Tag Archives: writing

National Novel Writing Month

We are so excited to begin working with our students as they write novels! This is our first time doing this with our students. Talk about needing a growth mindset! It is scary enough to write a novel, doing it in front of/with some of the harshest critics on the planet is terrifying and exhilarating!

What makes this so exciting for students is the level of student choice. Conferencing with students about their ideas is electric. We will keep you posted on how it is going.

If you are interested in this project, go to this site. https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/ . You will find a wealth of free, well-written, standards-based resources.



Understanding that Reputations can be changed.

This year we had a group of students enter the 8th grade with the perception that they were the “monster” group. For them, their reputation arrived years before they did. I was anxious to meet this uniquely challenging group. Upon meeting them, I realized that they are like any other groups of kids I have worked with, but the difference was that this particular group of kids were content with their infamous reputation. However, I believed they could be more. We spent several days talking about stereotypes; identifying them in our school, and analyzing the impact they can have on the individual. When I realized that students were engaged, I pushed it further. We began talking about the word ‘reputation’ and discussed the positive and negative effects a reputation can have on the individual, a group, and a society as a whole. I challenged students to identify their reputation as a class, and we began talking about ways to change it. The ability to change one’s reputation was certainly a new concept for students, and they ate it up. We started by identifying their positive attributes as a group, and how they wanted to be remembered when they leave the district as seniors. That organically turned into creating Wordles. Students worked for a couple of days, and then we hung them in the hallway around their lockers as a constant reminder that change can happen. All it takes is the will to be different.


LHS Guest Teachers

Barrel of Monkeys – Supporting Struggling Writers


Photo by Will Cowan
Photo by Will Cowan

Narrative writing can be a wonderful experience for many students.  However, for some it is a demoralizing reminder of the writing skills they lack.  Sequencing was one skill that I’d incorrectly assumed would be easy to teach.   For years I was baffled by the students who struggled to put a events in order,  and/or who could not seem to generate details to help the reader follow the connection from event to event.

After reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach by Ruby Payne I went to hear her speak.   One of the things that Ms. Payne spoke about was that students who come from poverty remember events in the order of emotional importance. This means that the events in their minds may not be in chronological order.  It also means that events of perceived lesser importance may be forgotten. When I thought back to my struggling writers, I realized that often times it was sequencing, and/ or developing the cause and effect details that was hindering their progress as writers. This lead me to the idea of using a Barrel of Monkeys to help my struggling students.

I reasoned students needed a manipulative that would visually suggest a sequential order of events.  The plastic monkeys were perfect.

I remember working with one student in particular.  He was writing a personal narrative about time he learned a valuable lesson.  His narrative consisted of one run-on sentence.   “I got suspended because a kid talked about my mother and I punched him in the face.”

The first thing I did was have him break the sentence into three separate events.  For each event, I gave him one monkey and asked him to put the monkeys in chronological order.  Then I handed him six more monkeys and told him that he needed to add those six monkeys someplace in the story to help me understand how the situation got from ‘monkey to monkey.

I held up his first monkey and asked him how it came to be that the kid started talking about his mother. I wanted to know who did it, when it happened, where it happened, etc..  After thinking, he said that it happened during third grade on the bus.  So I held up one of his ‘extra’ monkeys and told him, “Maybe you should start with you getting on the bus.” That became the first monkey of his story.

We continued  with me asking him questions to help him get to each of his three original events.  Throughout the entire conversation,  I held the chain of monkeys in the air so that he could see how each event resulted in the events that followed.  He quickly surpassed his goal of adding six monkeys and proudly kept track of how many he added.

When he finished, I had him hold the chain and retell the story, touching each monkey as went.   While he spoke, I prompted him as needed and took bulleted-notes.  We were both excited by the extra details that emerged during his retelling.  It was if knowing that he already had a story that made sense helped him to relax enough to flesh it out.  This retelling gave me plenty of opportunities to provide feedback and ask questions.

He was much more prepared to write his personal narrative after this experience.  Not only was he more confident about the story itself, he’d had time to reflect on what he’d learned from the experience.  He was very proud that his original one-sentence story had expanded into a short narrative of roughly twenty sentences that included sensory details, dialogue, and a reflection.

I am sure that Post-it notes, magnets,  jellybeans, or  matchbox cars could also be used for this activity. I use the Barrel of Monkeys because they are a simple, visual reminder that events in a story must connect to the preceding and following events.