Collaborative Unit Openers

October 14, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Posted in best practices, education, elementary, learning modality, Open Court, teachers, unit opener | 1 Comment

For this coming week, I will be participating in Unit Opener Planning Week (and hope you will be too!).  This is primarily geared toward Open Court units, but always take ideas that you like and tweak them to suit your needs!

Okay, here’s my first idea which I heard through a colleague and hope to implement at my school.

Have collaborative unit openers among your grade level. 

Among your grade level, have each teacher create one truly exciting 30 minutes unit opener lesson, rather than plan for an entire day of unit openers. On the day of the unit opener, each teacher will teach the one lesson to each class, rotating from one classroom to the next.  The benefits are many.  Teachers collaborate.  Teachers are only responsible for planning one 30 minutes lesson, but students benefit from 3 or 4 or 5 excellent lessons.  Students get to meet and experience being taught by different teachers, different modalities, different styles.  On a more selfish level, because teachers are teaching someone else’s students and know that other teachers will be teaching your students, you tend to feel competitive and want to create the “best” lesson, pushing your unit openers to a higher level of rigor and fun.

I can’t wait to try this at my school!

Unit Opener Planning Week

October 13, 2007 at 6:52 am | Posted in best practices, education, free resources, Open Court, reading, writing | 1 Comment

Please visit Creating Lifelong Learners by Mathew Needleman this coming week to participate in or get ideas for opening up a learning unit.  This is geared toward Open Court units, but I say, you can always get ideas for your own units and anthologies!  So come along for this exciting collaboration!

I will be participating as well and posting my ideas here on this blog, but there will be many, many teachers and coaches creating excellent ideas all across the web.  Please do consider joining in!

Unit Opener

Friendly Thank You Letter – Using Thinking Maps

September 25, 2007 at 6:10 pm | Posted in elementary, graphic organizers, Open Court, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | 4 Comments

This is a piece of writing my second grade students work on for two weeks. It helps prepare my students for the Open Court Unit 2 writing assessment. This is the first major writing assignment in Unit 2 for us. I used the writing process that I learned from Write From the Beginning because it explicitly teaches many skills and makes clear the writing process.

You can also read more about writing using Thinking Maps at my previous posts.

The prompt

Please write a thank you letter to Ms. R using the friendly letter format.

Second grade Open Court teachers in LAUSD would recognize the prompt as the unit assessment prompt, modified.

The Rubric

The class rubric is charted and hangs in front of the class through out the entire writing process. I refer to it again and again daily as well as whenever I teach a particular skill that is mentioned in the rubric. Every student knows exactly what needs to be done to get a good grade.


The Context

While working in the computer lab one day, the fire drill alarm went off and drove us out of the computer lab. Ms. R invited the students to return after recess to complete the presentations that they were working on. The students felt grateful and excited at the opportunity, and I immediately grabbed at the chance to do a major piece of writing using a shared experience. Also, I couldn’t resist the urge to do some relevant writing with a real-world purpose. Ms. R was very happy to receive these letters.

Pre-write: The Circle Map

We started by brainstorming some things we want to write about using a Circle Map. We did this as a whole group using Think-Pair-Share and small group discussion strategies. Then, the students created their individual Circle Maps. Students were encouraged to “pull out” from the class circle map and to add their own ideas.


Continue Reading Friendly Thank You Letter – Using Thinking Maps…

Friendly Letter Rubric – More like criteria

September 17, 2007 at 7:22 pm | Posted in Open Court, second grade, writing | 3 Comments

I never did learn the difference between a list of criteria and a rubric.  In any case, this is how I grade my student’s writing. 

My students are very familiar with this format and they know exactly what they need to get a good grade, because it’s charted and reviewed almost daily.  Whenever we have a related lesson, I refer back to this rubric.  For example,we’ve been working on writing in complete sentences.  I refer back to this rubric and remind my students that complete sentences are worth 5 points.  We are very goal oriented in my class.  I will post more on our second grade friendly letter writing assignment in my next post.  For now, I just wanted to share the rubric.

