Plastic Times: In the Beginning

This year we have been focusing on Book Studies. We have read several great works of literature including Love That Dog and Bridge to Terabithia. Recently, we picked up another Newberry Award winner. After 16 pages most of us were having trouble ‘getting into’ the book. We weren’t even through the first chapter yet – it was 24 pages – when I stopped and asked the students what they thought. At first, they were reluctant to be completely honest. They said things like, ‘it’s okay’ and ‘eh’. So yeah, when I gave them my honest opinion, they opened up a bit more. I have difficulties with reading comprehension, which they all know about, and I simply told them that I was having trouble ‘getting into’ the book. Collectively, they all breathed a sigh of relief and opened up. In the end, we decided to put the book down – at least for now – and move on to something different.

This is where Plastic Times comes in. Last year my class wrote, directed, produced, and acted in their own movie. It was an empowering experience. Within the last year, A Tale Unfolds has expanded their resources and restructured their payment system. Essentially, they have a ‘suggested’ price but will accept what you are willing to pay. Yep, even if you want to pay nothing! Which is brilliant, since their generosity makes me want to pay the suggested price and not try to get a cheaper price. A Tale Unfolds has partnered with several quality organizations, including CNN, to create top quality lessons. Teachers, everything is included!

Anyway, after the book fail, I wanted my students to participate in something meaningful, fun, and most importantly, rigorous. So, I went onto A Tale Unfolds and was immediately drawn to Plastic Times.  This lesson incorporates research, forming opinions on facts, (high quality) writing, and PBL.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-5-26-25-pmFriday we started our new path. The first lesson has students reviewing five different pieces of ‘Evidence’ (all factual) and taking notes. They are investigative reporters learning about the impact of plastic on our environment, animals, and us. Then, they are to form an action plan. When each group received their ‘Evidence’ I don’t think they thought I would stick to the 4-minute timer. I printed one copy of each piece of evidence and so they had a certain amount of time to review and take notes before passing it along. After the first round, they got the message. They then watched a 14-minute video produced by CNN to further their knowledge on the subject. Honestly, I have never seen the students so engaged. They really wanted to get all the information provided and answer all the questions on the guiding worksheet. And that was only day 1! I can’t imagine what the rest of the three weeks will bring, but I’m excited to see where this takes us!

Movie Premiere

I have been doing much reflecting, as most teachers do, upon this past school year. To say that there were many ups and downs would be an understatement. However, one of the best – if not THE BEST – thing I did this year was to have my students write, direct, act, and produce their own movie. With a full-fledged Red Carpet Event!

Thanks to Dominic and his efforts in A Tale Unfolds my students were able to have an incredibly memorable 5th-grade experience. This was, by far, one of the most fun and rewarding experiences in my teaching career. And I can’t wait to do it again! Throughout the process, I had been writing about this (A Tale Unfolds: Part 1A Tale Unfolds & Writing,   Writing and the CAASPP) and aligning it to 5th-Grade CCSS ELA. And here are the results of their efforts:

Red Carpet Event:

Cast Interviews:


Once again, thank you, Dominic, for creating a high quality, rigorous program.

Writing and the CAASPP

writing.jpegThis week my students have been taking the CAASPP Test (SBAC). As you may, or may not, know, there is quite a bit of writing on it. This week we focused on the ELA portion. As a teacher, these tests kill me. I know what my students are capable of and know that they are making simple mistakes that they don’t normally make. That being said, I had several students transferring what they have learned about writing various sentences to this test, and more importantly, to everyday life.

Over the past several months we have been working on writing our own movie script using A Tale Unfolds, which comes out of the UK. I have written about it here and here. One of the strengths of the program is its writing aspect. The kids are constantly writing! Each week they are introduced to another type of sentence. One week it was appositives, another it was complex, and yet another had ‘if, if, if, then’ sentences. The program uses Alan Peat‘s modeling.

These are some of the things the students shared with me, with great pride:

  • Ms. N., I used an ‘if, if, if, then’ sentence.
  • Ms. N., I used a 3 -ed sentence.
  • I used an appositive. (She then showed me. It was beautiful! I got a little teary-eyed. Yeah, it was that awesome.)

I really don’t think my students would have produced the type of writing they did this week without the constant writing they have been doing for their script. The way the different sentences are introduced and the experience the students have with ‘playing’ with the new sentences has been a benefit to my students.

On a side note, I showed the first portion (without beginning credits/title/etc) of their movie to them. They are so excited! They are dying to see more. I even began showing other teachers small snippets. They were impressed. It’s been a fun experience!

A Tale Unfolds & Writing

At the beginning of February, I began A Tale Unfolds. Since then, I have noticed an improvement in my students’ writing. Their sentences are more interesting and they try to vary the types of sentences they use. Here is a picture of a student who has writing difficulties, practicing her sentences in her spare time!

Photo Credit: Tressa Luke

Another teacher was so impressed, she took these photos and HAD to share with me! This is awsome! Look  at all those adjectives.

A Tale Unfolds: Part 1

a tale unfolds Next week I will start A Tale Unfolds with my class. It is an 11 week ELA/ELD/Writing unit where the end product is a movie that the class has written, performed, and taped. As this is a UK Standards aligned unit, I looked over the lessons for the upcoming week and was pleased that on Day 1 ten (5th grade) CCSS are covered. While the lessons are complete on their own, I will be able to enrich them with conversations and expectations.

Along with the lesson plans, there are Promethean Flipcharts and SmartBoard resources, a ‘book’ (2 levels), and in certain cases leveled resources (depending on the activity). The focus of the writing is on quality, not quantity.

Overall, I am excited to get the unit started. I think the students are really going to enjoy it.