Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vivid Vocabulary

"William has a nice personality," offered one of the members of my fourth grade book group.
"Nice is such a boring word. Can anyone think of more interesting words than nice to describe William's personality in the book, The Castle in the Attic?" I challenged.
It took only a moment of thinking before words started to jump forth. Friendly, helpful, kind, caring, nurturing, loyal are a few of the words that painted a more specific picture of William. I offered the word affable to the choices. The meaning of this word was unknown to the members of the group. We talked about the meaning and thought of ways the word could apply to our own lives and people we knew. The discussion then veered back to William. Is he a friendly, helpful and affable boy? Are there other aspects of his personality that we could examine? Morgann offered pessimistic. We talked a lot about the meaning of this word and its opposite, optimism. A lively discussion as to our own orientation as pessimists or optimists ensued and then the question arose as to whether William is a pessimist or optimist. He was pessimistic about whether he could be happy without his long time nanny, Mrs. Phillips in his life. As we read Chapter Four will we find that he is also able to be optimistic?
Fourth grade is reading three fantasy books, The Castle in the Attic, The Far-Away Mountain and Into the Land of the Unicorns. The authors incorporate vivid vocabulary to describe the setting and characters in order to help the reader to envision the life in the particular fantasy environment of each book. I would love for students and teachers to comment on vivid words that have been discussed to describe a character or setting, either generated by the students or teacher or found in one of the books. If parents have read any of these books, please feel comfortable sharing descriptive words also.
I will be writing more about not only fourth grade exploration of vivid vocabulary but thoughts connecting to other grades also.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Back to the Time of Ancient Egypt: Second Grade Writes Historical Ficttion

Second graders are writing historical fiction stories set in Ancient Egypt. After immersing themselves in this time period and creating a wealth of background information through listening to stories, studying the geography, reading Mummies in the Morning and the accompanying research guide in book groups and integrating art, music and science they are able to apply this knowledge to their fiction stories.
The first step in this process was to brainstorm problems that could happen to children and adults in Ancient Egypt. The selection of the problem helped our authors to choose the characters that would be in their stories. Some of the problems intriguing to our authors involve, a child worried about going to scribe school for the first time, a child or parent getting sick and needing to go to the doctor, a child who is now old enough to follow in the footsteps of a parent who is a dancer and musician and is worried that they won't be good enough when they perform at their first festival and a farmer and his son who have sold all of their crops at the marketplace when a messenger from the Pharaoh arrives to say that he needs to have fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to the palace by the end of the day for that evening's festival.
After careful planning that included researching aspects from Ancient Egypt that would be in their stories, such as the use of magic, the placement of amulets and the administration of healing plants such as juniper berries by the doctor, the students thought about how to begin their stories. The following are beginning sentences from a few of the second grade students.
Asha: Long ago in Ancient Egypt a girl named Nashy was getting ready for a party.
Samantha: Long, long ago there lived three people: a daughter, a dad and a mom. They lived in Egypt near the pyramids in the quiet, cool air close to the villa.
Parker: It was a bright new day in Aswan Egypt and it woke up Ash in a good way.
Andrew: Long ago in Ancient Egypt not far from the Great Sphinx lived a family on a farm that had a dog and a cat.
Kendall: One day there lived a little boy named Mosi in a mud brick house near the Nile River.
Joseph: The early morning sulight slanted through the windows of the House of the Dead in the kingdom of Ancient Egypt.
Students are eagerly finishing their stories and all second grade students will be sharing their stories with families on Egypt night, Thursday April 8th.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

My fifth grade book group has just finished reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Our discussion this morning was exiting. Everyone wanted to contribute their ideas about the ending of the book. I won't give away the ending here, but I can assure you its an intriguing ending. Our group is now grappling with some of the important themes in the book and are choosing a theme to develop. Students have selected among the following themes: gender, power and abuse of power, friendship and social class. The first step of documenting their ideas and obtaining feedback from members of the group happened today. I am really looking forward to reading their next entries in their reader's notebooks.
This book was challenging to read-especially the first third of the book. The vocabulary and historical context made the fifth grade readers work very hard during this section of the book. Some students wondered if all that hard work would pay off and if it would end up eventually being enjoyable to read the book. Based on the excited conversation this morning, I would say that all are in agreement that the book is certainly an engaging and meaningful experience. Anna wrote in her reader's notebook: "This was the best book EVER! It's a story I will never forget. I wish there was: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle 2. "