Why a rubric like this?  It is directly connected to writing standards.  For students, it makes explicit what they need to do in their writing.  For teachers, it makes clear what a particular student needs to work on, and through several assignments, you can measure a student’s growth in a particular area.


For those of us who work with second grade Open Court in LAUSD, we know that Unit 2’s writing assessment is to write a thank you letter to a friend.  Thus the rubric.  We are very goal oriented, did I mention that?

This rubric is modified from the Write From The Beginning program.

I translate the 20 point system into a 4 point grade like this:

  • 20 points – 4
  • 19-16 points – 3
  • 15-10 points – 2
  • <9 points – 1

Click here to download the PDF.

Teaching Presentation to Second Graders Using Keynote

September 2, 2007 at 7:24 pm | Posted in elementary, inner city, Open Court, publishing, second grade, technology in education | 2 Comments

This past week, my students and I started an exciting new project.  We are learning how to create a presentation using Apple’s Keynote!  Keynote is rather like Powerpoint.  It is a part of the iWork bundle. 

So far, so good!  The kids are excited.  They love adding animations and effects to their images and words.

I started the lesson by using a Powerpoint presentation on “Kindness” from  “Kindness” is our literacy unit for the next 6 weeks. I prefaced the lesson by explicitly telling them that this is a presentation, that adults use this to share information, that we will learn how create our own presentation as an option for publishing our writing and sharing our ideas, yadiyadiya.  Then, we started creating our own “Kindness” presentation as a whole group, which is to say, every student is creating an identical presentation at their own workstation by following the teacher step by step.  My rationale for doing it this way?  Most of my students only ever touch a computer at school, usually to play a “learning” game, and have never seen a presentation before.  Whole group is the only way to go. 

During this lesson, I found that I had to teach them EVERYTHING, down to what double-click means.  That’s expected since they are a) second graders and b) mostly computer illiterate because c) inner city students have very little access to technology.

I am so thankful that (though our classrooms have ten years old computers that is no longer serviced by LAUSD), our computer lab has (slow, but functional) computers and a projector.  Also an excellent computer technician who looks out for these programs for our students.  Her only wish is that teachers would make use of these programs, rather than stick the kids on “learning” games for 40 minutes, once a week. 

btw, I’m looking into having my students blog, but it won’t work on the computer in my classroom.  I’ll have to first get everyone’s parents consent for the students to get on the Internet, and then maybe settle for blogging as a twice a month thing done only in the computer lab.  We shall see.    

How to Really Publish Your Students’ Writings and Drawings

June 23, 2007 at 7:16 am | Posted in elementary, free resources, investigation, Open Court, teachers, third grade, writing | 3 Comments

I discovered about a year ago. is a print on demand company.  You upload a pdf file to their server and can buy your beautiful, professional looking, retail ready book.  You can buy one or a class set or however many you want.  You can set your privacy option so that only you have the right to purchase your book.  You can also set it so that other people (like parents) can purchase the book.  (I would set that function to zero profit, or make it a fund-raiser for the school because keeping profit from your students’ work is kinda sticky business.)

When I first discovered it, I uploaded some gorgeous paintings my students made for the story “Picasso” in the “Imagination” unit of the third grade Open Court Reading program.  We purchased one book to be placed in my class library.  The kids went wild.  They love seeing their work in a real book.

I’m doing it again today.  I’m uploading some seriously amazing pieces that my students wrote as part of their investigation into storytelling.  They collected family oral histories and wrote the stories down, with beautiful illustration.  Unfortunately, we’re behind on the project, so the book probably won’t get here by our last day of school.  I will order two copies, one for their fourth grade class and one for my third grade class.

The students were very motivated to do their best writing and drawing for this book because, well, it’s a real book!  You can’t get more authentic and motivating than that!

I really recommend that teachers look into as one of the ways that students can publish their final drafts for writing, but also a way to publish Science projects, History projects, and anything else really.

