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Letters, Shapes, and Colors…Oh my!

Easily a new all-time favorite amongst the early learners is the game “Who has? I have…” There are a multitude of subjects and themes that can be composed within a game such as this. These particular ones used have letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. They combine the color and shape cards, but only give three different shapes to choose from. This helps with learning the three basic shapes: circles, squares, and triangles. We also did a little interactive movement with our hands to show each shape as we said its name. 

The game starts with whomever has the smallest number or the first letter of the alphabet. When it’s your turn, you read the card and say, “I have ___. Who has ___?” Then whomever has that card will do the same. The game ends when there are no more cards.  This game does not go in any sort of order so the kids really have to be paying attention to what is being said and what cards they have in front of them. So this game is very high energy, good focus on listening and reading, and can be styled to just about any topic you’d like. 

“Look, I have a mountain of letters!”

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Winter is…

It’s time again as the seasons are about to change to think back as to what winter really is. The Midwest didn’t receive much of a winter besides sudden freezing cold temperatures after a 70 degree day and little snowflake teasers that don’t stick to the ground. (Let’s talk about global warming, kids!) This made the activity that much more challenging for us because we had to imagine what winter is supposed to look like. For some students we had to think back on Christmas traditions and Lunar New Year celebrations for winter-esque inspiration. The focus was on not only describing winter using our senses but also adding that descriptive language to our writing. Using adjectives to give more details to what we want to say and how we can say it. 

This is such a simple activity that really gets our brains thinking in a creative yet purposeful way. Many students don’t know the differences between the seasons or the holidays, feelings, and traditions associated with each season. So discussing cultural celebrations, school celebrations, and reading books about the different seasons all help to add to the brainstorming and creative process that is learning. The kids walk away with a better understanding of the season by breaking it down using our senses. 

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Building Up Our Word Count

Redundantly putting together, sounding out, and stretching CVC words in order to build up our word count. We can read simple words and rhyme, but putting the letters together and really feeling for every letter sound changes the dynamic. It’s one thing to rhyme words and write out CVC word patterns for those rhyming -am, -at, -ed, etc. but to physically move around the letters to build words tends to change their thinking. This really peaks the interest of those kinesthetic and visual learners to physically grasp the concept of building words and sounds them out. When we can touch the letters and really think about the sounds they make that makes a difference when we go back to pencil and paper writing.

Students worked on building their words independently with some scaffolding on my part. Often times students would ask me to double check a word they had spelled or even to read their words aloud to me.  After we were all finished spelling words, each student read their words aloud.

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Get Your Adjectives!

We can write adjectives anyway we want, as long as we write them right. Adjectives are so important in our writing because they paint the vivid watercolor dreams into our heads and let us imagine exactly what the author is telling us. Adjectives are used to describe or tell; more specifically adjectives are used to describe or tell about a noun. At this point we are introducing adjectives into our students’ writing to enhance their writing and to encourage them to write more, to tell us more. We get so stuck on simple sentences and avoiding all the mushy details.

For beginning writers, we are focused on just getting them to write, putting their thoughts on paper. As we progress, we are looking for those added details, the understanding of words, and the comprehension of our language. Children, especially our English language learners, are just like sponges. Through inclusion and intensive instruction, they are absorbing everything they see or hear. There’s so much going on in the world, so many things to see and talk about. They’ve all lived such interesting little lives already just by coming to a foreign country. Many times when they are writing and can’t think of a word they tend to describe what they are thinking about, what they are trying to say. So naturally adjectives are already a part of their day-to-day speaking.

Depending on their writing skills, decided how this part of speech was going to be presented. It also helped to look into books and text features that exaggerate these describing words. My example always seems to be describing a pizza. You don’t know what kind of pizza I have unless I tell you it’s a hot cheesy pepperoni pizza. When we think about the cheese sliding off of a big piece of pizza, that really gets our imaginations going…and our stomachs growling.

With the above activity, we focus on what on what we are told. We are told “the tall tree” so that tells us how big to make our tree as well as what it is that we need to draw (a tree). With the beginning writers/readers we read the statement together and I would ask “what are we drawing? What does it look like?” Whereas with more intermediate writers/readers we are coming up with adjective lists as a group or scanning short stories in search of these descriptive words.

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Tell Me A Story

Lately when it comes to writing out answers and giving details, my third and fourth graders have been coming to a hault. They have so many creative ideas and want to get straight to their answers, without having fully explaining themselves. We have been working on restating the question in our answers, but that just isn’t enough. The writing block has still smacked us right in the face and left our time to looking up at the ceiling.

