Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Six Traits of Writing Introducing (IDEAS/THEME)

S. Romero

As teachers, we all know that modeling good writing is essential for students of all grade levels. Writing is a developmental process that should begin from kindergarten on up. In order for our students to become good writers, they must understand that a good piece of writing must include six important ingredients: Ideas (theme), organization, word choice, voice, accurate conventions, and sentence fluency.  One of the most difficult traits students struggle with is what to write about, how to stay on topic, add details to clarify their writing and keep it interesting. (IDEA/THEME). 

Before modeling this lesson, I remind my students that good writers write what they know! I tell them, “If you write what you know, your writing will flow!” I begin by drawing a large “Detail Flower” on chart paper. (See below)
In the middle of the flower, I write our school name, which will be our theme since we are all familiar with that topic. I remind my students that when writing about a particular topic/theme, they should include lots of details of that particular topic which helps demonstrate to the reader the central idea of their writing.  We then start adding our details to our “detail flower” and write those details on the flower’s petals. We emphasize that our details must be solely focused on the topic. This is a good way to model and remind students to stay on topic. If they start to get off topic, they can go back and look at their “detail flower” to keep them on track. We then take the information from our flower and create a writing piece about our school.

The detailed flower will help students gain the understanding of how to identify the central idea of a story during a read aloud or when reading independently. They will listen for the details or look for the details in the story and begin to narrow down the stories central idea/theme.  

After each mini-lesson, I give my students the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned. I hand them their own mini “detail flower” graphic organizer. They choose a topic of their choice and start filling in their own “detail flower”.  The completed flower will guide them in their writing. Below is an example of the information one of my students included in his flower. He wrote about his dog, Manchito.

Detail Flower                                                         Blackline Master

I also use this flower to model the trait: organization. This graphic organizer not only helps the student stay on topic, but they can number each petal to help organize their writing as they go! As we continue to visit each of the six traits of writing, I create an anchor chart with the information we learned for each trait as a resource my students can refer to. Here is an example of poster similar to what I hang in my classroom.

How do you teach the traits of writing? Share some ideas! I’d love to hear what you are doing that works!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Using Mentor Texts as a Guide to Help Teach the Six Traits of Writing

by S. Romero

As teachers, we all know how important it is for our students to learn to develop proper writing skills. Learning the six traits of writing is vital for our students to become good writers. Using mentor texts is also a great and fun way to teach and model these traits of writing!

When teaching the six traits, I select a picture book or mentor text in English or Spanish (depending on the language of the day) that my students will enjoy as a read aloud. We analyze the book together and review its ideas (theme), organization (story structure), word choice (descriptive words used and word phrases), voice (writer’s mood or personality), sentence fluency (review how sentences flow with good syntax and free of fragments), and conventions (correct use of punctuation, spelling, and capitalization). This allows us to use the author’s craft as a writing model.

When modeling the six traits, I focus on one trait at a time through a mini-lesson. For example, when I focused on organization, I read the book The Napping House by Audrey Wood, we analyzed and discussed the sequence of events in the story and how those events were structured.

I also created a story map as a visual for my students to see how the sequence of events take place in the correct order. We discussed why it’s important for our writing to be well organized and should have good flow.

After our mini-lesson, my students created a three-way foldable. In each square my students wrote the events that took place in each order and drew a picture to demonstrate each event. This activity allow for my students to break apart each major event from the beginning, middle and end. This activity also helped pave the way to demonstrate an understanding on how to identify a stories plot, since it usually takes place in the middle of a story.

I also modeled the other five traits through the use of this one mentor text! There are a plethora of mentor text in our libraries and bookstores that can be used to teach these traits and make your writing time fun and engaging!

Mentor texts have always been part of my writing instruction. This is why I was giving the opportunity to be part of the development of Blooming Writers/El Escritor Floriciente, which is a wonderful resource to use for teaching the Six Traits of Writing. It is filled with Spanish and English writing lessons that include mentor texts and examples of how to model each trait through the use of that text. What mentor text can you think of that would be great to model one of the Six Traits of Writing?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Engage Your Students Through the Use of Mentor Texts

by S. Romero

As a teacher, creating engaging lessons is vital in keeping your students engaged and excited about learning. Using mentor texts that your students can connect to and are familiar with during reading, writing and other subject does exactly that! They engage students!

Our standards are organized by genres so this made it easy to plan my author study unit. Since I had to teach through historical, cultural, traditional, and realistic fiction genres, I selected Patricia Polacco because her books were a “good fit” for these genres plus, she is an amazing children’s author! 

For the historical genre, we read Pink ‘n’ Say and for traditional and cultural genre, we read The Keeping Quilt and Thunder Cake. We created anchor charts with the characteristics of each of the genres. Students learned about the Civil War and family traditions and cultures.  Both topics interested my students. The mentor texts engaged the students in the process of making predictions, talking about problems and solutions, making inferences, and learning about the Civil War and family traditions and culture, which created an interest in writing ideas. 


We didn’t just read books to cover our author study; we put those books to use that made our reading and learning more meaningful and purposeful! Before you knew it, our classroom was covered with anchor charts labeled with genre specific information and text they could refer to for those genres. The author study was a great success!

How do you use mentor texts?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Using Rubrics for Language Proficiency Progress and Academic Learning

by S. Romero

One of the biggest questions that teachers find themselves asking, especially when teaching ELLs is, "Did my students get the "gist" of what I want them to learn?" "Is their second language proficiency improving, and if so, in what area?"

