Roscoe Goose, Generating Ideas

Monday, July 23rd I read the post to Kate Messner’s TeachersWrite blog and met biography author, Sarah Albee. Sarah’s advise to writers is to jot down ALL you know about the topic. Then make choices about what to include. It felt freeing to hear that I don’t have to include every single detail. She also mentioned how she likes to include details about what people wear. This made me think for me, I’d like to include details about buildings because I like architecture.

Your Assignment: Choose someone to write about. It might be a famous person, a little-known person from history whose story you want to tell, or yourself. Write down 8-10 facts about this person’s life. Birth, family background, all that basic stuff, sure. But include at least a few pivotal moments in the person’s life—triumphs, disappointments, adversities that shaped him or her (or you).

And now, write the first two or three sentences of this biography—but make some choices before you start writing. Where will you start your story? Which facts from your list really sum the person up and give your reader a sense of who they are? What voice will you use? How will you hook your reader? Share a bit of what you wrote in the comments if you’d like!

Generating Ideas: I just returned from a trip to Louisville, Kentucky with my mom so she could visit with her cousins. Her one cousin took us to see the historical marker set at his grandfather’s brother’s house.


I decided I’d pick ROSCOE GOOSE as my person. Here’s the beginning of my assignment, my biography of ROSCOE GOOSE, the winning jockey of the 1913 Kentucky Derby.

First, using the historical marker and some online research, I made these notes:


My opening page:

“This is it, Donerail.” Roscoe said as he patted the left-side of his black colt’s mane. “They think if we race here 91 times, we will win just one of those races. How about we win this first one to show them they are right.” Then Roscoe raised his eyes to see the Twin Spires pointing straight to heaven. Today was the 39th running of the Kentucky Derby and Roscoe and Donerail were about to have the race of their lives.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.51.35 AM

#3 Wind vs Windbag?

Last year when teaching a nonfiction writing unit, my students loved researching animals and then comparing them. They asked: Who Wins? using the Who Would Win series as a mentor text and then they wrote, using their research notes. Here’s an example of a page (on right) based on the book (on left):

Last night, the wind outside howled. It howled so loudly. It howled causing branches to fall. It howled keeping me awake on and off all night. As it howled, I cringed and pushed away the image of a large tree falling onto my house. The weather forecast stated winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph would happen all day and night. And I listened to the howling all night long.

Also last night, before heading to bed, I listening to the news. On and on, media hosts talked and talked and talked. About current government problems. About the 5-digit amount a government committee was going to pay for furniture for its new government office. About kids and guns in FL. About trade issues.  About kids dying due to bombs in Syria.

Who wins?              Wind…..vs……….windbags?
Who wins?             Nature issues…vs…… issues?

Wind wins, in my opinion. There is no controling Mother Nature.
However, it was hard for me to pick a winner. It feels like my current government and my current world can’t be controlled either at the moment. But I remain hopeful. I write my congressman and Senators and I vote. I keep believing in my fellow man to be upstanders, not bystanders, two terms my 6th grade Social Issues Book Club members are using as they discuss their books and their world. Wind wins!

PS: I hope all out there are safe from the wind and storms and headaches caused by wind and windbags.

Today, Amtrak is taking me to NYC for a day of magical learning with the smartest literacy minds on the planet at TCRWP. I predict that on March 4th, my slice will be all about it!

Inspired by National Gallery of Art Painting

(Also, this is my FIRST post using WORDPRESS!! I made the switch over the weekend!)

Friday I had the pleasure of taking the 3rd graders to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Our school is just on the other side of the Potomac River in Arlington, VA and most of the 107 3rd graders had visited this museum before. But in my opinion, you can never visit an Art Gallery too many times!! Also this was not my first fieldtrip with a school group to the National Gallery but it was the first where the docent let the kids use a laser to point to what they notice in a painting and the first where we could record on a device our favorite images. Both uses of technology added to our engagement and learning!

