SDAWP Spring Conference 2014

It was a cloudy March morning.  A threat of rain was imminent, but about 150 participants attended the San Diego Area Writing Project’s Spring Conference at the University of California, San Diego.  The conference opened up with a discussion about fear and courage.  Christine Kane, co-director of SDAWP, shared information about how the brain is affected when confronted with fearful situations.  She shared evidence based on scientific studies that the way you can come to terms with fear is to put yourself in those situations that trigger it.

At this point, I was thinking how apropos it was that fear was the focus of Christine’s talk.  That is what I was feeling at that moment-FEAR!  The main reason for this was because I was presenting in the first session of the conference.  I knew right after Christine’s opening, it would be my turn to address the room.  So, I can’t say I was fully engaged with her at this time.  I was thinking about my presentation and hoped it would go smoothly.

The other reason I was experiencing fear was because I was trying to get my iPhone to connect to the wifi in that particular room.  My presentation was going to be in this room and I needed to be connected to the wifi.  My iPhone was a remote control for my iPad.  Both of my devices had to be on the same wifi in order to communicate.  Secretly, I was panicking in the back of the room.  The wifi would connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect. I was getting frustrated.  Kim Douillard, director of SDAWP, recommended I go outside the room to connect and then go back inside.  I did that and then, when I walked back into the room, the wifi would disconnect.  Ahhhhh!  My presentation was in 5 minutes.  I had a backup plan, but you always hate when Plan A doesn’t pan out.

Fortunately, I was able to connect and stay connected for the duration of my presentation which was entitled Using Mentor Text to Lead our Primary Writers.   I talked about the writing process in my classroom and the journey I took using mentor text with my kids to craft leads for informative pieces.  As I continue with this journey, I realize that the particular leads I shared with my students can be used across text types, not just with informative writing.

I think the presentation went well.  At least, that is what people told me after the fact.  One thing did go wrong, however.  I did not have enough handouts for the people who went to my session.  I felt bad about that, but I just have no way of knowing ahead of time how many people will show up.  Oh well, I will be more prepared next time.  If there is a next time!  🙂  Here is a picture my friend, Margaret, took during the session.


I was pretty happy with my presentation.  Just like Christine said earlier, I put myself in a fearful situation this morning.  Hopefully, the more I do this, the less fear I will have.

For the second session, I attended Stacey Goldblatt’s presentation entitled Supporting Student Writers:  One Paragraph at a Time.  Here is a picture of Stacey proclaiming to be a rebel.  She is so cool!


Stacey shared a formula on how to get students to write strong paragraphs.  This formula was called AXES (assertion, eXample, explanation, significance).  In conjunction with mentor texts, she uses this formula to get her students to expand on their writing.  Even though the formula acts as a frame for students, their final pieces do not come out sounding exactly the same as one another.  Using the AXES process, students have choices and can use their voice when they write.  Stacey had many great ideas on how to teach the 4 parts of an effective paragraph.  She starts out with students writing about their personal truths rather than opinions.  Then, she shared a great way to use transition words in writing.  Oh, and it involved Popsicle sticks!


All in all, it was a fantastic day.  I learned so many practical things I can use in my classroom starting on Monday.  My brain is on overload.  I also learned something about myself.  I can do anything I set my mind to.  I need to have more confidence in my abilities.  Thanks SDAWP for continuing to push me out of my box.

Let’s Try That Again

Have you ever had this experience?  You try something out, and it just doesn’t work?  Well, this happened to me the other day.  I had a lofty idea that my students would be able to take one of three leads that we had worked with before and revise a lead from a story they wrote in their journals previously.  I had them rewrite a lead using mentor text we had seen before.  My students assured me they knew what to do.  However, when I checked their work, it turned out they were all confused.

I decided to take that failed lesson and use it to my advantage.  I realized that I had released the responsibility too early. I took the training wheels off the bike too soon.  Today, I worked with the students to analyze the mentor text we used for leads.  We looked at each example more closely.  Each student had a copy of the sample leads.  We wrote notes in the margins of our paper to help us think about the author’s plan.

After analyzing the different leads, I gave the students a story to read about a park ranger.  As they read, they were to highlight all the info that showed the perks of being a park ranger.  Then, we brainstormed all the reasons that supported our topic.  We actually put evidence to that effect on another sheet of paper.  After much discussion and brainstorming, it was time to write.  I felt that this went smoothly.  Students could take information from their brainstorm sheet and include it in their writing.  Since we analyzed the leads and talked about characteristics of each, I felt like the students had a better understanding of how to start their opinion pieces.

