Mme G.C. -Work in Progress

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October 2012

Writing Continuums

Creating a Successful Writing Continuum


  1. Look at your student writing-what does it tell you? What is missing? What does your curriculum say?
  2. Choose a variety of samples (20) from outside your current classroom, to use to examine together and to use in your continuum. Choose the samples in such a way that you have a good range of writing every student should feel some success and some challenges. This will vary from year to year.
  3. Take the time needed to look closely at the exemplars; it is well worth the time and effort to ensure your students understanding.
  4. Post the writing continuum where it is easily accessible, preferably at student eye level so that students can easily use it to assess their writing. Refer to it regularly in your teaching in all content areas.
  5. Once  you have practiced analysing several pieces together, keep 8-10 samples that  you can live with, that will be posted in your classroom. No student  should be below the second exemplar so that each student can feel some success.
  6. Co-construct the attributes of your chosen writing genre with your students and word      the attributes in a positive manner. Post attributes under the exemplars.
  7. Decide as a group what order the exemplars will be posted in-discuss, debate,  vote…
  8. Allow students to self-assess in choosing their own starting point on the continuum and encourage them to talk about what they need to do to move forward. (Individually or with a partner)


  • Add exemplars to the continuum as your students meet and exceed the final writing targets.
  • The writing continuum should stay up and be used all year in many content areas
  • Save students’ work from year to year to use as future writing samples

L.G.C. and J.M. 2012


Social Studies and the PWIM

The photograph is taken at a market in Thailand. This photograph would lead to a great inquiry in many subject areas. When I look at the photograph, I instantly think about family relationships, foods people eat, and places in our community and other communities.

In the Saskatchewan grade one Social Studies Curriculum we can tackle so many of our outcomes through this photograph. Here is one to think about:

  • Outcome: IN1.2 to Discuss cultural diversity in the family and classroom, including exploration of similarities and differences.

What should I do first with my students when we look at the photograph?

The process you are using is an inquiry one, designed to help everyone develop curiosity.

  • Start simply, by asking students to brainstorm any questions they may have about the photograph.
  • Chart their questions and then classify the questions into groups.
  • Decide which questions we can find answers to and which questions might be difficult to find out.
    • We can figure it out: What kind of fruit is that?
    • We can’t find out: What is that child’s name? Is that his mother?
  • Provide non-fiction books about the topics the children were curious about.
  • Help the children discover answers to the questions they had. Allow them time to look and ask more questions.
  • Have your Teacher Librarian help your students search for answers.
  • Encourage them by asking questions about their world and taking the opportunity to see what they know about themselves and others including  First Nation and Métis perspectives.

Once they are curious, what do we do next?

  • Try a compare/contrast activity by asking the children if any of them have been to a farmer’s market before. How was it the same as the photograph? How was it different? Make a class t-chart or a Venn diagram with clear descriptors and pictures.
  • Make connections to our larger world explicit. The beauty of using a picture from another country is that we just naturally begin to create global citizens. The children see familiar things in unfamiliar places. When they eventually learn that the photograph is in Thailand it will lead them to questions about Thailand. You will know your inquiry has been successful if they still have more questions.


Text Structures

Have you ever wondered how to help young students with non-fiction writing? Sometimes it feels intimidating ! When we introduce children to the signal words on this chart,the words become the clues that will help them with both reading comprehension as well as non-fiction writing. Introduce one structure at a time so that you don’t overwhelm them. Tell your students the name of the structure, what it looks like and use the key questions to help you.

Why not send your students off  on a “treasure hunt” as word detectives, looking for the words in the books and coming back to share outloud which words they found and where they found them. Reading the sentences aloud together is great practice for fluency and discussing the signal words in the text will also help with comprehension.

Primary Inquiry

  John Barrell gives many ways to teach Inquiry in the pre-K to 5 classrooms.The examples given are from classrooms in Canada and the United States. Barrell gives an overview to inquiry, as well as explaining how to start , how to plan for questions and involving parents.

Corwin Press 2008

I find Barell’s book to be very teacher friendly and written with a realistic understanding of what a busy world primary classrooms can be.

I liked the idea in chapter 5 Developing Units of Instruction he talks about the KWHLAQ as a way of planning Long Term Inquiry with younger students. I think I would take a long sheet of bulletin board paper, divide it into six sections,write each letter in a section and then have my students add to each section with their thoughts or questions and drawings as we worked through them. At the end of the process we would have a clear map of where we started and where we went.

