Writing with Mrs. Rombach Reads

Hey Kids!

Through the wonder of blogging, we have found a great new class!  Mrs. Rombach and her readers, whom we have visited a bit in the past, have sent us some prompts so that we can write interactive stories with them.

How cool is that?  (Mrs. Rombach has also shared a very creative and fun method of working on vocabulary, but I will save that secret for another day.  Teachers are required by Teacher Law #65113 not to allow too much fun into any one day.)

So today, we can finish a story that has been started by a member of Mrs. Rombach’s class.  We also get to share prompts with her middle schoolers at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn, Virginia.

So let’s put on our author hats, and get writing!  Perhaps one of us will be the next Graham Salisbury.  You never know what the future holds.


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A Class Act

Hey Kids!

Who is one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Billboard’s youngest ever Woman-of–the-Year, and the youngest artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year?

Taylor Swift discusses books, reading, and writing with students.

Taylor Swift discusses books, reading, and writing with students.

Yes, that’s right.  It’s Taylor Swift, or as my 14-year-old son is known to call her, T-Swizzle.

Out of the respect I have for this artist since watching her Scholastic video Reading Opens a World of PossibleI will call her Miss Swift.

At age 24, Miss Swift has already won seven Grammy Awards.  She has written ALL her own songs.  In fact, she considers writing to be the most important part of her job.

Last week we watched a conversation she had with six individual students, ages 11-15, about writing, reading, and books.  In addition to the students she sat with, Miss Smith also invited two classrooms into the discussion via Skype.

Miss Smith and the students addressed such heady topics as dystopian societies and feminism as well as the current and important topic of bullying, especially appropriate as October was Bullying Prevention Month.   While talking about their favorite books and Taylor Swift’s writing process, the group discussed point-of-view and poetry, and used such terms as metaphor, rhythm and rhyme.  At one point Miss Swift described herself dancing by saying “I look like a baby giraffe learning to walk.”  A simile in action.

The songwriter has been keeping a writing journal since she was 13-years-old.  She spoke about writing her ideas down whenever inspiration hits and retold the story of collaborating with Ryan Tedder on the song I Know Places.  Similar to all writers, Taylor creates a rough draft of the song, her voice accompanied by a piano, on an audio file; she then heads to the studio to polish it by creating a track using background bass and drums.  The finished version stays true to the draft, but is enhanced by the additional work.  Compare this to all writing: rough draft, revision, finished product.  Listen to both versions and the entire conversation by clicking on the photo above.

In her Scholastic conversation, Taylor says, “Books train imaginations to think big.”  She and the students discuss books with impact, which range from Percy Jackson to  Stargirl.  Add your favorite to the board!

Scholastic video-interviewed quite a few other students, teachers, and parents to learn about how their favorite books “open a world of possible”.  Watch and listen to their ideas about books.

On Thursday of this week Usher will also talk about books with Scholastic.  What celebrity would you like to sit down with and have a book chat?  What books would you discuss?  What would you say about your favorite book?

Taylor Swift chats with one of her guests during a Scholastic book talk, Open Possible.

Taylor Swift chats with one of her guests during a Scholastic book talk, Open Possible.

Watching Taylor Swift talk books, reading, and writing.

Watching Taylor Swift talk books, reading, and writing.

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National Day on Writing

Pen to Paper
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: mbgrigby via Compfight

Raise your hand if you knew today, October 20th, is the National Day on Writing.  I admit, at 7:00 this morning, I would not have been able to raise my hand.  However, it didn’t take long between emails, tweets, and blogs to learn that today is, in fact, a special occasion, especially for all writers and for those aspiring to be writers.

Happy National Day on Writing!

In honor of the day, let’s share the writing we’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks and then use these tips to create some new writing.



Analyzing and evaluating our writing

Analyzing and evaluating our writing










These are examples of blog comments we wrote last week.  We analyzed them in four parts:

I. Did we create imagery for the reader? (specific nouns, verbs, adjectives/adverbs; figures of speech)

II. Did we make the reader think?  (details and examples to support ideas)

III. Did we engage the reader? (variety of sentence structures)

IV. Did we organize our material for the reader? (beginning, middle, end)

We evaluated our writing using FOCUS.  An essay that scores a 1 is not very FOCUSed; a score of 6 is quite FOCUSed.

Focus: on topic

Organization: introduction, body, conclusion

Content: supporting examples and details

Usage: proper grammar and mechanics

Style: mature vocabulary, variety of sentence structure, figures of speech

Finally, we identified specific areas that we improved since last week, and explained how we plan to continue to improve.

In honor of National Day on Writing, a most happy occasion, let’s listen to some writing from some American Authors that you may have heard before:

Would you consider today, the National Day on Writing, to be the best day of your life?

If not, what is the best day of your life so far?




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Finding just the right word

Words matter.

Choosing the right nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs allows the reader to understand the message the writer intends.  This week we discussed the importance of the choices we make in writing and speaking.

We watched this clip called “Word Choice” from an old t.v. show, Friends.  

After watching the clip we visualized the idea of using longer, but not necessarily stronger, words with an exercise involving thread, string, and a rope.   Unravelling a very long piece of thread, a medium piece of string, and a short piece of rope, we realized that although the thread was a lot longer than the string and the rope, it was by no means stronger than the other two.  That was the same lesson Chandler and Monica tried to teach Joey, aka Baby Kangaroo, when Joey wrote his letter.  While we want to “sound smart”, too many long words strung together sometimes confuse the meaning.  More succinctly put, longer doesn’t equal stronger.

Look at the three items below.  Which is the strongest?  Which is the longest?  Just because something is longer, it is not necessarily stronger.  Check out this blog post .

Does longest = strongest?

Does longest = strongest?

