Posts Tagged ‘Literacy Shed’

A day late sorry but as I missed February and March EduBlogNZ challenge, thought I’d sneak in a quick post on @kaiakowilson’s Love-Hate Resources. Mine is not so much a resource as an assessment.  At our school, Year 10s complete units of work on creative writing this term which culminates in an assessment where they describe a character. The hate part of this process for me is repeating the assessment task, the love part is adding to the unit of work to refine, improve and differentiate activities for each cohort. While this helps to enhance the learning process for the students it also keeps things interesting for me.

The first resource/activity I have used is the Describe that Face from the good folks at Read Write Think. I use magazine pictures, paste them to coloured paper then randomly assign. Students write descriptions in their writing journals then, the next day, I put all the faces on the board, take in their writing and read aloud as the students match the words to the face. Lots of laughs. If they find it hard to start, we use the preface that the person has just entered the classroom as a guest speaker. How would they enter the room? What would they do first? What would they talk about? Why? How would they sound?  In a similar fashion, a former associate teacher put me on to Whose Shoes where you give each student a picture of a pair of shoes and they describe the person wearing them – it’s a bit harder then Describe that Face as it requires a bit more imagination but is also fun.

Another tried and trusted skill builder is this strong verbs activity which helps students improve the ways they describe character movement. This is great for classes who need to move around lots as you can ask individual students to act out ways of walking/talking before attempting written work.

Last year, I came across this fantastic powerpoint that really encapsulates teaching Show Don’t Tell. I modified it to include descriptions of people and then bolstered with starters from pinterest where students write down more colourful/vivid/interesting alternatives to dull words such as said, went, good, bad etc. As a starter I get them to write down 3-5 synonyms in their writing journals then put them into sentences. The writing board I’ve compiled also great synonyms, hooks, conclusions, structural tips and heaps of prompts – visual and written.

And this year, I have added The Literacy Shed to the mix, see previous post. This has really enabled me to differentiate core skills for my class which has several students who find writing a real struggle.

Finally, modelling. I’m a great believer in showing students what we need/want them to do. Often with seniors, I’ll write my own trigger narrative (or whatever the task is) and go through the process with them. With juniors, I’ve described a grandparents and shared. I used a photo as a starter and encourage them to do the same with the assessment to assist with brainstorming.

So in answer to the questions that prompted the challenge: Hate the assessment, love the myriad of modified resources that help us to get there. I have complete freedom over the how we get there and base sequences of lessons on the students in front of me. The process is always reflective. This year more than considering what worked well last year, I’ve had to focus more on how to differentiate tasks to develop required skills. In terms of how would I replace the “resource” (assessment), I would like to see the Year 10s choose between setting or character and the Year 9s focus on narrative. At the moment, Year 9s assessment is a setting description, Year 10 character. We discuss options at department meetings and have changed the way we assess speaking for our junior students recently so changing the writing assessment is not impossible. I suppose at the end of the day, it’s about feeding back to HoDs – and being prepared to make changes rather than repeat the same tasks every year.

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I had a great conversation recently with a primary school teacher friend who’s also a literacy specialist/enthusiast/guru. What quickly became clear through our lengthy couch meanderings was that a lot of the challenges students face at secondary school are not due to lack of effort and energy expended by our primary colleagues earlier on.

Primary teachers have amazing depth of knowledge when it comes to breaking down concepts for students, modelling skills and providing awesome opportunities for them to develop their writing. Here’s an activity my 9 year-old son did at his school last week using James K Baxter’s My Town poem as a starter. And here’s Harrison’s poem:

The town

The town was usual enough; it had

A dairy,a bridge,a creek,a sky

Over it, and even a school that I never went to.

Me, my brother and Dad

Did what boys

Do best, made huts, biked

To the park, dodged the creepy old man

Who lived in our neighbourhood.

We jumped off the bridge,bought lollies

And chomped them down, scootered

To the beach

Doing nothing important.

