Archive for April, 2010

Poetry Friday: We Wonder

“Whether our wonders are grounded in personal experiences or scientific fact, we all wonder,” write Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonogh in their recent book, A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades. During a lesson, Jen turns the lights down in her classroom and tells kids to “let your mind think, ‘What do I wonder about?’ “What are my top three wonders?'” This week’s poem is an “accidental poem” that came to life as students shared their wonders with each other.

We Wonder
I wonder why elephants have their babies not in eggs.
I wonder why there were dinosaurs at all.
I wonder if the universe ever stops.
I wonder how New York City was built.
I wonder how butterflies’ wings were created.
I wonder how people are made.
I wonder how locks are made.
I wonder how bricks were made.
I wonder why the sun goes down at night.
I wonder why the moon only comes out at night and not day.
I wonder how many years dinosaurs lived.
I wonder how come snakes can’t close their eyes at night.
I wonder how car wheels can make a whole care move.
I wonder where sweetness comes from.
I wonder how snakes shed their skin from inside out.

What do you wonder about on this Poetry Friday?

2 comments April 30th, 2010

More IRA snapshots

As this year’s IRA conference wraps up, here are some more snapshots from our booth. Thank you for stopping by and see you again next year!

Patrick Allen talks to some fans

Debbie Diller at the Stenhouse booth

Kelly Gallagher signing books

Stephanie Harvey (center) and Anne Goudvis at the booth

Steve Layne and his book, Igniting a Passion for Reading

Add comment April 28th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Sentence Fragments

In this week’s Quick Tip, Jeff Anderson takes us “behind the error” to show us how to help students learn the difference between a simple sentence and a sentence fragment. Jeff is the author of Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop.

In Plain English:  A sentence must contain at least one subject and one verb, and it must form a complete thought. A fragment is missing a subject or verb, and/or it doesn’t contain a complete

“Writers should master the complete-sentence technique before getting fragment-happy.”
–Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style

A fragment is not a sentence. It may have a capital letter. It may even have a period, but it’s missing an important element, such as a subject or a verb. Fragments may add rhythm, emphasis, and variety to writing — when they’re intentional — and sometimes even when they’re not. However, students need the ability to fix sentence fragments. They must be able to identify them and avoid writing them in high-stakes situations such as testing. Sentence fragments may also make writing appear sloppy and incorrect. Students need to distinguish between the effective use of fragments, which is purposeful and rare, and the ineffective use, which looks careless and choppy.

To identify and correct fragments, writers must understand the simple sentence. They don’t need to mark all the parts of speech or make a diagram. Students do need to know that a group of words starting with a capital letter and ending with a period is not necessarily a complete sentence. When I ask students what makes a sentence a sentence, they respond: “Letters,” “A capital at the beginning,” and “Periods.” But what do they really know about the sentence?

Do they know that a minimal simple sentence must have a subject and a verb? “Sean laughs.” That’s a simple sentence. We could add a few prepositional phrases such as phrases add detail, they are not needed to form a simple sentence. Everything students learn about sentences, from compound to complex, rides on this essential understanding: Simple sentences are made up of a subject and verb. Sean laughs.

Who or what laughs? Sean, the subject. What does he do? Laughs, the verb.

The ability to pare a sentence down to its essential core is the first tool students need in order to uncover the craft of all sentences.

Student Error: “When I was five. I had a Chuckie doll. I would scare everybody with Chuckie. Chuckie was about two feet, had orange hair, little red and white shoes, overalls, and plastic knife. I replaced the plastic knife with a real knife. To make Chuckie look more like the real thing. From the kitchen Drawer. Like a mini-butcher knife. I super glued it into Chuckie’s hand. Ready for business.”

Behind the Error: This is a typical student attempt at adding sophistication to sentences. Randy doesn’t want to use only simple sentences. He wants to add some life and complexity to his sentences, but in taking this risk, he creates fragments with his punctuation. Have you ever wondered why kids in fourth grade start writing fragments? Their skills aren’t keeping up with their growing intellect and their ability to express ever-more-complex thoughts. Randy writes: “When I was five. I had a Chuckie doll.” We should celebrate that he’s stumbled on the complex sentence. His thinking needs this more sophisticated sentence form. On the surface, we see a fragment, and if we were bean counting, we might see that he’s writing more fragments now than he did a year ago, but a lot of these fragments are fragments because Randy is punctuating the dependent clause with a period instead of a comma. When students hit this stage, they are ready for more tools to express themselves.

