Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As a recently retired educator who loves teaching and learning with children and adults, I'm enjoying having the time to actually do the things that I love the most. My word for this year is "revision". When you retire, you have the opportunity to take your life, pick out the parts you like the best, and work on them. As I step back into the classroom, "revising who I am" here's a look into my slice of life.

Teaching Second Graders to Write a Constructed Response: Where’s Your Proof?

I recently was a “guest” teacher in a second grade classroom during writing workshop. The class had begun an informational genre study several days earlier. Since I was only going to be there one day, I wanted to do something that could be accomplished in “one sitting”. It was so much fun I want to share the lesson with you.

Following Lucy Calkin’s architecture of a mini lesson, the main focus of the mini lesson was: Writers support their thinking with evidence from the book.

The first step in the mini lesson was to CONNECT.  When I think of how to make a connection for students, many things come to mind. The goal of this portion of the mini-lesson is for students to learn why today’s instruction is important to them as writers and how the lesson relates to their prior work. You might ask, what does this look like? On this particular day, with this particular group of 2nd graders, it looked like this:

Me: Have you ever had to prove anything to your parents? (Children began smiling and raising their hands. I made eye contact with them, nodded my head at them, smiled back and kept talking.)

Me: Have your parents ever asked you to brush your teeth?

Children: YES

Me: Has anyone’s parents ever asked you the question---“Did you brush your teeth?”

Children: Some begin pausing to think….some raise their hands….(I called on a few students to respond.)

Me: How could you PROVE to your parents that you brushed your teeth?

Children: Responses included things such as:
·      I could show them my wet toothbrush
·      I could show them toothpaste in the sink
·      I could blow my breath on my mom and she would smell the mint
·      I might have toothpaste on my mouth or on my shirt

Me: As you grow up---you will have to PROVE a LOT of things. For example, when you turn 16 you will have to PROVE that you are able to drive. You have to take a test and answer the questions correctly and then you have to show a policeman that you know how to drive by driving a car and doing the things he tells you to do.

Me: In sports---you have to prove to your coaches that you know how to hit the ball…how to catch the ball….and that you know how to run.

(Children nodded their heads signifying understanding.)

Me: In school, you will have to PROVE a lot of things….you will have to SHOW the teacher that you know things.

Me: I brought two books to read to share with you today. Raise your hands to choose which book we read first.

Books: About Fish, by Cathryn Sill
            From Tadpole to Frog, by Wendy Pfeffer

(My thinking was to select non-fiction books that would interest the children.)

The children selected From Tadpole to Frog. I read the book, pausing to discuss key features of the book, allowing children to comment, and answer any questions that I asked.

The next phase of the mini lesson is to explicitly TEACH the children. Here’s what it looked like:

Me: Today I’m going to teach you how to write a response to a non-fiction book.

Here’s a chart to help us with our work today. When someone asks you a question, I hope that you have learned good manners and know how to say “yes ma’am”. Look at the chart and you will see Yes Ma’am. Today we are going to write about the book I just read to you and we are going to use the letters in ma’am to help us. Pointing to each part of the chart, I read the chart and explained that when responding to a non-fiction text, it is important to PROVE to your readers what you think about the book, just like you have to PROVE to your parents you brushed you teeth.

Chart idea found while searching on Pinterest. It can be purchased from Smekens Education Solutions, Inc.  http://www.smekenseducation.com although I drew it on chart paper so that I could modify it for the particular grade level in which I was working.

Yes , MA’AM
(Me---within the first sentence, restate the prompt)
(Author—support your inference with ONE specific detail from the text)
(Author—support your inference with a SECOND specific detail from the text)
(Me—end with why the evidence fits…explain how the support proves the point)
Examples of sentence starters to use:

Examples of sentence starters to use:
-In the text…
-The text states….
-According to the passage
-One example from the passage….
-The author states….
Examples of sentence starters to use:
-In the text…..
-The text also states….
-According to the passage..
-A second example from the text…
-The author also states….
End with why the evidence fits.
-This shows….
-This demonstrates…
-I believe….
-These details prove….

To teach the students how to do this kind of thinking and writing, we worked on a project together. I asked the children to help me write about what they learned from the book. We used the chart to help us. I pointed to the first column, and explained that we needed to tell our audience what we were writing about by writing the question that I asked them----what did they learn from the book?  I wrote the following words on the paper and read them aloud to the children---I wrote---What did I learn from the book From Tadpole to Frog?

