Ms. Stark’s room but usually I would start with Mr. Danielson.  It’s weird Wednesday so we are all confused.  Kids are walking into the wrong rooms, other kids are bossing each other around saying, “You’re going the wrong way!” Some kids are just standing in the middle of the room with puzzled looks on their faces. There are lost classmates out wandering the halls.  I hear one thing and then another and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing.

Sample leads from Mrs. Bodin’s class:

It was one fall afternoon at Geneva Elementary School, just past recess, when my literacy class and I had a lockdown drill.  Mr. Whitten’s concerned voice blasted over the loudspeaker, “This is a lockdown drill!” Silently, we all dove under our desks with excitement.  The lights went out.  Ms. Stark struggled and juggled the blinds, trying to protect us from outside eyes.  Just as she locked the door, a hand grabbed the knob to test if it was locked.  All of a sudden, Valerie sneezed!  We knew we were supposed to be invisible and silent, but we just couldn’t help bursting with laughter.


 The teacher shocked my class and I.  She started class that day by telling us she promised we would not learn anything from what we were about to do. Everyone had a puzzled look on their face. She told us today we would play a game called “the Note Game.”  Then she said, “It’s not really a game.”  Ms. Stark told us we would have to write a note to somebody we knew in the building, but not in our class.  We would also have to deliver it.


Writing a good lead is so difficult but so worth the effort!



Learning Targets Week of October 15


Poetry Performance

Poetry performances begin for all three classes on October 11!

Students should be practicing reading their poem aloud fluently for five minutes every night. Students have written in their planners which days in October they will be performing their poem for the class. Remember, this is a READING FLUENCY development job. It is not intended as a memorization exercise. If students have memorized their poem, they should find a new one to practice.
Research on best practice supports this type of work for increasing reading fluency.

Periodically, listen to your child read his/her poem aloud and give corrective feedback about speed, expression, volume, phrasing, and accuracy.

Find thousands of poems at

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