Thursday, June 4, 2015

Virtual Co-Teaching: Redefining Descriptive and Narrative Writing

This year for the first time I felt like we really HOOKED our 4th grade students during our descriptive writing unit.  How?  We gave our students a fun topic and a VIRTUAL audience. The unit was designed as a virtual co-teaching unit that fosters redefining how we use technology tools in our classrooms to meet the needs of our students.

Unit:  Monster Match (2-3 Weeks)

Virtual Co-teaching tip:  Find a classroom in another building, district, state, or country to connect with via GHO (or Skype) during this unit. We connected with a class in the state of Vermont. You could also connect with the teacher across the hall.

Common Core Academic Standards Addressed in this Unit
4.W.03a - When writing narratives (real or imaginary experiences), orient the reader by introducing characters, or events that naturally unfold.
4.W.03b - Use dialogue and descriptions to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
4.W.05 - With audience and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
4.SL.01 - Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

ISTE Standards
S.2 - Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
T.2 .a - Design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity.
C.3.a - Model effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology rich learning environments.

Additional objectives that may be incorporated into this unit during mini lessons:
  • Order adjectives within sentences according to conventional patterns.
  • Produce complete sentences, recognizing fragments and run-ons.
  • Correctly use frequently confused words (to, too, two, there, their)
  • Use correct capitalization and punctuation.
  • Use commas and quotation marks to mark direct speech and quotations from a text.
  • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting reference materials as needed.
Co-teaching Note:  It is important for both teachers to have great communication.  Use tools like Google Hangout, Skype, shared lesson plan doc in Google Drive, and/or e-mail to connect and plan the instruction.  In my opinion a little bit of planning for this unit will make a HUGE difference when it comes to time management and students' academic success.

Activity #1:  Read I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll

Virtual co-teaching strategy:  One teach and one support
Note:  One teacher is teaching while the other one clarifies and supports the instruction.
Connection: Whole class Via GHO

Begin the unit by connecting via Google Hangout (GHO) to read I Need My Monster.  You could also use Skype if you prefer. Introduce your classrooms. Next, share the video from Storyline Online.  This enables both classrooms to see the video at one time and brings another techy resource into the lesson.  Students seem to enjoy the video more than a teacher reading the book during the Hangout.

Explain the project/unit to students. Build excitement and hook the students.

Activity # 2:  Read Book and Record Descriptions

Virtual co-teaching strategy: Parallel teach
Note: Teachers teach same lesson in perspective classrooms.
Connection: Whole class Via Padlet

Read the book a second time aloud in perspective classrooms.

As you read record the descriptions on an anchor chart or create a Padlet at and use it to post collaboratively with the other classroom.  (Commercial break: Padlet is one of my favorite tools to use when connecting with other classrooms. I love how students from multiple classrooms can collaborate on one document. One teacher can create the document and email the URL to the other teacher.  Share the URL with all students and you are set.  It's a piece of cake.)

Example of a Padlet

Activity #3: Discussion Questions

Virtual Co-teaching strategy:  Team Teach
Note: Similar to tag team.  Each teacher has a planned role for the lesson. One teacher leads a specific section while the other teacher supports.  Teachers swap back and forth roles. 
Connection: Whole class connect via GHO

Teacher A: Read the book a final time. Stop frequently to discuss.

Teacher B:   Discuss how the author uses descriptions in her book to make the story more exciting.  This activity can be done as a collaborative group or as a parallel lesson.

Example group discussion questions for after reading:

1. What is so special about the boy's monster? How do you know? Use details and/or examples from the story to support your answer.
2. What is the author's purpose?
2. How does reading this book help us become better writers?

Activity #4: Graphic Organizer

Virtual co-teaching strategy: Parallel teach
Note: Teachers teach same lesson in perspective classrooms.
Connection:  No connection

Guide students through creating their own monster.  Give students a Monster Description Organizer (What does the monster look like, smell like, taste like, sound like, and feel like?).  Students will brainstorm what their monster will look like, feel like, smell like, sound like, and taste like.

Note:  This is also a great place to insert a mini lesson on adjectives.