Although our ELLs’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills are assessed annually, I need to keep track of their progress throughout the year. Anecdotal notes are great, however, as their teacher, I need something more concrete that measures growth which can be shared with my students and their parents. That’s when I thought about creating a rubric.

Before creating a rubric I needed to decide which area to monitor. I decided to start with writing since it can be more subjective to assess. I identified writing expectations that I wanted to target for a particular writing assignment. I made sure they were aligned to language proficiency standards of the state, in this case the ELPS. After identifying the standards, I created a rubric/checklist and included the expectations and proficiency language levels with descriptors.  See below.

I shared this rubric with my students so that there would be no surprises. We reviewed it and made sure everyone understood how it was going to be used. We took a sample writing and together we rated it. This helped clarify questions they had.

Here is a rubric that I completed for Ruben.

After reviewing Ruben’s strengths and weaknesses in the specific expectations, I know that Ruben knows how to write a persuasive letter, capitalizes proper nouns, and understands the use of punctuation marks in a sentence. What I will need to focus on during the next lesson is his use of proper nouns, use of subject and verb agreement, and any other expectations I may add.  

As far as the linguistic portion of the writing, I reviewed the language standards and the proficiency level descriptors for writing using the ELPS at a Glance.  I looked at the specific descriptions and identified the proficiency level that aligned with the skills of the student. Using the ELPS at a Glance  made it easy for me to review the descriptors for all levels: beginning, intermediate, advanced, and advanced high.  You can view all the standards and levels at a glance. 

Documenting the proficiency level for each assignment helps me monitor students' language proficiency progress. It also makes rating at the end of the year a lot easier since I am very familiar with my students linguistic performance and the proficiency level descriptions.

Using this rubric, and others, allowed me to evaluate students' writing as well as their speaking. As you all know, a students' writing mirrors the way they speak. This tool helped me tremendously! It helped me track my student's progress, my grading was less subjective and it gave more accountability for both my students' learning and my teaching. I later created a more formal rubric that I used for other subject areas, which made grading a whole lot easier!

How do you monitor your ELLs’ language proficiency progress? Do you use checklists/rubrics? Share your ideas!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Importance of Music in Education - Part I

The Benefits of Music Education

A boy getting a piano lessonWe have heard or have read that music facilitates learning.

This is not a myth and we know the importance of it, but do we really value it and use it in our classrooms?

Here are some reasons why we should incorporate music into our classrooms.

 1. Language Development

Music benefits children's ages two to nine language development.

2. Increased IQ

Children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. 

3. The Brain Works Harder.

Research has proven the theory that students who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities.

4. Spatial-Temporal Skills

There is a l link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.

5. Improved Test Scores

Music can help with basic memory recall, so students can easily memorize information and improve their test scores.

6. Being Musical

Music can improve our students' abilities in learning and other non music tasks, but it's important to understand that music does not make one smarter. 

Words from an Expert- Musician Mariana Iranzi

"Music is important. It is essential in the mental, physical and emotional development of children. It helps in the development of math, listening, language, and motor skills and encourages creativity, expression and communication. Music connects others through history, art, geography, culture and dance. It supports the development of high self-esteem and confidence. Music is expression of the self and it's freedom. Music is a gift for life."

Helpful Resources: - great music for children in English and Spanish. - great programs to develop different skills through music.


Monday, August 18, 2014

The 21st Century Classroom

There is the misconception that if we just take a traditional K-12 classroom and fill it with technology, we have designed the perfect 21st century classroom.

If we just add technology, will wind up with high tech classrooms that will still lack meeting all students' needs.

Here are some ideas that should be incorporated into the 21st Century classroom:

1. Desks and furniture that support collaboration. 

Furniture should be able to accommodate multiple learners and then be repositioned for independent learning.

2. Ample electrical outlets. 

You should provide a  combination of electrical outlets, some of which are integrated into the classroom furniture, and power strips that are distributed through the classroom. 

3. Lighting that's easy to control. 

Use lamps, natural lighting or lights that can be dimmed easily. Also the students sitting furthest away from the projection screen, for example, must be able to see the workspace clearly and without interference from shadows.

4. Integrate Technology - Video
Technology Integration


Saturday, August 2, 2014

The 21st Century Learner

We are getting ready to start setting up our classrooms soon, so we should be asking ourselves:

Is our classroom ready for the 21st century learner?

The great news is that 21st-century learning can take place in every school and in every classroom!

It is evident that technology influences how our students learn. Not only educators and learners have changed, but also learning tools have evolved. While I was training teachers, I realized that some of them are reluctant to prepare themselves for this change.

Their main concern is that they do not feel like they have enough tools, knowledge and time to implement technology.
It is crucial for us to know how to use technologies to make material accessible and engaging. It is never too late to learn and if we are in education for our students, we can at least start somewhere. Let's not forget that technology is ever-changing, and we should not leave our children behind.

Where can we start?

The main question we should ask ourselves is—what do we want students to learn? Then we can choose what technology is appropriate for our students.

    Here are more questions that can help you get ready:

  • What tools and technologies will help my students (and perhaps colleagues) create, collaborate, and communicate better?
  • How can I let students learn with technology the way that they already live with their technology?
  • What is the appropriate role of the web, social media, mobile technologies, interactive white- boards, etc., in today's classroom?


21st century learner