Posts Tagged ‘writing’

High Five For Friday! 10-10-14

Did you survive the Blood Moon? Did you know that Mercury is in Retrograde (whatever that means…)? It’s that time of year for things to start getting spooooooky! Thankfully ::knockonwood:: my students have been great, and we haven’t had any catastrophes during Week 6! Below, I share some highlights of the week:

We Care (c) Kristen Dembroski Stop Bullying Pledge (c) Kristen Dembroski


1. Bullying Awareness – October is Bullying Awareness month. On Monday the 6th, we had a ‘Blue Out’ to bring awareness. We also had a PBIS lesson in which we watched this video and discussed the impact of our actions (positive and negative). Our students have signed a pledge to stop bullying, and the pledges have completely covered our walls in positivity and inspiration!

Guess the Reader Winners (c) Kristen Dembroski


2. Contest Winners – This week, our Guess the Reader Winners received their self-selected book prizes. Oh the looks on their faces (which you can’t see), when I handed them a brand new book to keep! They were very happy campers 🙂

Google Doc Editing Sample

3. Google Doc Editing – Something I am doing this year that I simply LOVE is using Google Docs for student writing assignments. They simply share it with me, and we can edit it as we go. No more waiting to hand it in and get feedback – the students get feedback right away while they are in the writing process. This also cuts down on saving, emailing, and creating new files – who needs all that? The students love this and it’s so fantastic. I could just kiss these iPads! (But I won’t. Ew, germs).

Fall Colors4. Fall Colors – My husband is a pilot, and we spent our Sunday morning flying around Southeast Wisconsin to enjoy the beautiful fall colors. They are not quite at their peak yet, but it was so enjoyable nonetheless.


5. What I’m Reading – I’m almost done with Birthmarked, and I’ve already got the next book, Prized, in my queue ready to go. Hopelessly addicted! All I can say is that it’s all about the suspense – I feel so left in the dark, and I’m so curious to figure out what’s going on here. Great series!

On an unrelated, entirely personal note, I’ve started running to prepare for the Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago on November 9th (one month away, ack!). I’m so anxious about this and I am training very hard. At my current pace, it will take me 2.5 hours to finish the 15K; I don’t really care, as long as I actually finish. With my new shoes I just purchased, I can run 4 miles without feeling too terrible. I hope I can build up enough endurance and stamina by then!

How was your week? I’d love to hear!


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High Five for Friday! 5-23-14

Only 3 weeks of school left! We are barely surviving here, and everyone is going CrAzY! Here are the highlights from the week:


1. Assembly – We ended last week with an all-school assembly on Friday. There were basketball games, a choir performance, pom pons, raffles, shoot out competitions, videos, and so much fun! I believe these assemblies are important for so many reasons. They give us opportunities to teach and model appropriate behaviors in new scenarios, they build camaraderie and an all school spirit, a chance to appreciate one another’s talents, and they give students a time of release and a chance to build fond memories of school.


Teacher Gift (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Teacher Gifts – There are 2 new teachers in my building that I have grown close to this year. They have been so much fun to work with, and I really appreciate how hard they are working with their students. I made them these teacher gifts – a post it holder. It’s just a plastic frame (about $1) filled with scrapbook paper, then wrapped in a ribbon with some fun embellishments to hold it in place. It’s an inexpensive but fancy looking and thoughtful gift that I hope they’ll like!

Art of Writing Conference (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Art of Writing – You may have seen some of my other blog posts on the Art of Writing conference in Milwaukee. I think this is just such a unique opportunity for so many young authors and artists to be challenged, to network, and to learn a lot about their craft. Well our published book came in last week. My student’s artwork was featured on the inside of the front cover (we were ecstatic!).


PhD Books (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Ph.D. Books – As I am nearing my defense date, I have been reorganizing my materials and preparing myself mentally for this important milestone. I took inventory of my textbooks I have purchased – wow! That’s a mortgage payment right there! There are books I loved and books I hated. I would say that I have learned the most from the handbooks in the lower left – they are quite expensive, but also a priceless wealth of knowledge. Any books that claim they can help guide you through the Ph.D. process with a smile on your face? Save your money.


Countdown 13 days (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Countdown – 13 Days Left – Just Sayin’!

