Saturday, March 16, 2013

Leprechaun Stories for St. Patrick's Day

I needed to assess my students' writing skills for their report cards last week. With two thirds of the school year over it was a great opportunity to see the results of my writing lessons since the start of school back in September. The obvious subject at this time of year for creative writing is, of course, leprechauns and St. Patrick's Day. When I told my students they had to write a story featuring a leprechaun they were overjoyed.

Steps for this task:

First I tapped out their knowledge about leprechauns, then read them a few picture books over a few days.
Second I asked the kids to tell me everything they knew about leprechauns. On a chart I recorded vocabulary that they generated. Even though most American kids understand that leprechauns are tiny fairies from Ireland who keep a pot of gold hidden, it's important to have a discussion. For example, most of my students did not know that leprechauns earned their gold coins from working as cobblers for the fairies. Nor did they know that leprechauns could never lie and this was why they've come up with inventive ways to trick people. A word bank of relevant vocabulary is not only extremely valuable for non native English speakers, it also provides an anchor for less confident writers.
Third I displayed my chart which lists 5 essential components of a story:
1. An entertaining beginning
2. Describe the setting
3. Build suspense
4. Frame by frame of the problem
5. Solving the problem

After all these months of teaching the steps on this chart the kids are quite familiar with them.

Fourth I explained the task. Write a story that features a leprechaun. You'll do a first draft today. Tomorrow you will revise the story using the steps we've learned, and then you will write a final draft of the story.

My Two Cents on Creative Writing

The buzz all around is Common Core Standards and teachers are swiveling toward non fiction, more opinion based writing. I agree that when kids graduate out of school they should be equipped to formulate arguments and support their positions on a variety of topics. My students write in their journals a few times a week, most of which is expository. Here, the emphasis is on content rather than delivery. While it is important to encourage kids to express their opinions in coherent writing, we should not hastily throw out the baby with the bathwater. I feel strongly that to teach effective writing strategies, creative writing offers the ideal forum. Coming up with a plot and figuring out how all the events will flow requires intense concentration. Students go through a complete thought process for an appreciable length of time. This is also an opportunity to experiment with new vocabulary and channel thoughts into grammatical sentences. In exercising their imagination and expanding their thinking kids are strengthening skills for application later in their lives. Finally, kids learn to write strong sentences and use paragraphs in an enjoyable fashion. These skills will transfer to those expository pieces expected in future years.

My students were thoroughly excited about the writing task right from the beginning. I'm very proud to share a few stories from this assignment which appear below. Notice the experimentation in their styles, vocabulary, and description. It is really important for the teacher to notice and praise the strengths, and to overlook a lot of the mistakes. It's normal for beginning writers to have inaccuracies. These stories are from 9 year olds and I think they are incredible.


By Katie

Beyond the streets and over the hills in a little valley in Ireland was a little cottage. In this cottage there lived a girl named Annie.  She lived with her brother, James and her aunt.

They owed a rather tiny piece of land but apple trees and golden and green apple trees and golden and green grass stretch forever around them. Everyday Annie would go picking apples and would root the potatoes. She did this because you would have to if you don’t have a store for miles away.

Her favorite thing though was to read about or look for leprechauns. She would look by every brook and hollow log. She would look in holes big and small and stumps short and tall.

One day though she forgot how her aunt said to stay close. She got carried away and went farther than her limit. She thought to her self, “I’ve never been here before.”

Well she wasn’t alone. She saw a trail of smoke drifting in the air. As she got close she could see a tiny little chimney popping out of the hill with a weathered tiny door. It was a built into the hill. She got closer.

She kneeled down and to her surprise it said clearly printed, “Leprechauns present.” She rang the little bell. Nobody answered. So she just opened it. She had to crawl because of the tiny size. It was so dark though but there was a glimpse of light at the end.

Then a thing of dust got in her eye. She took her hand to feel things when it brushed on some hair. Then she moved her hand down. Just then the dust came put. She opened her eyes. “Agghh!  Agghh!” They both screamed.

“Are you a leprechaun?” she asked. He rang his bell on the tip of his hap, “Jolly good.  Follow me over here.” Annie did as she was told.  He led her to the light.

Right there was an entire town full of leprechauns. There was a rainbow, and little shops a field of clovers and of course much more.  There were flowers with nuggets of the finest gold and grass as green as scattered emeralds. Then something caught her eye. In front of them was a beautiful tree dangled with crisp, shiny, ruby red apples.  They had golden pits. “I suppose I must give you my gold,” said the leprechaun.

“No!” Annie interrupted. “How about one of those apples?” The leprechaun grinned and gladly gave her an apple. “Come back, but don’t tell anyone were here.”

She crawled through the cave and exited they tiny wooden door.  When she got back she showed her aunt the apple. “Where did you get that?” her aunt asked.

Annie was not prepared for this. She said, “From a new tree I found.” So that answered her aunt’s question. Now she could just go there whenever she wanted hopefully her aunt would stay that way.  So she did. Everyday she would go see them and bring back one apple.  They stayed friends forever and favored each other.  

The Night Before St. Patrick’s Day
By Sarah

Tap, tap, tap. I was lying in bed listening. There it went again. It was the night before St. Patrick’s Day. It must be leprechauns, I thought. Slowly and silently I slipped out of bed. Slowly and silently I tip toed down the stairs.

Half way down my mouth dropped open. My body froze. I almost screamed. No it couldn’t be, but it was. There in the middle of my living room were dozens and dozens of leprechauns. Tap, tap, tap.   Now I could hear very clearly.

Silently I tiptoed down the rest of the stairs. Slowly I approached on of the leprechauns. “Hello, “ I whispered. “My name is Sophie. I won’t hurt you. Just tell me what you’re doing.”
“We are digging up our pots of gold to take to the end of the rainbow,” he answered without looking up. “My name is Bob.” Then he and the other leprechauns left. I tiptoed after them.

