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6 Alternative Ways to Use Writing Prompts

writing prompt activities

When it comes to writing instruction, allowing students the freedom to pick their topic, write about what they know or write from their own experiences goes a long way. When students have these opportunities they are eager to write and become invested in their writing pieces. As educators, we know that this is not always possible. Sometimes students are given choices and sometimes students have to write to a prompt. Writing prompts are often viewed as boring writing assignments or as a necessary or mandatory writing assessment. That does not always have to be the case! You can use writing prompts in your classroom as creative and engaging activities to help teach and practice important writing strategies. The more exposure students have to writing prompts, the less intimidating they become. Here are some different ways that I use writing prompts in my classroom to get kids excited about writing.

1- Round Robin Writing

I love round robin writing! It is a simple and engaging activity my students always ask to complete.  This is an independent class assignment that is perfect to complete during morning work or any downtime you have. To complete a class round robin writing, take a writing prompt and attach a few pages of lined paper and place on a clipboard. (I use a writing prompt that is related to our current writing unit of study, but you can use any type of prompt.) Each student has to write two-three sentences to help create the story. The first student reads the prompt, begins the story with a few sentences and then passes the clipboard to the next student. That student then reads the prompt, the sentences already written and adds their own two-three sentences. Students have to work together to write a cohesive piece with a clear beginning, middle and end.  You can add your own rules to have students apply skills or writing techniques that you have recently taught them. The last student to write their sentences reads the story aloud. It takes a few times of completing this activity for students to get the hang of it, so when you first start trying this activity start off with your strongest writers writing first. This activity allows for great classroom discussions about editing and revising after each student has contributed. 
Why I love it: This activity truly fosters team work and collaboration. 

2- WWYW? What Would You Write? 

Analyzing and discussing ideas for given prompts are a fun way to start or end writing periods or to fill in small pockets of time throughout the day. For this activity, you can use writing prompts or picture prompts. Display them on the smart board or chart paper and simply ask, What would you write? Discussions develop from that one simple question. Be sure to model how you want students to respond the first few times you complete this. Discuss together who or what the prompt will be about, the main focus of the writing and what would be included in the beginning, middle and end of the writing. This is a great activity to do in partnerships or small groups, too!

Why I love it: This activity is a great way to model and practice how to brainstorm ideas before writing. 

3-Author’s Craft Round Up

This activity is a great way to practice and revisit writing strategies and techniques that you have taught throughout the year. After presenting a prompt to the students have them brainstorm and share different author’s craft sentences that they might include in that writing piece. For example, if the prompt is about an outdoor adventure students would write a sentence with a smile that describes the weather. This is a fun activity to have students complete with partners, as students are always eager to share their writing. The more you can share the better. Young writers always benefit from models and examples of good writing! Grab a FREE graphic organizer for this activity HERE.  
Why I love it: This activity is a great way to review important writing techniques from different writing units without having to write a whole writing piece.

4-Hop on the Writing Carousel 

Carousel activities are always a class favorite! It does take some time to set up the activity, but it is well worth it. This is an activity that I have my students complete in groups of two or three. I hang up one piece of chart paper for each grouping. Each piece of chart paper has a prompt attached with one specific direction. Directions might include, write a story beginning, write a conclusion, write a descriptive sentence, all related to the prompt that is attached to the chart paper. You can have each chart paper have the same directions with different prompts or different directions with the same prompt. Each group of students is given a different color marker to complete the activity on the chart paper. After a few minutes at the chart paper, have students rotate with their marker and begin the next chart paper activity. The catch is that students must reread all the writing already on the chart paper and cannot use any ideas already used. Sharing these completed chart paper assignments at the end of the class period is so important. It allows students to read and discuss all the different ways to respond to the same set of prompts and directions. You can leave some of these chart paper writing assignments hanging up in your classroom as writing anchor charts, too!
Why I love it: Students are up and out of their seats and working together to achieve a writing goal.

5-Writing Centers Throughout the Year 

Even if you do not use centers on a regular basis, it sure is fun to throw a center or two into your instructional period every once in a while! Writing centers are a great way to hold students accountable for writing and practicing important skills independently.  Centers also give you the freedom to work with small groups to practice and re-teach writing concepts as needed. It is easy to use writing prompts at a writing station. Simply provide appropriate prompts and allow students to select the prompt they would like to write to during center time. I like to use seasonal topics to engage my students. I simply print prompts, fold them up and place them in a bucket. I allow students to read through the prompts and select the one topic that they think they would be the most successful at completing. For a challenge, have students randomly select a topic from the bucket. Then they must write to the one prompt that they selected.  Any prompts you have on hand work well for this activity. Find the seasonal prompts that I use with my students HERE.
Why I love it: Students are given choices for which prompt topic they want to complete.