Activity #5: Rough Draft
Virtual co-teaching strategy:  Parallel teach
Connection:  No connection

Students will create a rough draft of their monster.

Activity #6: Listening and Revising Activity 
Virtual co-teaching strategy:  One teach and one support
(Note: Teachers should agree upon rules that either teacher can clarify or add to instruction at any time. The supporting teacher looks for ways to improve lesson and interjects when needed. This is extremely important during a virtual lesson.)
Connection: Via GHO

Connect classrooms again via GHO.  Chose a student from classroom A to read their descriptive writing.  All students in classroom B will draw the monster as the student A reads.  Give students a few minutes to quickly draw.  A few students from classroom B will show their drawings.

Discuss what one thing the writer described really well and one thing the writer could describe better. Classrooms switch roles and repeat process.  The purpose for this activity is for students to realize the need for good descriptions and how important the revision stage will be. The better they do on their descriptions the better the other class will be able to draw the monster.

Note:  This would be a perfect place to add a mini lesson on revising writing.

After the connection students will reread their monster descriptions and revise their writing.

Activity #7: Edit and Publish Monster Descriptions

Virtual co-teaching strategy: Parallel teach
Note:  Parallel teach in perspective classrooms
Connection:  No connection

Mini lesson:  Editing writing

Students will edit their writing and publish their writing in their Google Drive.

Activity #8: Monster Draw

 Virtual co-teaching strategy: Parallel teach
Note:  Parallel teach in perspective classrooms
Connection:  No connection

Each student will draw their monster using Google Draw or create their monster on paper.

Activity #9: Partner Draw

Virtual co-teaching strategy: Parallel teach
Note:  Parallel teach in perspective classrooms
Connection: Via Google Drive

This activity works well if  teacher A creates a Google Drive Activity Folder with a folder for each classroom inside the Activity Folder.  The Activity folder is then shared with teacher B. Each teacher adds the files from their students to their class folder which is easily viewed by the other teacher. 

Note:  I like to label individual documents with the child's first name and Monster Description.  This makes it easier for both teachers. Example: Susan Monster Description (Do not use last names.)

Each student from classroom A will be paired with a student in classroom B.  I will call them student A and student B.  Each teacher will share their writing folder with the other teacher who in turn will share the specific files with the appropriate students.

Student A reads the descriptive writing from Student B writing and draws the monster using Google Draw or traditional methods. Student B works the same.

Activity #10: Share/Discuss

Virtual Co-teaching strategy: Team teach
Note:  One teacher leads a specific section while the other teacher supports.  Teachers swap back and forth roles.
Connection: Via Google Drive/Sheets/GHO

After the drawing phase students will share their drawings to see if their monsters look alike. This can be done during a GHO (or Skype) OR by sharing pictures using Google Drive.  Students could create a Google Slide to show their monsters side by side.

Narrative Writing
Activity #11: Narrative Writing Graphic Organizer

Virtual co-teaching strategy:  Team Teach
Connection: Via GHO

Use ideas from Pinterest or other resources to introduce or review Narrative Writing. Reminder: Plan the co-teaching.

Students use the monster from student A and student B as characters for their narrative writing.

Activity #12: Narrative Writing Rough Draft
Virtual co-teaching strategy:  Parallel Teach
Connection: None needed

Teacher models creating a rough draft. Then each student will create a rough draft.

Activity #13:  Narrative Writing Revising and Editing

Virtual co-teaching strategy:  One teach and one support
Connection: Via Google Hangout and Google Drive

Classrooms connect via Google Hangout to discuss the revision and editing stages of narrative writing.  Procedures will be clearly stated. Student A and Student B share their rough draft on Google Drive.  Student A will use the comment section in drive to revise and edit the work of student B.   Student B will do the same thing with the writing created by student A.

Mini lessons may be included during GHO or each teacher may choose to teach a mini lesson within small groups according to student needs: 

Mini lessons on sentence fragments, run-ons, correct capitalization, and frequently confused words 

Activity #14: Narrative Writing Publishing

After the revision, editing and publishing stages students will connect with their partner to share the narrative writing.  

Students will be so excited to read the narrative writing with a character that was created by themselves.

Have fun co-teaching in our virtual world!

Resources we used to form our unit plan: