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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5th Grade Research Paper

I remember writing my very first research paper. It was about Steve Prefontaine, a runner who I selected simply because he was portrayed by Jared Leto in a movie. Anyway, what I remember the most about my first research experience was notecards. I recall spending countless hours digging through book, encyclopedias and this new, very reliable source called Wikipedia (I know…that shows my age). I copied several quotes on note cards and then attempted to organize my notecards. The most memorable part of the entire experience was trying to reorder my notecards every time I dropped them.

It should be noted that I wrote my first research paper my senior year of high school as an 18-year-old "adult." It took several months to complete, and the task was required by all seniors in order to graduate. It counted as a final exam grade, thus people agonized over the significance of what would ultimately be the most important paper of many young lives. 

So, imagine my dismay when the Common Core standards were adopted by my district, and I was told that my little angel-faced fifth graders would be required to write a research paper. I was shocked and had no idea where to begin. I break into a cold sweat almost every time my students have to simply log on to the computers and can't remember their user names and passwords (name and birthday). Imagine the nausea I felt simply thinking about guiding them through the research and writing process with all the new technology available today!

Luckily, I was introduced to a most wonderful web site, NewsELA. NewsELA is a fantastic resource that provides news articles at a variety of lexile reading levels. You can sign up for a FREE account and have access to the current articles and many grade-appropriate quizzes. Thus, you can print off the same article at different grade levels to differentiate for the needs of your diverse students. 

It was through NewsELA that we were able to write amazing research papers last year in my fifth grade class. Here is what we did:

First, we read three different articles with close reading activities. 

We analyzed the articles with annotations (Thinkmarks), text-based questions, and assessments. I have the worksheets we created for all of the articles but am unable to upload them to this blog. If you are interested in receiving them via email, please contact me at

After reading all three articles, the students were given an option of three persuasive essay topics:
  1. "Minecraft" should be purchased for academic use by the school district. 
  2. There should be laws in place that limit kids' electronic usage.
  3. I should have my own cell phone.

The students selected a topic and the research began. This part was a little easier, since the students were already familiar with the articles from which they could gather research. (In order to accommodate for my gifted students, I did allow independent research.) 

To make the researching portion easier, I had students work in teams (teacher-selected based on paper topic) to locate evidence to use in the papers.

Finally, I used the following products to help with the wiring process. 

In the end, my students were even surprised with how well the papers turned out. They were so awesome that we sent them to school board members, local councilmen, and parents in an effort to persuade their thinking.

Have you had success writing research papers in your 4th  or 5th grade class? Share your ideas in the comments section!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Teaching Dialogue with Comics

       Although grammar can tend to be boring and repetitive for both students and teachers, I absolutely love teaching by students to write dialogue. It gives the students an opportunity to be creative and often times can be quite humorous. 

       For the past several years, I have used comic strips to practice writing dialogue, and I want to share the worksheets I have created with you and also show you how to create your own. 

       Let's start with a free example of a worksheet I have created. I use these worksheets in a few ways in my classroom. We usually start by filling in the speech bubbles as a class and rewriting the scene in narrative from together as a model. Then, I allow the students to work in groups to complete the same tasks. We typically share these upon completion, which the students rather enjoy. They love to make each other laugh! After the in-class activities, I give a worksheet as homework, and it is one time the students are actually excited to have homework. Finally, I give one as a graded assessment. 

       You can purchase five more similar worksheets from my Teachers Pay Teachers store, or you can create your own. 

To create your own worksheets, access a library of public domain comic strips from The Comic Strip Library. 

Select a comic or portion of a comic that includes a verbal exchange between two or more characters.

Copy the comic or take a screen shot of the desired portion.

Paste the comic on a PowerPoint template.

Insert a speech bubble over the words in the comic. (You may also need to insert white shapes to hide any undesired portions not covered by the speech bubble.)

Add instructions and lines with a text box.

Print and watch your students have fun with writing!

Please share any other fun ideas you have for writing dialogue! 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

FREE Posters!

Luckily, the best things in life really are free!
Check out these awesome, FREE posters for your classroom.

Use this Thinkmarks poster to help your students annotate texts. I keep this displayed in my classroom and also require students to keep a printed copy in their binder. It is a wonderful way to assist students in comprehending complex texts, especially primary sources, and it helps foster class discussions.

Speaking of class discussions, accountable talk encourages students to analyze and explain texts in class discussions. Using these sentence tags will create this kind of discussion in your classroom.

Fist to Five is a simple formative assessment that you can use at any time. Simply say, "Fist to Five," and note the number of fingers each student holds up in response.

Allow students to label their learning with these defined terms. This can be helpful when grouping students and determining when to move forward in your lesson.

Use these 11 motivational quotes to inspire your students and decorate your classroom.

Please share links to any free posters you'd like to share!