Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Launching the Grade 1 Opinion Unit

Throughout the year, our school district has staff developers from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project come and work with our teachers. These days are always inspiring and full of learning! Yesterday, Christine Holley worked with our first-grade teachers to launch our new Opinion Writing unit. Some of the highlights of the day and my favorite comments were:

  • Pre-assessment is so important because you can see what the students know and don't know. Just  give them an open-ended prompt and see what they do with it. You will learn a lot about what they know!
  • "Ultimately, let's think about what is important and fun in conjunction with the (Common Core) Standards."
  • When you launch a new unit, you just want a lot of energy--you want kids to be really wanting to get to their seats and write! When Christine finished her mini-lesson in about 9 minutes, she did not give students elaborate, precise directions. Off you go is a favorite line from TC and when she said this, the students went off and evaluated, rated, and wrote about their collections for over 30 minutes.
  • Mini-lessons have become more balanced in the Writing Workshop with shares, conferences and strategy groups, other important learning opportunities. Christine used the share at the end of the workshop to make an important teaching point.
  • Inquiry lessons are gaining importance, as well, where students look at mentor texts and examine them for what makes them effective. Warning: If you have to do too much fishing for the "right" answer, then you probably are not ready for an inquiry lesson and you should return to direct instruction. Students have to know some things about the subject before they are ready to name the traits.
  • Whatever unit you are in, you are working on qualities of good writing and process. In any unit, are students planning, re-reading, learning about qualities of good writing? 
As part of the new Opinion Unit that will be described in detail in the new Units of Study writing books that should be released at the end of May, first-graders bring in collections and rate them before they get to writing. Christine taught the launch to our students in two classrooms and, I have to say, if the energy stays anywhere close to what it was yesterday throughout the unit, those children will be effective reviewers and evaluators by Memorial Day!

Happy writing,


  1. How lucky you are to learn from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project staff developers. I am green with envy! Your bullet are great points to remember. I especially like the warning. Thanks Melanie.

  2. I love this, "Ultimately, let's think about what is important and fun in conjunction with the (Common Core) Standards." Amen and amen. The enthusiasm...we never want that to change with our writers. Did they bring in collections of books...of knick knacks, cards? I'm curious. xo

  3. I always wanted to work in a school with a staff developer, but never did. How lucky for you that you get to do this. Good luck with the opinion writing and the end of the school year.

  4. This sounds so exciting and productive. Those staff developers at TC are amazing....we are not affiliated with TC, alas, but I do view the video clips on the TCRWP website, which provide wonderful insights. I can't wait for the new units of study!

  5. Thanks for sharing your insights, Melanie. I agree with Elsie, your warning is helpful. Can't wait to hear more about this unit as it progresses!