Our club begins with a timed free write. Write fast, no erasing, keep writing. When the timer goes off we count words. Some writers this month have gone from a count of 14 or 19 to 49 and 56. Some wrote much more fluently and all have upped their score consistently. We write the word count at the top, then re-read the piece, and circle any words, phrases, or sentences that surprised or interested us.
Then we move on.
Gathering memories of a pet around a theme has been fun and it helps the students to write with focus.
We’ve got stories going about Smoky the cat who came in with a huge splinter, two birds who escaped from their cage rescued right before the dog ate them, finding a newborn puppy in the trash bin, a funny bunny who scares the family dog, playing with Goldy – a fish, a dog named Bella who picks a strange place to poddy, and getting Rainbow, a cute fish.
We have worked a bit with style and sentence fluency. Writers use verbs to convey images. I read aloud I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat to get us started and we list actions dogs or cats do that prove they are dependent or independent. This starts a great deal of discussion about the children’s experiences, too.
So the grammar understanding is to get the use of conjunctions — and how to make complex sentences. A “cat clause” (independent) plus a “dog clause” (dependent) is when it gets interesting (and complex).
But the really fun piece is starting the paper folding and attaching the pages to a cover for our custom book. These origami books can be flipped over to do an “On the other hand” writing piece. One one side all the wonderful attributes of a pet or person are shown with descriptive mini-stories.
I love the paper folding routine because it is pure demonstration with very few words. It is “watch me,” then “catch up with me.”
Open the double valley up and turn over. It is a “mountain.” Squish the center of the mountain to flatten it. (FUN!)
Turn the corners to point up and down on your desk, and fold the bottom corner to the top, keeping a finger on the center. This is folding your “napkin.”
The next stage is magic. It involves picking up the “napkin,” opening it and reaching UNDERNEATH to the center.
Pop the center up. Not only does the mountain reappear, it now has two little valleys.
(Really we could do this all day.)
Now the two little valleys on the side are going to become “feet” or “legs” and walk them in together. The top, which is the center can be pinched to keep it neat.
Each page will be corner glued to the next. Kids get how to do this complex fold after two examples. I do. You do. Then they teach others who are less sure.
The secret of assembling the pages is to imagine them each as a bird.
The center fold is the beak and the diagonal is the tail.
Glue the corners beak to tail.
Press down a moment to soak in glue stick, then open gently to check.
Monday we’ll make cover art on finger paint paper, because it’s glossy. I have made paste paper covers with combs, but that is a huge art project. The covers get cut out and glued over book cardboard. When attached to the folded pages they look very cool.
It has been a pleasure having a writing class after school, thanks to the Family Literacy Grant via NWP and the Kellogg’s Foundation. For me, since my instructional day is all Fountas & Pinnell leveled literacy groups, I’m so glad to be able to teach writing.
I have learned not to underestimate the power of story telling and to see children’s experiences with pets and animals as a wonderful source of motivation and feeling for their writing. They are writing about what they really know and yet they have a great deal of choice, too. Having a book project honors the effort they have put in, and to celebrate I’ll put the books out for Open House Night.