Tips, Tricks, and Routines for Making Your Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge a Success

What makes the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge so special? 

Like all teachers, I try to find the cause-and-effect in every lesson plan. What made an activity go so well one time, but so badly another time?

I haven’t figured it all out, but my conclusion about the Slice of Life is this: the “special sauce” is the kids.

We bring the organization, the incentives, the challenge, and the logistics to the table.

But the kids–

The kids are the ones that bring the energy, the laughter, the community, the joy, the experience of conquering something hard, and the fun to each new year. For one month, my students are transformed into self-proclaimed, published authors.

We, the teachers, call them “authors” every day, but during the month of March, they see themselves as authors.

The Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge is the real deal.

If you’re thinking of jumping in this year with your class, I’ve compiled some tips, tricks, and routines that I hope will be helpful to you.

Preparation

Gather the materials: Collect writer’s notebooks or help the kids set up blogs (or do both and let them choose). There are multiple blog forums out there that are wonderful for students of all ages.

Make a Plan for Record-keeping: Create an organizational system that works for you. I’ve used checklists and folders, but my favorite is just a simple information sheet for each participant.

Define Your Challenge:. We have two levels of participation: kids who write every day in March, and kids who write every school day in March (our Spring Break is in March). It usually works out into groups we nickname the “31ers” and the “22ers.”

Plan the incentives: Don’t underestimate the motivation of a good party! We offer pizza and cake “slices” to our finishers. We also order t-shirts for kids who write all month, courtesy of our PTO.

Set the Rules: With our 5th/6th graders, we expect 10 lines a day per slice. They can write prose or poetry, but nonfiction only, and no “lists” unless they are annotated. There is a fine balance between having structure and requirements and keeping it fun. We want them to write every day, but we also don’t exclude a student for missing one day as long as they make it up. Kids don’t have the same control over their environments and time that adults do, and in my experience extending some grace helps more kids reach the finish line.

Introduction Day

Sharing the Challenge: This day always feels a little like the first day of school to me; I never feel completely confident in how it will go. But, somehow, every single year, the enthusiasm takes over and the kids respond with excitement. They love getting their new writing notebooks for SOLSC and hearing all about the incentives and guidelines. I share slices from previous years and my own blog.

Commitment Card: We have our kids fill out a commitment card that pledges their level of participation. We’ve found that making things concrete helps with follow-through. The card lets them choose whether they want to write every day or just during the days we are in school in March. They also record whether they are going to use a blog or notebook.

Keeping the Momentum Going

Writing Conferences: I try to meet with each Slicer once a week to keep tabs on their progress. I compliment them, look over writing to make sure they aren’t taking any shortcuts, and record everything on the information sheet. At the end of the month, it’s easy to see who has reached their goal.

Wall of Fame: When I look over their notebooks/blogs, I make copies of writing that really stands out. If they’ve used a unique technique or written about something that I think kids could imitate, I post it on our walls with a note about what makes it special.

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Idea Wall: It’s not fancy, but I hang up big pieces of paper outside my room for students to write ideas. I’m not ashamed to admit that some of my SOLSC blog posts have come from our idea wall!

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Guest Bloggers: I will sometimes get a guest to write a single SOLSC post that is then shared with the kids through a blog, hung up, or read in class. They love to hear from principals, counselors, coaches, and teachers.

Teacher Blogs: I have always blogged with my kids, but I’ve also been lucky to work with others who are willing to do the same. We’ve had administrators, learning coaches, and lots of teachers join us. Last year we had 12 staff members participate, and every year it grows. It’s an instant writing community!

Celebrations

Party: We have our party at the end of the day one day in April. We recognize each child with a certificate, take pictures, eat pizza and cake, and let them sign posters that we hang up in the cafeteria.

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Writing and Art Fair: SOLSC has led us to create another tradition at our school: a writing and art fair. Kids are encouraged to submit a piece of writing that they are especially proud of from the year (whether it is a slice or another work). Our PTO parents come and help us hang them up. We also include a piece of art from every student in the school. We serve cookies, and families are encouraged to come browse, read, admire, and leave comments with sticky notes.

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Without exception, the SOLSC challenge is one of the most rewarding parts of my school year. Other than the introduction day, I use minimal class time on the challenge. I encourage the kids to write outside of my class and to find the writing gems hidden in their lives.

However you choose to participate, make it your own and enjoy the process with your students. The lessons and sense of community that you and your students will take away will be worth every moment!

Katy Collins is a classroom teacher from Webb City, Missouri. She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education with an Endorsement in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. She also has an M.A.T. in Elementary Education from the same institution. She has taught for a total of 11 years, including 6 years at the third-grade level and 5 years with sixth-grade students. Currently, she teaches 6th grade Communication Arts and has a 1:1 Chromebook classroom. She is passionate about traveling, reading, and sharing her love of writing with her students. You can follow her on Twitter at @misscollins606 and join her for #SOL17 on her blog.