Can I use the disagree one with you?

As I finished up the last couple chapters in Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds, I was continuously reminded of the importance to be fair with you students.

Johnston (2012) discusses social reasoning, caring and social action in chapter 7. The quote on page 87 stood out to me as I reflected on our guided reading flex grouping.

“Discipline that foregrounds the emotional consequences of a behavior or intended behavior expands both children’s level of sympathy and their prosocial behavior.”
“The logic strengthens the relationship that is the basis for the student’s compliance, and when teachers are seen as caring, students are socially and academically more motivated.”

This past month we started flex grouping the second grade students during guided reading. We had to assign the students to groups based on their MClass Decoding scores as well as their comprehension scores. This was a long process which I am noticing is changing weekly. For the first few days, we spent our time learning the procedures for guided reading, how to walk into the classroom and what our expectations were to be a successful group.

This is the first time this year that I have worked with a small group that is composed of 4 different classrooms. It was also the first time I saw the difference in the behavior of the students. The students wait outside the door to enter the classroom and this is why the above quotes stand out to me.

Student 1: He called me dumb and told me to shut up
Student 2: Nuh uh. I didn’t!
Teacher: Did you tell him that you did not like that?
Student 1: No
Teacher: Tell him that you did not like that he called you dumb and said shut up.
Student 1: I did not like it when you said those things to me.
Teacher: Tell him that you did not like that he called you dumb and said shut up.
Student 1: I did not like that you called me dumb and said shut up.
Student 2: Sorry.
Teacher: No you need to say that you are sorry for calling her dumb and saying shut up.
Student 2: Sorry for calling you dumb and saying shut up.
Student 1: It is okay.
Teacher: It would hurt my heart if someone called you dumb and said shut up.
Student 2: Yea that would not be very nice. (smiles and hugs the teacher) 

Well I am not saying that this example is correct or that is the way to have the students interact with one another, the point that stood out to me was the way student 2 changed his feelings about the situation. At first he was very defensive and then after the teacher expressed that he cared he was smiling and hugging the teacher.

Another piece that stood out to me is how students need to be guided with sentence starters throughout the day, Student 1 needed prompting several times to tell Student 2 that she did not like the words that he used. She was not specific enough and needed to be reminded of the strategies. I also notice that so many times students are prone to tattling to get the other student in trouble, but then never really solving their own problems. This leading to a problem in the long run.

Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of social problems on page 91 “Social problems offer concrete spaces for understanding different perspectives, understanding and managing emotions, learning strategies for negotiating social conflict, and asserting a commitment to fairness.” Students need to be exposed to different social problems; problems that they are part of as well as problems that can solve together. Education is not just learning information from books but rather how to be successful in the social environment.

One part of my classroom that I have encouraged this year is the use of “argumentation strategies” (Johnston, 2012). I have given my students sentence starters to encourage conversations where not all students agree. At the beginning of the year I introduced a topic for discussion. I stood in the front and my students saw me as the leader and they were going to listen. I have to admit that the lesson did not go as planned. I then introduced the sentence starters similar to Johnson’s on page 88. I have noticed that my students use the sentence starters with one another, during group work, when we are discussing background knowledge or introducing a new topic, but my absolute favorite is with me. They are starting to see themselves as the teachers.

This past week, a little girl asked “You know how we use those sentence starters to agree and disagree with our friends. Can I use the disagree one with you?” I was so happy to see a student that wanted to share what they knew and knew how to argue in a respectful and responsible way. I cannot say I even remember what she disagreed on (most likely she was right) but I was just so happy to see the growth in my classroom and the independence that my students are showing!



3… 2… 1… Action

At the end of summer, as teachers get ready for school, students go supply shopping and final summer plans are executed, there is an excitement in the air. Students are anxious about starting school and teachers are looking forward to a new year with new students. When the first couple weeks of school go by, children are asked what they have learned. Some students new to the school might talk about the rules, their new friends and the positive changes, some students might list the new content that they have been exposed to and then there might be some children who might respond with nothing.