We also read this short excerpt from our text books:

As a girl wept under a tree, a woman suddenly appeared.  She waved a magic stick.  A vegetable turned into a vehicle.  With another movement of the woman’s stick, the girl’s torn clothing turned into a beautiful dress.  Overjoyed, the girl thanked the woman and rode to the party in a building.

How long did it take you to realize the lines above relate the story of Cinderella?  It took some of the students in our class until the third sentence; some of us needed even more information than that.  Cinderella becomes very unfamiliar when specific nouns are replaced with general ones.  Word choice is important.

We used more household items to illustrate this point.  Is it better to say eating utensil or fork?  Eating utensil or spoon?  Even though “eating utensil” might feel ‘smart’ (think Joey), these longer words are less precise than spoon or fork.

Other times, we really do need adjectives to help us understand what the writer wants to convey.

Popsicle stick, chopstick, tree stick?, drumstick, yardstick

Popsicle stick, chopstick, tree stick?, drumstick, yardstick

What kind of stick is this?  Picturing the  importance of adjectives and nouns

What kind of stick is this? Picturing the importance of adjectives and nouns

While all the items pictured at right are sticks, they are very different kinds of sticks.  It would be extraordinarily difficult to eat with yardsticks or drumsticks, wouldn’t it?  Likewise, measuring distance with Popsicle sticks or chopsticks is equally tricky.  We listed the items as yardstick, drumstick, chopstick, and Popsicle stick. Guess what some students wanted to call the very last stick I showed them?  A tree stick!  After a little laugh, we realized that changing the noun to branch or twig was a better alternative than using the adjective tree with the noun stick.  We tried the same exercise using a paper cup, a measuring cup, and a coffee cup.  Some of us wanted to use mug rather than coffee cup.

Whether writing a letter of recommendation or a fairy tale about a princess, choosing just the right word is an important skill for an author.

Here are 182 Questions to Write or Talk About from The Learning Network with the Ny Times.  Peruse the list and write a response to one of the questions.

Practice your best writing!  Choose your words carefully.

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What Makes Good Writing?

ManiacMagee5One of my cardinal rules of reading as a class is:

Don’t go ahead of the assigned reading.

When kids read ahead, it’s nearly impossible not to blurt out a newfound answer to a question we’ve been wondering about since the beginning of the book.  Such outbursts, while not intentional, can spoil the story for everyone else.  Never has this rule been so hard to obey as with Maniac Magee.  Inspired author Jerry Spinelli is taking us for a wild run with his protagonist, Jeffrey Lionel (a.k.a. Maniac) Magee, and many of us want to keep pace with the boy who can run the length of a football and soccer field  in the time it takes the pigskin to spiral 60 yards.

But I want us to go S-L-O-W-L-Y.  There is so much to digest in this book, including Butterscotch Krimpets and Mars Bars.  I love the language of the story, and we are having fun chasing down all the figures of speech, vivid verbs, invented language, and crazy insults that makes Mr. Spinelli a modern day Shakespeare, in our humble opinion.

Chapter 7 is one of my favorites, and while it’s difficult to settle on only one favorite sentence, this is in the Top Ten Club.

“He was so busy laughing at the runt, he lobbed him a lollipop and the runt got lucky and poled it.” 

That’s Mr. Spinelli’s way of saying, The pitcher was so busy laughing at the little batter that he lobbed him an easy pitch, and the batter hit a homerun.

I love that sentence for the alliteration, the metaphor, and the verb.  That is one high impact sentence.

We made a list of awesome verbs just in this chapter, and we came up with over twenty-five.  That’s an impressive list for a five page chapter.  Here are a few of our favorite verbs:

windmilled          pinwheeling          croaking         jolted        chucking

chickening        yelped                    slithered        swooping     zoomed

This chapter also has the memorable word, “Unbefroggable!”

We invite you to nominate or vote on an “awesome” sentence (check out this post on Huzzah! while you are at it!) for our Top Ten Club.  We’ll tally the results and let you know next week!

What sentence or sentences do you love from a book you are reading?  What makes the writing so good?


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A Visit from author Liz Lantigua

Author Liz Lantigua visits our middle school classes

Author Liz Lantigua visits our middle school classes

We had a banner day today in language arts class!  Author of Mission Libertad, Liz Lantigua, spent part of the afternoon at our school, sharing her life as an author as well as the background of her YA novel with our students.

After Mrs. Lantigua’s presentation, the students asked lots of questions and learned that:

  • Her job as a newspaper reporter made Mrs. Lantigua aware of the plight of many Cubans who arrived on the shores of southern Florida in homemade rafts.
  • She used a lot of primary sources as her research for the novel.
  • Perseverance is very necessary to publish a book in today’s market.  Aside from doing many rewrites based on feedback from editors, successful authors must also actively promote their books by doing interviews with the media, participating in book signings, and visiting schools.
  • After eighteen years of hard work, she transformed her book from an 18 page children’s story to a 214 page young adult novel.
  • Since competing her first novel, Mrs. Lantigua is working on a sequel.

What sounds appealing about the life of an author?

What sounds difficult about the life of an author?


Mrs. Lantigua shares a photo of herself as an early writer.

Mrs. Lantigua shares a photo of herself as an early writer.

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Working as Scribes

Today the sixth graders worked as scribes for the second graders.  A scribe copies a book that is already written. 

Grade two students had written their book by hand and needed a little help typing their work on the computers.  Our sixth graders were more than happy to assist their younger schoolmates in typing, spelling, capitalizing, punctuating, and proofreading.

We are looking forward to the finished product.   Imagine publishing a book in second grade!  Impressive.

Did you want to be an author when you were little? What did you want to be?


What’s the first book you remember reading?

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