Very soon we reached the end of a spectacular rainbow. “We must go to the other side,” Bob said.
“Why?”  I asked.
“Because we must never bury treasure unless we are in Ireland,” he answered. He climbed onto the rainbow an offered his hand to me. Though I took it, it didn’t do much because he was so much smaller than me. I climbed on after him and the other leprechauns climbed on after me.

Soon we reached the very top of the rainbow. Under our feet was the most amazing mat of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. Above our heads the stars shimmered and danced. The moon smiled down on us, lighting up the world. Down below the world was asleep. I dozed with it.

Just then Bob let out a horrifying shriek. I woke up. Bob’s full to the top pot of gold was now falling quickly to the Earth. “Can you fly?” I asked.

 “No!” he answered in a panic. “Only the king and queen can fly.”
Suddenly I had an idea. When I had gotten out of bed I had wrapped my blanket around me. The leprechauns worked some magic and the blanket could now be used as a parachute. I grabbed Bob, put him in my pocket and we began our long fall to earth.

When we got there we were surprised to see we were at the end of the rainbow. There propped up neatly on a rock was Bob’s pot of gold. Not one coin had been lost. I helped Bob bury the pot.

Then he worked a spell. I was swept away in a blur of green.  Then, plop, I landed warm and safe in my very own bed. When I leaned over to check the time it was 6:30, the time I had left. There was a beautiful charm bracelet with a leprechaun who looked like Bob and lots of clover leaves. When I put it on, it was like I had a touch of magic in me.

That morning I tried to tell my parents and sister but they just said I had a big imagination. So my adventure on the rainbow still remains my secret.      
Leprechaun Riddle
By Hunter

When I was walking on a trail in March, I found a sign. It was in the ground. It said: Beware of some Lepre. The rest of the sign was covered in dirt. I picked it up. The last part was broken off. Then I saw something green move fast. It looked like a tiny man.

There were two of them. Their footprints were green. They were leprechauns! Another sign appeared. On it in tiny letters were: Solve the riddle.  I picked up the sign. On the last word chaun was added. I solved the riddle!

I put the sign in my knapsack and followed the leprechauns.  Their names were, and still are, Lucky and Cheeky. They led me to a gate. On a sign it said, “Private Property. DO NOT ENTER.” I found a key. It opened the gate.

There was a 3-headed dragon and a phoenix firebird. They chased us to a cave filled with werewolves. Lucky and Cheeky gave them some meat. We captured one and named him Lightening.

We dashed up to a glacier. It came to be a sinkhole. We were caught in a bullet train. We traveled until we came to a station. There was a party.

The leprechauns saw their arch-enemy. He was a black elf named Darkness. He saw them and started running. We followed him, grabbing some silver. He liked silver. We threw it into the werewolf cave. That was the end of him.

The leprechauns turned into constellations.

My New Leprechaun Family
By Jack

A beige sun set over the mountains of Flockenville, a very small village in Ireland. Only twenty families lived in Flockenville. I was sent into the forest to get firewood. By the way, I am Carter.

So I aimed my ax and chop, chop, chop! Out came a leprechaun.  He said, “Ooo, I’ll take you to my pot of gold.” And across the river were hundreds, perhaps thousands of pots full of gold. But I had to ford the river. SPLASH!

I was in the water heading towards a waterfall! Splash! I fell in and all that was left was me and my jack-knife. My ax was too heavy to float down.

It took me hours to cut down a tree with a jack knife. I started a fire and when it got going the light attracted an old couple. They managed to make a house and adopt me.

It was a nice house. My favorite part was the warm fireplace. Also the warm beds. I got an allowance for chopping down trees.

  Then one day, years later, I was fit and ready for my adventure home. I ran into more leprechauns. They turned me into a leprechaun! I tried to push the guy off a cliff and into my fire, but I was too small.

So, they adopted me. I kept trying to turn myself back into a human, but I dealt with it and had family time with my new leprechaun family.

St. Patrick’s Day Story
By Lea Pynn

The sun was coming up as the moon went down. It shot through Emily’s curtains. She lifted the sheet over her head. She couldn’t take it. She got up and went downstairs. Her mom was making pancakes for breakfast. She only made pancakes on special occasions. Today was a special occasion. Today was Saint Patrick’s Day!

Emily’s family lived in a beautiful place called Ireland. Her mom’s name was Jan and her dad’s name was Jefferson. Emily always wanted to see a leprechaun. When she could see a leprechaun she would ask, “Do you have any gold?”

One day her mom sent her out to get some firewood. She tripped over a log, dropped her firewood, and tumbled down a dark hole. When her eyes opened she was in a world with giant plants.

Emily looked down. She wasn’t wearing her white dress anymore. She had a green shirt, green pants, a black hat, black shoes, and her hair was loose instead of in braids. When she looked back, the hole was covered with weeds, leaves, grass, and dead flowers.

The people of the village were running around like crazy. When all the people were gone Emily went to a little Irishman sitting on a tree stump. “Why is everything so big and why am I so little?” she asked.
He said, “A pleasant hello would be grand.”
“Sorry,” said Emily.
“Better.  My name is Ton, and you’re a leprechaun.”
“WHAT?” she yelled.
“Yes. We do not like people going near our village. We put the log there to make you tumble down our hole. Whenever someone goes into Leprechaun Village they turn into leprechauns,” said Ton.
“That is actually kind of spectacular, “ Emily said.
“Would you like to see what it is like to be a leprechaun?” Ton asked.
“Sure I would!”
The first place they went to was a clear pond full of ducks. They climbed up plants, rested on flower petals, and rode ducks. The next hour they went to a meadow. Ton and Emily ran off to the woods. They tried to climb trees, but it was hard. “My mom said the latest I can be gone is sunset, “ Emily said.
“I’ll let you go off. Just remember never come near this hole again.”

