Last year I blogged about our 11-minute essays inspired by the one and only: Gretchen Bernabei. My kids loved it SO much, and it really helped them see that they could write A LOT in a very short amount of time.
So…it’s only fitting that I carry on the tradition this year, too. I used the same truism picture as I did with my kids for the first time last year. You can download a copy (FREE!) of 70 pictures with truisms…in English AND Spanish…by clicking here. We used #11: Pets can be a big part of a family.
Because 4th graders don’t have the knowledge or experiences of most kids in junior high (which is what Gretchen teaches), I modified her 11-minute essay to fit their needs.
HERE ARE 4 SAMPLES FROM OUR FIRST ATTEMPT AT A 10 MINUTE ESSAY. Remember: They have not been revised…it’s just a quick 10 minute piece of writing! 😉
Step #1: Talk to students about truisms. (These are the sentences under the pictures.) Truisms are statements that are generally true in most situations. Even if it isn’t true for you, there are many other people in the world who agree with a truism.
Step #2: Once you’ve chosen the truism you want your kids to write about, project it on the board. Tell them to look at it and begin to think about what it says. Their job will be to tell you how they know this is true.
Step #3: Give students 2 minutes to write only about the truism itself. They should give information about the truism, or they may simply copy the truism. When time gets to about 15 seconds, tell students to wrap up what they are saying. As the timer goes off, tell them to finish the sentence where they are, and remember to put a punctuation mark at the end.
Step #4: Tell students to drop down to the next line and indent for the next paragraph. Give students 3 minutes to write about how this is true in their own life or in a book they have read. I like to let them know when they have 2 minutes, 1 minute, and 30 seconds left. Repeat the wrap up warning and punctuation reminder when time is up.
Step #5: Tell students to drop down to the next line and indent for the next paragraph. Give students 3 minutes to write about how this is true in a movie or a TV show they have watched. Repeat warnings and reminders.
Step #6: Tell students to drop down to the next line for the last paragraph. Give students 2 minutes to write about what this makes them think or wonder.
Step #7: Have students count their words and write the number at the top and circle it.
And there you have it…a 10 minute expository essay!
What does this do for your kids? Well…lots of things. For one, it helps them to see that it doesn’t take TWO WHOLE WEEKS to produce a nice piece of writing. Yeah…some kids will write more for you in that 10 minutes than they’ve written…EVER! Gotta love that!
It gives them some practice with writing an expository piece. And even though they may not have realized it as they were going, they are writing from a text structure: Truism –> How it’s true in my life/book –> How it’s true in a movie/TV show –> This makes me think…
This activity helps them to build confidence in themselves.
How many words did you just write in 10 minutes? Over 100? WHAT? Yeah…that’s a pretty cool feeling. And the more you do it…the more they write. It becomes a competition within themselves to see how many more words they can write each time. And inevitably, a class competition to see who can write the MOST words of all!
But most importantly, the kids enjoy it and have fun with it. And that’s what writing is all about, right?!?!
Have you ever used this activity with your kids? If so, I would LOVE to hear about it. How is it similar? Different? Leave a comment below to let everyone know how this works in YOUR classroom!
If you ever have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or email me or find me on Facebook and message me. I love hearing from you!
Until next time…
Once again, my students took on the challenge of an amazing activity created by none other than…Gretchen Bernabei! Color It Up. It’s pretty simple but has incredible power and learning potential for students–and they enjoyed doing it.
In her book, Fun Size Academic Writing, Gretchen uses this technique with the first story, which is a narrative. Well, we are currently working on expository pieces, so I decided to take another of my favorites from that book which is an expository piece, and color that one up instead.
We used the writing about Barbie. It has so much personality, and the kids absolutely LOVED it! I ran copies for each student so that they could keep it in their folder as a mentor text to refer back to when necessary. Before we began highlighting the icons, we made a key at the bottom to remind ourselves of the 4 different writer’s tools we would be finding–actions, dialog, thoughts, and what the author saw. We coded them with the appropriate colors (see picture), and then got started.
At first, I had to explicitly point out each strategy this author used, but as we went on, the students began shouting out the writer’s tools before I could finish the sentence! This showed me that not only were they “getting it,” but they were really thinking. (I feel like so much of the time students want things to be spoon-fed to them, so when they step out if their comfort zone and take risks by thinking for themselves, we celebrate!)
The level of understanding drastically increased. They were making connections about what they saw. They noticed that there was lots of action, even in this expository paper. They noticed that there was a plethora of thinking within the text. They noticed a pattern–that each time there was a thought, there was an example to back it up. They noticed that there was NOT much dialog. They noticed that each paragraph ended with a thought.
This allowed us to go into some deep discussion of why authors use specific writer’s tools for specific purposes. Some of them wondered why this author kept saying that she loves her Barbie at the end of each paragraph, which led us to the realization that she was connecting back to the prompt each time and letting us know that this possession was extremely important to her.
We did a lot of noticing about writer’s craft. Did I mention that this was awesome?
Kids can and will notice things like this when given the opportunity. In fact, one of my students who usually “sits on the sidelines” during class was so engaged in this activity that I had to think of some sort of reward for such effort and participation. It totally blew me away.
Part of what made this so powerful was that the students began making their own connections and noticed things for themselves, without me having to tell them. It increased the rigor of our conversations and the learning skyrocketed! It made my day! 😉
We are now working on our own pieces for our most prized possession. I’ve included a few pics of their planning pages for you. Some of them have been revised a bit to make sure that the students are getting to the deep meaning and not repeating themselves, but these are the raw products. I will definitely post some samples when they are finished, so keep checking back for those!
Oh yeah, when I get a few more seconds to spare, I’ll be uploading some expository samples from our first attempt. I just have to get them typed up so that you can print them off and use them if you’d like. 🙂
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