Mentor Monday 4/28/14: Writing Strong Endings

Teaching Strong Endings


While some students are eager to write, others are hesitant or doubtful, and others simply don’t know where to begin.  Teaching students strategies for writing memorable beginnings and endings gives even your most reluctant writer confidence and success. Since today’s Mentor Monday topic is “Strong Endings,” I am going to share with you a wonderful book that provides a mentor text for the strategy of writing circular endings.  As an added bonus,  the book’s main character demonstrates that all students can be authors if they pick up their pencils and write!   

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk features a mouse by the name of Sam who is an unseen guest in the library.  He sleeps by day but at night reads voraciously.  He begins writing stories and leaving them on the bookshelves where they are enjoyed by all.  The head librarian leaves a note inviting him for an author visit.  Knowing he needs to remain hidden, he cleverly provides a tissue box full of writing supplies and a mirror.  The sign above the box states “Meet the author”.  When the children look in the box, they see their reflection and the writing implements.  Soon all the shelves are filled with their wonderful stories!

If you don’t have access to this book, a librarian reads the book in this YouTube video:


It is easy to see the clever circular ending in this story.  Of course circular endings are just one way to write strong endings.  You can download this handy chart to use with your students as a reminder of other endings you model. Simply click on the image below.

Strong Endings Download

What books do you use to model strong endings?

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Think About It Thursday-Working with Challenging Children

As the school year draws to a close and ocean breezes beckon, students invariably provide a challenge to even the most seasoned teacher.  This week I am teaming up with Carla at Comprehension Connection to share strategies for meeting the needs of challenging students in order to maximize classroom instruction during the final school days.

Challenging Children

All year long you have focused on establishing a great rapport with your students and families.  Maintaining this rapport will be crucial when dealing with challenging children as the school year ends.  The rapport and understandings you have developed will guide you in using the following four points:

keep students engages

Continue to provide meaningful and engaging instruction.  Despite the fact that most high stakes tests are completed, students need to be actively learning.  Too much free time increases opportunities for challenging students to become disruptive. Even though there are plenty of end of year activities, maintain classroom routines and expectations as much as possible.  This is the perfect opportunity for teachers to be creative and enjoy learning with their students without the constant push for teaching tested standards.

give students choices

Most students, particularly many challenging students, like to feel in control of situations.  Allow students the opportunity for choices that lead to positive outcomes when possible.  For example, allow the student the choice of leading a group, being a classroom helper, or choosing the next read aloud.  Follow Grandma’s Rule for providing choices.  “When you complete this assignment, you can help me collect all of the materials, complete your prezi…”  Grandma’s Rule frames consequences in a positive way, and encourages appropriate student choice.  Think of it as an “If…then” statement.

Knowing what reinforcers work for your class and individual students is critical.  Expecting students to respond positively to “your choice” of reinforcer can backfire.  Allow students to brainstorm or vote on classroom reinforcers.  Remember your most challenging student may require a more individualized approach.  A reinforcer must be something the student finds highly desirable.  This doesn’t mean costly.  Some ideas include a popcorn party, movie, free time on the computer or playground, or simply the opportunity to sit with a friend during the next assignment.

pick your battles

Finally,  pick your battles.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Be selective when choosing behaviors that you deem inappropriate.  A student who is struggling with appropriate behavior in your classroom may be dealing with many issues in their personal life. Punishing them for every infraction is disruptive to your classroom, stressful for you and the student,  and can lead to explosive behavior.  Many times a gentle reminder of expectations is all that is needed.  Before long it will be the final bell of the year!

I saw this on pinterest today and it fits in so well with this post I wanted to share it.

need love

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Think About It Thursday-Parents as Partners

Parents as Partners

This week I joined Comprehension Connection’s  “Think About It Thursday” link-up, where she and other bloggers are sharing valuable tips for engaging parents as partners in the field of education.  As the inclusion reading teacher,  I have found that the three tips listed below lead to collaboration that fosters academic partnerships.

Three Tips for Connecting with Elusive Parents


Building  positive relationships with student families is just as critical to school success as establishing rapport with students.  This involves ensuring families feel welcomed and are an integral part of the educational process.  Classroom teachers have historically offered many opportunities for parental involvement ranging from open house, field day events, parent conferences, and educational family nights.  Yet schools often find that the same parents attend these events, and those we most need to reach remain an elusive part of their child’s school experience.  These parents often have experienced a negative school experience as they were growing up, feel intimated by school staff, or simply don’t realize the valuable role they play in their child’s education.  It is important to notice these parents and make a special effort to reach out to them.  I have listed three tips which have helped me build partnerships with parents.

