Writing seeds

Ralph Fletcher, in his book “A WRITER’S NOTEBOOK” lists a number of ideas which can help you organise your writer’s notebook into a place “to live like a writer, not just in school during writing time, but wherever you are, at any time of day.” (p4) His list begins with:

1) What amazes/surprises/anger you – unforgettable stories
2) What you wonder about- fierce wonderings
3) What you notice – writing small
4) “Seed Ideas” or “Triggers” to generate stories or poems
5) Small details that intrigue you – mind pictures
6) Snatches of talk you overhear
7) Memories
8) Lists
9) Photos, articles, ticket stubs or other artifacts
10) Your own sketches, drawings or doodles
11) Quotes or inspiring passages from books or poems – writing that inspires
12) Writing that scrapes the heart – “writing you do because your heart will burst if you don’t write it.” (p. 98)

His writing seed ideas, can prompt and entice the most reticent of writers, to pick up their pencils and pens and write – authentically, creatively, imaginatively, wildly and “juicy” (a term used by another of my writing idols SARK)

On his site, Ralph lists tips for young (and not so young) writers. He is my Writer’s Notebook guru and his website is a favourite in my bookmarks.

Teaching inferential comprehension

I have not long finished writing half year reports for my students in English, in years 7, 8 and 9. As usual, the common thread in most of the reports, was a comment about their challenges with inferential comprehension. This term I plan on focusing on teaching inferential comprehension, which has forced me to gather resources and ideas which will support the students to look between and beyond the lines, to infer. I have found that in many instances, the students can identify separate bits of information, but fail to link the pieces together, to infer meaning. To teach inferential comprehension, I am using different types of media such as DVD; youtube; stimulus pictures; music and of course, excellent mentor texts. I will be documenting some of these activities as I go.

How to create an environmental disaster

This presentation has been created, inspired by the ideas of Corbett Harrison – Life is a Cook book. I asked the students to think of a current issue, then write it up as a recipe. The above youtube clip, will explain what I mean. The students loved it. What I love about the idea, is that the students have to know the details about the issue, to be able to create the recipe, but creating a recipe, is way more fun than writing a traditional “report” of the issue.

Teaching Writing Right

Thanks to Jenny Gilbert whom I follow on, I have discovered this wonderful blog loaded with ideas for teaching writing – which of course, is my passion. One of the ideas which really took my eye, was Life is a Cookbook. Students select an event or an issue, and then write about it, as a recipe. One of my year 5/6 students selected the recent oil spill off New Zealand

The title for his recipe was “How to create an environmental disaster” and his list of ingredients included a Greek owned container ship, 1,368 containers, eight of which contain hazardous materials; 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 200 tonnes of marine diesel oil; a reef. The “method” as you can imagine, involved all the details of the environmental accident.

What I particularly like about this strategy, is that the students have to research the issue to be able to create the recipe – so they are reading, comprehending, rewording, explaining and enjoying the fun twist on writing about a current affair. I will be exploring more of Corbett Harrison’s wonderful ideas over the next few weeks.

Exit Slip


An exit slip is a short, low stakes, written reflection by the students, of the current lesson or topic. Exit slips can be written in a book, but are most easily written on sticky notes, which can then be stuck to a master piece of paper, or into the teacher’s book. Exit slips are written at the end of the class, in the last 5 minutes, and can be prompted or unprompted – depending upon the needs of the teachers. Exit slips can be used to gather soft data about the child. By using open ended, clever prompts, teachers can glean all manner of information about how well the students have understood the task, what questions they may still have, any misconceptions and a general idea of how much the students have enjoyed the task. These exit slips must be written by each child before they leave the classroom. Students should put their names on each slip. Prompts must be designed to inform your teaching, so that teachers can use them to decide things such as where to next? and which children need support or extending.

For some examples and further explanation – check out this site – Reading Rockets

Cornell notes / double entry journal

Any time you have ruled a line down the middle of a page and compared two things by listing pros and cons, you have used a double entry journal. A version of double entry journals, is CORNELL NOTES.