The title of our docent tour was Every Picture Tells a Story and it was a perfect culmination of all the reading and writing we have done this year as 3rd graders. In my group, Ms. Janet asked us to identify all the same things we do when we read or write a printed story – setting, character, plot, and theme but this time we did it while sitting in front of amazing works of art. I was very proud of our class. All participated in a lively and deep conversation about how the artist told a story and we looked very beautiful and handsome as we did it! (We had asked the kids to dress up for the trip!)

This week we are researching and also creating the “story” of the picture.

I picked this painting:

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 6.50.05 AM

As a model for my students, I created these slides:

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 6.56.43 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-17 at 6.57.11 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-17 at 6.58.14 AM

What fun fieldtrips have YOU taken?? 

What small moment can you write??!!

More Information Writing – Generating more Ideas with Table of Contents and Jeopardy!

My family has gotten into the habit of watching Jeopardy at 7:30pm each night. My daughter, Anne and my husband, Brian, are very good at stating the questions to the random answers posed by Alex Trebek. At the beginning of Round 1 and 2,  Anne and Brian will often say aloud words they expect to appear as Alex names the categories:
Alex – Old Testament
Anne – Who is Noah, Moses, Job?
Alex – Buildings of the World
Brian – What is the Louvre, The Empire State Building, Falling Water?
They seem to have go-to words that match a stated category.

As I continue to plan the 3rd grade information writing unit, I see a connection. I have been taking TCRWP suggestions to think of ways, kinds, parts, pro/con, problem/solution, and compare/contract to think deeper about my topic.

What if I think of my topic as a category on Jeopardy?
My topic: Children’s Literature.
If the category was Best Nonfiction Children’s authors, I’d expert Jeopardy to have an answer about Seymore Simon, Gail Gibbons and Melissa Stewart.
If the category was Best Picture book authors for 3rd gr. and up, I’d expect Jeopardy to have an answer listed about Patricia Polacco, Chris Van Allsburg, and Eve Bunting.
If the category was Best Children’s Poets, I’d expect Jeopardy to have an answer listed about Judith Viorst, J. Patrick Lewis and Jack Prelutsky.

What if my topic was SWIMMING?  Would this strategy still work?
If the category was kinds of pools, I’d expect Jeopardy to have answers that included 50 meter outdoor, 25 meter indoor and 25 yards outdoor.
If the category was swimming strokes, I’d expect Jeopardy to have answers that included butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle and IM.
If the category was swimming parts, I’d expect Jeopardy to have answers that included the dive, the turn, the kick, the strokes and the breathing.

As TCRWP taught me, my brain is wired to learn things when grouped into categories. That is why Boxes and Bullets is such a successful strategy when reading and writing information. And now, I also will think of my information writing topic as a Jeopardy Game Show Category.

What answers would Alex Trebek state about my topic?!!

Information Writing – Generating Ideas through Table of Contents

As a 3rd grade teacher getting ready to start the Unit of Study for Teaching Information Writing, I’m inspired by Lucy Calkins and Colleen Cruz to write lots and lots and lots of Table of Contents. As a way to generate ideas for writing an Information book, I picked a topic I feel I am an expert on (BOOKS!) and started to write some possible Table of Contents.

Topic – BOOKS
1. Genres –
Fiction – realistic, fantasy, mystery, historical
Nonfiction – sports, animals, poetry, biographies
2. Kinds of Books –
picture book, novel, graphic novel, magazine, books on CD, online Tumblebooks, online e-book
3.Where to get books – bookstore, library, online, friends who share with me
4. Favorite Books for different ages of kids – toddler, kindergarten, 3rd grader, Middle Schooler
5. Where to find out about book ideas –
Twitter – Mr. Shu, Eric Carle Museum,
My Librarian, Mr. Re
Website – NYC Public Library 100 books to read
Author Website
My…this took time and I’ve only drafted five Table of Contents!?!?
Lucy, in her Information workshop at the October, 2015 Saturday Reunion said Graves told her to write 10-30 Table of Contents. I guess I should be happy I did five…I think I need to really stretch my brain to see a topic from LOTS of angles. Then maybe, with practice, I can grow this work. I got to start somewhere so glad I got five generated.