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For most of my 27 years of teaching, I have taught personal narratives in some way, shape or form.   In doing so, I have encountered a wide variety of personal narratives to use as mentor texts.  In the past, I've tried reading a different narrative to my students every day.  I've tried sticking with one core personal narrative mentor text.  I've also tried just about everything in between.  The texts I use have definitely changed over the years.  This year, I have stuck with three quality mentor texts that seem to cover just about everything I need them to cover.  Today, I'm going to share these fabulous texts and explain how I use each one.

This post describes three excellent mentor texts for personal narratives.

Why use mentor texts?
I have found no better way to explain a concept or a craft move than modeling it with a mentor text.  Whether it's  starting with a bold beginning, incorporating dialogue, or using sensory details, mentor texts are my go to teaching method.  When young writers are able to see and study craft moves in action from a "real author", it helps them to mimic the moves in their own writing.

Prior to using the book during workshop time, I like to read the book purely for enjoyment during our read aloud time.  I like it when my students go into the lesson with an understanding and appreciation for the story itself.  During writing workshop, we go back to the text, sometimes rereading the entire book, and other times selecting specific parts.  The point is to engage the students in a discussion about how the author applies various techniques to their writing.

Without any further delay, here are my three favorite mentor texts for teaching personal narratives.


I don't think there is a better book for teaching personal narratives.  This book has it all, from a strong introduction, to going step by step, incorporating dialogue and including an ending that circles back to the beginning.

In this book, Patricia Polacco tells the story about when she was a child and afraid of thunderstorms.  In fact, she was so afraid in that she hid under the bed when a storm was coming.  Patricia's wise grandmother (her babushka) found a unique way to help Patricia overcome her fear.  Step by step, she tells the story of how her babushka taught her how to make thundercake.  After gathering all of the ingredients (which created some additional challenges), they made the cake.  Babushka's comforting words and ability to provide a sense of safety and bravery helped Patricia to overcome her fear of thunderstorms.

Thundercake is a great mentor text for personal narratives.  It has everything from a strong beginning, to telling the story step by step, to an ending that gives the readers closure.


One of the biggest challenges to writing a personal narrative can be finding that small moment.  Students tend to want to write about a whole vacation or "all about" something they love.  Roller Coaster is an excellent book for modeling small moments.  The entire book is about a young girl's first roller coaster ride.  This book also does an excellent job of incorporating sound words and feelings (showing, not just telling).

The book starts with the girl waiting in line to get on the roller coaster.  She is nervous, but she rides it anyway.  The book goes on to tell about all the twists and turns of the ride.  In the end, the girl loves the ride, and she is ready to get right back on the roller coaster.

Roller Coaster is the perfect book to demonstrate how to write about a small moment.


This book is another great example of an author taking her readers step by step through a small moment.  One of my favorite things about this book is the language.  The book utilizes a variety of descriptive strategies including adjectives and similes.  Not all of my second graders are ready to dabble in the type of language used here, but the ones who are can become very inspired.

Jane Yolen tells the story about a night when she went looking for owls with her father.  She talks about the cold, still night and builds the readers' anticipation as they listen carefully for owls.  Once they spot one, she forgets about the cold because she is feeling warm inside.

If you need a book that demonstrates how to use figurative language in a personal narrative, Owl Moon is perfect!

It's worth mentioning that I also model the writing process and craft moves using my own personal narrative.  I show my students how I use the mentor texts to make improvements in my own writing.  I also use student examples (past and present) that exemplify the skills and strategies I am teaching.  I use all of these resources in whole group teaching, small groups, and one-on-one conferences (just not all at once).

I'd love to know what your favorite mentor texts are for personal narratives.  Please leave them in the comment section below.

These three books are all excellent choices to use as mentor texts for personal narratives.  This post shares some of the best parts of each one.

Thank you!