This structure allows students to record the main ideas / key words on the left hand side, and to reflect, wonder and respond to the information as they go. At the bottom of the page, students can then re read their notes, and make a summary of the information.

“Double entry journals are very flexible. Within a unit, double-entry journals can be used to deepen text understanding, show the thinking behind problem solving, or compare ideas, information, characters and so on.”
p.85 Content-Area Writing – Harvey Daniels, Steven Zemelman and Nancy Steineke

Writing to Learn – what is it?

“To get true learning power, kids must put ideas into their own words.”

p 26 Content Area Writing – Harvey Daniels, Steven Zemelman, Nancy Steineke

Writing to learn is different to high stakes, public writing. Writing To Learns are:
Short;spontaneous;exploratory;informal;personal;one draft;unedited; and ungraded.

This semester, in my role as literacy coach, I am introducing some of the Writing to Learn strategies which are explained in the above book, Content Area Writing.

Literacy in the Potato Olympics – a maths project

This week I have been team teaching with Britt Gow in my role as literacy coach at Hawkesdale P12 College.. Britt is collaborating on a maths project called The Potato Olympics, with Deon Scanlon, currently a year 6 teacher at St. Aloysius School in Tasmania.

What began as a challenge for me at the beginning of the year in my role as a literacy coach, to “find” the literacy in maths, is now a source of great excitement for me. I have learnt more about literacy through working with this exciting, committed and highly motivated teacher, than I ever envisaged learning at the beginning of the year. For years I have heard and read that all content area teachers, are teachers of literacy, but honestly, I struggled to stretch much past the “glossary” as being “it”. I am not a mathematical person. I didn’t enjoy my years spent in the maths classroom and at the beginning of the year, I did wonder what value I might be as a literacy coach, “coaching” a maths teacher.

Imagine my delight at discovering that maths is actually enjoyable, and that literacy abounds!

As part of the Potato Olympics project, we got the students to write about their potato athlete. The students had to give their potato a name, measure and record all the relevant mathematical statistics, and then write about the potato’s family, siblings, life so far, explanations for any dints or spots and their dreams and hopes for the Potato Olympics, which are being held tomorrow. The students have had a great week and we are all excitedly looking forward to the Games.

Dear mum and dad…..(fast forward to 2018)

Our year 6 Graduation Dinner is booked for December 4th and we will start working on some fun things to do for the night. The first thing I am asking the students to do as individuals is to write a letter to their parents, but they are going to fast forward to 2018 when the students will be 21 and 22. I know that most of them think they will never be that age, but I assured them they will.

The letter is to include information about their aspirations re occupation, lifestyle, car, pets, where they are living and what they are doing. They need to remember, that mum and dad will of course know all this – so their letter has to be a chatty letter, which lets us know what it is you are up to.

eg. Dear mum and dad, you should have seen the cute little kitten that came in today. We had to operate on it’s eye and it was so tiny. The vet up the road was busy, so we had to take it. I was pleased to get home tonight and obviously Brutus was pleased to see me. These little staffies are the cutest little dogs. I’m pleased that I am able to keep a pet in these lovely St Kilda Road units – I would be lost without him. (you get the picture)

I asked the students to use adjectives and to “show – don’t tell.” I look forward to posting some of their letters here next week, for you to read.

Writing challenges for the holidays

I have set these simple writing challenges for my year 6 students for a bit of fun while they are on a 2 week term break.
• Hug at least one person each day (yes you can hug your brother or sister – that counts as 2 hugs:)
• Every day make an observation in your writing journals about
o An animal you see by naming the animal and then supplying 2 adjectives which describe it eg. CROW – shiny and scheming
o The weather and what you are doing each day– but the challenge is to make this interesting and fun. Don’t tell me the temperature – show me! eg Saturday – rubber boots, long sleeves, Kung Fu Panda and hot milo in front of the heater.