Slice of Life: how to be an expert

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

This week, we are fully immersed in paragraph writing in my writing classroom and yesterday, my students shared out their expository assignments on how to do something. They are the experts and their job was to explain to me — I called myself the Alien Mr. H. which you can imagine brought some funny guffaws from my students — the steps to a process.

It was a hoot. While some chose such things as shooting foul shots in basketball, others were really imaginative: how to trick your parents into allowing you to stay home from school, how to walk, how to be weird (quote from this student: “As my prop, I present … myself” and the class cheered playfully), how to pretend you are reading a book in class, etc. I was chuckling most of the day.

Here is one that I gave to them as an example — I wrote it:

Writing a song is not as difficult as it may seem at first. To begin, it helps if you play a musical instrument such as the piano or guitar, so that you can accompany yourself as you begin writing. If you don’t play a musical instrument, a good idea might be to find a partner for songwriting who can help you. Second, you should consider a theme or idea for your song. Some examples might be believing in yourself, the power of friendship or overcoming difficult times. Third, you should know that most songs have a verse and a chorus. The verse is often four lines long, held together with rhyming words. A rhyming dictionary can often help you find words that go together if you run into difficulty. The chorus is usually the catchy melody of a song and it is often repeated many times in the song. Next, in songwriting, it is important to practice the new song many times, revising your words and melody as often as needed. Finally, you may want to perform your song for friends or family to get a sense if they like it as much as you do. The sense of accomplishment you will feel in writing an original song is something that will stay with you for a long, long time.

I asked them if anybody wanted to record a podcast and there were a handful of volunteers from each room. Here, then, are a few of the How to Do Something paragraphs.

The first one is about playing Mario Kart (see my post from the other day, as I took some notes from this student), and others include how to blow bubbles with bubblegum (she was smart to ask me if she could chew gum and show how to do it. I said yes, and then others were regretting not thinking of that, too), the aforementioned How to trick your parents, and more.

Listen to the podcast

Peace (and knowing how to achieve it),

Slice of Life: When writing breaks down

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

This morning, I spent a good hour going through about half of the culmination projects that my sixth graders finished last week around Parts of Speech. I often complain that the abstractness of dissecting a sentence down to its parts has very little value to a young writer, so I won’t rant again. In this project, my students have to color-code the eight main Parts of Speech in their own writing (over the course of at least 10 sentences), so my hope is that it has a bit more meaning for them.

I added another component this year — a tally sheet — that seems to have made a positive difference for this project. The sheet forced them to think about the words they were using and helped them track the work they were doing, according to the project requirements (ie, nouns are colored blue, verbs are colored red, adjectives are colored yellow, etc). A big plus: the tally sheet has made my job in correcting the project a whole lot easier. I move back and forth, between the project and the tally sheet. So far, I am about halfway through the 75 projects and most are doing a pretty good job. We do a lot of games and activities in the classroom around Parts of Speech (such as Bingo and tossing a Nerf Brainball around the room to demonstrate prepositions, etc.) and that helps with many of them.

The toughest Part of Speech? Adverbs. No doubt about it. Adverbs are the trickiest, by far. They are slippery parts of speech, moving from one job to another, and that ‘ol “-ly” rule works only sometimes, but not always.

Now, I just need to get through about 40 more of the projects. Sigh.

Peace (in living color),


Eponyms, Schneponyms

In our study of the English Language and the origins of words, my students did some work on the concept of Eponyms, which are words that take on the name of a person (such as Ferris Wheel or Saxophone). Students then got some time to use Powerpoint to develop a slideshow that markets a product that has their name — an eponymous product. A few students (and myself) donated work for this video (I converted PP to video with some software that I have).
One of the side reasons for doing this work is that I want to bring them deeper into powerpoint so that when we do our Digital Book Project later in the year, the technology is in the background as much as possible and the writing and creativity work is in the forefront. They need multiple sessions to understand the platform and to think and imagine the possibilities of a book that is not “flat” but “multimedia.”

Peace (in Kevinland),

Working with Crazy Words

crazywords wordle by you.

As part of our unit on the Origins of the English Language, my students work on creating their own words that they hope will someday become part of the English Language. We talk a lot about how words come and go through time, and how language is always alive and taking new shapes. In this vein, a few years ago, I started to use a Wiki to have students add to a dictionary of made-up words. It is now in its fifth year and the number of words exeeds 400 at this point. It’s quite a thing and my students love to add their words to it, knowing they are creating something unique.

We use a wiki (Wikispaces) because it is so darned easy to use and to archive. The simplicity of the platform is perfect and it occurs to me that our wiki is a collaboration over time, as this year’s crop of writers are really working with my young writers from each of the last five years, and with the future in mind, too. That is interesting (for a sci-fi nut like me anyway)

Here are some of the words from this year, and I am including the podcast, too, since they read their words and definitions so that their voice gets archived with their words.