Free Narrative Leads Activity

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    As summer comes to a close, I can't help but be grateful for the time to reflect, relax, and spend time with the people I love.  Having said that, we all know that teachers do not take the summer off completely.  We are always on the lookout for resources to make me a better teacher and keep the school environment happy, positive, and purposeful.  Today I'd like to share my July teaching favorites, including a great book, some classroom decor updates and a super exciting sale.



    A close look at levels
    This month, I read Understanding Texts and Readers by Jennifer Serravallo.  If you follow me anywhere, you know that Jennifer Serravallo is my teaching idol.  This book does not disappoint!  Serravallo takes a deep dive into the expectations for each reading level (J-W).  I especially like how she broke things down into fiction and nonfiction and shared what was expected for each skill at each grade level.  She also provided writing samples for the different skills.  I will definitely refer to these as I score my students' Benchmarks this year.


    I have never been the type of teacher to lock a student into a level.  There are so many variables to take into consideration, including background knowledge, interest in the topic, and the amount of support available.  I appreciate the reinforcement and validation of this belief that I found in reading this book.

    After reading this book, I am also convinced that I need to do more whole book assessments in addition to the running records, reading conferences, and strategy groups that I am currently doing.  I love Serravallo's idea of placing Post-it notes with questions in various places of a book.  When the student arrives at a Post-it, they stop, think, and respond in writing to the prompt.  This strategy will help provide a clear picture of how well the student is understanding the entire book.  I really like the idea of getting a broader view of the student's comprehension.

    Needless to say, I strongly recommend this book.  It is a great read whether you are just starting your teaching journey or are a veteran teacher searching for a deeper understanding of the exceptions for the different reading levels.



    My New Color Scheme
    I've made quite a bit of progress on my new decor for my classroom this year.  I am excited to add the following items to my classroom this year!  (More to come soon!)

    *My new word wall letters - I recently updated this file to better match the other items in the bundle.  I have a few more updates and additions to make, and then I will have two separate bundles - one geared toward intermediate grades, and one geared toward primary.  If you are interested in the word wall letters, you can get them here.  They come in 3 1/2-inch squares and 4 1/2-inch squares.  Two heading options are included as well.  Everything comes in dots, chevron, and stripes.



    *I completed my calendar numbers and August heading.  I have a few more items to complete before adding this item to my TPT store, but it will be ready soon!



    *I love having schedule cards so my students have a visual for how the day will flow.  Here are the ones I am using in my room this year (barring any schedule changes).  I recently added these to my TPT store.  You can check them out here.  I opted not to include times with the cards in my classroom to allow for some flexibility.  However, the set includes two different editable options for adding times.   




    Last, but certainly not least, I found out about the TPT Back to School Sale!  I am super excited to announce that my entire store will be 20% off on Tuesday, July 6 and Wednesday, July 7.  You can get an additional 5% off by typing in the code BTS19.

    No photo description available.
    (Banner by Teachers are Terrific.)

    I hope everyone is enjoying the final days/weeks of summer.  
    Thank you, and have a great week!


    I love having writing conferences with my students.  It is one of the best ways to learn about their strengths and goals in writing as well as to get to know them better as students.  How do you decide what to work on with your students during conferences?  I like to use engagement inventories, On-demand writing samples, and previous notes to help be prioritize the skills that will move students forward in their writing.  This post will be the first in a series about writing conferences, focusing on preparing and selecting the skills.

    This post shares strategies to prepare for independent writing conferences.  It includes suggestions and resources to find appropriate writing goals for your students.

    Engagement Inventory
    One of the first things I like to do is get an idea of which students need help with engagement during writing workshop.  Last year, our awesome instructional coach helped with this by conducting a writing engagement inventory while I was working with students.  (If you do not have an instructional coach, you could do this on your own.)  I wrote about writing engagement inventories on a previous post.  You can read about them here.  They are a great way to see the varying levels of stamina during writing workshop.  I found some students were able to stay on task the whole time, some needed some immediate assistance with engagement, and many were somewhere in between.  

    I do prioritize engagement as a topic for my first writing conferences.  The most important thing I do here is make sure students have appropriate topics as well as strategies to self-monitor.  More to come on specific strategies I use in conferences on a post in the near future.