The first couple weeks is known was the time that teachers build community in the classroom. Students learn about and become acquainted with their new peers as well as their new environment. The first couple weeks are spent on growing the students socially and using this growth to continue to improve the student’s academics throughout the year.

Peter H. Johnston refers to this development as “Social Imagination” in Chapter 6 of Opening Minds. Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of a student’s social development as “the foundation for intellectual, emotional, and physical health”. These are some of the main points of importance for my classroom instruction.

Mind Reading

Many students are not taught how to read other’s faces and gestures. Students need to build these skills to look each other in the eyes, make eye contact and listen to their partner. This is a skill that many of my students need constant reminders to continue as well as feel comfortable doing. There have been many discussions about how the idea of eye contact is not required in all cultures and if it is necessary to make part of the classroom environment. We ask students to code switch when coming to school and this could be an important code switch for social development.

Social Reasoning

Some students spend more time watching television than conversing with other peers or adults. Social Reasoning is “the ability to imagine and reasons about other’s actions, intentions, feelings, and beliefs from multiple perspectives (Johnston, 2012). This ability is developed when students are exposed to a variety of feelings, actions, etc. and then they are encouraged to have conversations after the event. Children can experience multiple perspectives through read alouds, classroom discussions and opinion activities.

Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of different perspectives through inquiry, dialogue, uncertainty and differences in Chapter 5 of Opening Minds. The chapter discusses how teachers and students need to be on a level playing field in order to learn from one another. Johnston encourages teachers to encourage conversation between students and as the teacher sit on the sideline. Students should be encouraged to discuss differences by defending ideas as well as actively listening to one another. This strategy of differences can increase the students social reasoning and as well as the process of understanding one another.

Taking Social Imagination Seriously – Self-Regulation

As a student’s social imagination increases the student starts to imagine other’s feelings, emotions, and motives in order to manage their own feelings. When adults encourage students to talk about how they feel, how others feel, then the students are able to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

Talk and Social Imagination AND Social Problem Solving

When students are given opportunities to problem solve by talking to one another and taking responsibility for their actions, the students are developing their social imagination. Giving students the responsibility is only productive when students have seen modeling of the appropriate social interactions, practiced with a peer and then been successful when interacting in the classroom. Students need to be able to advocate for themselves, but they need the skills and practice to be successful.

Well all of the above are important practices to use in the classroom; the students will only be successful if these practices are used throughout the year. Many years start with the teacher expecting the students to practice social imagination, but then they taper off as the months pass. These practices are as important the last day of school as they are in the beginning of the year.

I will leave with this quote, an idea that all teachers should reflect on constantly throughout the year.

***”Classroom management depends substantially on children taking into account other’s feelings and interests”***

I forgot

“Changing our talk requires gaining a sense of what we are doing, our options, their consequences, and why we make the choices we make.” (Johnston, 2012)

Each year I leave a space under my SMARTboard/ whiteboard for a “growing” set of words. This area is named the graveyard, it is a place where words are put that our class decides are considered “graveyard” words. This practice started my first year of teaching. My students were using words that were hurting the classroom community and I needed a concrete way to show that these words were no appropriate in the classroom.

This year I have continued my graveyard words area and have had to add a new word this past month. The phrase we added was I forgot. My students take the graveyard words very seriously that I am continuously reminded that I cannot use the word. When a student (or teacher) uses a graveyard word, the response in the classroom, from either a peer or the teacher, is “Can you think of another way to say that?”. It is surprising to me how well my students respond to the feedback, but then I remember that we are all in the position to grow together. I am both giving and receiving the feedback.

Peter Johnson (2012) writes about positive feedback, praise and other responses in Opening Minds.“We have to remember that we are not just giving students feedback; we are also teaching them to provide it.” This quote made me think about the numerous conversations that I have with my peers at school. We discuss how a child might behave in the classroom, how they might react in certain situations and their learning process through the year. We stop a couple times to discuss the child’s interactions and behaviors, but never stop to think about our interactions with the child, or the child’s home interactions. For some students school might be the only place that they provided “instruction” in receiving and giving feedback. We as teachers need to insure that we provide feedback that focuses on the aspects of process, effort and strategy, rather than focus on the person.