Revised Workshop Time

June 15, 2007 at 7:18 pm | Posted in IWT, Open Court, Workshop | 4 Comments

workshoptime_exampleFor those of you who teach the Open Court Reading Program, you are familiar with Independent Workshop Time or Workshop. Workshop is designed to teach students independent learning and give teachers time to individualize instruction. It is a chunk of time when students have assignments that they must do and assignments that they may do once they complete their required assignments. There are many different ways of implementing Workshop, any of which can be done successfully.

Recently, after reading a book, the name of which escapes me at the moment, I’ve reconsidered Workshop time and I think, beginning next school year. I will implement a revised Workshop time. I find that the current Workshop time, with Must Dos and May Dos, all to be done in a single session or day is limiting.

The revised Workshop time is based on a menu system and looks something like this:

Entrees (Complete all) – produces tangible products

Side Dishes (Choose 2 or 3 or however many teacher wants) – produces tangible products

Desserts (Do any) – produces no tangible products

You can change the name entree, side dishes, and desserts to anything you like of course. Right off, Open Court teachers recognize that entrees are the usual Must Dos. Desserts are the usual May Dos. It’s the side dishes that makes things interesting.

Something else notable. These activities are not restricted to one day. Rather, they can be spread out through 3 or 5 days or an entire month, depending on the maturity and capability of the students.

What are the benefits of the revised Workshop?revisedworkshop_example

I can have larger, more intricate projects done during Workshop time for one thing. I can individualize menu, and therefore instruction, drastically. Students have more time to work on the bigger assignments, but have the freedom to choose when and how long they spend on each assignment, so long as they get it all done by the deadline. Some very motivated students may choose to complete their entree assignment first, then spend the rest of the week on side dishes and desserts. Some students might spend their time on desserts for the first few days but, that gives the teacher time to pull students who need help starting the projects into a small group to give them the skill or instruction they need to get started. Contrast this with the old Workshop time where all students must start the big assignments, and when they can’t do them, they do nothing and wait for the teacher to reprimand them or they become anxious or they just waste time and turn in inferior assignments at the end.

Share Time 

I’ve also just recently discovered Share Time and I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.

Share Time is five minutes at the end of Workshop time, old version or revised, where students can share what they’re working on during Workshop. Students have a sign up sheet and consult with the teacher first before signing on or they simply sign on. They can share completed assignments or incomplete assignments or an interesting book or a paragraph they’re struggling with or whatever. Share Time is highly motivating for the students. During the last three weeks I’ve been using Share Time, my kids are not just on task during Workshop, they’re really focused on their work so that they can share quality work with the class.

I’m starting the revised Workshop Time next academic year (starting July 5). I’ll let you know how it turns out. Of course, it’s going to take a month or so to get it implemented, but time well spent I think.

Open Court 2002 Second Grade

June 11, 2007 at 12:05 pm | Posted in Open Court | 1 Comment

Wow!  What changes!  I used Open Court 2000 Second Grade a few years ago and what an improvement just in the “Getting Started” section.  I mean, reviewing capital and lowercase letters?  Who woulda thunk?!

I’m excited by these positive changes in the Open Court reading program and am looking forward to working with it next school year.

KWL Chart – always useful!

May 28, 2007 at 9:50 am | Posted in best practices, free resources, graphic organizers, Open Court, strategies | Leave a comment

Andrew reminded me recently that the KWL chart is always useful, always powerful in helping students reflect on old and new learning.  Visit his blog for a more in-depth discussion of the KWL chart.  Also, Andrew created a KWL chart for anyone’s use if you are interested.

I’ve taken the liberty of adding the KWL chart to the teaching strategies wiki.

Thanks Andrew!

For teachers of the Open Court program, I added a paragraph of how to integrate the KWL chart with your Inquiry Journal at the  teaching strategies wiki.

Student Films – Wow!

May 28, 2007 at 9:24 am | Posted in best practices, Open Court, technology in education | 1 Comment

Last week, I had the great opportunity of attending teacher Mathew Needleman’s presentation of his student films at the Apple Store. Really, wow! I got so many ideas for my own class next year!

You can view the same films at his blog.  These films go along with units in the Open Court language arts program, but they give ideas for any teacher anywhere!

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