    On-demand Writing Sample
    Before every unit, I administer an On-demand writing assessment to gather information about strengths and possible goals for each unit of writing.  You can read more about On-demand writing assessments here.  After looking through the writing samples, I score them on a district-provided continuum.  (If you are interested a Lucy Calkins continuum, you can find them on the following links: narrative, informational, opinion)  The continuum is extremely useful for matching students to appropriate goals.  After looking closely at the continuum, I make a decision about the best area of focus for each child.  I track this information by listing students' names in the appropriate section of where I think the focus of conferences should be in order to move them forward.  I use this form for writing strategy groups as well.  However, I almost always meet with them individually first to make sure the groups are compatible.  You can download the form by clicking here or on the picture below.  (If you'd like to use the form digitally, you just need to add text boxes.)

    This form is great for organizing students into categories based on their writing goals.  It helps organize for independent writing conferences as well as writing strategy groups.

    Previous Conference Notes
    I use the app Confer to take my conference notes for writing.  This app is no longer available, but I thought it might be helpful to see the categories I include.  I also take a picture of the student's writing to show a place where we worked on the skill together.  I use the comment section for a variety of notes like where they are in the writing process, possible future goals, and level of enthusiasm.


    If you are looking for a form to track your information, I found a couple of good free ones on TPT here and here.  I believe that conference notes are invaluable when it comes to making decisions about the most appropriate goals for each student.  The notes do not need to be super lengthy, but they should share where the student is at (compliment), the goal, and the current strategy.

    Talk to the Students
    In Carl Anderson's book A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences, he recommends beginning each conference by asking students what they are working on.  If they answer with a skill that you do not feel is an appropriate goal, you can respond by asking, "What else are you working on?"  Allowing students input on the direction to the conference can give the students ownership in their goals.  Hopefully, this will lead to a more productive writing conference.  I am going to try and add this element to my writing conferences next year.  My notes will likely look slightly different after implementing this.  I will share the results with you on a future post.

    I hope to see you back next week for more information about writing conferences.  I will dig deeper into resources and strategies that are designed to move the students forward.

    Contractions: I have, Who has?

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      I can't believe we are already at the end of June! We are out of school, but I still have some teaching favorites to share for you this month.  Here are my favorite things that I have found, read, or created.

      June teaching favorites include a professional book, new decor, digital resources and more!


      Professional Book
      This month I read A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences by Carl Anderson.  This book was easy to read and full of great advice for conducting writing conferences.  The recommended structure for the conference is to discover what the writer is doing, assess & decide what to teach, and then teach powerfully.  The book focuses on patterns to look for, teaching points that build off mastered skills, and providing quality feedback.  The coordinating online videos show lots of examples of the conferences in action.  My next several blog posts will be a series on writing conferences.  This series will be similar to my reading conference series, and I am sure to reference this book often.

      A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences provides lots of information and resources to help you organize, conduct, and track your writiing conferences.


      Conscious Discipline
      At the end of the school year, we had a professional development day devoted to Conscious Discipline.   Being calm and assertive are two key points that were stressed in the workshop.  We also talked about ways to build community, specifically during morning meetings.  One of my favorite take aways is to have a student choose the greeting each day.  I have a daily helper, so my plan is to have them create a handshake for students to use to greet each other.  I will allow about a minute for students to greet each other using the handshake of the day.  I am planning to show students the video below as inspiration.  I like that the handshakes are from NBA teams so students can see how they can help foster community.


      You can check out this site to learn more about Conscious Discipline.


      My New Decor
      For my first three years teaching second grade, I felt like I had every color under the sun in my classroom.  I loved the colorful look, but now I'm ready to change to a simpler color palette.  I going with a palette of turquoise, pink, and lime green.  So far, I only have the numbers cut and laminated, but I love how they look.  Hopefully, that will motivate me to get more done next month, as school will start up again before I know it!  I am using all dots, but there are lots of other options in the student number pack that is in my TPT store.  You can check it out by clicking here or on the picture below.

