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 “writing”

Update for Parents

All students are working now on writing a historical research report.  This project is aligned to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and is therefore VERY challenging.  Many students (and even the teacher) are feeling as if they are wrestling a 16-headed 37-armed monster. In other words, they are engaged in the authentic process of researching and writing about a historical topic. Students are all making great progress although at moments it feels like we are stuck in the mud.

The basics of the project:

Students are working individually on a historical research report about an explorer.

Students are part of a group of writers all working on the same topic or similar topics. The group is designed to support all of the writers by being a place to share ideas and resources, as well as a place to get feedback.  The group is not doing a “group project” and students are responsible for their own writing and research.

We are now in phase two of the project where we have completed the bulk of the research and are working on redrafting our writing so that it reflects the CCSS.

Students have a checklist (here is a copy) that describes exactly what the writing should contain.  The checklist shows exactly what is expected of a fifth grader and of a fourth grader.  This is to help with the transition to CCSS.  MANY students may struggle to meet fifth grade standards on this project because the standards have risen so dramatically.  We are in a transition and we are working to make as much progress as we can toward those goals.

All three classes should have a “mission statement” completed by the end of the week.  This mission statement should say exactly what they are planning to write and will help guide them in finishing up their research and focusing on a single message about the explorer they chose.  Mr. Danielson’s class has already finished these.  My homeroom will finish them by tomorrow, hopefully.  Ms. Britt’s class will (fingers crossed) be done by Friday.  Please ask your child to share this with you.

Here are some questions to ask your child:

What explorer are you writing about? (all students should be able to answer this now)

Can I see your mission statement? (some students now, some students at end of week)

What sections will you have in your research report? (all students should have this by end of the week)

What is the main message or “take away” that you want your readers to get from your writing? (all students should know this by the end of the week)

If your child can’t answer these questions by the end of the week, then there is cause for concern.  Please feel free to email me if you have questions about this.

Thank you for your support as we continue to wrestle the monster!


Mission Statements

Students write mission statements to clarify and guide their work in phase two of our project. Here is my teacher example:


Mission statements should include the audience, the “take away,” sections to include, and sequence of the sections. Mission statements should be about 100-250 words.

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!

Celebration Day

We are spending the day celebrating our growth in narrative writing. Students are collecting all their work for this first stab at personal narrative, putting it together, reflecting on their growth, and sharing their final drafts in groups. Music is playing and we are loving seeing how far we have come since our first attempts back in September!








Student Work: Close Reading







Dreaming the Dream of the Story

This week we have been working furiously on personal narrative. We’ve discussed several techniques for generating personal narrative ideas including thinking of a person or place that matters, reading a mentor text, as well as others. Students have all these strategies recorded in their writer’s notebooks. Parents are invited to look at them and talk with students about them and the ideas they spark.

We’ve been working really hard to “dream the dream of the story” which means putting your mind into the place and the time the story happened and trying to tell the story from inside the “character’s skin”. Taking an important moment or memory and SHOWING why it is important instead of just saying, “it was so fun,” is a huge challenge that we will continue to tackle all year.

Please read Jaden’s introduction below for an example of the kind of work we are striving to create:


Personal Writing Checklist


Narratives: What We Are Shooting For

It is helpful to be able to see your target. This is an example of a narrative that meets fifth grade standards according to the common core. As we work on narrative, we will study this and many other examples.


Simple Sentences

It’s a sentence if it provides answers to these two questions:

Who or what did something? (the subject)

What did they do? (the verb or predicate)


They race.
-Jerry Spinelli, Loser

Matt winces.
Maria flinched.
Matt froze.
Matt nodded.
-Nancy Farmer, House of the Scorpion

Tad watched.
Blood flew.
He sprung.
-Stephen King, Cujo

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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