6-Annotating Completed Writing Prompts

There is nothing more important for young writers to see than completed writing prompts. By reading and annotating completed writing pieces, students can see a whole piece of writing from beginning to end in one sitting. It takes a long time for students to complete their own writing piece fully, so seeing a completed piece is a great model and example to show them what is expected. At the beginning of the year, I model how to annotate a written piece, looking for the beginning, middle, end, introduction, closure, as well as different techniques and strategies depending on the writing genre. As the year progresses, students work together to annotate completed pieces. We play different rounds of “I Can Spy” with prewritten prompts. Students work together to search for writing characteristics found in the given writing piece. Grab a FREE “I Can Spy” organizer to help students find different writing elements found in opinion writing pieces HERE.  You can make up any directions you want while students annotate completed prompts. You can have them find the introduction and then create a new one, you can have them hunt for similes or metaphors, or you can have them replace words that are used too often. You can create a prewritten prompt by simply completing a writing prompt yourself and sharing it with your students. As students feel more comfortable with their writing, ask for student volunteers to share their own completed writing pieces that they wouldn't mind  you using for a class annotation activity. You can copy their work with their permission or rewrite their pieces on chart paper.  HERE are the already completed graphic organizers and writing prompts to annotate that I use with my students.
Why I love it: Students are exposed to different writing models and are given the opportunity to develop skills to help them collaborate with writing partners.

The next time you hear the words writing prompts, don’t cringe! Take those writing prompts and use them in creative and engaging ways to reinforce and practice strategies that you are teaching during your writing block. It is easy to make writing prompts work for you and support what you are doing in the classroom.

How do you use writing prompts in your classroom?

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3 Community Building Picture Books To Kick Off Your School Year

picture books to build community

If you are like me, you read many, many picture books during the first few weeks of school to settle into new routines and discuss the new school year’s expectations. What better way to build relationships than by getting cozy with your new students in your freshly organized classroom library and discussing exciting new books?  Picture books are a great way to begin discussions about your classroom community, too. Creating a classroom atmosphere where students feel safe to take risks and feel a sense of belonging is always my goal not just for back to school season, but for the entire school year.  The picture books listed below are my go to books that I love to read with my new students to begin creating a strong classroom community. These three books allow for meaningful discussions, role playing activities and carry similar themes. What I love about each of these books is that they have a main character who changes throughout the story, allowing for comparing and contrasting of not just the stories, but the characters, too.


Weslandia Written by: Paul Fleischman

This is one of my favorite books to read and refer back to all year long. This book is about a boy who feels like he doesn’t fit in with his peers and is strong enough to not be a follower to all the current trends. Instead he begins his own land where he is free to be himself.  The land he creates reflects his interests and his unique personality. He finds out that by being himself, he ends up with more friends than he could imagine. A fun follow up activity is for students to create their own land based on their interests and unique personalities. This is a great way for students to get to know one another, too. This is a definite must read!

picture books to build community

One Written by: Kathryn Otoshi

This book is filled with many metaphors, but truly perfect for any grade level. The main character of this book is Blue, who normally likes himself, except when hot headed Red is around. With the backing of  his colorful friends and a new friend too, Blue has the courage to stand up to Red. This book offers the opportunity to discuss how students can work together to look out for one another in your budding new classroom community. This cleverly written book will become your new favorite back to school read aloud!

picture books to build community

The Invisible Boy Written by: Trudy Ludwig

This book is about a quiet boy named Brian who literally feels invisible everywhere he goes at school. The illustrations are amazing, with colors that reflect how Brian is feeling. When Brian is feeling invisible he is drawn in black and white. Brian becomes more colorful as his feelings change and he becomes visible to his peers at school. This story is very relatable allowing students to make connections on each and every page.

These stories can easily be compared and contrasted by students in small groups after reading them all aloud. Grab some great discussion questions and student writing activities to use with these books for FREE HERE.

These three picture books are a great way to kick off your classroom discussions about your new classroom community. You can continue to have discussions about the community you have created in your classroom by revisiting these books throughout the year. What books do you like to read to encourage classroom community building?

picture books to build community

picture books to build communityLooking to continue to discuss classroom community in your classroom each day? These quotes are a great way to engage students in discussing important themes like kindness, friendships and of course community building! See more information HERE.

Interested in reading easy and fun strategies to bring kindness into your classroom? Click HERE.