In Chapter 2, Johnston refers to the fixed-performance frame and the dynamic-learning frame. This reminded me of the book study we completed two years ago by Carol Dweck. We read the Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck focused on the idea of the growth mindset in the classroom. I continue the growth mindset study and integrate the idea into my “graveyard” words. Johnston discusses the fixed-performance frame as children viewing ability or intelligence as a permanent born trait. The dymanic-learning theory understands intelligence or ability as something that grows with learning.

Each year we start off discussing our brains. Each child uses their hands to create a brain (it looks like each child is hold an imaginary ball in his/her hands). We then move our hands back and forth (like we are molding clay) still holding the ball to show that our brains are growing. We discuss how our brains are growing each year and we have to be actively involved in the learning process each year.

Last year, our word graveyard had 2 sections, our growth mindset words and our fixed mindset words. We backed the growth mindset in green and the fixed mindset in red. The students were then accountable for their own words, and were given an opportunity to change their responses in the classroom. We all hold each other accountable for our responses, but instead of calling each other out, we respond with “Can you think of another way to say that?”


Johnston, P. H. (2012). Opening minds: Using language to change lives. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse.

You Don’t Know Me

Each year Valentine’s Day brings a sense of community to a classroom that is exaggerated by the media and everywhere you look. But this year, my Valentine’s Day was a very different experience.

I am blessed to have looped with my class from First Grade to Second Grade and I love everyday with my students. It is a very different feeling in the classroom when you have been together for so long. I am fortunate that this class gets along very well. It is a very accepting group of students that support each other in many different ways.

This year I did not organize a Valentine’s Day swap. Truthfully it creeped up on me and all of a sudden it was Thursday. I had one parent email me asking for a list of names. I then quickly asked the students if they wanted a list and ALL hands shot up in the air. On Friday morning the bags of treats came in. We quickly made bags to collect the items. At the end of the day we handed out the items. Out of a class of 21, I have 3 students that did not bring anything in, but they helped the other students that needed assistance matching the names and keeping track of who they had given an item to.

The best part of the swap came when the students got to go through the bag to see what they had been given. I sat at my table with tears in my eyes as they interacted with one another. As the students started to go through the items, they got up and walked over to thank their friends. Some students gave hugs, others thanked their friend for the specific items, some gave exact examples of what they were going to do with the item. It was such a beautiful scene, all of it possible because there is a community that has grown together over a year and a half.

At the beginning of each  year, I get excited when thinking about creating a community in the classroom. It is so important to put the work in at the beginning of the year and then your students will benefit throughout the year. In Chapter 7 of Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, he states that “children, just like adults, learn better in a supportive environment in which they can risk trying out new strategies and concepts and stretching themselves intellectually” (p. 65). This supportive environment creates learners that feel comfortable to take risks and feel comfortable in the learning environment.

I love the idea of creating reflective learners and Johnston gives great examples to use when creating a reflective environment. When working with my students to improve either our behavior or our academics, we discuss the improvements as a class.”We” are working together to make the classroom a better place. At the beginning of the year, I tried to implement compliments as a class. It worked at the beginning, but the students needed guidance. I can see the students that have continued the compliments by themselves in the classroom, but would love to see more in the classroom.

This month I started working with above grade level guided reading group.  The group consists of students from 2 classrooms. We have been studying characters, feelings of characters, point of views and the plot of characters. The students are able to answer my comprehension questions, but I did not feel we were getting enough out of the group. We discussed what a book club is and how people are part of book clubs. I give the students an assignment and then we meet back in a couple of days. I let the students guide the discussion. The students ask each other questions, take votes on whether they agree and disagree (holding each other to give a reason for the response) and they discuss the character and the plot. It is amazing to see how much they have grown and the responsibility they take when discussing the book.