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High Five For Friday! 1-31-14!

Wow, the last day of January AND the last day of week 21! Here are the highlights as we say hello to February! Food Drive, Review Quotes, Spreading Sunshine, Polar Vortex Closet Cleanout, Paleo Bread and Meatloaf. Plus a Bonus of Rocket & Ruffy!

Souper Bowl Food Donation (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Food Drive – Okay the BIG news this week is that it is our annual Middle School Food Drive for Hunger Task Force. Every year, we have a homeroom competition for 1 week to see who can bring in the most food. Each day, there is a special item worth double points (pasta, peanut butter, juice / water, canned fruits / vegetables), and on Friday, the special item is canned soup, worth 5 points. Lemme tell ya, the competition is palpable. Teachers and students alike are strategizing and scheming to win the coveted SOUPerbowl trophy on Friday. In fact, I can’t even tell you who won yet because I’m waiting with bated breath to find out! It is so touching to see how much the students really care about this project – I know it hits home for so many of them. Going without food is something you would never wish on another human being. This is especially poignant this time of year when cold weather and rising costs of electricity compound the problem for many families. So my students all happily participate in this project, and many get creative to raise funds and/or collect food. In my homeroom, I ask that even if we don’t win, we must have 100% participation. Everyone donates at least 1 can of food or some change so I can go out and buy food. Well so far my students have donated over $165! I took the money to Aldi to purchase soup for SOUPerbowl Friday, and that’s what you see above. $165 worth of soup! I sure do hope my kiddos win, but even if they don’t, they win a valuable lesson about empathy, values, and the joy of giving.

Review Quotes (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Review Quotes – We have begun our short story unit for Quarter 3. After each short story, I have my students write a “Review Quote.” They wind up writing about 10 of these, and they get very good at them through the process. It is a combination of creative and expository writing. They must be very selective about their word choice as they attempt to ‘sell’ the book, but they must also cover all the material required in a thorough review / critique. The image above is just a teaser of this mini unit, which I am working on getting up on TPT soon. It is currently 9 pages of ideas and instructions that the students find very helpful to guide them through the process. I get excited to see how much they grow through this unit! They carefully pick and choose their words, deliberating every detail. It’s a fun unit!

Spreading Sunshine (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Spreading Sunshine – I had so much fun this week spreading ‘sunshine.’ Florida sunshine, that is! This is a crate of oranges imported directly from Florida. Before school, I went from classroom to classroom delivering oranges to our hardworking, deserving, and oh-so-exhausted teachers. I hope it made them smile!

My Organized Closet (c) Kristen Dembroski Clothing Donation (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Polar Vortex Project – We had 2 Cold Days this week, which meant I didn’t leave my home (or my pajamas!) on Monday or Tuesday. I got a little bit of cabin fever. What? I just don’t sit still well. Most teachers don’t – we like to keep moving. So I kept busy by cleaning out my entire closet and dresser. Now, it’s an organized masterpiece! The second picture is a pile of clothes I donated. Most of them went to my students who asked for or needed warm sweaters and other clothing. So I got a jump start on my Spring Cleaning!

Paleo Bread (c) Kristen Dembroski Meatloaf (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Mmmmm – Another way I kept busy during the Polar Vortex Cold Days was baking and cooking! I made Against All Grain’s Paleo Bread and Nom Nom Paleo’s Super Porktastic Bacon-Topped Spinach Meatloaf. Y’all, these things CHANGED. MY. LIFE. Seriously. I can eat ‘bread’ again! It was so great to smear it with almond butter! And the meatloaf? I’m never NOT topping meatloaf with bacon ever again. Adding the spinach made the meatloaf so juicy and delicious. These women are geniuses, and I hope they make millions off of their cookbooks.


Rocket & Ruffy (c) Kristen Dembroski

6. The boys got their hairs cut. They are so cute. I just love them so!


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Art of Writing Conference 12/13

Calatrava (c) Kristen Dembroski

Today, I had the privilege of attending the 26th annual Art of Writing Conference at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is my 7th time returning. The Art of Writing Conference is a truly amazing experience where hundreds of young authors and artists, grades 1-12, come from across the state to meet at the Milwaukee Art Museum for a day of exploration and writing.