At the end of the writing workshop period, I asked the students to sit at the meeting area to talk about this writing experience.  They liked the idea that we looked closely at each lead.  We read sample leads and we analyzed them. We looked at the author’s moves in each passage.  The students wrote notes in the margins of their copy of the leads.  My students also liked the idea that I had retyped the story about park rangers so they could highlight and mark up the text.

We are still working on these opinion papers in class.   Tomorrow, I will collect them and see what the students come up with.  I felt great about this lesson.  But, more importantly, the students felt good, too.

Writing Leads

For the past few weeks my 2nd grade students have been working on the text type of opinion writing.  In an effort to break away from the monotony of formulaic writing, I introduced my students to different types of leads using mentor texts.  I used the book, Nonfiction Mentor Texts, by Lynne R. Dorfman and Rose Cappelli to help me.

NF Mentor Text

My students were familiar with the “Setting the Scene” lead because we had used it when we were working on narratives.  So, I had my students write a potential setting the scene lead to go with the article we just read about Mopane Worms.  From there, I introduced my students to the “Share a Secret” lead.  I shared examples from mentor texts and had the students try it out for themselves, again to go with our article.  Finally, I showed my students an example of a “What If” lead.  I had the students try one on themselves.  The great thing is my students can use these different kinds of leads when we look at the text type of informative writing.

It was kind of amazing what they came up with.  My student teacher, who was observing, commented after the lesson.  She was amazed at how the students were able to come up with their own creative leads in the style of the different mentor texts I shared.  All the students were engaged and excited.  I figure I have given them a few more tools to add to their writing toolbox.  Next week, the students will write their rough draft convincing their friend to eat the Mopane Worm.  They are even going to get a chance to write a counterargument in this paragraph.  Although, the counterargument is not a 2nd grade standard, I talked to my kids about it anyway.  I am fairly certain that I will not get 27 papers that sound exactly the same.  Thank goodness!

Mentor Text Challenge #4 The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

The mentor text I would like to share this month is called The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.  The story was written by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein.  It is a cute tale of a young girl named Beatrice Bottomwell who never makes mistakes.  However, one day she almost makes a mistake that she can’t get out of her mind.   She begins to keep herself from having any fun because she is afraid to make a mistake.  I won’t tell you the ending, but it is a happy one.

I use this book as a mentor text for teaching how to start sentences with a variety of words.  The book has several sentences with prepostitional phrases plus a comma at the beginning of the sentence.  Here are some examples.

At school, Beatrice was on a cooking team with her two best friends, Millie and Sarah.

On her way home from school, Beatrice watched Millie and Sarah ice-skating in the park.

I also used this book to demonstrate temporal words.

After supper, Beatrice got ready for the talent show.  First, she woke Humbert from his nap.  Next, she got the salt shaker from the kitchen table.  Finally, she filled a balloon with water.

I love this story for its many uses, but I also love that it has a great message at the end of it.  We took the opportunity to discuss the author’s purpose for writing this book.  My students enjoyed it, too.

Mentor Text Challenge #3 Who Hops?

This month the mentor text I would like to share is Who Hops? by Katie Davis.  The book itself follows a predictable pattern.

Who hops?  Frogs hop.  Rabbits hop.  Kangaroos hop.  Cows hop.  No they don’t!  Cows moo and give milk, but they don’t hop!

The text goes on to ask the reader who flies, slithers, swims, and crawls.  Each section following the same basic pattern by giving examples of animals who do that action and then suggesting an animal who doesn’t do that action.

I have been able to use this text to talk about the different types of sentences there are, i.e. declarative, exclamatory, and interrogative.  I have also used the text to talk about sentence structure.  Since the sentences here are simple, we were able to notice that a sentence must have a person or thing doing an action.  I will get into “actionless” verbs a bit later.  We also talked about how we could stretch out the simple sentence by using a prepositional phrase.  However, I am not requiring my students to know what prepositions are.  In fact, one of my students came up with the term “sentence stretcher” as a definition for what a preposition does.  We also played around with placing the sentence stretcher at the beginning of the sentence to see how that changes things.

There were so many things I could do with this one book.  I go to it every year when I want my students to understand what sentences are and how we can add detail to our sentences.  Right now, I am wondering if my students could use this frame to demonstrate what they know about something we are learning about in science or math.  Hmmm.  There are many possibilities.