So I decided to drop everything and just write. I got together a basic graphic organizer to list out the important factors to a story and just write. To keep the stories relevant we wrote about winter, but we had complete creative reign on the subject. We decided that we should have at least three characters and we brainstormed some settings and potential problems to really get our brains working. From there the writing process was completely independent.  We each sat down, myself included, and came up with a winter story. We took two days to gather our thoughts and get our words down. On the last day we added illustrations to go with our stories. I chose to participate along with the students to model what writing looks like. Although we worked independently, I believe it’s important for students to see their teacher reading or writing and to model those behavioral work ethics. I too illustrated my story and we proudly shared them with one another on the last day.

The energy and confidence that was exulted on this activity, I think, will really make a difference in their writing stamina as well as their writing responses. After reading through our stories, we checked over our writing for any grammatical errors, in which we resolved together. A big thing with ELL students is learning all of the complications that make up the English language. Grammatical errors are very common and often overlooked at first in our beginning writers but becomes a bigger focus when they become advanced. A lot of these differences come up between translation due to words or phrases not translating exactly like we are used to. 

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Manipulating Our Words


Physically manipulating our words to form cohesive sentences. Our sentences have to make sense. I started the lesson by holding up a word for the students to read. They enjoy a little friendly competition so whoever said the correct word first got that word. After all the words were read and distributed, we began arranging them in different ways and then rearranginging them until all the words fit just right. If they were able to make one sentence, then they needed to see if they could make another. The words on the tiles were limited so the sentences got a little creative and sometimes vague. 

This activity took several tries before any correct sentences were made. It was great to actually hear the kids sounding out the words for once. They always look to me for help with stretching out words, but for this I too was making sentences from the leftover words, so they knew we were each working independently. When each student completed a sentences, they were to read it out loud to themselves to listen if their sentences makes sense. This has been our biggest challenge due to the students not willingly reading their work aloud. This isn’t normally an issue, but whenever I ask them to read a sentence like this they become unsure. I always emphasize how important it is to read and re-read our own work for fluency and correct language. Often times it’s a little word or an “s” that needs to be added in; other times it’s a whole sentence of grammatical errors. When we read out loud, we are more prone to hearing and figuring out these wiring mistakes on our own; its part of self-correcting and being aware of our writing. 
This activity also brought up a good time to refer back to those parts of speech. These particular tiles we used are color coded for each part of speech. (Of course the kids didn’t pick up on that).  We talked about how we can enhance our writing by adding adjectives, words that describe, into our sentences. So “my cat” was transformed into “my old brown cat.” We often refer to this as first grade writing versus third grade writing because third graders write more and use more details in their writing rather than how we were as beginning writers. These students being apart of my third grade group.

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Willie Cole: A Visiting Artist


“Anything is everything and everything is anything. I can make anything into anything…Everything inspires me, even you all inspire me right now.” -Willie Cole

Since August our school has been studying recycling, inspiration, and works of art created by New Jersey native Willie Cole. Our arts team, principal, partners with Columbia College and the University of Missouri have been working to bring this transforming artist to our school over the past few months. Today he greeted us in our auditorium and shared some of his work from across the States. Cole has found inspiration from the world around us and has spent his life’s work finding ways to manipulate everyday objects into sculptures, masks, prints, and even digital media presentations. 

Listening to Willie Cole speak about his inspiration process and how he creates his art was truly inspiring in itself. The fact that “anything is everything” is running through my head as a constant. The concept to grasp is that every little thing, whether it’s proven it’s worth to you or not, has some kind of purpose and “life of its own” to be lived. Cole believes he was an artist in a previous life. He says he’s been an artist for a very long time, 1,027 years even. He believes that every object has its own life and purpose. The way an object looks is how it was made and reflects that purpose. If a red satin high heel shoe has a striped sole and leather back,  then that’s the way it should be. When he creates these sculptures he doesn’t change the objects in any way other than by transforming them into something else. He doesn’t take paint or tools to his sculptures, he just plays with them until they fit together, how he sees them…how he wants to see them. Sometimes they need to be held together with string for extra security. If he wants his shoe sculpture to be larger than life, he recreates the shoes out of metal to withstand weathering. 

Willie Cole’s masterpieces can be found in various galleries and studios across the United States. Here at our local art museum we currently own eight of Cole’s masterpieces. It’s such an honor and a privilege to be able to bring such an inspiring and resourceful artist to our school as well as to our community. 

(Below are some pictures of Willie Cole’s sculptures that he shared during his morning presentation. These pictures were taken directly from Willie Cole’s website, http://www.williecole.com)