Emily was shot out of Leprechaun Village. She had braids, her white dress, and her Converse shoes on. She grabbed her firewood and ran home. Her mom was very happy to see her and very worried.  Her mom said her dinner was on the table. When Emily fell asleep Ton was in her house. He crept into her room. This is what he whispered in her ear, “Didn’t we have a grand time?”

A St. Patrick’s Day Story
By Greta

My story starts in Ireland in the middle of the mountains in a little house. In that house there lived a little man who was 12 inches tall and always wore the color green. This little man was what we call a leprechaun.

Now this leprechaun was hiding his pot of gold when a big net snatched him and his pot of gold. The leprechaun said, “Please let me go! I haven’t hidden my pot of gold yet! Come and snatch me up tomorrow when I have hidden my pot of gold!”

The man whose name was Tom said “Or. But you have to be in this exact spot OR.”
“OR,” said the leprechaun.

The leprechaun quickly hid his pot of gold. Then he walked to his house and went to bed. There was only one problem. Tom was hiding behind a tree. When the leprechaun was gone he went home, got his shovel, and came back and dug up the pot of gold. Then Tom took the pot of gold home.

The next day Tom came back to the exact spot he last caught the leprechaun. He waited all day, then the leprechaun finally came.  Tom scooped him up in the big net. “Where is you pot of gold?”
“My pot of gold is inside the cherry tree,” said the leprechaun.  Tom looked inside the cherry tree, but of course, nothing was there.

Then Tom said, “Where’s the pot of gold?”
“It’s not there. Someone must have stolen it.” While the leprechaun was looking for his pot of gold frantically, Tom ran home and never ever told anyone what happened that day.

A Leprechaun Named Izzy
By Alicia

Long ago there lived a leprechaun named Izzy. Izzy ran away from home and was all alone in the woods. One day she met a very kind girl named Jenny. They met while Jenny was on vacation. Their vacation was at a cabin in the woods.
Jenny went for a walk in the woods. She started to hear strange sounds. She also saw a bush shaking. She started to walk faster. Later she saw something green. She wondered what it was and then she thought it must be a leprechaun.
Jenny ran home and got her leprechaun trap. When she came back the leprechaun was still there so Jenny trapped the leprechaun and took him back home.
When they got home Jenny put the leprechaun in a cage. Jenny saw he was scared and said, “Don’t be scared. What’s your name?”
The leprechaun said, “My name is Izzy.”
The girl said, “My name is Jenny and we’re going to be the best of friends. If you promise you will not slip away from me and run away, I will let you out of the cage.” Jenny opened the cage and took Izzy out.
Izzy ran out of the cage.  Then he said, “I am hungry.”
Jenny said, “Well, what do you want?”
“Do you have any potatoes?  Leprechauns love potatoes.”
They both then said goodbye.

By Gwen

“I had the best day ever!” Jessica Hall exclaimed.
“Why?” asked her mother, Mrs. Hall.
“The sixth grade is going to Ireland next month!” That month passed quickly. Before Jessica knew it, she was on the plane.

When she found her seat she felt a pinch and almost screamed. She was so shocked to see what she saw. A strange quiet voice, almost a whisper, said, “Hello girly, my name is Lucky, the Leprechaun.”

      Jessica thought, That was supposed to make me feel better but it didn’t. After all it’s not every day that a girl sees a leprechaun. “Why aren’t you in Ireland?” she asked forgetting where the plane was heading.
“You forgetful little girly,” Lucky replied.

      Quickly Jessica picked up Lucky and put him in her carry on. For the rest of the plane ride she slept. When she woke up the plane was landing. She grabbed her carry on and Lucky was still there.  She sighed with relief. She turned for a split second and he was gone.  She looked around the plane but it was too late.

      She realized that this was Lucky’s home and she trusted him to walk around. She left with her class to go to the hotel.When she got there, sitting on her bed, was Lucky and twenty other leprechauns.  Jessica’s jaw dropped. Lucky saw this so he quickly said, “You shoved me into your suitcase which means you invited me and my whole family to stay with you.”
“Well then,” replied Jessica.

      All of a sudden they started thrashing about. They tore up the pillows and white, fluffy feathers flew around the room. The wool comforter was torn and spread out all over the room. Jessica yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” The leprechauns all got a sad look on their faces.  “Well anyway I found you, Lucky. Now where is your pot of gold?” Jessica asked after a long silent moment.
“Oh, don’t you know that was the olden times that we did that? This is modern times,” replied Lucky.

      Jessica now was in a bad mood. She wanted to get rid of the leprechauns. It was the last day of the trip. The leprechauns were still there. She felt so powerless around them. Whenever she said something they always put on those sad faces.

      Jessica packed her bags. While she was packing she realized why she could never manage to tell them to leave. She had grown to love them.

When they weren’t looking, she slipped out the door. On the ride back she felt sad and lonely. She wished Lucky were sitting next to her. When she got home she lugged her bag into her room and lay down.

      Years past and everyday she thought about him. She had a sixth grade daughter named Jessie. One day Jessie came home and said, “The sixth grade is going to Ireland.” On the plane she felt a pinch.
“Hello, my name is Lucky Jr.,” said a small voice. Jessie picked him up and put him in her carry on.

Chubby, the Leprechaun
by Alexander

Chubby was a big leprechaun. His name was perfect for him because he was chubby. He lived in LGSG city. Chubby was poor. He kept his only $2,000,000 in the bank. ($2,000,000 is not that money for a leprechaun.)

