Slice of Life: The Power of OLWs in the Classroom

I could feel it the minute I picked them up off the yard. They were alert, relaxed and ready. With their energy and thanks to Margaret Simon and Tara Smith’s great lessons, I felt more confident starting off Monday with a new idea: helping 5th graders choose a one little word.

First, invited them to consider this question from Janet Ilko’s slide share:

If you could replace your name with one word that would be the best you you could be this year, what would you choose?

I shared a short list of possible words to get their minds going.

They sat and studied. Quietly, they circled words jotted ideas, and moved thoughtfully towards their OLW — adventurefocus, change, soar, artist, aim, determined, challenge, believe to name a few.

Then students looked up their chosen word on

Oh so many meanings.

“Do we have to use them all?”

“Mine has 27 meanings!”

“Wow! 27!” 

I approached “P” who chose change. I was pretty sure she wanted the definition that meant to transform. But she was shaking her head.

“The one I want isn’t here.”

I looked and asked her to consider number 3. In addition to the definition was the word used in context:

The witch changed the prince into a frog.

“No that’s not what I mean. The meaning I want isn’t here. I want the meaning that means I’m gonna get better at something, you know change for the better.” 

A big aha for her and me.  The example showed a bad thing as a result of change. That was not what she wanted. Sometimes what we think will clarify will confuse

Another student was searching for believe. He was on the thesaurus page. I asked, what are you looking for? Perhaps a synonym I thought.

“I’m looking for the syllables.”

Another aha for him and me. He learned how a word is syllabicated in the definition and I learned what he wanted to know, not what I thought.

After 20 minutes of discovery, most students had decided on their OLW, found the definition, and written some thoughts.

“A” sitting quietly by himself had written two words: adventure and focus. I saw this and laughed inside.  Was he lost in an adventure, but knew he needed to focus? I’ll have to ask him today.

We finished up our first stab at OLWs, and started read aloud, the beautiful and sad beginning of The One and Only Ivan. After a few pages, I stopped and asked students to pick one little word that describes Ivan right now. Lonely, patient, strong, misunderstood and other words started to shape Ivan. Some words were from the text, others were a synthesis of what they felt described him.  Perhaps we will collect Ivan’s one little words as we progress through the story, showing his growth and our growing understanding of Ivan.

Can’t wait to find out where our adventures will take us as we focus on quotes and pictures for our OLWs. I hope “A” finds his.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers Blog, to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, for this space 11454297503_e27946e4ff_hto share the small moments that construct and constrain our lives. Read more slices here.


13 thoughts on “Slice of Life: The Power of OLWs in the Classroom

  1. I love how well you know your students, Julieanne! We picked OLWs in October and reflected on them (or picked new ones) last week. I love how insightful & wise sixth graders are. The words they picked are thoughtful and meaningful! Connecting it with your read aloud is a great idea too! Thank you!

  2. What a wonderful way to take inspiration for this community and then make it your own, sharing your adventure here with us. Keep the reflections coming Julieanne.

  3. I discussed OLW with a bunch of classes this week, Julieanne, and the kids get so engaged with their decision-making. I love it. Love how you continued your OLW study with your read-aloud, too.

  4. What powerful lessons for life you are teaching! This will be a year your students remember. I hope you will update us on the journey of your students’ OLW. So sorry I didn’t get to call when we were there, but I will next time we are back.

  5. I enjoyed reading about the ways in which your students thoughtfully considered the meanings of different words. I guess when you are choosing a word to associate with your identity, you are motivated to pay close attention to the definitions and connotations. What a great teaching move to apply it to Ivan’s character as well. I hope you keep sharing! I am so inspired by lessons like these.

  6. I love reading about your time with the students. It sounds as if they are so very serious about choosing just the right word. I had students choose quotes to guide them this rest of the year, and they’ll share what and why soon.

  7. Wonderful to read other classes that have chosen OLWs. My high school students chose theirs this week! It was a great lesson!

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