Mentor Text
They race. (p. 5)
—Jerry Spinelli, Loser
Matt winces. (p. 364)
Maria flinched. (p. 366)
Matt froze. (p. 370)
Matt nodded. (p. 372)
—Nancy Farmer, House of the Scorpion
Tad watched. (p. 6)
Blood flew. (p. 111)
He sprung. (p. 128)
—Stephen King, Cujo

1 comment April 27th, 2010

Stenhouse at IRA

There’s still time to check out the Stenhouse booth (#2019) at IRA. Here are some pictures of the action so far:

The booth was busy on the first day of the conference

Stenhouse math editor Toby Gordon (left) and Debbie Diller are pretty excited about something. What could they be looking at?

"The Sisters" pose for a photo with a fan

Tony Stead signing books

Add comment April 27th, 2010

Poetry Friday winners

For the past two weeks we ran a little contest on Poetry Fridays. Here are the winners:

– “Where I’m From” poetry contest: The winner is Amy with this poem:

I am from teddy bears and Barbie dolls
from bedtime stories to bathtime bubbles.
I am from princesses and fairy tales
playing dress up to be someone else.
I am from pink bubble gum and soccer games
full of cartwheels and somersaults.
I am from band-aids and “boo-boo’s”
giving kisses to make it all better.
I am from giggles and belly laughs
as the giver and receiver of many tickles.
I am from hugs and eskimo kisses
with whispered I love you’s before bed.
I am from all of those memories
of loving and being loved.

– For last week’s riddle poem the two winners, selected at random, are Heather and Sarah.

Congrats! Keep checking the blog for more chances to win free books. Keep reading and commenting!

Add comment April 26th, 2010

Poetry Friday: A riddle poem

This week’s poem comes from Pat Johnson’s husband, Rick Johnson. Pat, along with Katie Keier, is the author of Catching Readers Before They Fall: Supporting Readers Who Struggle, K-4. In their book, Pat and Katie use this poem in a lesson about making inferences.

So, what is the answer to the riddle? Leave it in the comments section and we will select two commenters at random who will receive Pat and Katie’s book.

I’m sometimes new
Yet always old
I shine like the sun
But I’m really cold

I’m round like a ball
But I don’t spin
So you can see my face
Again and again.

Though I’m up really high
A cow once jumped over
When astronauts came
They had a rover.

12 comments April 23rd, 2010

Come see us at IRA!

Visit our booth (#2019) next week during the annual IRA conference in Chicago to browse our latest books, meet your favorite authors, and enter for a chance to win all of our fall 2009 and spring 2010 titles! That’s 16 books and videos! This is also a great time to stock up your professional development library because we will be offering a 15% show discount.

For a full list of authors making an appearance at our booth, as well as presentation schedules, visit our website. See you in Chicago!

Add comment April 22nd, 2010

Stenhouse at NCTM

We will make our first appearance at the annual NCTM conference this week in San Diego. Stop by booth #923 to check out our new math series, Zeroing in on Number and Operations and meet one of its authors, Anne Collins. She will be at the booth on Friday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Anne will also present on Friday from 11:00 a.m. until noon. The title of her presentation is “Fraction as Ratio on the Cartesian Coordinate Plane.”

Another reason to stop by: enjoy a 20% show discount on our math titles, as well as other Stenhouse books. See you there!

Add comment April 21st, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Buzz About Books

“Buzz About Books” is just one of the many classroom activities Steven Layne discusses in his new book, Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers. Steven says that activties like “Buzz About Books” allow the kind of free-flowing, vibrant discussion to take place that truly gets students excited about books and reading. It also helps teachers get a good picture of what their students are reading outside of the classroom.

The best decision I ever made was to stop trying to grade or assess these types of discussions with my students. As you have read in the earlier chapters, I advocate putting a lot of things in place to help match “the right reader with the right book” (Lesesne 2003). One way to all but guarantee stronger discussions about independent reading choices is by doing everything we can to get kids the right books in the first place.