      One day an evil wizard named Zurvak, who wore a vicious looking blood-red cloak, came flying to LGST city on his ghost chariot pulled by two dead ghostly dragons. His chariot shot out millions of ghosts who broke apart the city prison. All the evil wizards of the world escaped.

      That night Chubby couldn’t sleep. He was worried about the evil wizards. Then he saw light. He looked out the window. He fell over. The evil wizards were shooting spells at the bank!

KABLOOM! It fell over in pieces. Then a huge crate, probably 500 miles high, dropped down on a rope. It opened. The evil wizards shot a spell and all the gold that had been in the bank flew up and fell into the crate. It was Zurvak’s ghost chariot! It flew away with all the gold, followed by the evil wizards.

      Chubby rushed downstairs. He saw police cars and jumped into one. “Thanks,” he yelled, throwing a pound of gold at a policeman. Soon he came to a desert and his car stopped. “The worst time to run out of gas!” he said.
About a mile away he saw a huge cactus. After an hour he came to it. He saw a little rectangular shaped door. He kicked it and it fell over! He walked inside and overheard the wizards having a meeting.

“Whoever is first to destroy this planet gets to be in charge,” said Zurvak. Zurvak and the others ran in different directions. Zurvak ran into a catapult. Just as he was about to crush it, Chubby catapulted him to space.

      The other wizards held a meeting behind the huge cactus. “Now that Zurvak is gone I get to be ruler!” shouted a wizard named Donjatv. Up in space Zurvak threw a spear at Earth. It hit the huge cactus. The cactus fell over crushing the other wizards. Zurvak flew away looking back, laughing at Earth. But before he could turn to look ahead, a meteorite hit him. He fell down, down, down, never to be seen again.

Everybody got their gold back. Everyone thanked Chubby.

The Leprechaun’s Rainbow
by Isabela

      In a place called Ireland lived a girl named Emma. Emma had blond hair and blue eyes. One morning Emma woke up. She went outside and lay down and looked at the sky. She saw a beautiful rainbow.
      When she got up she saw a bush shaking and a strange shadow.  “What could it be?” said Emma. It was a leprechaun named Ella.
Ella said, “Please don’t hurt me.
I don’t know who you are,” said Emma.
“You don’t know who I am?” said Ella.”
“No, I don’t,” said Emma.
“Well, I am a leprechaun. I came from a town called The World of Leprechauns,” said Ella.
“That is a beautiful name,” said Emma.
“Thank you.”
“Why are you here?” asked Emma.
“I came to collect berries because in our town there aren’t any berries and if we don’t eat, rainbows won’t appear,” said Ella.
“You control rainbows?” asked Emma.
“Yes, you didn’t know?”
“No I didn’t.”
“We leprechauns eat different colored berries so we can make the rainbows. I am dressed in blue because I made the color blue in rainbows. Four other leprechauns are with me because they make the other colors of the rainbow. Do you want to meet them? They’re behind the bush.”
“All right,” said Emma. The four leprechauns came out from the bush. The one dressed in orange was Patrick, the one in red was Sally, the one in green was Alex, and the one in yellow was May.
“We all eat berries. Do you eat berries?” asked Ella.
“Of course I do. They are my favorite snack,” said Emma.
Ella said, “May we have some berries?”
“Of course. Take as many as you need. You may come whenever you want.”
“Thank you very much. You are a good friend.”

The Young Leprechaun
By Jamila

A long time ago there was a young boy named Mike. He had curly, blonde hair and his eyes were as blue as the sea. His skin was peach with a hint of brown. Mike’s family was poor. He lived with is mom and sister. His father died before he was born. Mike and his family lived in a little cottage in the middle of the woods. The cottage had only one room. He shared a room with his sister. His mom slept alone.

One day when Mike went out to plant some tomato seeds he saw a shadow. A bush shook. Then he saw something climbing up a tree. Mike froze in his tracks. He said to himself, “Could it be?”

When he went behind the bush he almost fainted. He saw a leprechaun. He couldn’t say a word. Mike asked in a shaky voice, “What is your name?”

The leprechaun answered, “Coral.” Mike fainted.

When Mike woke up he thought it was just a dream. He got dressed and went outside. Right at that moment he saw Coral. Coral said, “Hello. I want to tell you about myself.”

Coral began:
I was born by the ocean side. I didn’t have any parents with me. I almost got sucked up by the ocean. Someone had come to save me. I remember it as being a wizard. Then I was brought here to these bushes. That’s my story.

“Okay,” said Mike.

Now I, the writer, will tell you what Coral looked like. She had blue, curly hair. Her eyes were as brown as dirt. Her skin was peach.

The next day Mike woke up and looked for Coral. She wasn’t there but there was a message. It said: I’ve been stolen. Please come and save me. I lie hidden by the sea.
After Mike read this letter he rushed over to the sea. He looked all over for Coral. Then, in the shadows of the ocean he saw green. He said to himself, “That must be Coral.” He picked her up.

Next Coral said, “I will turn you into a leprechaun.” Zap! Mike was a leprechaun.
The very next day Mike and Coral got married.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Art Inspired Stories

My students created papier maché alien figures for an art project a few weeks ago. I seized this opportunity to get them to write creative stories featuring their alien as a main character. I gave them minimal guidelines as I could sense a huge amount of excitement. I reminded them that the story should have a problem or be about an adventure. I suggested writing in the first person, putting themselves in the story. Finally I reminded them to include descriptions of the setting (the alien's home planet) and of a main character. This assignment resulted in the quietest hour in my classroom this year! They were clearly inspired. After an hour most of the kids were done with a first draft.

The next day I asked them to read their stories silently. I put up my "Revising" chart and asked them to revise for strong sentences and better vocabulary. For third graders the specific guidelines on the chart provide a concrete way for them to approach this task.