By Harrison

Inspired by James K Baxter

Why then are so many of our students struggling with basic literary skills at secondary school? Are they simply reaching a plateau and stalling? Is the stagnation in written skills directly related to a drop off in reading? Is their inability to delay gratification a hand brake on truly engaging with the writing process? Did video kill the radio star?!

Among the many awesome suggestions my friend shared was The Literacy Shed website. I was drawn to the visual tasks available in the music videos “shed” and the animation “shed.” (Sheds being section on the site). A quick skim of suggested tasks yielded heaps of great ideas that we could use around novel studies, literary responses and tasks to inspire creative writing. There are also several sheds related to genre which could be helpful for secondary teachers.

While some of the content targets a younger age group, over the past three weeks I’ve been using clips and ideas from the music video and animation sheds as part of a unit on creative writing with my Year 10s. This group of learners is loosely referred to as “low to middle ability” but really, they are low – Level 1-4 of NZC currently based on beginning of year samples around writing, spelling age and reading. This prompted a complete rethink of several tasks I had planned to do with them.

The Literacy Shed has enabled me to implement differentiation in a meaningful way. For clips  used, I have tapped into some of the suggestions on the website then developed them further for a Year 10 audience. I felt it was also important to tell the students that I don’t expect all of them to complete all the tasks – they are quite open with where they are at currently and a quick word in their ear is all that is needed to get everyone underway.

We start each lesson with our writing journals and a clear learning objective which is on the board and stated verbally. This has ranged from “Today we are going to look at good ways of describing how people feel” to using words with clear connotations etc. We watch the clip once and I ask 4-5 focus oral questions to ensure we all know WHAT happened. This in itself can be an hilarious exchange of ideas …
I then project a series of journal tasks ranging from straight forward identifying to retelling to describing to more sophisticated skills such as point of view writing or dialogue or continuing a narrative. My big objective is to prepare them for a creative writing assessment in Term 2 where their task is to describe a character independently. By the end of this term they will have been exposed to:

  • Adjectives and adverbs
  • Strong verbs and neutral verbs
  • Synonyms and antonyms
  • Connotative language
  • Emotive language
  • Characterisation
  • Show Don’t tell

This leaves me the first few weeks of Term 2 to work on sentence structure, sentence starters and types as well as some basic punctuation. I also need to get them concentrating on their writing independently for longer periods of time, a big challenge for kids with such a large range of learning needs. Even if they are making small gains in their learning progressions, they are certainly all coming to class with their journals, ready to go and feeling as if they have achieved something. And hopefully, they are gaining some enjoyment out of the process.

Below are a couple of sample “lessons” you are most welcome to use:

 David Guetta – Titanium

In your journal DESCRIBE the opening scene, use show not tell. Do a OR b OR c:

a) draw and label scene

b) create a word bank

c) write a paragraph

2.Discuss with a partner. At the end:

Who is to blame?


Is the boy acting in self-defence?

Can he control his powers?

3. In your journal, do one:

  • If you could have any superpower what would it and why?
  • You wake up one morning and find you have incredible physical strength. What would you do? How would your life change?
  • Draw, design and label your own superhero. What power, name and costume would they have?
  • Write a newspaper report of the events that happened in the video. Include interviews with the teacher, parents and police-officers.

 Don’t Go – short animation

  1. Use adverbs to describe Pinky’s actions E.g: Danced vigorously
  1. Use adverbs to describe the cat’s actions E.g: Sprang menacingly
  1. Write a set of instructions as a list of bullet points on how to avoid being caught by a cat
  1. Retell the story from the cat’s point of view. Use strong verbs and adverbs to describe how events unfold….

I was minding my own business when suddenly, Pinky dashed in front of me…

Emile Sande – Free

  1. Make an emotion graph to show how the boy is feeling at different points in the video
  2. Summarise by writing a sentence that explains how the boy was feeling at the start and at the end
  3. Create an adjective bank to describe the boy’s feelings
  4. Create your own similes and metaphors for the boy’s actions

Eg: He flies like a bird.                                           He is as free as a bird.

  1. Research 5 facts about Jokke Summer

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