After reading Chapter 8 – Who Do You Think You’re Talking To? I thought back to my first year of teaching. I had a little boy in my class who needed a lot of support both academically as well as behaviorally. One day I was trying to work with the student and trying to reflect on a behavior that had just acquired. He looked right at me and said “you don’t know me!”. This statement caught me off guard and made me think about the student as an individual. I felt like I knew this student pretty well, I went to his football games, communicated with his family and set up success plans in the classroom. But if he was able to make that comment, then there was something that I needed to change.

Throughout Choice Words Johnston gives great strategies and word choices to use in the classroom. This book can create a new environment that students feel comfortable in and feel safe to take risks. I am going to continue to use the strategies in the classroom and try tom implement new structures to help my students be successful.

TAG! You’re It!

Every year I start my writing curriculum with hopes and dreams to hold writing conferences throughout the year. I give myself a break if the conferences do not begin in the first few weeks, we are setting up writer’s workshop I tell myself. After the first month, I tell myself that we are finishing up our first unit and it would make more sense to start conferences the second unit.

In all honesty there is not time for me to hold writing conferences when I do not have a separate Writer’s Workshop time. Our writing lessons are 10 minutes long each day and students complete their writing during Daily 5 rotations. In those rare moments when I do get to walk around and check in with students (schedule changes do occur), I notice that my verbal instruction is not at the level needed during this precious time.

At the beginning of the year, I found the TAG! You’re It! resource for writing conferences. My first thought was to give the students time to conference with each other, but that required teaching on my part. After reading Chapter 5 and 6 in Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, I am thinking about TAG as a framework for my writing conversations with my students.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.58.54 AM

In Chapter 5 Flexibility and Transfer (or Generalizing), Johnston gives strategies for teachers to work with students through transferring knowledge from one place to another students.  I believe that many students have to be taught to transfer knowledge. Some students see classrooms and subjects as compartmentalized.

Johnston discussed in prior chapters the idea that students need to make connections. It is interesting when a student makes a connection from one subject to another, but needs help transferring the knowledge and using the knowledge to better the learning.

My favorite writing conference strategies that I plan to use from Chapter 5 – Flexibility and Transfer (or Generalizing):

  • “How else….”
    • This encourages students to be reflective about their writing, whether they are celebrating or changing the writing. This gives the student the opportunity to lead the learning and the improvements.
  • “That’s like…”
    • This gives the student the option to make the connection and then independently lead the connection to help make the improvements.
  • “What if…”
    • This question gives the student the option of agreeing or disagreeing with the statement. The student is then positioned to make the decision to make the necessary changes. This is also another way to encourage learning without a strong teacher direction.

My favorite writing conference strategies that I plan to use from Chapter 6 – Knowing:

  • “Let’s see if I’ve got this right”
    • This statement shows the student that you have been actively listening and want to check that you understand what they have said.
  • “How did you know?”
    • This gives the student the opportunity to share his/her thinking or show where they found the information. It shows that the teacher is proud of what the student has accomplished.
  • “How could we check?”
    • This gives the teacher and the student the opportunity to work together to solve the problem. The student does not feel that the teacher is telling what needs to be corrected, but rather the student sees the partnership.
  • Silence
    • This shows that the teacher believes in what the student knows and cares enough to wait to hear what the student wants to say.

All of these strategies are great resources to use with TAG and I look forward to putting the strategies in place in the near future.

How do you conduct your student writing conferences?
What do you say to your students?
What do you expect from your writing conferences?


What do you want to be when you grow up?

Each year part of a social studies unit focuses on the idea of studying professions. Teachers expose students to professions that might be interesting, might be new professions or professions they hear about each year. In some classrooms this is the only exposure that students have to professions and they see the professions as a far reach goal. As teachers we need to make sure this is not the only exposure that children have to professions.