1. Catchy first line and entertaining beginning.
2. No "banned" words (nice, good, bad, great, awesome, stuff, things)
3. Use your senses to describe a setting
4. Erase the words "so" and "then" at the start of a sentence.

In an upper grade class my revising list would look different. I will elaborate on this in a separate entry.

The editing checklist goes up next. Punctuation, grammar, and capitalization are what students work on next. After this step, each student brings me their story and I do a final edit with them before they write out their final draft.

Here are some stories from this assignment:

By Jack Foster

Who knew there were aliens?  So one day I was walking down East Avenue when I heard a “Poooph!”  It wasn’t very quiet.  I went down an alleyway.  I was in for a shock!  A seventy-five foot rocket was right in front of me!  A seven foot giant came out of it.  Her name was Cattrisha.  She came from planet A.T.L.L.P.  It stood for aliens that look like people.

She said .  “hheellowwee E Earrtthhlliinnggss. Ddo yyoouu wwaanntt ttoo ssaavvee oouurr ppllaanneett?”

I said, “Yes, yes, yes Yes!!!”  I then got on the spaceship for a forty-two hour ride.  When we got there it was hot and rainy.  “Are we in Hawaii?” I asked.

“No.” she said. “Oh, nnooww iitt iiss ttimme ttoo ssaavvee oouurr ppllaanneett.”

I said “Ok.”

She said, “CCaan I-I  ttaallkk ttoo mmyy ffrreeiinnddss iinn mmyy vvooiiccee? “

“Yes.” I said.
“Y accoddmglo moon crash in hs?”

I understood and said I will stop the moon!  They all said “Yyaayy!”  I asked, “Do you have a repair shop?”  They said yes.  I started working on a huge fan.  I did this so I could blow A.T.L.L.P. away from the moon’s path.

After five hours it was finished.  I called it the blower.  I started it and then Cattrisha said, “Tthheerree iiss nooo ppoowweerr.”

I said, “Oh no.”  I found jumper cables and got in their spaceship and attached it to the sun.  It started and it blew A.T.L.L.P. away.  I had to fly home and I will tell nobody about my adventure.

A Trip to Another Planet
By Lea

An alien named Desireeat59Z was sitting by its lava pool.  He had a long arm with two balls.  One ball was at the right end and one ball was at the left end.  He had a big ball in the middle of the arm and two big eyes, one at the back and one at the front.  Des was from the planet Senoyadio.  Even though he was having a marvelous time at his lava pool, he was also keeping a lookout for one of his enemies.  Desireeat59z’s enemy is To5ven.

Meanwhile on Earth, it was a summer’s Saturday.  I was sitting inside, bored.  I had an idea.  Maybe, I could call my friend!  I called my friend, Joy, and her mom said she could come over.  She brought her big toy rocket over.  We played for a while then got bored.  I suggested we dig through the rocket and see if there was anything spectacular in it.  We looked for about an hour.  Then joy found a big red button.  It said “PRESS”.  We pressed it and we started going into space.  In about four hours we crashed into a red planet.

The red planet had fine homes and lava pools.  It was fresh, but a little burnt.  It was probably lava.  There was a sign outside a golden gate, polished marvelously.  The sign said, “Welcome to Senoyadio!”  The gate was wide open and we walked in.  Joy and I were a little confused about where we were.  We went to a blue house.  The house had a golden gate with red rubies.  There were white curtains and low benches.  We knocked on a circular green door.

The door was opened by an alien that bounced on his body.  He had two big black eyes.  He was splashed with different colors.  I was surprised to hear him speak English.  I asked, ”Where are we?”

The alien answered.  ”Senoyadio!  Isn’t it a beauty?”
I said, “How do we get back to planet Earth? Our rocket crashed.”
He replied, “The only way you can get to earth is destroy one of our enemies, To5vn.”
My friend said, “This is a trick!  Isn’t it?”
He replied, “ Nah, the alien wizard has been trying to get rid of his enemy To5ven, for a long time.”
I said, “Okay, we will help you.”

We went to the edge of Senoyadio and found a big black castle with chains all around it.  It was gloomy with fog all around it.  The giant gate opened.  We went into the castle through big, black creaking gates.  To5ven walked down a hall on a red dirty carpet.  We hid behind ripped curtains.  We were in a room with nothing but darkness.  To5ven spoke in a weird alien language.  Here is what he said.  “Cushinoe fomad sawf cole kiche nef sasholo.”  Neither Joy nor I understood any of it.  Desireeat59z seemed like he did though.

While we were in a dark room we made a plan of how to get rid of To5ven.  Des said, “I’ll make noises at the end of Senoyadio.  Then he will probably come out and probably follow the noise.  You two will be hiding behind some trees.  When he turns around and is close to the edge of Senoyadio, you two will creep up quietly to him and push him off!”

Desireeat59z went to the edge and made weird noises.  To5ven came out and asked, “Shesh nat feenie?”  He was at the very edge when we came out and we pushed him off.  He was lost forever.  The alien wizard came in his little place after we pushed To5ven off Senoyadio.  He said, “You guys get one wish.  What wish may I grant you?”

Joy said, “ We want to go home.”  A rocket appeared.  We climbed in, said goodbye to Desireeat59z, and thanked the alien wizard.  In the backseat of the rocket there was a big red button.   It said “PRESS”.  We pressed it.  We started going up into space.  After another 4 hours, we landed on Earth.

We had the same exact rocket without any dents.  My mom saw us and asked, “Where have you two been?”  We told her we had been in the backyard, but we will always remember Senoyadio.