Milwaukee Art Museum (c) Kristen Dembroski

We begin the day by breaking up into small grade-level groups of about 10 students from different schools, and we tour the museum together. Our goal is to choose a few pieces of art and discuss the artist’s message while also looking for a way to connect personally to the piece. As a former docent and an Art History major, this is definitely my favorite part of the day. The students do some very deep reflecting and thinking on the art – oh you would be so proud! They have such profound and touching things to say. I never get tired of the museum tour because each group of students sees something different – even if it’s the same piece I’ve viewed with hundreds of students before them, I always hear something new.

OKeffe Milwaukee Art Museum (c) Kristen Dembroski

Later in the afternoon, we gather for a silent hour of writing or sketching. The authors generate a first draft of their writing piece, which is a 500 word personal narrative inspired by a piece of artwork we viewed in the morning. We sit at a table in the middle of the gallery – what a gift to be able to write surrounded by world treasures! After a break for pizza in the Calatrava, we engage in Writing Workshop: peer revision, editing, and writing a final copy. Then, voila, their work is published in a few short months! We all return to the museum for a ‘Book Release Party,’ and the students get a copy of their published work.

OKeffe Milwaukee Art Museum (c) Kristen Dembroski


I am very grateful for this opportunity to be inspired by the art, authors, and artists. I wish I could take all of my students every year, because it is such a unique opportunity.

By the way, there was a really cool surprise for me this year. They start the conference every year with a video about the conference and the writing process. It features video captured from previous conferences. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself up on the big screen in the auditorium! Here I am leading my group of 8th graders last fall. Of the hundreds of people there, it was neat to be in the spotlight!

Art of Writing Conference 2013 (c) Kristen Dembroski  Art of Writing Conference 2013 (c) Kristen Dembroski

If you’re interested in reading my piece, you can download it here: Dembroski Short Story

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Website Credibility

This week, as we work on our Argumentative Writing Unit, we are currently preparing to locate evidence on the Internet. Before we can find appropriate evidence, we need to learn how to determine which websites are credible and reliable.

As a pretest, I gave all of my students a handout of Google search results screenshot. I asked them which links they would click on, given our specific topic and purpose. A large percentage of the students chose the first link simply because it was the first link – not considering that the 2nd or 3rd link were actually a better fit. Then, I sent my students to a website and asked them if it was a credible website. The majority of them wrote something like, “yes, because it has good information and facts.” It was then that I knew we needed a conversation on determining the credibility of websites.

Through our class discussion, I heard the same ideas over and over again – blogs and wikipedia are bad news. I fundamentally disagree with these statements, and I have been working on deconstructing this illogic and convincing my students otherwise. Wikipedia used to be considered a highly unreliable source. However, each page now has a list of references and self-appointed curators who monitor the page. While I would not use Wikipedia as a direct source in a paper, I would use it as a starting point to familiarize myself with a topic, then follow the source/links at the bottom for more direct information. Blogs can also be reliable, if written by an expert in the field and/or if it includes credible citations and resources. UN-teaching these Internet myths has been a real challenge with my students.

Below is a list of ideas we generated as a class to decide if a website is credible. There is never a clear black/white answer. It is best to consider all of these ideas together, then make an educated guess as to whether a site is trustworthy enough to include references in your writing.

If you’d like your own copy, you can download the FREE poster here. If you have any comments on this poster – ideas for improvement, or ideas we forgot – please add your thoughts in the comments! Thanks!

Is it Credible (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Bring on the Debate!

We have begun working on our Argumentation Unit – a Common Core aligned unit in which students investigate all sides of a topic, choose a side (or in my classroom, I assign stakeholders to make sure that all perspectives are represented), debate and discuss the topic as the stakeholder, come to a compromise or solution as a class, then write a final paper in which they use reasoning and evidence. This all follows the TELCon writing structure – Thesis/Topic, Evidence, Link, Concluding Sentence.

Controversial Topics (c) Kristen Dembroski

So far, we have begun by selecting 8 Controversial Topics to discuss as a class. (First, we had to even define ‘Controversial.’) For the past two days, we have been deciding which questions we might be interested in investigating as a class based on interest and researchability. We start by considering each question, one at a time. I have the students generate a ‘pro’ and ‘con’ list in their notebooks. Then, they took some time to dig around on the internet and see what kind of evidence they could locate to support either side.

