Improving Student Writing with Magic Words

Teaching writing in first grade is a huge job.  Student ability ranges greatly.  You will have some students who are not yet able to write at all and students that are filling pages.  It is such a challenge to reach all these learners.  I want to share one simple lesson that I have been using for a few weeks that is really working in my classroom.



I have already shared my philosophy about teaching writing in another blog post.  You can read all about it by clicking on this image.



In my classroom, we write every day.  Students go to Smart Spots, which are my modified version of flexible seating (you can read more about that in this blog post:  Getting Started with Flexible Seating and they write!  Those that aren't yet writing independently draw and those that can either draw or start right away on their writing.

When I looked at my student writing as a whole, I noticed that as a we needed to work on adding details to stories and writing more descriptive sentences.  As a result, Magic Words was born.

What are Magic Words in Writing?  

Have you noticed that the language you use can really captivate first graders?  As soon as I told students I was going to teach them how to use magic words in their writing, they were hooked.  I shared that some of them already used magic words and didn't even notice.  I started by reading a few really simple sentences I made up and then I reread them using a magic word.  I asked them what they noticed, and it took a few sentences, but they got it:  I was using AND or BECAUSE to tell more in my sentence.  

I have a dog  ----------->  I had a dog and she is a girl name Moe.  

Now, this is not new by any means but by simply phrasing it this way with my students they totally bought in.  They went off to their Smart Spots and started right away because they knew at the end of writing time I would celebrate the writing and share a few student's writing pieces that used a magic word.  

I worked at the table with my students who needed help and they all formulated sentences using AND or BECAUSE which was not usually the case.  For the most part, those students were writing simple sentences like I went to Nanas.  It made my heart happy to see them push themselves too.

I created this poster to hang in our Writing Center area as a reminder.  You can grab a free copy for yourself by clicking on the image.  I printed it in poster format.



The Power is in the Sharing

I am totally guilty of not leaving time at the end of writing to share but I am learning the value of a 5-minute lesson revolving around a piece of writing.  It is really powerful to project a piece of writing on the smartboard that a student just finished and use it to highlight the goal for the lesson.  It validates that student's work and allows the students in the class to see that it is attainable.  Make time for sharing if at all possible!

I Challenge you to Try It

My challenge for you is to consider how you can use language to hook your students and get them excited about writing.  I could have said to them we are going to work on adding more detail to our sentences.  I most likely would have got what I wanted from some of my students.  However, by phrasing it the way I did I got my whole class excited.  It was a definite win!

Until next time, 

Using WODB to get Students to Think Critically

Have you heard of WODB - Which one doesn't belong?  If you are old like me (gasp) you might remember the song from Sesame Street... "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn't belong"  Which one doesn't belong now takes on a math spin.  It is a great way to get your students to think critically.


I first came across WODB through twitter.  If you search the hashtag #WODB, you will find a treasure trove of images to use.  I believe this is the brainchild of Christopher Danielson who wrote the book of the same name.  Another amazing resource for images is WODB.ca

How WODB works

What I love most about WODB is the thinking it provokes in young learners.  Students are so concerned with finding the right answer and with this there ISN'T a correct answer.  For my first graders, it took a few times doing this to understand that one person was not more right than another.

I use WODB as a math warm up every Wednesday.  It generally takes about 10 - 15 minutes.  A typical session starts with me showing them the image and asking them to think but not to say anything.  When they are ready to share their thoughts on which one doesn't belong they put a thumb up in front of their chest.  I have them do this rather than raising their hands because it is less obvious to everyone who has an answer and who doesn't.  My students who need more think time tend to shut down when everyone else starts to raise their hand.

WODB in Action!

Here is an image I created and used with my first-grade students.  Below are some of the answers they had.