My Trip to another Solar System
By Sarah

3…2…1…kaboom!  I was on my first space mission.  I was going to paint another solar system.  I was sleeping, eating, and reading for so long that I forgot where I was, but just then there was a huge…Boom!  My body shook, my hair stuck up, and my eyes went big.
“We have just entered another solar system!” shouted the captain.  Maybe space wasn’t the place for me.  I was trembling with fear.  The captain spoke again.  “Here’s a good place to land,” he said.  Then we landed but I was too scared to go out, especially when I saw hundreds of little creatures hopping about.
Just then I saw a sign that said, “Welcome to Planet Eyedot.”  Then I realized why.  All of the little creatures had hundreds of dots and eyes covering them from head to toe.  The most beautiful of all the creatures walked toward me.  I was breathless.  She really wasn’t that scary after all.  She was actually beautiful until she spoke.  She sounded like a sick donkey with a British accent.
“I am Universla, Queen of all the aliens in the solar system Dot,” she said.  All of her eyes fixed on me.  She had 22 of them altogether.  If I had that many eyes, I thought, I could see everything.  I did not say that out loud because I might upset her.
Instead I said, “ I am Sarah, a young earthling.  Would you mind if I painted your solar system?”
“Go ahead.” She said in her funny voice.  “While you are here you can stay at my palace and eat the finest bugs.”
“I’d prefer to eat my own food, but I’ll stay with you,” I said.
  “Come,” she answered.  Then the march began, one foot in front of the other, all the way to the palace.  As we went farther into the palace a queer smell filled the air.  The floor and walls were made of rotted earth.  As we walked on I saw lots of beds that had curtains around them.  They had soft comforters but the mattresses looked hard as stone.
Universla went into one of the chambers and came out wearing a blue green skirt, a purple shirt and one pink shoe with a blue stripe and white dots on it.  She led me to an open patio and I started to paint.  When I was finished I was about to go home when the captain told me the space ship was broken.  All the aliens tried to help but they just made it worse.
Suddenly Universla remembered her flying saucer.  “Quick,” she told the page, “go get my flying saucer.”  So the page did and Universla herself flew us home.  I tried to tell the people of my adventure, but they did not believe it, so it remains a secret.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Compare and Contrast Paragraph

Now that my students have a reasonable understanding of writing narratives, I turn my attention to nonfiction writing skills. We are required to teach third graders to organize expository paragraphs in the following ways:

1. Main idea, followed by details;
2. Compare and contrast;
3. Cause and effect;
4. Order of events or sequencing.

For the first half of the year my students had plenty of practice writing paragraphs with a main idea and details. Frequently, after reading a story or chapter, my students wrote a summary using this format. This week I guided my students through some paragraph writing using the “compare and contrast” strategy. Our language arts theme currently is Imagination and the reading selections this past week worked perfectly well for this writing lesson.


Students produce two paragraphs showing how to organize their ideas in compare/contrast paragraphs.


1. Day 1 - read Mike Venezia’s biography of Pablo Picasso with the whole group. In pairs students list the most interesting facts they learned. Have a whole group discussion of what they learned. On a chart write down 8 to 10 facts that students shared.
2. On day 2 read Mike Venezia’s biography of Diego Rivera and repeat the previous days procedures.
3. Day 3 – display both charts with information on the two artists. Give each student a venn diagram template. Working with a partner students complete the diagram to compare and contrast
Picasso and Rivera.

They are now equipped with information. It’s time to write the paragraphs. I explain to the kids that in the first paragraph they will write how the two artists were similar. I ask for a topic sentence. I listen to every idea that is offered and ask them to choose the one they like best. They picked:

Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera were famous 20th century artists.

I then tell them to focus on the part of the venn diagram where the circles intersect to create 3 to 4 sentences for this paragraph.

For the second paragraph I tell the students we are going to describe how these two artists were different. I start by asking them to suggest a topic sentence. Again I allow everyone who has an idea to share, before asking the class to pick the one they like best. For this paragraph the topic sentence the kids came up with was:

Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera became famous because they were unique.

Next, I told them we would “play a game” to finish the paragraph. I would write a sentence about one artist, then they would write a corresponding sentence about the other artist.
I wrote: Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881.
They copied this sentence down, then wrote about Rivera’s birth.
I wrote a few more sentences with salient information about one artist and the kids quite easily created their own parallel sentences.

After they wrote their paragraphs, I reminded them to write a concluding sentence for the piece.

To finish off this series of lessons I always like to make time to share their writing. This is important to make the effort students put into the activity meaningful, and also to expose the class to diverse ideas and styles.

The lesson was stress-free and fun, but the kids also learned some valuable writing strategies.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January Writing Assignments

I start the new calendar year with the poem “Months of the Year” by Sara Coleridge. 
The rhyming couplets and seasonal imagery makes it an interesting way to launch into a discussion of what happens through the year. After reading and discussing the poem I prompt the kids to tell me the highlights of each month. I write the following categories on the board:
holidays, colors, nature, activities. 
Then on chart paper I list their responses for each month. Using the information gathered the kids write their own “Months of the Year” poem. For each month they write a couplet, but I tell them not to worry about rhyming. I keep this assignment pretty relaxed. Since it’s the first week after winter break, I want the kids to enjoy being back at school, and to perceive the task as a fun activity.

For upper grades: I would encourage 4th and 5th graders to write a metaphor for each month. What are some images that come to mind for a particular month? Focus on one image. Think of something you can compare this image with. Now write your metaphor. Example: April images might be spring flowers, blossoms, new growth, animal babies.
A metaphor might be: April is a paint brush, sweeping cheerful colors across the land.

We honor Martin Luther King, Jr. by thinking about how the world could be a better place. I got this idea from a book I found at a Scholastic Book Fair called WE DREAM OF A WORLD. This book was created by the students of a 5th grade class and entered in a contest held by Scholastic. They won and the prize was publication of the book. In the book each student contributed a page of text and illustrations. A template guided the format for the text. A really easy task to implement. I thought this idea of thinking about problems in our world and what it would take to solve the problems fit perfectly for the week leading up to the MLK holiday.