A couple years ago I participated in Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) training. SIOP® is proven to:
– Increase student achievement
– Improve academic content skills and language skills
– Deliver results aligned to district objectives
– Prepare students to become college and career ready

There are 8 components:

I left the training with one piece of information – I will change the way I spoke to my children. Ever since that day I have called my students “Readers” during Reader’s Workshop, “Writers” during Writer’s Workshop, “Mathematicians” or “Problem Solvers” during Math Workshop, “Scientists” during Science and “Learners” during Social Studies. I use this language with students when giving mini lessons, talking about the subject, and discussing our learning.

Peter H. Johnson discusses how students are “developing personal and social identities – uniqueness and affiliations that define the people they see themselves becoming”. At the beginning of the year, I share a selection of anchor charts for each subject. The anchor charts give students an introduction to the identities for each subject. We add to the identities as the year goes on as I want my students to know that there is not a specific identify for each subject.

Here are some examples of anchor charts:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.36.19 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.36.43 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.37.38 PM                         Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.38.09 PM      Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.35.12 PM

After reading Chapter 3 and 4, I started thinking about my conversations with my students. I have one student that needs a lot of specific redirection. I have to think about my interactions with this student and how to ensure we have a smooth successful day.

The identity comments that Johnston provides in Chapter 3 made me think about my comments and how to encourage students to take ownership of their growth. I really enjoyed reading the positive comments and thought about ways to incorporate the language into my classroom. When reading the reflective comments, I immediately thought about my one student and the reaction I would get and how I could reframe the question to make it a more positive experience.

The agency comments that were provided in Chapter 4 give students more ownership of their learning. I enjoyed how the comments give students an opportunity to focus on what they did well and what they want to improve. This lets the student feel the accomplishments but then make a new goal. Students have to be taught how to be reflective and the comments in Chapter 4 increase the opportunities for students to reflect on both their learning and their actions.

I am looking forward to using these strategies in the classroom and then to reflect on my instruction with my students.

Johnston, P. H. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse.


Can I make a connection?

After finishing the first two chapters of Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston, I have one main idea that resonated with me:

Can I make a connection?

This is a comment that I hear several times a day in my classroom. Reynolds discusses on pg. 17 “Children becoming literate need to learn the significant features of text, how it is organized (letters, words, arguments, structure, punctuation, and so on), how it relates to spoken language, how to recognize the little tricks authors use to compel readers, when to use which sort of written language, and so forth.”

This reminded me of the conversations that we have daily during our morning meeting, whole group lessons and small group instruction. Johnston discusses how children need to learn the significant features that compose all parts of learned principles. Students need to be able to make connections.

During my first couple years of teaching we used the CROP-QV strategy to teach comprehension.

  • Connection – This reminds me of…
  • Reaction – This makes me feel…
  • Opinion – In my opinion, I think…
  • Prediction – I predict that…
  • Question – I wonder…
  • Visualize – I imagine that…

We always started with making a connection. We wanted our students to make connections to self, connections to learning and connections to the world. This strategy then moved to text to self, text to text and text to world connections. We could focus on making connections and using the student’s prior knowledge to guide the lesson.

As we focused more on common core the idea of making connections was moved to the side and more intentional teaching of the standards and the expectations became the focus. But I still continue to hear that one comment:

Can I make a connection?

After reading the text, I started to reflect on the reasons that my students want to make so many connections. I came up with 3 main reasons for my students and their connections during our lessons.

  1. Students that learn best when they summarize the learning in their own words and make a connection.
  2. Students that learn best by making a connection to check that they understand the concept.
  3. Students that learn best by making a connection (about an understood concept) in order to use that concept to understand the new information.

After reflecting on the connections that my students make, I started to think about my responses.

If would be a lie if I said that I encouraged connections. I have the type of class that when one student makes a connection, at least 5 more hands are raised. As the time goes by the connections become more personal statement, or sometimes just a time to raise a hand and then say “Oh… I forgot”.

Lately my response when a hand is raised is “Is this a question or a comment?”. After reading the chapter and writing this post, I notice that I am not encouraging my students to make connections  but rather stifling their opportunities to recognize the features of our learning. I am going to start reflecting on my interaction during lessons and my timing of student responses. I need to use my student’s connections to increase our learning and put my students in charge of leading the connection train!