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4 Read Aloud Books for the End of the School Year

End of School Year Freebies

4 Read Aloud Books, PERFECT for the

End of the School Year

It seems that each year the school year flies by faster than the year before! September, November, holiday season, February, BLINK and suddenly it is the end of the school year. Those last few weeks of school are as crazy as the first few. End of year assessments, report cards, assemblies, celebrations and fitting in the last pieces of the curriculum. My plan book the last few weeks of school fills up so quickly, which is why I can never plan too early for those memorable end of year activities and read alouds. And I don’t know about your end of year schedule, but mine always seems to be choppy, with small windows of time to do activities here and there. To the make the most of those in between times, I like to be prepared with as many end of year activities as possible! These sweet picture books and activities are the perfect way to fill those holes and create even more unforgettable moments with your students.

Here are my favorite four picture books to read aloud during those last few weeks (or days) of school with your students. Read on to find out more about each book and be sure to grab the coordinating FREE student activity that goes with each book. Click each book title to see more about each book.*

Breathe Written by: Scott Magoon

end of year freebie
This book stumbled across my path recently and I couldn’t be happier to have found it! What a sweet book that is a quick read perfect for that emotional last day of school! This book can really stand alone as the last thing you do with your students before dismissal on the last day. Each page is incredibly meaningful with powerful words that not only represent the expectations that you had for each student during the school year, but also the hopes that you have for your students for the summer and as they continue to grow. Have your students complete this illustration and writing companion activity about how they plan to spend their summer, following a read aloud of this book. Grab it for FREE HERE.

The Raft Written by: Jim LaMarche

end of year freebies
If you follow me on social media than you know I absolutely adore this book! It is a staple in my classroom. We read it at the beginning of the year and refer back to it all year long during almost every reading unit. We use it to help identify character traits, how the character changes, theme, symbolism and just about any other reading topic you can think of. The main character in this book has to spend the summer with his outdoorsy grandmother who does not have a TV. The main character, Nicky thinks he will have a terrible time, but instead ends up having a summer filled with discovery. We can never get enough of this book! If you have already read it this year, revisit it and try this summer sketches and writing companion activity with your students to mirror what the main character does in the book. Grab it for FREE HERE

MyTeacher Likes to Say Written by: Denise Brennan-Nelson

end of year freebies
This book is so much fun to read and a perfect way to wrap up the school year! It is a compilation book of classic idioms, proverbs, and clich├ęs that you have surely said at some point during the year! Not only does this book illustrate each saying to help them understand what each means, but the author explains each in detail. Wonder which one of your catch phrases have stuck with your students this year? Have your students complete this reflection activity all about you, after reading aloud this book. These come out adorable! Compile into a book for a fun memory book. Grab it for FREE HERE.

Last Day Blues Written by: Julie Danneberg

Is there a more classic story to read to your students on the last day of school? This companion book to First Day Jitters, The Big Test, and First Year Letters, also written by Julie Dannenberg will give you and your students all the happy feelings as you realize your school year has come full circle, especially if you have read the other titles in this series during the year. The characters in Last Day Blues worry that their teacher will miss them all summer long (how sweet)! The book focuses on the students coming up with ways to make sure that their teacher is not sad all summer without them. It is a heartwarming story and your students will love to see these familiar characters once again. What better way to reflect upon this book, then by having your students illustrate and write about what they think YOU will do all summer long! Have your students create two different illustrations in the sunglasses on this page and write about the two things that they can "see" you doing over the summer. Grab it for FREE HERE.

end of year freebies

The end of the school year sure is an emotional roller coaster! Reading these books together at the end of the school year always help us to relax and reflect on the many days and memories we shared together. I look forward to sharing each and every one of these picture books with my students each year. I hope that you enjoy sharing them with your students, too! What is your favorite end of year picture book to read with your students?

Looking for other end of the school year activities to engage your students as you approach the final weeks, and days of school. Click each image below to see more:
Student Expert Book          

end of school year freebies

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3 Strategies to Help Your Students Make Good Decisions

3 Strategies to Help Your Students Make Good Decisions

It is estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions during the school day. That is a lot of thinking and decision making in a short amount of time! If you are a teacher, you know how we have to think quickly as different situations constantly arise during the school day.  If we make that many decisions during one school day, how many decisions do our students have to make?  Luckily, we are adults and trained professionals capable of making good choices using effective decision making skills that we have acquired over time. But are our students just as capable as we are? Decision making is a skill that our students need direct instruction on and plenty of practice, too.  The following three decision making strategies are easy to implement in your classroom and will yield positive results for your students.