The template for this activity looks like this:


Students think about a problem in the world to focus on and complete the topic sentence with how world would be if the problem didn’t exist.

Did you know?

They write a few facts/statistics about the problem

What you can do:

Here they write down what each of us can do to make the problem go away.

The Lesson:

  1. Read the book and show students the pictures.
  2. Discuss the problems mentioned and ask them to think of other problems we have in our world. List their responses on chart paper.
  3. The kids decide on a problem to focus on. For homework they should research facts about the problem and its impact on our lives. They should also think about what we can do about the problem.
  4. In class the next day have a discussion and encourage students to share new information. It’s important to emphasize what we, as individuals can do to solve problems in the world.
  5. Hand out the templates. Guide the kids through the three main prompts.
  6. Students illustrate the idea using symbols and pictures.
When I did this lesson I asked each student to share the problem they chose. Then I asked the class to offer ideas on what we can do about each problem. This was helpful for kids that were having trouble with the assignment. It also got the class more engaged in thinking about world issues and that we are each capable of doing something to make the world a better place. Below is a sample of my students' work.

We dream of a world … where there’s peace in life.
Did you know
That there’s a war going on and the people in the army or in the war can’t visit their family? People die in the war and can never see their family.

What you can do
Stop fighting and figure out your problem
If the other country doesn’t have what you have, or they are poor, give them what they need so you won’t be at war
Get along and share with others

We dream of a world … where there is no bullying.
Did you know that in a year from K – 8 in the United States of America about 570,000 kids get bullied?

What you can do:
Teach bullies how to behave
Ask the kid that got bullied to play with you.

We dream of a world … where everyone has food.
Did you know sometimes people only have one meal a day and don’t have money?

What you can do:
Donate to the homeess shelters
Ask people to volunteer at shelters
Donate sweaters and blankets to homeless people

We dream of a world … where we have a clean planet
Did you know when you throw trash in the ocean that causes pollution? Also we get pollution from factories through smoke and chemical waste. That makes the planet more hot and cold, also known as global warming. It makes animals go extinct.

What you can do:
You can plant trees around your neighborhood
You can recycle around your house, school, or anywhere you are
Clean up after your messes so it won’t go in the ocean.

We dream of a world … where wildlife is appreciated and protected.
Did you know that forests and oceans are being polluted and animals are being harmed?

What you can do:
You can support organizations that protect wildlife and their habitats
Educate people about this issue

We dream of a world … where everybody is healthy.
Did you know people around the world are not healthy and don’t have food to eat, clothes to wear, shoes to walk with, and money to buy stuff?

What you can do:
You can donate food, clothes, shoes, and money to people around the world who are poor.

We dream of a world … where everyone has a home.
Did you know many of the United States homeless live in California because it’s warmer?

What you can do:
You can donate food and money to homeless shelters or give food to the homeless on the street.
You can also give out other things like blankets, toys, and clothes.
You can go on food drives.

We dream of a world … where the world is clean.
Did you know that animals die of litter?

What you can do:
We should stop littering because animals could get choked.

We dream of a world … where everyone has peace.
Did you know that in some countries there are wars? People die because of wars.

What can you do:
We have to solve our problems in peaceful ways.
Be kind and friendly. Tell jokes and be funny.

We dream of a world … where everyone is safe.
Did you know that hundreds of people are unsafe? People may want to hurt them.

What you can do:
Make laws and help people understand how to be safe.
Donate money to charities to teach how to be safe.

We dream of a world … where girls worldwide get treated equally.
Did you know that in some places girls don’t get to go to school, show their face or hair or body, and they can’t speak up or they will get kicked out of the state or get stones thrown at them?

What you can do:
Maybe not in those places but to always include others opinions if they mean no harm and to be inclusive and treat others fairly.

We dream of a world … where everyone has money
Did you know
Many people in the world live off less than a dollar a day?

What you can do:
You can donate toys to homeless shelters and give money to fundraisers like the penny drive.

We dream of a world … where there is a job for everyone.

Did you know
That some people in the world don’t have money because they don’t have jobs?

What you can do:
Donate to charities
Help kids understand how important it is to stay in school.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter Holiday Story - Part 2

Last week I described my basic procedure for teaching kids to write a winter holiday story. I started the process this past week and I will now describe how it's going.

Day I 

We created a list of problems for a story with a winter holiday theme. The kids seemed to be in a particularly inspired frame of mind, which led to a lively session. It’s necessary for you, the teacher, to maneuver the discussion in such a way that you get a variety of suggestions. Don’t be afraid to distil out weak ideas.  With a little tact you can encourage your students to think hard, and to be original. If they get hung up on some basic idea, tell them we need to change to a new idea. An important part of the process is for you to suggest examples too. Every so often, especially when the kids offer timid ideas, I model more adventurous ways to approach story problems.  For example: Santa’s reindeer were on vacation in Hawaii and refuse to go to the North Pole in December.
When I throw out some crazy ideas, it sparks excitement in the kids, and gets them thinking more creatively. First, they came up with ideas about Santa and various problems with the presents.  Examples: All the elves had flu; there was a shortage of toy-making materials; Santa’s sleigh had a mechanical problem; etc. The best one was the following: Because of Global Warming, the ice on which Santa’s workshop sits, melted and fell into the Arctic days before Christmas!
It was time to steer them in a different direction. Let’s think about kids and people. What would make someone unhappy or worried at this time of the year? I managed to get ideas like these: A family lost their home and had live in a shelter; all the Christmas trees were sold out .
Time to move on to something new. I said, “What are some other problems we can think of to do with winter? What do you think about when you of winter?” Someone said “snow”. Can you think of problems to do with snow? I got the usual type of response, like getting caught in a snowstorm while on a ski trip. Then someone said: Scientists were in Antarctica and they encountered aliens. This led to another student suggesting: A group of snowdragons wanted to destroy Earth. And another student came up with: The Elves invented a Time Machine!