If you want to see the full dictionary:

Peace (in collaboration over time),

Audio Letters to the New President

Super Obama

My sixth graders have been working on writing letters to the president and yesterday, we podcasted them reading them letters (which will be mailed off to the White House). Their writing was very impressive, I think, with topics on the environment, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy, education and, of course, the Obama girls and their dog.

Here is a sample of a few of the letters.

We were too young to take part in the National Writing Project/Google venture Letters to the Next President that took place during the primaries but I think our students feel as if they do have a voice and they seem realistic about the problems facing our countries and yet, they remain very optimistic that President Obama has the power to rally the nation.

Peace (in student voices),

How to insult your teacher and get away with it …


We are in the midst of a unit that looks at the origins and the fluidity of our English Language. Yesterday, we talked about Shakespeare (making the connection between Hamlet and Lion King was an eye-opener for many of them) and about the power of language that the Bard used when having one character tear another one down with words.

So, I passed out some insults taken from the plays and told my students that this was their chance: they could fling and hurl verbal insults from the list at me. Many blushed, others laughed, and then they got into it. The old words rolled off their tongues — not always easily, of course, and they laughed even harder when I noted that they would have some things to say that night when their parents asked what they did in school that day.

In one of the writing classes, I recorded them. I am sure you want to hear, right?

Listen to the insults

And if you are curious about the reference sheet I gave them, here it is … feel free to use it.

Peace (in the power of language),

Puppets, Puppets, Puppets, part one

At long last, the unit on theater writing and puppet shows has ended (it stretched into the new year when usually, it is over before the holiday break). While the focus of instruction and activities is all around the writing of a play script (with attention to theme, character and plot), the culmination is the performance of student-originated puppet shows for younger students in our school.

Last week, we spent one day videotaping all of the shows (21 in all — over four classes) and then two other days were spent performing for students from kindergarten through second grade. I think we had about 13 different visiting classes (some were combined).

I’ll write more this week about how I set up the online video site, but here is a link to all of the puppet shows. Feel free to leave comments for my students. I will be taking them to the site in the classroom on Thursday (hoping the videos will all stream fine).

Peace (in crazy little puppets),

Skyping through the world

I saw this call for schools and jumped in. Sylvia, over at her Langwitches blog, is hoping to connect her classroom with 80 other schools through the use of Skype, the online phone/video platform. She has put some great thought into the project and now she is searching for schools to participate. The Skype calls can be fairly short but it seems like a great way for schools to connect and for teachers to try out Skype. (If you need to get a sense of what Skype is, a good starting point is Sue Water’s post about skyping with other classrooms)

Sylvia has started up an Around the World With 80 Schools Google Map to visually show the locations of the school. I just added the mascot and picture of our school (Gail P., our intrepid kindergarten teacher, realized that the two of us had both signed up — our paths are now crossing left and right, in hallways and in virtual spaces).


As of a few days ago, these countries were represented:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. Peru
  4. Argentina
  5. England
  6. Spain
  7. Estonia
  8. Israel
  9. Thailand
  10. Malaysia
  11. China
  12. Australia

I like, too, how Sylvia has laid out the rationale for the concept.


  • geography
  • cultural awareness
  • global awareness
  • global collaboration
  • technology integration
  • social studies
  • math
  • writing

National Educational Technology Standards (NETS•S)

2. Communication and Collaboration

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

There is still time for classrooms kindergarten through sixth grade to sign up. The easiest way is to use the Google Form that Sylvia has set up. Once you have done that, she will contact you with the Google Spreadsheet and the Google Map, and you are on your way.

Come on in and Skype and connect.

Peace (in connections),

Traveling in Imaginary Lands

My students recently finished up a project around expository writing in which they create travel brochures for imaginary lands. The criteria includes: a brief history of the place, three distinct descriptions that make the land so special and a map. I love the creativity that comes through in this project and the connection between art, writing and informational text is important.

See some of the work for yourself:

(if you are having trouble viewing this video, you most likely need to upgrade your Shockwave software. You can do that by going here.)

Peace (in other worlds as well as here),

A Gift of Giving from Students

A group of students surprised me and the rest of my teaching team the other day by presenting a holiday gift that beats all the candies, candles and other assorted things that seem to make their way to my desk this time of year.

This group of students banded together and went out to the main drag of the town where I teach (and where they live) and collected trash and garbage as a clean-up effort (and they adopted the slogan: Yes We Can, even making t-shirts with the slogan). They took pictures of their effort, and then they all wrote letters about why they were doing what they were doing, and pulled it all together into this beautiful scrapbook.

They presented the scrapbook to us and let us know that they had done this deed — on their own — as a holiday gift to us, their teachers. Isn’t that so cool? And so thoughtful? And so meaningful? I am so proud of them and so honored that they have done this project with us in their minds and hearts.

Peace (in the giving),