Johnston, P. H. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse.



This past week we were given the challenge to unplug from a technology of our choice. While reading the Know When to Unplug Chapter from What Connected Educators Do Differently, I started to think about the ways that I engage with technology after I get home from school.

Here are the 5 categories of technology that I engage in each day once I get home. The list is not in a specific order of interest, but rather the sequence I engaged in most nights.

  • Social Media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
  • Second Grade Prep – Teachers Pay Teachers, Twitter and Pinterest
  • Email – School and Personal
  • Graduate School – Email and Homework
  • Internet – Variety of Websites

Our challenge was to unplug in any way for the week, to think about unplugging in a different way each night, or to follow through with the same activities each night. The Know When to Unplug chapter discussed the three ideas of exercise, reading, and solitude.

Here is my response to the challenge:Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 7.33.28 PM

School Email

I wanted to start with focusing on my school email. I am always checking to see that I did not miss any information, or a parent note or even a reminder for something the next day. I check my email at least 10 times once I get home and truthfully there is probably only 1 or 2 emails each time, most spam emails from technology companies.

During the challenge: I did not find this to be too hard, I made sure that I had finished my emails before leaving for the day. This made me feel more prepared and less anxious about my communication. When I got to school the next day, I only had 10 emails (7 which needed to be deleted as spam) and I felt much better about the challenge.

Slip-ups: I had a meeting before school and needed to get an email to another teacher. I was not checking my email that morning,but rather using it communicate before our meeting.

Social Media 

After I have finished my schoolwork and homework for the night, I can spend up to 1 hour carelessly catching up with posts on Instagram and Facebook. This is not a good use of my time and does not help me with my schoolwork or homework. I also will engage in social media before going to bed, unnecessarily extending my bed time.

During the challenge: This was not hard for me to do. I was proud of myself for stopping my social media engagement and I even decreased my time throughout the day. It did not seem as important to me during the past week.

Slip-ups: While my husband and I were watching tv on Saturday night, I was looking at social media and it was after 9:00pm. I had not consciously watched the clock, but I did stop and focus solely on the television.

Reading Before Bed

I have received the last 3 months of my Real Simple magazine and have managed to put the magazine to the side to engage in other activities. I wanted to make sure that I put time aside to read a physical magian (not on technology) before going to bed.

During the challenge: I have finished 2 out of the 3 magazines and I am half way through the third one. This was the most successful part of the challenge. I noticed how well I slept during the night and I went straight to sleep.

Slip-ups: None


When I get home it is either too late to go outside and exercise or all I feel like doing is sitting on the couch. I wanted to try to sit a schedule to go outside at least 3 times this week.

During the challenge: On Monday I got home from school, put on my exercise gear and got outside. It felt wonderful to be outside in the fresh air and stretch my legs. Unfortunately that was the only day.

Slip-ups: I did not follow through with this part of the challenge. ON Wednesday it was after 7:00pm when I got home and on Friday, I could not bring myself to exercise. My husband and I did make up the exercise on the weekend, and spent most of Saturday walking and being outside. The weekends are normally the days that I get to exercise.

After this week of unplugging, I noticed that I managed my time and was finished with schoolwork/ homework a lot earlier. This gave me more free time as well as time to relax after the day. When I set a schedule or a challenge for myself, I am more likely to follow through. I am going to try to incorporate these challenges into my week.

How do you unplug?

What are some activities that you want to decrease during the week?

What tips do you have to unplug?

What if?

This past week we were having discussions about research questions based on our classroom research project. I am researching if project-based learning increases students nonfiction comprehension. As we discussed the research that would take place, the surveys and questions I needed to ask my students, one question came up that stumped me.

What if a student does not like project-based learning?

My initial thoughts to the question:

  • children love project-based learning
  • children get to collaborate with peers
  • children are engaged in hands-on activities
  • children are in charge of their own learning

Those were some of the reasons that I wanted to use to defend the use of project-based learning and my desire to use the model in my classroom. I then really started to think about the question. What if one of my students does not like project-based learning? What would be some of the reasons?

