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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to use TOYS as TOOLS to teach and check for development in Writing

Writing Tip of the Day: Use TOYS as TOOLS to engage your students and connect with visual/kinesthetic learners as you check for development on essays.

You might tell your students they need to develop their ideas more than a hundred times, but unless they can SEE or TOUCH what you're talking about, they will have a hard time understanding. We never really HAVE time for activities like these, but we have to decide that ALL of our students deserve to learn and MAKE time.
When I work with students on planning and brainstorming, I use a train with the colors yellow, blue, green and red as a graphic organizer. One of the traits most states use when grading essays is many details or sentences are spent on the introduction, body ideas, and conclusion for the essays.
Here are some things you can buy at any Wal-mart or toy store for a reasonable price to demonstrate/model development.
LINLCOLN LOGS- $20 ($14 for cheaper brand)
Since the roofs come in yellow, blue, green, and red, they will represent the main ideas of the essay. For each sentence or detail that supports those main ideas, you will place a log underneath it and begin to make what looks like a log cabin. If there are more than two events or two ideas for expository or any other purpose, you will need to buy another set of Lincoln logs and spray paint the roofs orange, purple, brown, black, roof for each idea that is written about in the essay. The problem with many essays is that students have a habit of developing their essays horizontally....lots of reasons and events in the form of a list with little or no development.
BARREL OF MONKEYS-$6 per barrel
You can buy blue, green, red, purple, and orange Barrels of Monkeys, but you may need to spray paint yellow if you use my train idea as a graphic organizer. Sometimes a student suddenly "WHIPLASHES'' the reader and begins writing about a new idea for a few sentences, then returns back to the first idea....For this you can keep changing the monkey colors back and forth so the students can see what happens when they don't organize their ideas well.
If you find the kind inside the mesh bags, they are usually much cheaper......just make sure you get some with yellow, blue, green, and red balls! As you count the details for each part of the essay, a ball of the appropriate color will be placed inside a clear bag so that it is visible to the students.
These wooden blocks are in the shape of a rectangular prism. If you buy the Tumbling Towers, they already come in yellow for introduction details, blue for the body, and red for the conclusion....I usually just take some of the yellow and red ones since introductions and conclusions should have limited details and spray paint them green. If you buy the Jenga version, you will have to paint ALL of the blocks, and they usually cost twice as much as the Tumbling Towers!
These come in sets of two paddles with one ball for about $6.
With this idea, I play a game with the whole class called Stuck on You, where as long as the essay is focusing on the same idea, a student keeps reading orally as the ball is stuck to his/her suction cup paddle. Once the essay moves to a new/different idea, whoever is reading has to stop and pass the ball to the person who is holding the color that would be next, trying to get it to stay stuck to the suction cups to make the activity more interesting.
MR. POTATO HEAD- about $7
I bought 6 or 7 Potato Heads over the years so that I would have more than enough of each body part to show development!
These are great for checking WHAT KIND of details are used on stories and/or personal narratives. Many teachers use him for senses.....if the essay has details/sentences that let us see, hear, or smell something, we plug in the eyes, ears, and nose. Here are a few other ways to use Mr. Potato Head. His mouth can be used for dialogue.....(not for taste.....since eating usually takes away from the focus of the story) If there is lots of conversation, you can buy mouth stickers and place one on his face for each dialogue sentence. The hands can represent the actions of the characters....things the characters DO during the finger for each action..........Since he has an opening on his back....or what some students call his butt..... I buy a set of poker chips to represent the following types of details: white-thoughts, blue-opinions, red-emotions, green-details that address the prompt, black-figurative language, and gold-high vocabulary. The poker chips represent a lot of the voice in the writing, so after the essay is finished being read, I close the flap and shake the Potato Head.....If there is voice in the essay, you will actually get to hear it because of the poker chips banging against each other! I have a colorful paper version of Mr. Potato Head in my store that you can have your students use to match with the one you are using to model the lesson.
BOUNCING BALLS. 25 cents to $5 each....
I call this activity Periods are Pausi-Ball where for each part of the essay, I have a different color ball. The essays will be read orally as a class or in groups, and for each period, exclamation, or question mark, the ball is bounced on the floor. For each comma, the it is bounced on the table, a shorter bounce for a shorter pause....If there is NO ending punctuation, NO balls can be bounced! It's great to have 10 sentences about one idea for example, but if those 10 sentences only have ONE period, the essay will still get a lower grade because of conventions.  It will help if you actually have the kids verbalize the words period, exclamation, question mark, comma, and quotation when they see one on the essay.
SLINKIES- The Saggy Slinky 25 cents to $3
This idea works the same way as the balls, except that for each word that is read, the slinky is opened one inch. When you get to a period, exclamation, or question mark, you get to close the slinky and start over! For commas, pause and bend the slinky momentarily into the shape of a comma.
DICE- Let's roll $1-$2
Whatever number you roll, the students have to write a sentence about a specific topic that you tell them about with that exact amount of words... The lower the grade level, the less # of dice you would use......I recommend only between one to four dice for this activity, depending on the grade and ability levels of your students.
DECK OF CARDS- Deal with It- $1- $3
This activity is done the same way as Let's Roll, except with cards. An ace will represent a one word sentence. 10 is 10 words, jacks are 11 words, queens are 12 words, and Kings would be 13. When students begin writing compound/complex sentences you can challenge them with two cards at a time! For example, if the child gets a 7 and a jack, 7+11 is 18, so their sentence would have to have exactly 18 words.
MAGNETIC/PLASTIC NUMBERS- Take a Number- about $1
This is played the same way as Let's Roll and Deal with it...... Place all the numbers inside a bag so that the students can't see them, and have them pull out one number for simple sentences, and two or more numbers for compound/complex sentences.
These toys/tools are more for vocabulary than sentences.....For each word on the spelling/vocabulary list, the student will say the words at the same time they are jumping, hula hooping, or skipping. They will earn one point for each word they can say before they make a mistake or mess up with their tool.
Level one: just say the words
Level two: say a situation when you might use that word
Level three: actually use the word in context in a complete sentence at the same time you are jumping, hula hooping, or skipping.

I realize that on a teacher's salary you can't afford to buy all these things at once! The idea is that you pick and choose what you feel will work best for your students and their learning styles. Many students actually have these things in their homes and are not even using them. They would be more than willing to bring them to school to be used as part of your lessons! Sometimes we just have to ask!

                                    William MacDonald/The Write Prescription
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