Out of This World Literacy : August 2013
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What do We, as Teachers, Understand About Writing?

Writing is my absolute favorite subject to teach because it is the time in the day when I begin to understand my students the best.  Through their writing, I can see their experiences, beliefs, values, and so on.  It is a magical time when their creative minds are at work!  But, before I can begin teaching writing, I have to ask myself what it is I want my students to be able to do as writers when they leave my classroom.

Before we begin planning and teaching writing, we must be self-reflective and ask ourselves questions as writers.  What do we, as teachers, understand writing to be?  What do we understand writing not to be?  What do writers do to ensure they are creating their very best work?  Only after we have answered these questions ourselves can we begin to understand what it is we need to teach our young writers.

Here are my best answers to these questions:

What do I Understand Writing to Be?

A creative expression of the mind. 

A way to respond to personal experiences.

A way to deliver information that is extremely important to the author.

A place to share our purpose about the things we are passionate about.

Making a difference with the written word.

Feeling valued with what we have to say.

Connecting with the readers (our audience).

A place to ask and answer our own questions about matters that are important to us.

What do I Understand Writing NOT to be?

Writing is not about everyone in the class writing about the same topic.

Writing is not about simply responding to a prompt.

Writing is not only about correcting poorly written sentences.

Writing is not at all about trying to write with someone elses idea.

Writing is not about learning how to follow directions.

Writing is not just about learning about paragraphs, indenting, spacing, etc.

Each writer brings a unique set of experiences and beliefs to writing.  A class of writers can not produce the same response to a prompt.

There is no right or wrong answer.

What do Writers do to Ensure they are Creating their Very Best Work?

They are reflective…they think about their personal experiences.

They have a strong purpose for what they are writing about.

They understand their audience.

They brainstorm ideas by making lists, webs, timelines, charts, more lists from lists, etc.

They talk with other writers.

They ask questions.

They research.

They reread their work several times.

They consider their audience when they write.

They are observant…they don’t let the world pass them by.  When they get an idea, they write it down so that moment becomes a permanent place in time.

They carry a notebook with them to gather ideas.

They are patient with their work. 

They read books from other great authors and think about how they could try certain writing strategies in their own work.

They value their own work.

They see themselves as really writers that have something important to say.  They know their words matter to their readers!!

As you begin teaching writing this year, ask yourself these 3 questions and make your own list!  You may find that the third list makes a great set of teaching objectives.  After all, we all want to teach our young writers to do their very best!

I’d LOVE to hear your lists and thoughts!  Send me a message and tell me how you are planning to instill a sense of value and purpose in your young writers!! 

Best wishes to all the writers out there!!


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ELA Summer Book Club Chapter 10 (last one!)

Hello friends!


I am so excited to wrap up this amazing summer book study!  There has been some great conversations regarding the ELA Common Core for grades 3-5.  If you missed any, check out these other posts!
I thought it might be fun to create a K-W-L-W list based on Chapter 10.  Feel free to add ideas to my list as you comment.  I especially am interested in what others are thinking about my wonderings!!


W- (What I Know)                 

There are 10 Reading Literature and Reading Informational Standards per grade.
There are 3 separate writing pieces each grade needs to complete (informational, opinion, and narrative)
The standards require higher level thinking skills as they go up the grade levels.
Most of the standards require students to be reflective readers.
The standards seem like they could apply to several different types of lessons.
They are consistently worded across grade levels, like a continuum.

W- (What I Want to Know)

Is there a recommended sequence in teaching each standard throughout the year?
How much time should teachers invest in each standard?
How can teachers incorporate more than one standard across subjects in there lessons?
How do the standards support differentiated instruction to ensure all students are learning?
What types of assessment formats best match the standards?

L- (What I Learned)

The CCSS present a shift in thinking.  They move away from separating reading standards and include elements of these standards (phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension) across all ELA standards.
Thematic instruction has pros: going deeper with content, saving time, making connections, kids become highly engaged.
Thematic Instruction has cons: keeping the learning relevant to the curriculum, limited texts selected just to support theme and not reading/writing skills, may lack explicit instruction.
The CCSS are moving for more teaching for content at the elementary level.
The CCSS are moving for more teaching of strategies at the secondary level.
Thematic topics that are too broad skim the surface of too many ideas…no deep learning occurs.

