Diving Into a Unit of Study!

Lately, I had been feeling that my minilessons were all over the place. My understanding of minilessons is they are driven by what the teacher sees as the needs of her students. Even though the ideas I was teaching were worthwhile, I need more structure and a clearer path to follow, so I was thrilled to get one of Lucy Calkins’ units titled Authors As Mentors. It has been a game changer in my writing instruction. I feel like I finally found the end of the rainbow ~ a pot of golden writing goodies!

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The first author my class is studying in Angela Johnson. I checked out all her books in our school library and used them to introduce the unit to my first-graders. They were very excited to begin this unit of study after I told them she writes stories just like they do and they were going to learn how to be better writers by studying her books. The first minilesson teaches how she writes books about small moments. I had to backtrack by explaining the difference between big ideas (watermelon stories) and small moments (watermelon seed stories) which had been introduced in a previous unit. I gave several examples such as the beach vs. finding a jellyfish on the beach. I read the book Joshua’s Night Whispers and we talked about how Johnson took a big idea (son) and zoomed in to a small moment (when he got out of bed during the night).

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I asked my students how would writers remember all the ideas that they have for books. One student said, “They would have to have a good memory.” I laughed and agreed. Another student said, “I think they would have to write their ideas down.” BINGO! I asked everyone to think of a small moment that has happened to themselves or someone they know that would be a good idea for a story. I explained it could be something that happened at P.E., on the bus, in our classroom, on a trip, or at home. After letting everyone think for a few moments, I told them I had an idea. Using my document camera, I wrote the words “card in glove compartment” on a little piece of paper. I explained to my class that I wasn’t writing the whole story on my paper, just a few words to help me remember my idea.

I then handed out little pieces of paper for them to go write down a few words to help them remember the small moment story they wanted to write. I reminded them to be like Angela Johnson and zoom in on a small moment. I was very impressed that they all went right to work and came up with some very good ideas for a small moment story.

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I used the document camera and everyone got to share what their small moment story was going to be about. I even shared that my story about a time I forgot my wedding anniversary because I was so excited to be going to Disney World! I explained to my class that many writers keep notebooks to write down all their ideas for books and we were going to make our very own little notebooks! But since I didn’t have the materials ready, I said they would have to wait until tomorrow. You should have seen their little deflated faces.

The next day we did indeed make our little notebook necklaces. They had so much FUN making them! The excitement I saw on their faces is something I want to see each day. My first-graders were so engaged and excited about writing! Their minds were blown when I told them they were going to wear them at school to jot down any ideas for small moment stories. I even gave them a golf pencil. I was asked if they could take them home which I said was fine, but if they lost it, they wouldn’t be getting a new one.

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We went to lunch after making our little notebooks and guess what I saw at the lunch table?!?! My students were writing  ideas!!!!

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5 thoughts on “Diving Into a Unit of Study!

  1. Michelle Todd says:

    I can’t wait to do this series of mini lessons with my first graders. Your students did seem to enjoy wearing the little notepads and gather ideas for their writing. I think it is helpful to have units of study to guide our teaching of young writers.

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  2. shelly :) says:

    Penny this is so adorable! I bet they walked a little taller with those notebook necklaces. I have my kids wear sight words, but this is a whole new level. I love how they could make it their own with stickers. The pictures of the french fries on hold while they write is priceless. I will have to remember this idea.

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  3. Kelly Luna says:

    I love everything about what you wrote. Having your young writers use an author study to focus on “what writers do” is brilliant!

    I also, understand what you are saying about a disconnect in your mini lessons. We know that students need exposure to a concept multiple times in order to truly understand it. When my mini lessons are disjointed I feel like I am jumping around and my students are not getting the opportunity to really master a concept.

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  4. bethabuchholz says:

    These pictures from the lunchroom are priceless! It shows that when students see themselves as REAL writers, they will happily engage in writing in the classroom and beyond. As teachers, when we say, “My students hate writing,” it’s more of a reflection of our instruction than of children’s innate interest in writing.

    Your students’ small moment ideas are perfect! They clearly understood the idea of watermelon topics versus watermelon seeds, and are now scouring their lives for potential topics. I look forward to seeing what comes next. 🙂

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