Author Visits via Skype

We’ve been very fortunate this year.  In October we had a Skype visit with author Derek Kent who prefers to be known as Derek the ghost.  I read both of his books aloud to the class.  The first was Scary School, and the second was Scary School – Monsters on the March.  We loved them both because of the way they left us laughing out loud.  Every time I picked it up the class cheered because they knew there would be something funny in the pages ahead. The characters were imaginative and unexpected and added drama to every chapter.

Last week we had a Skype visit with author Rob Buyea.  I read both of his books aloud as well.  The first was Because of Mr. Terupt, and the second was Mr. Terupt Falls Again.  We loved these books because we made such a strong connection to the characters and their lives.  The first book is about a class of 5th graders and their very cool teacher.  The second is the same group of students, now in 6th grade, having looped with the same teacher.  These books also made us laugh out loud, but there was more.  They made us cry too.  The situations among the students was familiar, yet unpredictable.  We waiting breathlessly to see what would happen next.

Two days ago, I asked my students to brainstorm a list of things that they had learned about writing by reading these books and talking to these two authors.  Here are some of the things the students wrote down.

Derek Kent

-Always put yourself in your story – meaning, have one of your characters be part you.
-Always have a big thing happen – something that the characters will have to deal with.
-Get ideas from your own life.  Think back to some funny events or situations in your own life.
-Have your character learn some life lessons during the course of your story.
-Include some well known people as characters and change their name and characteristics just enough to allow your reader to recognize and draw a connection.
-Add things that no one is expecting.
-Add humor to lighten the mood.
-Have your main character go against the crowd now and then.
Rob Buyea

-If you base a book on your everyday life, ideas will come to you more easily.
-Always carry a writer’s notebook.  You never know when an idea will pop into your head.
-Writing ideas seem to strike at the weirdest moments.  (The idea for Because of Mr. Terupt came to Rob Buyea while he was in his mother’s garden!)
-Take your own memories and change them to fit your story and/or your characters.
-Make the reader wonder what will happen next.
-Jot down ideas.  You may not use them for years, but it gives you a collection to draw from.
-If you don’t like the situation/character/story, your reader won’t either.  Sometimes you want your reader to dislike a character, but make sure you think about whether you want your reader to change their opinion by the story’s end.
-Base your characters and events on real life people and events in your life.


I’m very pleased to see that the combination of reading the books and actually talking to/asking questions of these authors has left the students with great advice and tips to apply in their own writing.

Sentence Analysis – Moving Forward

During this video the students were analyzing and identifying a compound sentence.  I first learned about analyzing sentences in this manner when I listened to Michael Clay Thompson at a seminar.  I was fascinated.  The students are really able to make better sense of how this all works together when they see all the pieces in action.  Every sentence is new, but the structures become recognizable … as do the subjects and predicates … and all of the rest of it.  I compare it to listening to an orchestra and talking about the role of the various instruments and how they complement each other…. and all while the orchestra is playing.  We are listening and making sense of it at the same time.

Evaporation; Condensation – Don’t Get All Misty-Eyed!

I decided to give a quiz of sorts on Monday of this week.  I asked the students to write the word <prejudice> on one side of the paper, and <segregation> on the other.  These are words that we have investigated in the last two weeks.  For each I wanted:

1)  the definition
2)  a word sum
3)  two other word sums showing the base with other affixes
4)  two words with related meanings

I learned much!   The vast majority of the students spelled both words correctly, but the vast majority did not write an accurate word sum for that spelling.  For some of my students the tendency is to divide words by syllables rather than bases and affixes.  This makes for some random word sums as their hypothesis!  Even though they have knowledge about certain prefixes and suffixes, they aren’t applying that yet on an automatic basis.  I’m confident that as the investigations continue, and they talk about why they are making the choices they are making, that this will all come together.

Today we split into four groups.  Two groups investigated <evaporation> ,and two groups investigated <condensation>.  Rather quickly, both groups looking at <evaporation> found the base element to be <vapor>.  We all found out that <e> is from the prefix <ex> which means out.  That really helped with picturing evaporation!  Students used their hands to describe the vapor moving in an outwards direction.



The suffixes <ise> and <ize> in the matrix for the base <vapor> reminded us of the books we read by Roald Dahl earlier in the year.  As we read we collected spellings that were slightly different than what we were used to.  We remembered the word <realise>, which we knew was a British English spelling rather than what we are used to – American English spelling.

The two groups investigating the word <condensation> approached it quite differently.  The first group began with a pretty accurate word sum hypothesis.  Then they looked up <condensation> and <dense> to find out more.  With prompting they added the meaning of the prefix to their understanding of the base.

The second group was trying all sorts of random letter combinations as part of their word sum hypotheses.  At first it didn’t seem as if they had a plan, meaning a logical order for how to proceed with their investigation.  When I asked if they had looked on their list of proven prefixes to see if anything matched what they were seeing in the word, things began to click.



Curious Minds … apartheid and discrimination

As we continue our study of the Civil Rights Movement, interesting words keep popping up. So far we have looked at prejudice, segregation, and integration. During the research into those words, the words ‘apartheid’ and ‘discrimination’ surfaced. Intrigued, we began with the word ‘apartheid’. We read some information and recognized that there were some parallels to be drawn between the situation in South Africa from the late 1940’s to the 1990’s and the situation in the U.S. prior to the 1960’s. Then we wondered how the words ‘apartheid’ and ‘discrimination’ fit in with the other words (as far as meaning) that we have collected on the topic. It was time to investigate.
Two groups of students investigated the word ‘apartheid’. Here is what they found.

Three groups of students investigated the word ‘discrimination’. It was fascinating to listen to the hypotheses the students started with, and then the reasoning they used to alter them. It’s been pointed out to me by other orthographers that what I see happening while the students investigate and recap that investigation is the really worthwhile part of all this. I believe it.

While watching the following video, I thought of what the three groups found. Tomorrow each group will be asked to consider the following:

1) One of the groups found that ‘dis’ is a prefix and means away from. Can that be proven or disproven?
2) We know that ‘in’ is a prefix. Is it also a suffix? Check on WordSearcher for other words that end with ‘in’.
3) One group believes ‘ate’ and ‘ion’ are both suffixes in this word. Another group believes ‘at’ and ‘ion’ are the suffixes. How can we prove/disprove either of these?