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Writing Wednesdays

Summer has finally arrived! It's so incredibly nice to have some time to work on professional development, play with my son, and read some teacher blogs. I could totally get used to this. 

My friend Lyndsey over at Lit with Lynds is hosting Writing Wednesdays, a linkup that talks about common core strategies for teaching writing. This is part of my district goal, so it's pretty perfectly aligned with my focus for the next year! My main focus this year is going to be expository writing, specifically research writing. Fifth grade can be tough, because the kids are making some pretty heavy leaps in curriculum. They are expected to start to look at the content more analytically, and to pull information from multiple sources in a more refined way. They are building on what they learned up to this point, and using it to create a final, polished research project.  That's no small task for fifth grade students!

To help my kiddos successfully meet this challenge, I have been using PROBE notebooks. The premise is simple- they receive a topic to briefly research, and complete a short report on the topic following a basic template in a composition notebook. They must write a fact page (in their own words), draw a border that is relevant to the topic, include 4 illustrations with captions, and sum it up with a sentence or two stating what they have learned.  The kids love it because it involves coloring and decorating, parents love it because it is a predictable assignment, and I love it because I have the opportunity to work with students on their research and report writing skills regularly. As a bonus, the students have a composition notebook full of their writing and they can reflect on at the end of the year. It is pretty cool to sit with a student at the end of the year and show them their writing progress as we flip through the notebook. It makes their growth really tangible, which really brings them so much pride. It's great evidence for me to use for my evaluations, too!

The PROBE notebook activity bundle is the complete one-stop shop that you need to set up and start using PROBEs in your classroom. The file contains a teacher guide, rubric, completion checklist for students, exemplars, research graphic organizer to prevent plagiarism, a poster for your classroom, a sample schedule, and an editable schedule. Colorful and blackline versions are included.


The research notes is my favorite part, I must admit. My fifth graders struggle to avoid plagiarism. I created this document to help them to understand how to combine sources and put things in their own words. The students first identify the question that they are going to answer with their research. I've identified the topic for them, but they must narrow it down a bit. For instance, I chose "The First Thanksgiving" for a PROBE topic, but the students needed to decide what aspect of the First Thanksgiving they would be writing about. Then, they complete the research. I ask that they read the information FIRST, then turn away from the computer (or book) to take notes. They write down what the big take away was from this site, then go back to the source to add dates, locations, or other info they couldn't remember. Of course, they can use the same source more than once. This ensures that it will be in their own words and note a direct copy from the text. Check out the sample from one of my SPED students! They rocked it. 

You can totally implement PROBE notebooks in your classroom in a million different ways. It can be homework, classwork, enrichment, or core instruction. It's easily adaptable to meet the unique needs of your students, no matter the grade level! 

Don't forget to head over to Lit with Lyns to see the rest of the Writing Wednesday link up.
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