The steroid question is definitely of high-interest amongst my students. However, there is an abundance of research and evidence for the ‘No’ side of the argument with very little supporting evidence on the ‘Yes’ side. For this reason, we decided to eliminate #4. My students are VERY interested in #8 (Fast-food restaurants) and #5 (Cloning). If they decided to go with the cloning topic, we will first have to define cloning and learn more about it before we can develop reasons and locate evidence.

Tomorrow, we are going to pick the one question we will pursue as a class. Then, we will generate a list of stakeholders in the argument – each student will be assigned a stakeholder role. Next, we will generate a list of questions we have about this topic as well as a list of information each stakeholder may need to locate.

I am taking them through this whole process of the Argumentation Unit using both my Argument Unit materials and The Paper Chain, an Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook. It is very helpful to go step-by-step through this process with them. I will be sure to continue posting about our progress as a class. This is a very high-interest unit – I can’t wait for 2nd quarter to teach it every year!

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What is Argumentative Writing?

According to Purdue Online Writing Lab, Argumentative Writing is “a genre of writing that requires students to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.”

In a nutshell, what this means to me is that argument essays require you to take a position on a topic and justify your position with evidence (facts, examples, anecdotes, statistics, truths, expert opinions). Before the writer can take a position, he/she must consider different sides of the issue and engage in some research.

If you have been investigating and incorporating the Common Core State Standards into your curriculum, you will have noticed that the word ‘persuade’ has almost disappeared, only to be replaced with the words argument/argumentative writing. I think of persuasion as a more aggressive, one-sided stance on a controversial issue; the writer takes a strong stance on a position and uses evidence and propagandistic language to convince the reader of something. Argumentative writing, on the other hand, defends one position/claim while also addressing and responding to opposing claims. It is also more balanced, logical, and sequential in the way in which it must address and explain multiple pieces of evidence. This is the direction that the Common Core Standards are leading us toward.

A pioneer in the field of Argumentative Writing is Dr. Richard Beach. If you teach Language Arts, you’re going to want to purchase this book:


Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards: A Literacy Practices Approach for 6-12 Classrooms

In fact, he’s written a great deal of poignant, timely texts on Language Arts and the Common Core. Here is a link to his page on Amazon.

I had the privilege of hearing him speak about Argumentative Writing at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Symposium in June of 2012. After reading several articles about his current research, I created my own Argumentative Writing Unit and Instructional Workbook for guiding my students through the Argument Writing Process.

Argument Unit (c) Kristen Dembroski        The Paper Chain (c) Kristen Dembroski

I will say that this makes a lot more sense to me than persuasive writing. The goal is no longer ‘winning’ a debate, but rather considering the issue from all angles and taking a calculated position. Not to get too philosophical here, but I do think this is a skill that would greatly benefit our politically divided country. Learning to listen to one another and address opposing claims leads us in the directions of understanding and compromising – surely these are much more ’21st Century Skills’ than winning.

Have you incorporated Argumentative Writing into your curriculum?

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Scholarship Letter Writing Unit

Scholarship Letter Unit (c) Kristen Dembroski

Currently, we are working on the Scholarship Letter unit. This is a 2-week unit on argumentation / persuasive writing in which the students apply for a fictional scholarship to attend a famous, world-renowned (yet fictional) high school. They choose their dream high school based on their interests. For example, there is a school for arts, sports, civil service, etc.

This is a very authentic, important unit to my students – they gain much needed practice with argumentative/persuasive writing, professional letter writing, and an opportunity to be reflective of their academic and personal goals. Our district’s guidance office always collects the scholarship letters and uses them for scheduling students in high school and directing them toward college applications. The students know this is an influential writing assignment, and the put a lot of thought and effort into it. I’ve been doing it for the past 6 years, and it’s one of my favorite writing units.