Children raised their hands and I called on several to respond.  I let them turn and talk to their peers about what they learned, and then I selected one of the responses to use in the example. Here’s what I wrote:  I learned frogs hibernate at the bottom of the pond just like bears hibernate.

Explaining to the students that the next things we would write would be things that we learned from the book….things that we could prove, just like how we would prove to our parents we brushed our teeth. Holding up the book, and flipping through the pages, the children selected something they learned. I showed the children how to begin the sentence by referencing the chart and then added something they said they learned.  I wrote: According to the author there are about 2,000 frogs!

I continued by explaining to the students that sometimes when you are proving to your parents that you brushed your teeth, you need more than just one piece of evidence. For example, if my daughter blew her breath in my face, I might think that she could have minty breath because she just ate a piece of peppermint candy. She could be tricking me and maybe she didn’t really brush her teeth. I might need her to give me more “proof”, more evidence.

So if they are going to prove that they learned things from this book, I needed more evidence.  The children continued to name things that they learned; I listened, and then selected one item that seemed to be one that resonated with most of the children. I showed the children how to reference the chart and use some of the words on the chart to help begin the sentence. I wrote: A second example from the book that many people may not know is that it takes some frogs two whole years to grow!

I lead a discussion about how we might end the piece. Based on the comments from the children, I wrote: This demonstrates frogs are very interesting creatures and there is so much to learn about the animals right in our own backyard.

Here’s what the booklet looked like (Four 8 ½” x 11” pages stapled together)
What did I learn from the book From Tadpole to Frog? I learned frogs hibernate at the bottom of the pond just like bears hibernate.

According to the author there are about 2,000 frogs!

A second example from the book that many people may not know is that it takes some frogs two whole years to grow!


This demonstrates frogs are very interesting creatures and there is so much to learn about the animals right in our own backyard.


The next component of the mini-lesson is ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT. During this portion of the lesson, students are given a chance to quickly practice what has been taught or to share what they are noticing about the demonstration in order to understand the kind of thinking about writing that they can try in their own work. Although the children were very actively engaged during the “teaching” portion of the mini-lesson, the students needed the opportunity to practice what had just been taught. I read another book aloud, About Fish.

Students were given blank pages stapled together and went to their desks to work. I pulled a small group of children who needed extra assistance to be successful to a small table and worked along beside them.

The workshop ended with a SHARE time. The students came together on the floor and I read several of their writings aloud, complimenting the success, and students applauded the efforts. 

To conclude the writing workshop, the last component is the LINK. After bringing the children back to the community meeting area, I reiterated what the students had been taught and reminded them that the things we learned could be used to strengthen their writing in many areas. I closed by asking the students how they thought the workshop went. 

Reflections from the Teacher

I always find it a bit challenging to come up with fresh, interesting ways to teach informative writings.  This particular lesson was a "Response to Literature." It can be tricky teaching little ones to read or watch something non-fiction and give you back that same information in their own words.  When Rhonda came, I was excited about seeing her take on it.  I knew her years of experience would benefit my students and myself.  So I hunkered down to "be an observer." I loved it.  She had a unique method that guided them as to what information she wanted on each page.  They had a particular question to answer or a sentence to finish.  It made sense.  They weren't just looking around the room wondering what they should write about.  Most wrote pretty quickly and gave really good information about the book that was read to them.  I was proud of how they just jumped right in and did it.  They learned something about fish or about frogs that day, and I learned something about teaching informative writing.  They will give you so much more if you just get them started! Thanks Rhonda! You are welcome in Room 306 anytime!


  1. Thank you for such a detailed workshop transcript. I can imagine that when you wrote this you were able to relive this wonderful learning time with the kids.

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    2. Terje,
      Many thanks for stopping by A Day in the Life. Yes! Writing the transcript helped me in many ways! In particular it helped me reflect on how I might make modifications for other grade levels....and what I might do differently when I work with this class again. I especially enjoyed receiving the teacher's reflection.

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  3. This just makes me smile! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Tamara,
      Thanks for dropping by A Day in the Life! Working with children always brings a big smile to my face too!

  4. That teeth-brushing example was a great connection, Rhonda!

    I love what you said about revising your life in retirement. What a perfect time to make revisions!

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    2. Thanks for stopping by A Day in the Life! The children seemed to really "get it". I think the tooth brushing connection was key.

  5. I like the teeth-brushing example too!
    Thank you for sharing such helpful information!
    Happy retirement!