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Here's an example of the kinds of work students contributed to the stuck box.

Here’s an example of the kinds of work students contributed to the stuck box.

My Stuck Bucket (I wrote about it earlier this week in the Daily Discomfort) is a self-made scaffold.  Everyone needs a strategy for getting unstuck, and that’s what a scaffold is, really, just a hand up, a means of moving further up the writing road. Here are the types of things I put in my stuck bucket.

  • The list of potential topics I made before I started blogging, all cut up, so I can pull out one at a time. Some of the things on the list have already made their way onto the blog, so I’m not putting those in.
  • Ticket stubs from events I’ve enjoyed with loved ones.
  • I love buying old photos at antique stores.  I like it even better if the antique store is really cluttered and junky.  That’s where you find the best stuff.
  • Maps from trips we’ve taken.
  • A candy wrapper I found when I went to get the mail.
  • Notes people have written me. (Write me a note and I’ll put it in my Stuck Bucket.)

When I was in the classroom, I put many scaffolds in place for student journaling.  For the first two or three weeks of school, students worked to put resources in their journals.  These included brainstorming activities about people in their lives, places, important objects, and animals.  The brainstorming was written in (or glued into) the journals, and students were free to pull from those tools anytime they had nothing to write about in journals.  Since I asked students to write for five minutes every day about the topic of their choice, this scaffold helped minimize the number of I-Don’t-Know-What-To-Write abouters.

Although I didn’t call it a Stuck Bucket, I also had a big box in the front of my room that we added artifacts to every couple of weeks. It contained many of the same types of items I’ve put in my own stuck bucket. If I went somewhere interesting over the weekend, I brought an artifact and showed it to the class, speaking about it briefly before putting it in the box. The students sometimes asked to add artifacts, and they were welcomed.

In addition, we added artifacts related to the language skills my students needed. For example, when I noticed my students didn’t know parts of speech, we read Ruth Heller’s beautifully illustrated series on parts of speech.  Students would then write their own interesting adjective, adverb, noun, prepositional phrase, etc. on three by five cards and decorate them. Those cards then became a part of our collection of artifacts.  Even though they had resources right in the front of their journals, I was able to use the big box as a means of encouraging students to transfer discreet language skills to their own writing.   It also gave my wigglers a chance to get up and stretch their legs while finding something to write about.

behind the mask

 I’ve spoken to many teachers about giving students the opportunity to write about whatever they want, and most of the time, the teacher’s response is, “My students would never be able to do that.”

To that I say, Poppycock!  Yes, they can! Just give them the scaffolds they need, and be patient.  You’ll be surprised at the interesting, important, and unique ways they view the world.  This daily five minutes will enrich your student’s lives.  Write with them, and it will enrich your own.

Here are some mentor texts you could use to develop student journal artifacts:

  • Parts of Speech: Ruth Heller’s Parts of Speech books.
  • Alliteration:  Animalia by Graham Base
  • Onomatopoeia: Batman Videos from YouTube
  • Personification: The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt
  • Conjunctions:  Just Me and 6,000 Rats, by Rick Walton
  • Hyperbole:  You Don’t Always Get What You Hope For by Rick Walton
  • Antonyms: Straight and Curvy, Meek and Nervy by Brian P. Cleary
  • Homonyms and Homophones: How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear?  By Brian P. Cleary
  • Similes and Metaphors:  Skin Like Milk, Hair of Silk By Brian P. Cleary

You Don't Always Get What you Hope For (2) I taught sixth grade, but if you teach a higher grade, don’t let that stop you from reading these great children’s books if you see they will quickly demonstrate a language skill that you notice students need to develop more fully.  It’s a painless way to reinforce the learning and the students will love it.