Word Study

Word Matters-Teaching Phonics and Spelling in the Reading /Writing Classroom

Gay Su Pinnell and Irene C. Fountas Heinemann

Figure 8-1 Competent Word Solvers: What Do They Do? page 79

I remember when I went to school I learned about phonics through work sheets. It was drill and practice to death. Now that we know better, students have the benefit of playing with words,sorting, classifying and manipulating them, looking at all the parts, beginning, middle and end. Studying word families and searching for similarities and differences is much more relevant and leads to a deeper understanding of how words work. Word study that is inductive, leads to better word retention. Students who study words inductively through the Picture Word Inductive Model become Competent Word Solvers…

Building Community with Everybody Needs a Rock

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Taylor

A great way to build community is to share this book with your class, discuss the importance of rocks in First Nation Culture and then take a walk to find the perfect class rock or an individual rock each. Some teachers purchase bags of rocks . The rocks can be stored in a basket or container to represent class unity. For more information on rocks see pages 57-63 Keepers of the Earth

Two other books that fit the topic as well  are The Yesterday Stone by Peter Eyvindson and If You Find a Rock by Barbara Hirsch Lember

Building Community With the Daily 5

Many teachers in our system are using the Daily Five structure to help them set up their classroom communities.

The foundational principles of the Daily Five structure are found in Chapter two of the Daily 5 book : trust, choice, community, sense of urgency, and stamina.

Without the community building, Daily Five is nothing more than center time. Building a strong community is essential so that the teacher is able to teach explicitly, work with mini groups, conference and assess for the rest of the year. Creating community starts on the first day of school .It is such an important task to create community in any classroom setting. It can make or break a class at the beginning of the year. Beginning of the school year activities, get to know you activities, sharing writing, and choosing great read alouds are all ways to build community in your classroom. When students are working together towards a common goal ( building reading or writing stamina for Daily Five) they are building community. The 2 Sisters suggest you take 20 minutes to build community in your classroom each day. The Daily Five encourages all students to take responsibility for their role in the classroom!

In their book The Daily Five, the authors state the following about community. “We spend a great deal of effort creating and maintaining a healthy classroom culture. Each new group of children will fashion their own unique community based on the schema they bring to the classroom and the experiences they have… A sense of community provides members with ownership to hold others accountable for behaviours of effort, learning, order and kindness. During the Daily Five, students may come one step closer to achieving goals they have set for themselves….the “how-tos” for building community are an integral part of each and every lesson

(Daily Five pg 21,22)


Great video link to chapter 2,with teacher comments below

The Name Jar

Here is an idea for a mini inquiry in Social Studies. Children learn about their own names as well as their classmates’ names. This inquiry leads to better understanding of each others’ cultures and development of  world view.

Read The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Talk about the importance of names in Families, the Communities and larger communities. Co-construct a list of questions the students have about their own names, on chart paper.

Title –What do you know about your name?

Sample questions:

  • Who am I named after?
  • What if we all had the same name?
  • What does my name mean?
  • Does everyone have a middle name?
  • Do all our names put together  cover all the letters in the alphabet?
  • Have you ever been teased about your name?
  • Why would someone tease you about your name?

You might add a question of your own to push them deeper, but try to let the children ask as many of the questions as possible.

Bring in a variety of baby name books and have children look up their names. Get parents involved, ask them to explain why they chose the name they did, what is the significance of the name…

An extension for grade two and three would be to inquire into whom streets, communities/cities are named after and why. Why were these people or words important enough to that community to name something after them?

Click here if you want to take the Name Jar Inquiry even further!

Other picture books I have found about names include:

  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  • A Name For A Metis by Deborah L. Delaronde (available as a class set in CMC )
  • My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee
  • Eleanor, Ellatony, Ellencake, and me / by C.M. Rubin
  • Josephina Hates Her Name by Diana Engle
  • The Name Quilt / Phyllis Root
  • A porcupine named Fluffy / Helen Lester
  • Matthew A.B.C. by Peter Catalanotto
  • White Bead Ceremony: Mary Greyfeather Gets Her Native American Name is written by Sherrin Watkins
  • The Secret of Your Name by David Bouchard (as a read aloud)

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