By the end of the session I had a list of twelve pretty decent problems and a class of kids eager to get started!

Day 2  

The kids selected a problem, then did a quickwrite of a story. I told them it was a pre first draft, just to get the basic idea of a story down on paper. I gave them half an hour for this.

Day 3

They made a picture of the most important setting in the story, then wrote a paragraph describing the setting. I reminded them to use their senses and to avoid starting sentences with “I saw …”, “I smelled …”, etc.

Day 4  

We had a quick discussion of how to describe a character. I read some examples of character descriptions from the holiday picture books I’d been reading in class. Then they wrote a description of either the main character, or an important character in the story.

Day 5

The problem – frame-by-frame

I had not done this lesson with my students before, so I needed a full hour for the task. Because this is an advanced skill, I felt the best way to teach it would be to model the process using a student’s problem. After asking random kids to tell about the problem in their story, I made a selection.

Me: What’s the problem in your story?

Student:  Santa’s reindeer had disappeared.

Me:  OK. We are going to imagine that we are watching a movie of the problem as it unfolds. Let’s picture the first scene. I am going to draw 6 frames on the board and we are going to write down exactly what went on in sequence.  So, what happened first? Who discovered the reindeer were missing?
Student: An elf.

Me: What was his name? And tell me exactly how he made the discovery.

Student: His name was Gorgy. Gorgy went to the stables and the reindeer weren’t there.

Me: Okay, let’s back up and picture the scene. Class, we are all going to help Sara with this, so please give us your ideas. Gorgy leaves his cottage, or Santa’s workshop and is walking toward the stables. Does he notice anything before he reaches the stables? Can anyone tell me?

Second Student: He sees hoof-prints in the snow.

Me: Great. Let’s fill out our first two frames. Gorgy steps out of the workshop and walks toward the reindeer’s stables. He notices hoof-prints in the snow. Picture this scene - as if you are watching a movie. What's his expression? What is he thinking now?

Third Student: He is puzzled and he races to the stables.

Me: Good. Let’s write that down in our third frame. What’s the next thing he sees? Picture this new frame. What does Gorgy see? How does he act?

Fourth Student: The stable door is open. Gorgy panics.

Me: Excellent. You guys are getting the idea. Let’s put that in our fourth frame and fill out the rest of the frames.

With student help I wrote: When Gorgy got to the stables he saw hay scattered all over, but no reindeer. In shock he ran to tell Santa what happened.

We have just taken the most important part of Sara's story and wrote details to help the reader understand the story and the problem better. Now it’s your turn to do a frame by frame description of your problem. Picture it scene by scene as if you are watching a movie. Imagine you are there experiencing it.

I have to say, about half the class got grumpy about this task. I quickly realized that this was not an easy skill for third graders. I worry when I push my students too hard. As I walked around the classroom helping kids, I got the impression that they understood what to do in theory. This was great. Obviously not everyone is going to get it the first time. But the next time we do a story they will be more receptive to this part of the writing process. On a positive note, I have a significant number of strong writers who embraced the frame-by-frame exercise.

After coming up with some semblance of a frame by frame of the climax of their story, the kids put it into a paragraph.

Next week the kids will write out their first draft of a story plugging in the strong paragraphs they worked on this week. I will then show them some simple revising techniques before they go to the publishing phase.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Holiday Story

I have just started the following writing activity this week, and wanted to share how I execute the project. In this task I go into plot development in more detail. In writing this narrative my students use all the skills I have taught thus far, as well as some new skills. My goal in this project is to guide them toward more complex plot structure. The final draft is published and illustrated in a blank book which makes a rather special present or memento.

The process takes about two weeks, maybe even three, from start to the final drafts. It’s very important to keep up the excitement level, and not to make students feel stressed or overwhelmed. Pace these steps as it works for you. I start with a series of workshops before they write out their first draft.

Prepare kids first by reading a selection of picture books related to the winter holidays.

  1. Remind kids that every story has a problem that the main character tries to solve. Brainstorm problems with a winter holiday theme. List the problems on chart paper.
  1. Now ask the kids to write a story. This should be a stress-free exercise intended to help germinate an idea. This will not be their first draft!!
  2. Hand kids a story map in which they write down who the characters are, what the setting is, and what the problem is.
  3. Main character. Write a paragraph describing the main character or an important character in your story. Tell what they look like and what their personalities are like.
  4. Setting. What’s the most important setting in your story? Illustrate this on white paper. Then make a table with four squares labeled: Sights, Sounds, Smells, Feel. The kids then complete the table, using their picture to help them.
  5. Write a paragraph of this setting
  6. Now focus on the problem. On white paper use a frame by frame graphic to sketch out the problem in detail, like a cartoon strip. How does it start? How does the main character react? How does the problem affect the character?
  7. Plotting. Explain how writers develop plot in a story. The main character thinks about how to solve the problem. Usually he/she fails at the first two attempts, but learns from the experience, which helps him/her solve it at the third attempt. This is the magic of 3. Refer back to the stories you read aloud as examples. Third graders might find this part overwhelming. You might need to lighten up here.

Ask students to complete the following plot diagram.

First Try
Second Try

9. The kids are now ready to write their story plugging in the descriptions of their character and setting in the appropriate places. These could in fact be their first two paragraphs if you want to make the process easier.

10.  Revising. Kids need to be taught some basic techniques and I will post details of this        step next week. 

11. Editing. Fix spelling, punctuation, capitalization.

12. Editing and revising with teacher

13. The final step - publishing and illustrating in blank books!!