1.  2 doesn't belong because it is coloured.
2.  3 doesn't belong because it is a double.  
3.  1 doesn't belong because it has one side that is blank.
4.  2 doesn't belong because it doesn't add up to 6 and all the rest do.  
5.  2 doesn't belong because it has both an odd and even number. 
6.  2 doesn't belong because it is a bigger domino
7.  4 doesn't belong because it is sideways not up and down.  

As you can see, some students see the math in this (sums, orientation, odd/even) and others are seeing other things like colour and size.  Either way, they are still looking closely and thinking.  I do not praise one answer more than another, and I often find that kids notice things I had not even thought of.  

There are so many WODB challenges that relate to shape and number but there are lots of other ones too.  My students love when we do them and often ask if we can do them more often.  If your school is invested in daily number talks this is something else to add to your weekly rotation.  

Have you tried WODB?  Comment below and let me know.  

Until next time, 

5 Reasons to Start the Day with Morning Tubs

Do you start your day with morning work?  Would you like to leave that marking behind and switch to a paperless option? It is time to switch to Morning Tub Tasks.  Today I am sharing 5 reasons you should make the switch to morning tubs.

5 reasons to use morning tubs for morning work in your classroom

If you are interested in how to get started with Morning Tubs and the organization behind it please check out this post by clicking on the image below.


It Helps you Spiral your Curriculum


In math, in particular, we teach units - time, money, patterning, and then we move on to the next unit.  When you circle back to those topics, do you find that students have retained those concepts?  If your students are like mine, then the answer is "not always."  Have you considered using morning tub tasks to keep revisiting those concepts?  The idea is that your morning tubs reflect content that you have already taught or are going to introduce shortly.

By using your morning tubs in this way, you are revisiting concepts to keep them fresh, and you are also able to see what students know about upcoming units by having them try out some activities related to the new topic.  

first grade morning work morning tubs

It Gets Students Using Math Manipulatives All the Time - Not Just When You are Teaching that Unit.


I am guilty of having math manipulatives sitting on my shelves untouched because I was not teaching a unit where it made sense to use them, or I really didn't think about how to use them.  Those manipulatives are not doing a lot of good sitting on a shelf!  I got creative and really started to think about how many different ways I could my manipulatives in different math units.  Now my counting bears are a hit for lots of things, not just patterning.


Document Digitally to Save Paper and Marking - The Students can do it themselves! 


I am making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of paper I copy for my students.  I am trying to be mindful and ask myself if the activity I am printing is a necessity or is there another way to teach/assess this concept.  I have definitely embraced the use of digital portfolios and students taking ownership over documenting their learning.  When they are busy at their tub tasks each morning, they are responsible for taking pictures of their learning.  None of the tub tasks have a worksheet component.  No marking for me!  Instead, I log into their portfolios to see their completed work.

Engaged kids = Happy kids! 


This one is a no-brainer!  Students love to play with these manipulatives, so morning tub tasks give them a somewhat more structured way to do this.  They are engaged, and it allows me to get the jobs done that I need to do each morning.

first grade morning work morning tubs

It Gives Me Time to do ALL.THE.THINGS!


The beginning of the day is busy!  Parents stop in, students come to me with yard issues, I need to take attendance, check agendas, collect money... Whew!  Just writing that reminds me of how crazy each day can be.  Starting the day with morning tub tasks means the kids are engaged and I can do all of these things without being needed.  It is also the perfect opportunity to check in with kids before the start of the day.

Would you like to give Morning Tub Tasks a try?  You can grab a free set of tub tasks for pattern blocks.  Click below!


free morning work for first grade morning tubs


Pin this post to return to later! 
first grade morning work morning tubs

Until next time! 

Getting Started with Bucket Filling in the Primary Classroom

Have you heard about Bucket Filling?  I first heard about it a few years ago when a colleague shared the book How Full is Your Bucket for Kids.  I fell in love with the book.  It is a great story that illustrates how much words and actions impact others but in a kid-friendly way.  After sharing the book with them, they were eager to share about ways their bucket has been filled AND dipped.