Some reasons for not liking project based learning:

  • There is not a concrete product
  • It is not comfortable rote practice
  • You have to engage with peers
  • It is more than paper and pencil
  • There are several steps
  • There is a requirement of background knowledge

These are not all the reasons that students would not like project-based learning, but initial ideas I have for the question.

I then started to think about the project-based experience and the way my students engage in learning in the classroom. I want my students to independently make connections, use critical thinking skills and communicate with one another throughout the process. These are high expectations for second graders, but I believe are possible when structures are set in place.

John McCarthy wrote a blog Giving Students Charge of How They Learn. “When teachers trust students to lead their learning by giving more open-ended opportunities that challenge them to find their way, students will delve deeper into content and set their expectations higher than is required.”

McCarthy motivates the students to take responsibility for their learning. He recommends that students help in the process of developing the project, give the students 2 options and let them design a third choice (to be reviewed by the teacher). Have students engage in the design and creation of the rubric. When students are creating the quality of the assignment, they are more likely to follow the requirements compared to a teacher giving the assignment.

When students are given ownership of a project, they are (should be) excited about the process and the learning that will take place. This is not true of all students and takes me back to the question that started this blog post.

In my classroom, I need to have strategies to increase my student’s desire to complete a task. As educators we are models for our students, if I am not excited about an activity, then my students will feel the same way and I could project my feelings onto my students. I need to model what intrinsic motivation looks like for students and be a positive model.

Here is a resource with 27 ideas to encourage intrinsic motivation in your students.

How do you motivate your students?

What projects do your students enjoy?

What projects do your students dislike?

How much ownership do you give your students in the classroom?

Is this real writing?

Each week I sit down with my students and reflect on the weekly activities. I have noticed that this year my students are excited to share what they have enjoyed during the week and what activities they want to do the next week. I feel that it is important for the students to have ownership in the classroom and understand that they are responsible for making decisions for their learning.

This week I learned about student writing list articles in the classroom. The article described how a list article would look in a middle school classroom. I started to think about the different activities that we were completing in the classroom for the week and where I could integrate a list article type of writing.

I decided to use our reflection time as a list article writing session. I first introduced my students to some youtube videos that were shared with me. We started with a video that I knew the students would love. 

My students were trying to guess the animals and many started to follow the countdown.

I then showed a video with a list of 5 dogs.

The students were so excited to start their writing.

The assignment was to

  • find/ join a group 3-4 students
  • discuss activities from the week
  • make a decision as a group what to write
  • write the topic 5 things that had happened over the week
  • make sure to include a reason it was a top 5 activity

As my students created groups and got started, I rotated around the room listening to the discussions. Most groups started listing the activities we had completed during the week.

Here are some pictures of the students at work.


I noticed that as they worked, they discussed what they wanted to write, how they were going to write each of the items on the list and their reasons. May of my students used resources around the room to spell out words, looked at our vocabulary wall, pulled activities from their notebooks, located read alouds and used each other to complete the activity.

I did not have one student ask me “How do you spell…?”. They were all engaged in the activity and not wanting to stop writing. I enjoyed listening to the students working on the spelling and referring back to our Letterland spelling lessons to explain the reason for the spelling patterns. 

Unfortunately we ran out of time and not all groups were able to finish the list. The groups that did not finish spent a lot of time discussing the top 5 list items as well as wanting the explanation to fit the activity.

Here are the pieces that the students completed.

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One group did finish with their Top 5 List and they were very excited to share with their peers.

I was very impressed with my students and the work they produced in a short amount of time. One student asked me “Is this like real writing?”, he was comparing this to our informational writing that we have been working on during writer’s workshop.

I started to reflect on our informational writing unit and our passion projects. I want to find a way to incorporate the list articles into our writing and let my students focus on a short piece of writing that has a clear topic and/ or message.

What writing activities do your students enjoy?

What activities do your students complete to increase written practice?