Sunday, March 11, 2012


To each his own. Buddy the Elf likes smiling.  Smiling's HIS favorite.

Well, I like to smile too, but I also like teaching about memoirs.  Memoirs are my favorite!  I love how they build on personal narrative writing, and how they are so artful and jam-packed full of visual craft and audible craft elements.  I am slowly building a resource to help teach memoirs, but I can't make any promises on when it will be completed.  I am just plain swamped this semester.  :)  At any rate, it's in the oven.  Hopefully it will be done soon-ish.  :)

In the meantime, here's a tiny little sneak peek at how I beefed up Reading Street's bare bones approach to memoirs with some Lucy Calkins inspired lessons... with a little bit of an Amanda Nickerson spin to it all.  :)  I swear, I think I blend everything together more often than not.  Don't we all!?

This was one of my very condensed lessons.  I decided to teach writing all in one day this week to really get into it, as opposed to a little each day like RS suggests.  We were totally immersed for an hour and a half.  Well, more like an hour and fifteen minutes, because we reviewed generalizations a little bit first out of necessity.  :)  ANYWAY!  Long story short... this approach worked better for me.

Essentially, I had the kiddos take out their heart maps and add any new experiences or "things that matter" to it.  We spend some time throughout the year adapting and building our heart maps, because I want them to realize that human beings are constantly changing and growing.  We constantly meet new people that matter, travel to new places, and become fascinated by new things.  We also encounter sadness, deal with anger, and jump out of our skin with excitement!  I try to key them into these moments in their lives, and I try to support the idea that our lives are full of writing topics just waiting to transfer over to paper.  After all, we are the main characters in our own life story, right?  I also introduce the concept with this poster.  You can snag a freebie copy at my TpT store, if you think you can use it with your kiddos!

After that, I talked about how we were going to be reading, "Saturdays and Teacakes" by Lester Laminack.  I explained, again, how sometimes we use books as mentor texts, and we try to learn from authors.  We pause to notice what makes their writing stick with us, and then great writers spend time playing with language and trying out the author's craft for themselves.  So, I explained that we were going to take a moment to listen to Lester Laminack explain the author's craft himself.  They were over-the-moon-excited about this.  {You can watch the video HERE.  If you don't have a copy of the book, you can listen to Lester read the book HERE too.  I personally like to read it myself to pause and linger and discuss, but I have used the video to revisit the text as time has permitted me to do so.}  Seriously, I know this is not the first time you've heard me rave about this book, but it is AMAZING!  It has great repetition!  It's so descriptive and poetic!  He uses onomatopoeia so masterfully, and I love how he visually cues the reader so that the book is read exactly like he intends it to be.  This is, HANDS DOWN, my favorite read aloud! It's the perfect example of how intentional and purposeful authors are...and how every word... every white space...every punctuation mark... is there for a reason.

After we spent some time admiring the beautiful paintings and discussing the poetic language, we looked at two examples of memoirs.  One was from Reading Street, and another was pulled from Units of Study.  I also shared a few quick student examples, because this always tends to drive home the idea that they can write like that too!  Then, we started talking about what made each piece wonderful.  We started to discuss what we could try out in our own writing!

 After that, we started talking more specifically about leads.  We discussed attention-grabbing leads, and we looked at these wonderful posters by, my third grade role-model, Beth Newingham for inspiration.  {Her copies are colored.  I printed them in black and white instead and mounted them on colorful paper to get the look I wanted.  You can find them HERE.}

Friends, let me just say, when you explicitly point out all of these elements, and you really talk it up, it's amazing what your little peanuts can do.  I let them write for the remainder of the class period, and I conferenced with them!  We also discussed how sound effects, for example, can also be sprinkled throughout a story, and how they aren't just for strong leads.  Sometimes, being really explicit about where and when helps, because I have found that they are looking for permission, and they just want the green light.  If you give them the tools and the freedom, they will totally exceed your expectations!

I am beyond impressed by their writing, and I am looking forward to sharing more of my memoir goodies with you as soon as I find the time to finish it up!  :)  Actually, without sounding like a commercial, you could easily adapt this lesson to use with my Writer's Workshop: Writing on Target bundle by zeroing in on leads.  I usually blend the two approaches together with lessons like this.  If you  have the time to do it, the little stickers really motivate students and help them focus on the task.   I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend.  It's such a beautiful day in NE Ohio, so I know all of you southerners have to be living it up!  Have a great day!

P.S.  If you're feeling particularly lucky, head over to Darlin in First for a  fun giveaway!  Rebecca is an adorable, sweet & talented first grade teacher!  Plus, her blog is really fabulous too!   :) Sooo.... head over to Darlin' in First to find out what you can win, and how you can get lucky!


  1. 1) Love that book. It's my favorite book for introducing colorful words.

    2) I heart that you call your kids "little peanuts".

    Have a great week! Enjoy the sun!


  2. Oh, I love your writing ideas Amanda! I'm using lots of mentor texts this year with lots of success. I imagine the authors of those books in the classroom helping to teach my students how to be better writers. Thanks for all your awesome ideas.

  3. These are some terrific ideas. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!

  4. Love Saturdays and Teacakes! I saw Lester Laminack present, and he does a phenomenal author. I wish I could read aloud stories like he does! It's a true theatrical performance. Great ideas, again, Amanda!!

    Mary Beth
    Run Teacher, Run

  5. I clicked the HERE button and it took me to Scholastic site but then I could not find the Lead posters. Please help!

  6. You have such creative ideas!! Thanks for sharing!

    Mrs Johnson’s First Grade

  7. I've awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award! Love your blog! The rules for the award on my blog. :) First Class with Mrs. Mac

  8. Don't you just love Saturdays and Teacakes? Authors as Mentors is one of my favorite units to teach in writing!

    Stop by my blog sometime. It is fairly new.