We spend about 2 weeks on this unit, proceeding slowly and carefully. Yesterday, we wrote body paragraph 1 together as a class, step by step. I explain the directions for each sentence/component, give students a chance to write, then we share – sentence by sentence for the entire paragraph (known in the teaching world as ‘scaffolding’). It’s definitely worth it to go slow. Below is a student’s work on body paragraph 1:

Scholarship Letter Unit (c) Kristen Dembroski

I have every student use the scaffolding for body paragraph 1, but only my writers who struggle with focus and organization receive scaffolding for the other 4 paragraphs. I create a packet for those students that has a scaffolding grid for each of the 5 paragraphs in the letter.

Tomorrow we will write body paragraphs 2 & 3, and Friday will be the introduction and conclusion. We will spend next week peer revising and editing, focusing especially on language and word choice. What’s most important at this stage is that students gain practice and confidence with the TELCon writing structure I use in my classroom. I can tell that the scaffolding is really improving their confidence and sense of self-efficacy when it comes to writing.

If you would like to purchase the Scholarship Letter unit to use in your classroom, click here!

Scholarship Letter Unit (c) Kristen Dembroski


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The Rocket Pencil (for handwriting)

The Rocket Pencil (c) Kristen Dembroski

Okay, you elementary teachers out there have probably heard of the Twist ‘n Write, and you’ve been using it for years. Well, I teach middle school, and I don’t always get to hear about the ‘latest and greatest.’ Furthermore, one would think that I don’t have a need for such a tool, but one would be mistaken.

Now let me preface by saying that I have no idea how to address handwriting concerns – this is just not something middle school teachers are even trained in. Yet, over the years (and maybe this has something to do with technology…) I am seeing more students who can’t stay on the lines, who crunch all of their letters together, who can’t apply consistent pressure to the pen/cil, etc. So I brought my concerns to our school’s Speech Language Therapist, who then referred me to the district’s Occupational Therapist.

I explained to the OT how I had one student in particular whose writing was completely illegible. I watched how he held the pencil – in a very strange way that didn’t look at all comfortable or effective. The OT recommended the Twist ‘n Write, which I lovingly call the ‘Rocket Pencil’ because of it’s shape. The Twist ‘n Write pencil is designed to help students who struggle with gripping pen/cils and, therefore, handwriting.

I demonstrated to my student how to use it, and he was very excited to be able to control the pencil much more with this new grip. The Rocket Pencil forces you to grip the pencil in the correct way. His writing improved – nowhere near perfect, but definitely a major improvement.

I purchased a few more, and now I keep 3 in my room at all times for students to borrow. Some try it out and find that the Rocket Pencil is the love of their life, and others find that it isn’t for them. I only wish that they were a little more affordable, and that they were refillable. But hey – it’s worth a try, and they are a great tool to add to your classroom!

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Writing Desk – A New Tool for Writing Workshop!

The Writing Desk (c) Kristen Dembroski

I am SUPER excited about this new tool I developed for my classroom. The Writing Desk is a reference tool to be used during Writing Workshop, such as writing a draft, peer revising, and/or editing.

I took two manilla folders and overlapped them to create a 3-way standing ‘desk’ or divider. Then I created the printouts that are glued on the 3 inside surfaces. It’s designed to look like a cork board with lots of helpful ideas and ‘post its’ tacked up. The ideas include:

* Commonly Misspelled Words
* Introductory Elements – AAAWWUBBIS
* Transition Words
* How to correctly quote
* The Do’s and Don’ts of Peer Revision
* A publishing checklist (for final drafts)
* Compound Sentences – FANBOYS
* Appositives
* Other Ways to Say ‘Said’
* Our 6 Traits CCSS writing rubric that we use for all of our expository writing
* A TEL-Con sandwich graphic organizer. If you aren’t familiar with TEL-Con, it’s an organizational structure we use in our school for writing body paragraphs. You can learn more about TEL-Con through any of the following links:

Cross-Curricular Prompt Writing: Middle & High School: Common Core Organization
Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook Grades 7-10: The Paper Chain
Argumentation Writing Unit: Common Core: Online Collaborative Discussion

I kid you not with this story: I have a high school ‘helper’ – a former student who volunteers in my classroom, and she is helping me make these writing desks. I explained the project to her, and the first thing she says is, “No fair! I wish you had thought of this when I was in 8th grade!”

I’ll be working hard for the next week or so to create a whole classroom set. If you’d like to purchase this for your classroom, click here!

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