Creating Scranimals With Second Graders

I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching writing for younger students and how I can make less enthusiastic writers more engaged in the writing process. A big part of me has been so used to working with motivated upper elementary students that I forget how younger writers need time for processing and creating before they can even put pencil to paper.

I came up with this lesson idea for students to create their own creature after reading the fabulous poetry book, “Scranimals” by Jack Pretlutsky. This text is so rich and inspiring for children and adults. It pairs witty rhyming poetry with quirky illustrations of Peter Sis as it describes the behaviors of Scranimals, an imaginary creature made up of an animal and food. Some of the Scranimals my students loved reading about included the Potatoad, a potato and a toad who is lazy and doesn’t want to eat, drink or even think and the Radishark , a shark and radish who wants to consume everything in its sight. It certainly helps that Jack Pretlutsky’s witty lines cause even the most reluctant poetry reader to giggle at that thought of a radishark trying to eat your behind.

I tested this lesson out with Ms. Howland’s 2nd grade classroom. They are such talented writers and are so eager to try new types of writing with me. I really wanted the students to feel like their creatures would come to life and I wanted to allow them to create 3D models of their creatures. Cheap playdough at the dollar store (8 containers for $1!) was the answer to my prayers. For less than $5 I had enough playdough for each child to get their own container and they were instantly hooked on my lesson.


I didn’t want the purpose of the lesson to just be making creatures out of playdough. I wanted to really pull in a teaching point to illustrate a specific writing strategy. I wanted to teach students that writers create characters (human, animal, or imaginary) that have traits we see in ourselves and other people. I wanted students to be able to connect to this lesson for their future writing projects and make text-to-text connections as they read favorite books. As we read each poem about a Scranimal, I asked students to share what they thought this creature liked to do, eat, disliked doing, and even their hidden talents. I really tried to push students to infer and think beyond the text to consider what this creature might be like in real life.

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Working with younger students has taught me that creating structures is really important. I made a “Character Profile” sheet to assist students as they planned out their character. I wanted to give them a tool to help them when they begin writing their own stories and poetry about their creature. I took time to brainstorm possible animal combinations with the students before modeling the character profile sheet. This really helped the students envision what their own character profile sheet would be like therefore easing the process for them to work independently. It also helped having a planning sheet that needed to be completed before they could begin sculpting with their dough.

The students took off writing down ideas and creating their own creatures. They were SO creative and excited about making their own animals. Being able to use words, sketched pictures, and create a 3D model really helped make these creatures come to life. Rarely do I love hearing a noisy and loud writer’s workshop but there is nothing better than hearing excited whispers from students on what they are working on. Students were completely motivated to make a creature that they loved and wanted to make just so. It really made me think back to the Katie Wood Ray presentation I heard in the fall when she said, “Students must have a vision to do their work”. I couldn’t agree more. In this lesson students had total control, choice, and vision for their work. Students who were struggling to have vision were able to use examples from the book and their peers to become inspired. Following this lesson, students will take their creations and profile sheet to write their own poetry and stories about their creatures.

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Heart Maps in 2nd Grade

I had the pleasure to meet 2nd graders in Ms. Howland’s classroom today. What an amazing group of young writers! They were so eager to soak in any information and share how much they knew. Ms. Howland is so lucky to have some remarkable students. Today I chose to introduce Heart Maps to these students as a way to introduce writer’s workshop and gather ideas about writing. I was first introduced to Heart Maps after reading “Awakening The Heart” by Georgia Heard. The notion of having students examine what is truly close to their hearts as a way to generate writing topics is so smart! However not knowing these students I wasn’t exactly sure how to introduce this strategy to them.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around starting writer’s workshop to students I will be working with through Writers In the Schools. Not knowing what has been introduced before and what writing language has been used, has stressed me out. In addition, I recently discovered that I would be working with 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and 4th grade. Clearly 2nd graders being the most terrifying to me. I’ve never worked with students that young before and not knowing what would be appropriate frightened me. I needed a dry run and Ms. Howland’s class was my crash course on 2nd grade!

I recently had come across this remarkable text, “Rocket Writes A Story” by Tad Hills and fell in love with its quaint illustrations but more importantly its clear message about the writing process. I thought this might be a perfect book to read to Ms. Howland’s 2nd graders and start the discussion on what do writers do?


A summary of this great text can be found here

I asked this question before we began reading this book and they had so many unique answers. It’s really clear that they knew that writers spell correctly, have neat handwriting, use pictures, etc. However, I was surprised that they didn’t know about what writers wrote about. I keep forgetting that they are only 7 and haven’t had a chance to write like older kids have. My hope is that after today (and getting to work with them in the future) we can work on getting a chance to write and create real stories. As we read this book I asked the students to be on the look out for what makes Rocket a writer? Keeping their brains on task was quite a challenge but it was clear that their year in 2nd grade has been full of new vocabulary and exposure to how readers and writers operate.

My focus for reading this book was to gather clues about what makes a writer and understanding that sometimes writers get stuck, as Rocket does in the story. I particularly like this page where his teacher, the Little Yellow Bird asks Rocket some simple questions such as, “What do you like to do?” “What have you seen?” “What inspires you?”. These questions would be the basis for our heart maps. Image

We talked about how writers like writing what matters to them and what is close to their hearts. We looked at how Rocket wrote what was important to him, his new friend Owl. On chart paper I drew a large heart and wrote down 4 main ideas that we can use for our heart maps: what you love to do, people/animals you love, what has happened to you, and what inspires you. These ideas would help guide the students as they filled in their heart maps. I filled in my heart map as I talked out loud about what was “close to my heart”.


The students had such enthusiasm as they eagerly asked questions about whether they could put specific things on their heart map. One student’s face lit up when I informed that anything could go on their maps as long as it was really important to them and could be something they could write about. I wanted to make sure that I emphasized what could be used for writing because sometimes students can get carried away with putting down their favorite things. This was a tool that we would be using as writers to help inspire us and write stories.



Even without a template or outline, these awesome 2nd graders got started right away. Thank goodness Ms. Howland was there to remind them about making their shapes large enough to fill the page. Clearly I’m used to the older darlings who make everything double the size it should be!


I was so impressed how students used word walls and the prompts from the anchor chart to help them fill in their maps. One student was very clever to write “shooting arrows” and I asked him a little bit about his heart map. He said that he likes to shoot arrows but not to worry because they have plastic caps. I asked him if there something that has happened when he’s shot arrows before and if he thought he could write a story about that. He nodded quickly as he added more to his heart map about rocks.


When modeling this tool, I tried to show students that they could use pictures and words to make their heart maps. Some students didn’t want to waste any space with illustrations, how ever some students took time to create detailed images to represent what they love. Later after students have completed their maps, they can take time to use color and really make their maps come alive.


I can’t wait to see their finished maps and ways we can use it during their writing workshop! A huge thanks to Ms. Howland for letting me crash her classroom for a morning! Wahoo Wa! 🙂