Get Students Writing Now with Paragraph POW! (Part one: choice-based prompts)

Test TakingI invented Paragraph POW! as a way to make writing practice more fun.  We practice on special paper—lines in a box, just like on the state writing test.  One difference: our paper has an awesome Paragraph POW! logo at the top.

Paragraph POW! became so successful that I developed dozens of writing prompts.  Writing prompts on lined paper are hardly marketable in workbook form, so I’m giving them away for free.

Paragraph POW! works best when students know their writing will be published and assessed.  Since I assign it so often, I don’t box myself in by promising to grade each paper, copyediting every single page.  Instead, I choose the papers that best exemplify qualities that I know standardized test graders value.  I put those papers under the document camera and read them aloud, giving many compliments.  Students want to see their work spotlighted and they put in their best effort.

I always insist that students do these things:

  • Write in the box (on standardized  tests, only writing in the box is graded)
  • Give your piece a title (test assessors love titles, apparently)
  • Start with an attention-getter.  This can be part of your topic sentence, or some fluff just before it.
  • Give examples and description.

I don’t get too picky about Paragraph POW! because I want students to practice extemporaneous writing—the opposite of our regular lessons, where they have to make an outline or fill in a graphic organizer.

Here are some of our choice-based writing prompts.  They ask for students’ opinions, but limit the options to just two choices.  Yes, my prompts are fun and thought-provoking, in a superficial way.  But I think the two-choice option is what really gets students to write.  Here’s why:

  • With two choices, there’s no overthinking.  Pick a knee-jerk reaction and justify it.  (Sort of like politics—my prompt presents you with a false choice, and you go from there!)
  • These prompts play on strong emotion.  Face it—everyone has an opinion on chocolate versus vanilla, cats versus dogs.
  • It’s not often that the school actually cares about your opinion on anything.  With Paragraph POW! students suddenly have a forum.
  • It’s just easier to give kids a choice of two.  This works on almost everything.

Here are the Paragraph POW! choice-based writing prompts.  Click on each link for a printable PDF.  I have also given you an all-purpose Paragraph POW! sheet so you and your students can write to your own prompts.

Have fun!

Posted in Academics,FREE Worksheets,Tips for Teachers,Writing by Corey Green @ Jul 26, 2013

 

Let Fly Lady Help You Organize Your Classroom, Home and Life!

flyladyI learned about Fly Lady from Dear Abby.  Fly Lady is Marla Cilley, a clever woman who helps you learn to organize and manage so you can be FLY.  (Finally Loving Yourself.)  With Fly Lady’s tips, you’ll be Finally Loving Your Classroom because it will be like you, calm and collected.

FlyLady.net is extensive, so I recommend you begin with the Get Started section.  From there, she’ll teach you how to rein in the CHAOS.  (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

I was struck by how well Fly Lady’s tips translate to the classroom.  I’ll give just a few examples—I don’t want to ruin the fun of reading Fly Lady’s site.  (Really, it’s both instructive and entertaining.  Fly Lady’s writing has voice!)

Polishing your sink: for Fly Lady, the first step to organizing your life is to polish your kitchen sink, then keep it that way.  When your kitchen sink is in good shape, your whole kitchen works better.

I think the classroom equivalent is keeping your teaching surface clear and uncluttered.  Do you teach from a podium, small table, or your desk?  Organize that surface and spend time each morning and afternoon keeping it clear.  Your whole classroom will function better.  You’ll feel better.

Getting Dressed to Shoes: Fly Lady explains that you look and feel differently when you are completely dressed with shoes on your feet.  You are ready for anything.  Fly Lady learned this tip when she worked for a direct sales cosmetics company.  They required that you not make any sales calls, even from your phone, without being up and dressed for the day, down to shoes.

Show up for school each day dressed to shoes, dressed to the nines if possible.  You will feel professional, in control, maybe even fierce.  Please check out my fashion tips for teachers.  I had a great time writing them and really hope they speak to you.

Declutter 15 Minutes a Day: It’s obvious why this tip helps everyone, homemakers and teachers alike.  Clutter is the enemy of clear and unstressed thinking.

At home, it takes 15 minutes a day to declutter.  At school, a class can accomplish the same thing in 2-5 minutes a day.  You can teach your students about man hours, and why a whole class spending two minutes decluttering is the equivalent of one person spending an hour.  Your students will enjoy having a clean, uncluttered classroom and will be glad to help keep it that way.

Visit Declutter 15 minutes a Day on FlyLady for decluttering games that make the process fun.  You and your students might enjoy inventing variations on the themes for the classroom.

Take Regular Breaks: this tip is another one that translates very well to the classroom. It’s important for teachers and students to take regular breaks.  Step away from grading and chat with a colleague.  Give the class a two minute dance break.  Spend lunchtime actually eating lunch.  Little breaks help you and your students stay fresh.

I hope this sneak peek piqued your interest in FlyLady.net.  I hope you and your teacher friends enjoy the site!


 

Learn About Beethoven with the Muppets’ “Eight Little Notes” and the classic Beethoven Lives Upstairs

I love to create cross-curricular lessons for my students.  This lesson combines music, writing, and the Muppets as students learn about Ludwig van Beethoven.  For added fun, we watch/listen to/read Beethoven Lives Upstairs.

 The Muppets’ Eight Little Notes:  Rowlf the Dog plays the piano and sings a song about why we should admire Beethoven’s ability to write all those symphonies, quartets, sonatas (and more!) using just eight little notes.

The tune pays homage to some of Beethoven’s greatest hits.  Students will recognize “Ode to Joy” and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  You might enjoy asking student to tell what they already know about Beethoven, and to name some of his most famous songs before you watch the clip.

My students like to write essays because I call it “Paragraph POW!”  Here is my Paragraph POW! sheet that goes with the Eight Little Notes song.  It gives just enough room to write a summary or response to the song.

To learn more about Beethoven, go to the now-classic resource: Beethoven Lives Upstairs, a fantastic movie that kids and music teachers love.  Your class will enjoy listening to the soundtrack. The movie was adapted into a book that my students have always enjoyed.

I found a FREE worksheet and teacher’s guide for Beethoven Lives Upstairs:

Worksheet (short answer and fill in the blank)

Teacher’s Guide

Check out Beethoven on the Internet:

Beethoven: Life and Work: learn about Beethoven and hear clips of his symphonies

LudwigvanBeethoven.com: a good site for all things Beethoven

Fun fact: Eight Little Notes was written for Snoopy! The Musical.  (I’m sure it was intended for Schroeder.)  The song was not performed in the play.

 Teacher Tip: You might want to talk with your school’s music teacher before you delve too deeply into Beethoven.  You don’t want to step on her toes.  On the other hand, the teacher might be thrilled for you to supplement her lessons.

 

Posted in Academics,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jul 12, 2013