Teaching writers' workshop is the best thing I do all day. It is powerful to help young children to become writers. Great books, intentional instruction, high expectations, and wide open spaces. Think Katie Wood Ray. Think Ralph Fletcher. It all comes together here.

Same philosophies extend to instructional coaching. It's about clarity of intention, reflection, and ownership. Working side by side. Building communities of learners (of all ages).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beyond Book Reviews

So after my philosophical crisis of conscience last week, I thought I'd share a unit we just wrapped up in writers' workshop that is exactly the kind of authentic writing I believe students should be engaged in daily.

Kids today are constantly writing about what they read--in literature logs, in reader's notebooks, in responses to listening centers--but I wanted this project to be different. Students know how to summarize, to make connections, to discuss their favorite parts and characters in the stories they read. However, a book review should have an audience and a purpose beyond the teacher.

We studied reviews as a genre, with our primary focus on book reviews. We did seek out other types of reviews--movie, restaurant, toy, service--to discuss the audience and purpose of review writing.

One resource I found online during the teaching of this unit that particularly connected with kids was book trailers. We found professionally produced and kid produced trailers online for a huge variety of children's literature. (Some of my favorite sites: http://www.mrschureads.blogspot.com/  http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/

The book trailers were powerful for multiple reasons. Projected on my (brand spanking new) SMART board, kids were captivated as they saw their favorite books come to life in the same way they were trying to make stories in their reviews jump off the page. Trailers have drama and voice and imagination. Trailers accomplish what reviews strive to accomplish: they get kids to want to read the book. Immediately.

Additionally, the trailers helped kids to see patterns in the structure of the review summary: set the stage, get the reader interested by telling just enough of the problem of the story to persuade them to keep reading/listening, then. . . end with a teaser that tells them that they will have to read the book to find out more. Watching book trailers is what internalized this concept for my kids so that they could transfer it to their own writing in a way that reading reviews had not.

I gave my kids an opportunity to bring their own reviews to life using EduGlogster. If you are not familiar with EduGlogster, it is a free, online resource for teachers and students. Kids create digital posters, to which they can import text, photos, links, drawings, and video. It is incredibly user friendly;  my second graders just took off after minimal directions.

At the end of our review unit, students selected their favorite reviews to publish on EduGlogster. They chose a wall (background), added their review as a text box, added titles, a photo, and a video of themselves talking about their chosen book. (EduGlogster gives kids so many fun choices as they build their glogs. And again, so easy.) I cannot tell you how motivated they were to do this, and the quality of their work demonstrates not only their new learning but their understanding of audience and purpose.

I wish I could post some of their projects here, but for digital safety reasons, I can't--especially since they contain photos and video. The nice thing is that we can publish privately on EduGlogster, and students can send the link to only those they select to see them. I also linked them to our classroom blog, which is private as well, so they can watch each other's projects. You'll just have to trust me that their work is exceptional.

The culminating piece to this unit was a collaborative project with a fourth grade colleague. (Her idea, I have to give her full credit! You can check her out at her teacherspirit site.) Her students are currently working on literary non-fiction books. Because their audience is younger kids, we paired her kids up with my second graders when her kids had finished the dummies of their projects. Then my students wrote reviews of the fourth graders' books--including suggestions for revision. The reviews will be passed back to the fourth graders, and then they will revise and publish their projects, hopefully incorporating some of the advice from the second graders.

How empowering is that for the second graders! And how purposeful does the revision process become for the fourth graders when they know their books have a specific audience!

I have to admit, I was a little worried about the advice that my second graders would give. . . However, I have been blown away with the thoughtfulness of my young writers. It is proof to me that they know how to talk and think about writing, and it validates everything we do every day in writers' workshop.


  1. Wow. There's so much cool information in this post, I don't know what to say. Yay for kids who know how to think about writing!

  2. Thank you, Miriam! It's amazing how articulate very young kids can be about their writing. I love love love those moments when pieces come together. :)

  3. I should say that I’m really impressed by your way of thinking and the ideas you’re sharing with each of your readers.Really original way of thinking! Go on the same, way!