I realize there can be some confusion when I begin talking about book discussions because some readers will wonder if I am talking about books used for literature circle discussions, novels selected for whole-class book study and discussion, and so on. Let me be clear. In this particular chapter, I am focusing on students’ independent reading selections; in other words, everyone in the class is quite possibly reading something different — something that has been self-selected. I might have any number of things happening in my classroom, but there has always been an expectation that, in addition to our major unit of study, kids are doing some independent reading at home (not every night necessarily) and in school (with time I provide). It’s important to me to honor the text they are reading independently, and some time scheduled for book discussions without the trappings of assessment has worked brilliantly. I decided long ago to call these book-discussion sessions “Buzz About Books.”

As with most everything discussed in this book, readers can alter my suggestions to suit a particular building, grade level, time frame, and so forth. I tend to assign students to discussion groups at the very beginning of the year, so there is some degree of incentive for kids to keep moving forward in their books. If students are in groups with their best friends, they can cover for one another more easily than will happen otherwise. Failure to be engaged in independent reading is not typical when kids are being matched with the right books; however, the reality of discussing what’s happening in your story with peers who aren’t necessarily your best friends can keep some kids motivated to move forward in their books simply because having nothing to say in their discussion group makes them uncomfortable. As the year progresses and kids get hooked by the reading bug, I often begin letting them create their own discussion groups.

When kids gather together in their groups, the meeting time is generally about fifteen minutes. Groups are sized at four, ideally; I go to five rather than three so that when there are absences the group can still have enough members to feel functional. My objective as the teacher is to join a group and remain with them for the entire discussion session — moving to a new group next time. At the beginning of the year, I often will circulate in an effort to be sure groups are getting off to a great start. Within a couple of weeks, though, I am certain to be a full-fledged participant in the process, which means I don’t simply sit in with groups and observe or listen; I participate.

The most miraculous thing I have done to make these groups functional is to supply a focus item for them to discuss when they meet. They know that they can spiral their discussion off in any direction — ask one another questions or whatever — but having a focused topic with which to open the discussion helps everyone become more active participants. Figures 6.1 and 6.2 provide a complete list of the topics I have developed for these book discussions. For younger readers, topics can be adapted as necessary from my “Buzz About Books!” discussion starters

Teachers working with older readers can select from the large number of samples I have provided (Figure 6.2) without much need for alteration and reuse many of these throughout the course of the year. Each focus topic is broad enough that it can be easily discussed, despite the fact that every student is likely reading a totally different book. When a group meets, they can move in any order. I leave all of that up to them. Each student in turn will show the group the book he or she is reading so group members can begin to become familiar with the cover. The student will then identify the title, the author, and the page number he or she is currently on and rate the book from one to five stars thus far. Once this brief information has been provided, the student will address the focus topic with regard to the book he or she is reading.

Occasionally, I will have students freewrite about a focus topic for a few minutes. I may then have them share their writing in groups orally or turn it into a carousel, with everyone’s piece moving around the groups for silent reading. At other times, I ask for volunteers to read orally for the class. I have been known to collect the writing at times and just read through everyone’s piece to see how things are coming.

Add comment April 20th, 2010

Poetry Friday: Where I’m From

This week’s Poetry Friday post involves a bit of a writing exercise. It comes from Jennifer Jacobson’s new book, No More “I’m Done!” She shares a year’s worth of mini lessons for primary writers, including this great poetry exercise:

On Hand: The poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon

Mini-Lesson: In this poem, George Ella Lyon shares specific details from her past that have helped to define her. Read the poem to students.  Model writing your own “I am from” poem, perhaps beginning with the concrete and including what others have said to you:

“I am from birch trees and chickadees
from dry your hair with the canister vacuum hose – reversed
I am from the Not now’s, Not here’s, You will never be’s
And do you expect yo be happy all the time” (yes)”

Invite students to write their own “I am from” poem. Suggest they draw first — the prewriting will help them pick out concrete details and “hear” the voices that are a part of their everyday lives.

Extension: Introduce other poems as scaffolding. You might use Paul Janeczkos’s book A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetric Forms (2005), which demonstrates twenty-nine forms, or simply choose a favorite poem and challenge student to write one using the same pattern.

So, where are you from? Leave your “I am from poem” in the comments section. The best one will receive a free copy of Jennifer’s book!

8 comments April 16th, 2010

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