Grade: 3-5
Subject: 4 Blocks

#1235. Classrooms That Work mailring discussion ch 4

4 Blocks, level: Elementary
Posted Sat Aug 7 14:16:00 PDT 1999 by deb (
Coloma Elementary, South Haven, USA
Concepts Taught: 4 blocks reading, professional development

Cunningham's Classrooms That Work
Chapter 4

More ideas brainstormed on the 4 blocks mailring:

Important poems are a focused writing activity and a comprehension tool
in guided reading. Children write their own Important Poems based on The
Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I use this technique often. After we have finished a unit, then I have them write an important poem to show what they remember.

An important poem example: The most important thing about a pencil is you write with it. It has lead and an eraser. You write spelling words with it. You write notes to Junie B. with it. You get a new one for 25 cents from the office. But the most important thing about a pencil is you write with it.
Basically, the kids pick one fact for the beginning and the ending sentence (same fact) then they list facts in the between. I compare it to an oreo cookie. I give each kid a cookie and the figure out the top and bottom are the same...
I think it is a focused writing because I guide them through the writing of a poem several times before expecting the kids to be able to do it alone.

When you are teaching letter/note writing to children, it is great to have related literature as a springboard for writing. Two of my favorite books are, Dear Peter Rabbit, and, Yours Truly Goldilocks, by Alma Flor Ada. The books tell a story entirely through letters written to and from Goldilocks, Little Bear, Peter Rabbit, The Three Pigs, and Little Red Riding
Hood. As usual, the problems and clever solutions revolve around two wolves who happen to be cousins (Wolfy and Fer O'Cious). Both books have excellent opportunities for a read aloud and book discussions regarding problem
solving, setting, character traits, and applications to children's lives. These are 2 books very worth adding to a personal library.

Writing Ideas:

The books allow for several days of lessons for letter writing: purpose for writing, parts of a letter, difference between a letter and invitation, and a friendly note versus a business letter. Each book has samples of each.

As we learn about letter writing, we need to apply what we've learned. We pick other book characters and the children and I write shared
writing letters together. Last year we wrote to several of Eric Carle's characters (Grouchy Ladybug and the Hungry Caterpillar; the boy who lost his cat and how to keep track of the kittens-also inquired about kittens for sale; an invitation to the Very Quiet Cricket and company to attend Music Class with us; these are just a few.) Each letter we wrote together allowed us to review old information and
learn new parts of letter writing. When the class composes a letter together on chart paper, we mail it in an oversized envelope made out of 2 laminated
poster board pieces book taped together at 3 sides-the 2 short and the bottom sides. When the kids return the next day, a letter is waiting for them from the character (written by me) They get such giggles from getting mail!

After the children got the hang of letter writing and fell in love with the idea of mailing letters back and forth, we tried letters to book characters from Miriam Cohen's series about first grade. Each
story deals with a topic near and dear to a primary child and allows them to practice letter writing forms with all of their developing writing skills. I respond to each
child's note as the character and although it takes a little sure beats grading papers!

Finally, I open the Post Office Center in my room and the children can
then write letters and postcards to each other, me, family, and other school staff members. My rule for mail is that I will respond
only if I am asked a question. This means I won't get a million "I Love You"
notes (which I treasure anyway...) At the center I have different kinds of writing
paper, office supplies, and I show the kids how to fold a note and tape it so
it becomes its own envelope. I used to put out envelopes, but I cannot believe how
many envelopes kids can go through and I'd rather spend my budget on
something more critical.

I also put together a Letter Writing Backpack with supplies and a copy of Dear Peter Rabbit. I include directions for families on how to use the backpack. I tuck in a stuffed Peter Rabbit just to
inspire a few hesitant writers. The pack was well received and ended up doing a few more with other characters (Franklin the Turtle, Clifford)

A FEW MORE LETTER WRITING BOOKS suggested by Kim Other great "letter" stories to include are "A Letter to Amy" by Ezra Jack Keats and "The Jolly Postman" Kids love these stories too. Great springboards.


The way I have done sticker stories is left pretty much up to the children. For example, once they had a sheet of stickers that had pirates, treasure
chests, fish, etc. We also had read, listened to stories about looking for
treasures, underwater dives, the sea, fish and so on. Another time I had a sheet
of stickers that had animals from Africa which went along with our study of
Kenya. I change the choice of stickers after each child has had a chance with the
current stickers. It is a literacy center they rotate through regularly,
usually two kids per day. Each time they could choose two stickers and stuck them on a paper, drew additional illustrations around the stickers and created and wrote a story. This is first grade now, so I was hoping for a story with a beginning, middle and end which they were able to do to varying degrees. They always looked forward to listening to the stories and learning how someone developed their story with the stickers. It focused them on a topic, but let them develop their own ideas for a story.


Writing can occur in any part of your day if you think about what would be a natural and real reason to write. Look at each academic area and
reasons to write; then consider the experiences and abilities of your children. Can they write and respond in this format independently or
will it be necessary to begin with shared or interactive writing responses so the group models and supports individuals?

Here are a few ideas for writing beyond the writing block.
Math: Summarize and explain the results of a class graph. Explain how you figured out how many ___________were in the estimating jar and how you/group came up with an exact count. Write a response to a story problem.

Science: There are a million things children can observe and then write about!

Experiments: With first graders, I begin writing the procedures for an experiment. The children help write the predictions and then the
results. They also help write why they believe the results occurred. Later in the year, they partner write and then do this on their own.

Research: Whatever you are studying use your KWL charts from guided reading to write group summaries about what you are learning. Later kids can do
this on their own. Use this writing to create class made nonfiction reading

Social Studies:

Requests: When you need information, have the kids help write. If you are learning about jobs in the community, let them write to professionals asking about their work. Many of the same writing
opportunities in science apply to social studies.

Wow-this has been a long response! To close-remember that if you decide to write a shared writing response to a science experiment, you can use that as your mini-lesson/modeling during writing time. If your schedule allows for a
45 minute science period-great, use part of that time to write instead.

The idea of writing across the curriculum requires a shift in your thoughts about
when writing can happen and that nonfiction writing is just as critical to a child's writing development as the writing that
goes on during most writing workshop sessions. Also, think about the fact that
most of the reading and writing children will do throughout their lives is
nonfiction reading and writing. You will look at your curriculum
Chapter 4 Guiding Children's Writing/Thinking
Cunningham's list of questions that writers ask themselves (85-86):

big issues....
What do I want to say?
How can I say it so that people will believe it?
How can I say it so that people will want to read it?

smaller, but important issues...
How can I begin my writing in a way that sets up my ideas and grabs the
reader's attention?
Which words best communicate these feelings and thoughts?
What examples can I use?
Do I need to clarify here or include more detailed information?
How can I edit it?
Now, I have to think of a good title!

small details to worry about...
I wonder if this sentence should begin a new paragraph?
Do I capitalize the word state when it refers to North Carolina?
How do you spell Beijing?
Does the comma go inside or outside the quotation marks?

We must teach writing.
This is how I teach kids to conference. What do you do?

Conferencing Using Stars and Wishes Technique
Writing Workshop mini lesson conferencing using stars and wishes technique
1. Focus on stars part.
Author shares piece. Class listens carefully. When beginning this
process remember modeling (showing kids how) is the thing that will
break or make this.
What was interesting?
What surprised them?
Wow that's good!
I liked the part about ...
Tell me what you liked about the story.
This reminded me of when ...
Why did the author do this...
What did they like about...
What did they remember?

Use a book, a poem, nursery rhymes (instead of student's writing) at first to model how to do memorable and more conferences. Ask questions like: What did you like about the book? What did you like about the poem? I liked the part of the book/poem that... Complete whole group, small group, knee-to-knee or shoulder to shoulder.

Next day, read another poem. Tell me what did you like about the poem. Tell another student. Why did the author do this? What they like? What they remember. If the author could change something what would you change?

Remember to MODEL! Do whole group then small group then peer!

2. Focus on the stars and add the more. Remember these children are vulnerable!!!! Be careful of egos!!!!!!!!! Writing is really personal.

The steps are 1. Author reads piece
2. Stars (see step 1)
3. Author reads piece again
4. Wishes (I wonder about...)

Teacher should model whole group on how to make helpful appropriate comments. What part was confusing? What part needs to be more clear? Start with having to say one thing that you wonder about. Don't tolerate the negative comments. How does "stupid" help the writer? This is what I like. This is what I wonder. When you wrote ________ then _________ . How did that happen? Teachers can write the kids
comments on a paper and give it to the author. How can you we talk about the piece and make changes? In third grade use steps 1 and 2. Then read piece, memorable (stars) , read piece, using "more" (wishes) to push plot development. In fourth grade use steps 1 and 2 at the beginning of year, use model as they don't need the model can quit using.


In grades 2-3, provide the students with a list of safe topic
sentences. Have students choose a topic. Then choose one of the
following topic sentences. Then have student write three sentences
providing the details. I have found that my 2nd graders are very good
at writing the "middles" of stories. However they were not good at
writing a topic sentence or a concluding sentence. In a grad class on
reading strategies a fellow classmate had a poster that she used to
guide the students in picking out a "safe topic" sentence. She had the
poster up in the room and kids picked one whenever they were beginning
to write a story. I modeled how to pick a safe topic sentence MANY many many times
before assuming the kids could/would on their own. After reading a science
unit on Magnets, I had them pick one of the following three safe topic
1. Let me tell you about magnets.
2. Have you ever wondered about magnets?
3. I know a lot about magnets.

Then they wrote three or four sentences about magnets after the safe
topic sentence. I repeated this activity using different subjects many
times throughout the year of 2nd grade. In third the teachers use these
heavily for the first marking period and then the kids seem to
internalize them and really know what a topic sentence is for. The
list below are the sentence "frames" then the kids fill in the missing
parts of the sentence with their subject.

