Friday, October 12, 2012

Farewell, Ponyboy

Heart Map - Click here to view photo gallery.
One of the greatest difficulties students face when they are writing is getting started.  'I don't know what to write about,' is a frequent refrain in the language arts classroom.  That is why it is so important for students to have a wellspring of readily-accessible topics.  One recurring mini-lesson in composition is generating ideas.  The fact is, kids have more topics on hand than they could ever use.  The key is unlocking those topics.  Earlier in the year, students created a list of their interests, pet peeves, concerns, personal causes, and areas of expertise.  We called these our writing territories.  This week, students created heart maps.  After drawing an outline of a heart, kids then filled it with people, journeys, secrets, milestones, and events that they hold dear.  By using techniques like writing territories and the heart map, writers tap into the vast resource of their experiences and flesh out meaningful seeds to grow their ideas.  Encourage your children to replenish their topic resources.  When they are struck by a new idea or an interesting experience, kids should pause and take a moment to add it to their lists.  It doesn't need to be written about now, but it could prove to be useful later. 

Sketching to Understand - Click here to view photo gallery.
The sad news this week is that we had to bid farewell to Pony, Darry, Two-Bit, and the gang.  Upon finishing the novel, students discussed how this is a book of hope.  In fact, as one particularly insightful student put it, "Hope is on every page, because this is Pony's story."  Next week students will start work on their assessments and spend some time comparing the film version of The Outsiders to the book.

One of the ways that students are learning new vocabulary is through their reading.  The Outsiders provided a wide array of terms for students to add to their repertoire.  As I am sure you can imagine, how vocabulary is taught should be systematic and based on solid research.  The Marzano method of instruction is both powerful and intuitive and has a lasting effect on student comprehension.  I have adapted this method for my classroom and have found it to be quite successful in increasing student vocabulary. I begin by providing a description, explanation, or example of the new term.  Part of this involves asking students what they already know about the term in order to help build an initial understanding.  Once I have introduced the term, I ask students to restate its description using their own words.  I often ask, "What does it mean to you?"  As students are creating their own descriptions, I circulate throughout the room to check for misunderstandings and misconceptions.  This is also a great time for students to share their new descriptions with a partner or in small groups.  Next, students need to draw a symbol, picture, or graphic to represent the term.  This is a very important step in the process, as it requires them to process information in a nonlinguistic manner.  As you can see in the photo above, students are encouraged to share and explain their sketches with the class.  In addition to the sketch, I also ask them to come up with an example of the term.  It is my hope that they can make a connection to the term through something that they have seen or experienced.  Finally, students are also encouraged to begin to think of ways in which the newly acquired term can enter their written and verbal communication.  I love to hear the terms used in our discussion or even find the terms used in their own writing!


  1. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog and seeing the pictures. I had no idea of all the interesting and exciting things you are doing in class. Thanks for everything.

    1. Actually this is from Stacey, Kathleen's mom. I guess I will have to figure out how to post as me.

    2. Thank you so much, Stacey. You are too kind. I am glad you are enjoying the blog, and I greatly appreciate your comment. You are my first commenter!