Free Planning Page for Teaching Beginning Writing!

I work a lot on writing with my students. There are many great graphic organizers and writing programs out there, but here is a planning page that I have found really works. I call it the “Stars and Bars Planning Page.” They are actually more like bullets or dashes, but “stars” rhymes with “bars,” and rhyming is a memory aid. (Thanks to my boss for sharing this idea!)

Download:   Stars and Bars Free Planning Page

Stars and Bars Free Planning Page-1

The reason I like this planning page is because it can be used on any piece of paper. Once the students know the format, they can make their own stars and bars, and fill in the planner. Here are a few important rules:

  • The planning page is for ideas, not sentences.
  • Limit ideas to five words or less.
  • Students start with the topic sentence and work their way down.
  • Students put a check mark on the planning page after they use an idea and have written the sentence.

The sample below is from the writing prompt: We just had our winter break. Write a paragraph in which you describe your break. Be sure to include a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion.

Below is a sample planning page and then first draft paragraph.

Stars and Bars Sample














Writing Sample

Here are some common mistakes I see students make as I work with them:

  • Students try to write out sentences on their planning page; that is why I limit the ideas to five words or less. This is where they plan!
  • Students omit the topic sentence and go straight for the big ideas. I frequently emphasize the importance of introducing the topic–this is also the reason I make students start at the top of the planning page.
  • Students write all their big ideas into one long sentence. This is why we work through each sentence one at a time, and check off each idea on our planning page after we use it.
  • Students write about something totally different then what is on their planning page. Again, making the students put a check by each part of the planning page helps.

Students need a lot of guidance, and for the teacher/parent to work through the process with them. The more they practice, the better they get!

Finally, once students are familiar with the planning page, they can just draw the stars and bars on any sheet of paper, and plan for writing.

Simplified planning page:

Stars and Bars Simplified







Stars and Bars Basic









I hope this helps! I will discuss editing and revising in a separate post. 

Freebie: Using Transition Words in Writing

Here is a fun freebie for you to download! Transition Words

I have had really good results in using the life cycle of a butterfly (I do a follow-up lesson with the life cycle of a frog) in teaching the use transition words in writing. The simplicity of the lesson really helps students understand how to use transition words.

Here is basically how I teach the lesson:

First, we review the worksheet and discuss transition words. Next, we read a simple nonfiction book about the life cycle. Then, we use a graphic organizer to list the topic, key ideas, supporting details, and conclusion. Finally, we write the paragraph. I have students introduce each new stage with a transition word. I guide them through the process. I hope this helps!

Transition Words-1


Free St. Patrick’s Day Worksheet!

Here is a fun worksheet for you to download!

I am always thinking of ideas for teaching writing, and this worksheet lends itself well to teaching writing a paragraph. Students can write a topic sentence about catching a leprechaun, and then add three supporting sentences (from the list they make), and then a close.

Download here: St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day-1


Test Taking Strategies for Reading and Writing

gif_Education-031-bwState testing has arrived. Students have worked hard all year, and now it’s time for them to show what they know!

Students will be expected to:

  • Answer multiple choice questions
  • Write short constructed responses to reading
  • Write a paragraph(s) (younger students)
  • Write an extended piece (older students)
  • Edit

The tests vary slightly from state to state, but general test-taking principles apply across the board. Ideally, these skills should be taught all year long. Still, it is always good idea to do a refresher of test taking tips and strategies with your students/children before they test:

  • Read all the answers before you mark one. Often all of the answers have some relationship to the text.  Pick the one that is most related to the text.
  • Look back at the passage to locate answers. Think about where in the passage the answer might be found and read that part.
  • When writing, make sure you write to the prompt and use the language of the prompt in your paragraph or essay.
  • Make a plan to keep the writing organized. Include a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Be sure to include interesting details.
  • Reread your writing prompt to check for capitalization, punctuation, and any errors.

Keep in mind, state testing is only once a year, and offers just a “snap shot” of students’ capabilities.

These test taking strategies and skills are good for all year long. They may seem a little obvious, but I see students make these type of mistakes (e.g. not reading all the choices, etc.) all the time! I hope this helps.

Writing Sentences Using Dolch Nouns

I have created a new unit on writing sentences that is on my teacher store (price $4.50).

I love this unit because it covers more than one skill. Dr. Dolch compiled the most commonly used nouns in children’s literature, and that is what I have based my unit on. Students read and write using a new noun with each worksheet. As there are 95 nouns, I have created 95 worksheets–enough for an entire school year!

Writing is a skill, and it needs to be practiced regularly. There is a big difference between dictating a good sentence, and actually writing one. These sheets focus on writing sentences, and then editing them. It is a simple concept, but if students practice writing on a regular basis, they will really start to improve and be more conscientious of the process. This should also help students when it comes to the short constructed response portion on state testing–an area where students often fall short.

Hop on over to my store if you are interested!

Sentence Unit on Teachers Notebook

Sentence Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers

Sentence 1 The Grass-1


Free Thanksgiving Concept Map!

I love the month of November, Thanksgiving, and all the fun activities and crafts you can do surrounding the holiday.

Here is a fun, free concept map I created to help with writing about the meaning of Thanksgiving. Students then use these maps to help write a paragraph about the topic. I recommend reading a story about Thanksgiving and brainstorming as a class first.

Concept maps are an especially good tool for visual learners. I hope this helps!

Download here: Thanksgiving concept map freebie

Thanksgiving concept map freebie-1



Teaching Writing and a Freebie!

One of my favorite subjects to teach is writing. If you show an enthusiasm for writing, and pick interesting topics, students really begin to enjoy writing as well.

Each morning, all year, I started my class with a writing prompt. I taught a range of abilities that included non-readers to readers, ages 6-9.

Here are the steps and how I did it:

  • I used my overhead (then my smartboard projector once I got one) and wrote the beginning prompt at the top of the screen. For example: My favorite summer activity is
  • I put a line under the prompt, and then one by one, I called on students and wrote their answers under the line. The students copied the prompt and their answer. I would alternate colored markers so the students would copy the correct answer. I would also use the actual whiteboard if I needed more space.
  • Eventually, the students began to write more on their own. I would always do the first sentence for them on the overhead, and then depending on their grade and ability, they had to add one to three more sentences themselves.

It was a slow process, but the students really got the hang of it. I also realized an added bonus–the kids got really good at copying from the whiteboard to their paper! This helped with other subjects as well.

I would always have fun lined paper with a border on it on the desks for the kids when they entered the class in the morning, as well as the overhead turned on.

This was more of a teaching process than free journaling–I love that too, but I wanted to actually teach how to write sentences–it was a guided process.

More and more, state testing is about the short constructed response, and students often do poorly on this; writing daily makes kids comfortable with the process (starting with a capital, ending with an end mark, a complete thought, practicing printing and spacing, etc.).

If your class is too big to work with each student daily, then alternate groups, or have a volunteer work with a small group.

Here is how I started each Monday: This weekend I

Try this on Mondays, and please let me know how it works!

Download: Weekend News

Weekend News-1