Tip 1. Make the first contact a positive experience.

Ideally I choose to meet my parents during the enrollment process.  I introduce myself and explain my role in their child’s school day.  By welcoming their child and showing a personal interest, both the parent, child, and I begin simultaneously  building a rapport that is a win-win situation.   Often open house or a phone call home is the first point of contact.  It is imperative to make this a positive experience.  Share the pleasure you find in working with their child, a personalized anecdote or  a recent success their child has experienced in your classroom, and be sure to end the contact with an open ended invitation of welcome to your classroom.  These positive first experiences increase the likelihood of a parent being more receptive to future collaborations.  

Tip 2.  Seek out opportunities to reach out to parents.

Luckily my role and planning time create opportunities for me to “catch” my elusive parents in the front office when they check their students in or out of school.  I take advantage of these times to reach out and engage my parents in brief, positive conversation.  Yes, I am guilty of sometimes sneaking in those “need to know” points about worrisome issues, but I ALWAYS begin and end on a positive note.  In addition, I seek my parents out during the school events they are most likely to attend.  For elusive parents these are typically non-academic events such as field day or special lunch events.  When all else fails, or time is of the essence, I arrange for a home visit.  During these visits, I inform another staff member of my intentions or arrange for someone to accompany me on the visit.  

Tip 3.  Be persistent but not overbearing.

Occasionally we encounter parents who are openly hostile or defensive.   Until these parents truly feel they have an important voice in their child’s education, the classroom teacher will be fighting an uphill battle.  It is imperative to extend your heartfelt willingness to collaborate with these parents and this often takes patience and persistence.  Note the parent’s body language in addition to their words.  Ensure that when you meet with them, your position and body language are positive and do not present a position of power.  Insist that their input is important and will be used to make decisions, even when they insist it doesn’t matter what they say.  Meetings with these parents are often held as a team, but limit the number of team members to minimize the authoritarian position this parent expects from a school environment.  Have realistic expectations.  This parent will probably require multiple positive school experiences before they become the parent partner that teacher’s desire.  

 What tips do you have for increasing parent involvement?  Be sure to check out Carla’s blog.  (Click on the graphic above).  She has an awesome free poster that features ideas for increasing parent partnerships.  Krista from Teaching MOMster is linked up and has some fun, creative ways to increase parent engagement.

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Mentor Monday Linky 4/7/14: Teacher Resources For Teaching Poetry

Mentor Monday

The daffodils have bloomed, now the dogwood trees are gracing us with dainty white flowers that signify spring has come to town!  Along with spring, April brings us high stakes testing and National Poetry Month.  


The topic this week is sharing teacher resources for teaching poetry.  Wishes, Lies, and Dreams by Kenneth Koch, is a text I located and have used to build my background for teaching poetry.  

Mr. Koch provides us with insight into his poetry writing workshop in a Manhattan school.  Here he stretched his students’ imaginations and found creative ways for them to take risks with using words as young poets.  According to the author the children came to anticipate his poetry workshop and found great freedom in expressing themselves poetically.  

Something he mentions in the text, which I have read in several places, is to encourage students to use free verse, rather than rhyme.  Rhyme is actually quite difficult to use skillfully, and it is more likely to interrupt the flow of thought and emotions.   Therefore, he started his poetry workshop using formula type poems, or poems with repetition.   The same word/s or the same kind of thing (comparison) in each line.  Repetition built a natural unity and allowed the students to find pleasure and success with their poetry writing.  

In addition to Mr. Koch’s ideas and techniques, a large portion of the book is filled with actual student examples categorized by type.  These examples, in addition to assisting the teacher, are great mentor poems for your students.  

Working with my students I developed a poetry formula product.  You can find the post where I used this product here.  Currently I am working with my fourth graders on color poems.  I am encouraging them to use their 5 senses to make their writing more descriptive. Since I needed to produce a mentor poem for them, I gathered things that represented my color to provide inspiration.  Here is my mentor poem:
yellow is

Yellow Is

Yellow is a baby duck waddling in the grass.

Yellow is the crisp scent of lemons.

Yellow is the sun in my face.

Yellow is happiness.

Here is a student sample:

Pink Is

I hope you will give poetry writing a try with your students.  Be sure to check out all of the blogs for this Mentor Monday topic, as I have discovered some wonderful new resources to consider.  Just click on the Mentor Monday Icon at the top of this post! 

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