Daily Practice: Planned and Authentic

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Role-Model-Activities-2728879Think about the choices our students face each day. Should they focus on the lesson or follow their friend to the bathroom? Should they have the lunch mom packed or grab something less healthy from the cafeteria? Should they include everyone when they play during recess or play a game that excludes others? Children face many choices each day and many involve doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, like during lunch and recess. To help our students make better choices, we need to give our students many opportunities to practice decision making skills in an environment that we can give them support. These opportunities should be both planned decision making activities and authentic decision making within natural situations. One way you can plan to practice decision making skills is to use morning meeting time to present students with situational questions that force them to make a choice. You can ask simple questions such as, would you rather order a bagel or a cheese sandwich at lunch? This type of question provides students with two choices for them to choose between. You can also ask an open ended question such as, should you complete your homework on the bus? This question requires the students to think about what their choices are and make a decision based on the pros and cons of each choice. Both types of questions require students to make a decision, but require a different line of thinking to help students make their choice.  Another way to plan for decision making practice is deliberate lesson planning. This Role Model set includes situational task cards to use during a decision making lesson, to encourage students to make good decisions that help themselves and others. Authentic opportunities arise all day in the classroom. There are so many times throughout the day that I find myself saying, Was that a good choice? Make a good decision. Think about what you should do. When those moments arise, grab your timer, set it for 2-3 minutes and go through decision making steps to help your students make the right decision or reflect on the decision that they made. 

Have a “How To” Make Good Decisions Checklist

Display a simple and easy to follow “how to” checklist to help students make good decisions. This checklist can be strategies that you brainstorm with your students, or it can be strategies that you give to them and expect them to use. Either way, create an anchor chart and display it in your classroom as a visual reminder of how to make good choices. Then make individual copies for students to have for reference. Be sure to send home the language you will be using in the classroom so that parents  can reinforce the same expectations at home.

Practice Decision Making While Reading-Connecting with Characters

There is no better way to help students understand and see decision making in action then through reading books and analyzing characters! Character analysis and understanding character traits is something that is taught and practiced in every classroom, at every grade level. It is very easy to weave decision making discussions into these lessons and any book that you read together as a class. Analyze both the good and the bad decision making that you come across in books as both serve as a teaching and learning point, sparking meaningful discourse in your classroom. Invite students to share decisions that the characters in their independent reading chapter books make with the class and vote on whether or not the students would make that same decision as the character.
One book that is a great read aloud to kick off learning about making decisions in your classroom is the book, What Should Danny Do? written by Ganit and Adir Levy. Not only will your students love this book, but you will, too! With its “choose your own adventure” style format, it is many stories in one book. Within this interactive book, the main character Danny faces many different situations that require him to make a choice. The students decide what choice Danny will make, taking them to a page that continues that story. You can reread this book over and over, having Danny make different decisions, changing the outcome of the story. What I love about this book, is that it is a true example of how making different choices can change the outcome. The decisions that Danny has to make are relatable to students, so that they will be able to easily put themselves in Danny’s shoes.
 After you have finished reading and discussing What Should Danny Do? have your students work with a partner to brainstorm different situations that they have been faced with at school that have forced them to make a decision.  Encourage them to come up with situations that they have been in where making a good choice was difficult. You can start the list with ideas to help students generate situations. Situations you might begin listing: if the teacher is absent, someone starts a food fight in the cafeteria, someone is alone on the playground.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Dpvu3G3-qIU4A1kC5dvzci9w1N3F1KOYRecord their ideas on paper. Once you have a list, cut out each situation and fold up the paper. Place them in a basket. Have each pair of students randomly select a situation from the basket. Working together, students will create a list of possible choices and decisions that can be made about the situation they selected. After discussing the choices students will select one decision that they think is the best to carry out given the situation. Next, have them create a pro and con list about their decision. Students will write and illustrate their decision before presenting to the class. Grab all the materials that you will need for this FREE lesson HERE.
Other books with strong main characters that lend themselves to discussions about making decisions and good choices are Enemy Pie written by Derek Munson, The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson and Weslandia written by Paul Fleischman.

Making decisions is a process that must be learned. The process is hard work, especially for our students. Empower your students to be able to make decisions and good choices with easy to use strategies, provide them with opportunities to try out those strategies in the classroom and encourage them to connect with the amazing characters that they meet in books to analyze the decisions that the characters make. How do you encourage good decision making in your classroom? 

Looking for ways to encourage your students to make positive decisions for their own actions? Check out these classroom posters to display in your classroom!
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