Let me tell you about...
Have you ever wondered about...
Have you ever wondered why...
I like to _______ for many reasons.
I know how to_______. First ...
I think _______ was ______ for many reasons.
I just learned facts about...
Let me tell you how ______ and ________ are alike.
Let me tell you how ______ and ______ are different.
It's fun to ________. First you...
Many changes happen to ________ as they grow.
People used to think ________, but now we know...
_______ was a ________ person.

When you say focused writing, do you mean when the teacher directs the
topic? If so, I have found Mercer Mayer's books useful. The structure of his
stories provide a good model for young writers and the topics are always
accessible for primary children. One favorite is the book, JUST ME AND MY MOM. The
book allows children to describe a day with mom in terms of morning, lunch,
afternoon, and evening. I try to do a shared writing of a class book in this format
several times before expecting the kids to do this independently.

Writing: One way to integrate writing with mapping skills is to use a map geared for your age group and ask the kids to help you write directions. In the book I mentioned in an earlier post, Yours Truly Goldilocks, by Alma Flor Ada, there is a map showing Goldilocks, Little Red, Little Bear, and the Three Pigs' homes. We used the map for writing directions when Little Red wanted to get from her house to the Pigs' Housewarming Party. I copied the map onto an overhead transparency and we looked at it while writing directions. The same activity could happen with student made
maps or maps you create with other story characters. It is amazing how quickly they start using directional words when there is a concrete purpose.

Eric Carle's book about a boy's birthday shows a treasure hunt for his present. We made a treasure hunt map in our school building and wrote directions for our principal to find her birthday present.
The kids were very serious about accurate directions since they wanted the present to be found!

I use a focused writing piece 2 times during the year to show the
students' their growth as writers. After they settle into a writing
routine and are exploring authors, we read the Sunshine book, Joy Cowley
Writes. It is a book Joy wrote about herself and her husband photographed it. We talk about the value of a "Getting To Know
the Author" book. We talk about why Joy might have written this book-it
shows her with an armload of mail and the children often believe it must be from
her readers. The book must be a way of answering many questions children
have about this favorite author.

So we go back, reread a page or two and decide what question was being
asked. I write the question on a post-it and attach it to the page. When we are
finished we reread it one more time and see if she answered the questions.

The next day we talk about how helpful it would be to have books about
ourselves so students, visitors and parents could learn about our class, the group
of young authors. I challenge them with making a "Getting To Know the Author"
book using the questions from the Joy Cowley book. I provide the questions, one
typed on each page, and the children then work on writing about themselves.
This book is shared at Open House and Conferences.

We do the same book and questions in the late spring for our Author's
Tea. After the Tea, I use the 2 books to discuss growth with each child at one of
our writing conferences. They are amazed at how much they have learned and improved
as writers and they have 2 meaningful pieces of writing to treasure.
These books are tattered by the end of the year from being read so many times during

This is a fun activity and supports even the shyest of writers. Kids love telling
about themselves!
MJ Solomon wrote:
Here are two things I have done. One of them is actually on the internet and I will post the site so you can go check them out. I have 4 computers in my classroom. Right now my plan is to have my writing block backed up against an added center time. During this writing block/center time, 8 students can go to the computers. I pretty much have let them write first or make an outline or story map of some kind and then go to the computer. This isn't the ideal situation, but it works out the best. Sometimes students do write first on the computer.
Software: We use the one by Broderbund that follows the same format as Kid Pix. I have forgotten the name. :-( We also use Claris Works for IBM.


1) We read The Discovery of Dragons by Graeme Base. It is a beautiful collection of pictures and letters from people who are telling about their discovery of dragons. For homework I gave my students a graphic organizer to plan a letter to their families about their discovery of a
dragon. The graphic organizer included things like: Where did you go? Why did you go? Who did you write to? How did you first meet the dragon? What did it look like? What did it do when it saw you? What did you name your dragon and why? How did the encounter end?

Then after they brought back their GOs, we read Saint George and the Dragon. This book has a lot of similes and description. So this was the model for
what was needed as far as description in their letters. Then they started writing.

Some of their final copies are here:

Another one we did was to accompany our McGraw-Hill Social Studies Unit
on Communities on the Move. We dicussed oral history and the students
interviewed their parents about how things were when their parents were their age.
The questions we brainstormed were like: what did you do for fun? what
chores did you do? How was school different and the same? What music and
what television shows did you watch? Did you get an allowance? What
technology advance impressed you the most?

The students shared their information. Then we made it into a poem that
started: When My Mom/Dad was my age... Unfortunately I do not have copies of
these to share.
Something I noticed as I read page 92 was the way the editing checklist
was numbered and how Ramona wrote the number at the bottom of the page
as each item was checked. I think I'll try that. It sound simple and
helps the kids focus in on each item. I have always discouraged editors
from writing on someone's paper. In my class the writer is told to
'hold the pen' and the editor helps point out the changes. I do it this
way because I always have a few kids who want to just find the best
writer in the class and say, "Fix it!" Also, I feel the writers learn
more if they make the changes (learn by doing). Any thoughts on this?
Jennifer 4th/Alberta