W- (What I Still Wonder)

How can teachers incorporate science and social studies standards into writing and reading classes without turning the lesson into a science/social studies lesson?  In other words, how can teachers ensure they are still teaching writing/reading strategies and not just teaching the content in a science/social studies text?
How does project based learning look with the new CCSS?
What types of assessment formats best match the standards?
Where is the balance between content instruction and strategy instruction?
I would love to hear your thoughts about implementing the CCSS in your ELA classrooms!  Thank you for reading this blog.  I wish you all the best of luck in the new school year!!!
Jen Bengel


FAQ's About the Units of Study

Hello Friends!!

I have been getting a lot of questions about the units of study available in my Teachers pay Teachers store.  I think it's great that you all are asking questions!!  I love to help teachers in any way I can.  So, I decided to create this post of FAQ's that I have received so that you all can have additional information in one spot.  I will add to the list of questions as needed. 

Question #1:

Q: I do not have the read-aloud picture books that you recommend for the lessons.  Do I need to buy them?

A: Absolutely not!  The picture books that I reference in all the lessons are merely suggestions of titles that go along nicely with the reading/writing strategy for that day.  The lessons are focused on teaching students reading/writing strategies that they can apply to reading any text or writing in any genre.  They are not lessons that teach to the content of a specific text; therefore, any text can be used to model the skills taught.  Any read-aloud texts that you have in your classroom can work with these lessons.  Some people like to have the exact titles, but it is NOT necessary.  It is completely up to you if you would like to use the titles I suggest.

Question #2

Q: What order do you recommend teaching the units?

A: The order in which you teach the units is completely up to you and how your school/district maps out the curriculum.  I do suggest beginning the year with "Launching the Reading and Writing Workshops" (although this unit can be taught at any time; some teachers use it again after winter break).  I teach the personal narrative unit next because I have found that students have an easier time writing about themselves than anything else.  This unit is a great way to get all students involved in writing!  After that I usually teach the informational unit so that I can introduce some nonfiction.  Each year varies after the third unit.  Again, it is totally up to you and what order works best.

Question #3

Q: Are you making units for first and second grade?

A: Yes!  I am planning to create units for first and second grade!  These will take some time though.  I do a heavy amount of research before I begin to develop each unit.  I take creating these units very seriously as I want to develop the best lessons for the appropriate grade levels.  I am hoping to have units for first and second grade by the end of 2013!

Question #4

Q: Are these units based on Lucy Calkins Units of Study (I get this question all the time!)?

A: I have heard of Lucy Calkins and think she is doing some amazing things with writing!  But, I have not studied or taught with any of her units.  I have been trained at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA with Irene Fountas and her colleagues as a Literacy Collaborative Coordinator.  I believe that many of the ideas from Irene and Lucy are similar and align with best practices in the area of literacy instruction.

Question #5

Q: Are the lessons the same from grades 3-6 in your units?

A: Yes, the lessons are the same in my units from grades 3-6.  The only difference between the grade level units is the Common Core Standards that are attached.  Teachers always have the opportunity to change some vocabulary in the mini lesson statements so that their students can understand each lesson.  Every classroom is filled with unique students that only that teacher knows best.  I would expect the language in the statements to change slightly based on student needs.  I have taught these units in grades 3, 4, 5, and 6.  They are appropriate for each level.  Of course I have found with the older students that I can go deeper with them.  I can challenge their thinking a little more, which makes the lessons fun and new each year!

Question #6

Q: Will your units for grades 1-2 have the same lessons as the 3-6 units?

A: The units will likely be the same genres, but the lessons will be much different.  The vocabulary, expectations, and activities will change to fit the needs of first and second graders.  I fully understand how different primary is from intermediate and I want the units to reflect the needs of primary.  This is another reason why these units will take a while before they are published.   

Question #7

Q: Can you create SMART Board lessons for these units?

A: I would LOVE to be able to create SMART Board lessons for the units.  However, I do not have that software. 

Question #8 (Added August 16, 2013)

Q: Based on the reader's/writer's notebook dividers in your units, how many pages do you recommend having in each section?

A: This is what I would recommend for Reader's Notebook:
       *About 10 pages for the 'reading log' section
       *Split 'mini lessons' and 'reading responses' in half
     This is what I would recommend for the Writer's Notebook:
       *The first half for 'gathering seeds'
       *Split the second half with 'mini lessons' and 'word work'

I hope this post has helped answer all your questions about my units of study!
***Please add any additional questions you have in the comments section.  I am here to help :)


To view just a few of my units click on the images below!



The Unit are Also Available in Bundles: get 8 units for the price of 6!

Best wishes to you all!!