      Fun classroom numbers in pink, turquoise, and lime green dots


      Going Digital
      I've been working hard on some major updates in my TPT store.  One of my focuses is to create digital versions for my products.  Last week, I posted my first digital product.  I made a set of activities for contractions to use in Google Classroom.  Last year, I was truly amazed by how quickly my second graders mastered using electronic resources.  I definitely plan on making more.  I shared a couple of the slides below.  The activities are differentiated and include a self-correcting quiz on a Google Form. You can see the entire preview by clicking here or on any of the images below.

      Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom

      Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom

      Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom

      Awesome resources for contractions using Google Classroom


      That's all for this month.  I hope you discovered good things in June as well (teaching & otherwise).  I am looking forward to beginning a new series on writing conferences next week.

      Thank you and have a great week!

      Contractions: I have, Who has?

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        I'm back for more on reading conferences.  In my first post of this series, I share some ways to plan and organize for reading conferences by collecting data.  Last week in part two, I wrote about different types of conferences you might have with your students, with the plan of meeting with all students at least once a week.  This week, I'd like to share more about goal setting and tracking.

        This post shares ways to set and track reading goals during independent reading conferences.

        After you and the students have decided on a goal, it is important to have some accountability, both for the student in practicing the goal and the teacher for monitoring the goal.

        Teacher Accountability
        I keep my notes on the iPad.  I know this will not work for everyone.  However, I thought it might be helpful to share a screenshot of the types of notes I take so you can see the categories.  I do think it's important to incorporate compliments in every conference and make the teaching point a skill that will build off of the compliment.


        I usually take a photo and include it to show the notes I left for the student.  You could just as easily jot that on your form.  Here is a sample of a reminder I might leave for the hypothetical student above.

        Write reminders of reading goals on Post-it notes to help students stay accountable.

        I searched for some other quality record keeping ideas.  There is a great free form here.  You can also try keeping notes on labels and sticking them in student folders/sections in your binder.  The Colorful Apple has a post that does a great job explaining this method.  You can read that post here.

        Student Accountability
        One of my biggest takeaways from Jennifer Seravallo's book, A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences is the importance of keeping goals visible.  She shares some great ideas to do this, and I am now inspired to rethink the way I organize my reading folders.  On the left students will keep a half sheet of tag board with the students' current goal and strategies.  On the right side, students will keep their reading log.  If students keep their reading folders with them during independent reading, it will be much easier for me to have a conversation with them about their current goals, and check in with them on their reading logs.  (I used to keep reading logs in data notebooks, and the process for completing them was a bit to cumbersome to consistently maintain.)  My plan is for the folders to look like this.

        Use the reading folder to help with student accountability for tracking their reading goals.  If they have their folders with them during reading workshop, it will help make conferences run smoother and more intentionally.
        (Strategy ideas are from The Reading Strategies Book.  Goal tracking idea is from A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences.)

        The goals will be determined at goal-setting conferences (described here.)  I will certainly do some coaching to make sure students have a goal that is relevant and attainable.  In addition to assessing and conferring, I will use this chart to help decide appropriate goals. 

        This chart is a great place to start when thinking about reading goals for independent reading conferences.

        I plan to start at the top of the hierarchy as much as possible.  Within each goal, I will build on a strength.  For example if a students is reading in longer phrases and stopping appropriately at punctuation, but not reading with expression, the goal would be fluency, and the strategy could be to pay attention to the dialogue in the story.

        This is the final post of the mini-series on reading conferences.  However, I will be sure to check back in at some point during the school year to let you know how the changes I have made are working.  I also have a post planned for August that will share my reorganized conferring binder.  Next week, I will share June Favorites.  This month, I will include resources, tip, and tricks that I have discovered this month and am excited to use next year.

        If you missed the previous posts on reading conferences, you can check them out below.

        Thank you, and have a great week!

        Five Free Graphic Organizers

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