Close Reading

What is close reading?

Close reading is a strategy which requires students to read and revisit short, complex passages. Its purpose is to help students uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.

 

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has endorsed close reading as a teaching strategy to help young readers “stay in the text” to determine the meaning of words, to examine key phrases, and to identify important statements.

 

 

What are the basic steps for conducting a close reading session?

 

The four basic steps for conducting a close reading session are:

1. Read a short passage – using a pencil to mark words, phrases and sentences.

2. Share notations with others.

3. Reread with a purpose.

4. Respond to a discussion-worthy, text-dependent question.

 


Do close reading passages have to be short?

 

Yes. Short pieces allow students to digest and analyze challenging passages in a single class period.

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Should background information be provided before conducting a close reading activity?

 

No. When students read a passage for the first time, they should approach it with a sense of discovery by formulating questions and making observations. As students self-select interesting words, phrases, and sentences from the text, they learn how to uncover meanings of unfamiliar words, determine an author’s tone, and identify key points independently.

 


Why are students required to read the same passage multiple times?

Students read once to get the gist of the short text. During the first reading, students mark the text or make notes in the margins.

Before asking students to reread the text, the teacher gives students a purpose for reading in order to take them more deeply into the text. This strategy helps students to process information which is intended to change perceptions or build knowledge.

The final look into the text requires students to show what they know by finding information that will be shared or recorded.


Do the architects of the Common Core State Standards provide a framework for conducting a close reading?


No. Close reading strategies vary depending on text complexity, grade level, and learning objectives.

However, close reading always involves three things: rereading, annotating, and finding text-dependent evidence.

 

How does close reading support the Common Core State Standards?

Students activate nine of the reading standards during a close reading activity.

Standards one through three require students to read text in order to identify central ideas and supporting details.

Standards four through six ask students to examine how the passage was written to help establish a reading/writing connection.

And standards seven through nine invite students to compare, contrast, and assimilate new knowledge.

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Are there close reading “cheat sheets” available?

Yes. You can download a set of close reading reference cards here:

Close Reading at a Glance Reference Cards

Close Reading at a Glance Reference Cards

Download “Close Reading at a Glance” reference cards at  http://elaseminars.com/images/CLOSE-READING-AT-A-GLANCE.pdf

For more information about close reading, visit http://bit.ly/1jn06uD and http://bit.ly/1fdAi3m

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Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

 

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About me (Janice Malone): I’m a teacher, an in-service provider, and the owner of ELA Seminars. For more information, visit www.ELAseminars.com.

 

Share Point: Okay, now here’s a quick survey question for you:

Do you think close reading strategies hurt or help the quest to nurture lifelong readers?

Type HELP or HURT in the comment section below.

 

Students Writing

Students who consistently earn advanced proficient writing scores have one thing in common: They know how to add the kind of details to their stories that satisfy readers.

Fortunately, most of the techniques they use are easy to teach.

Here are eight elaboration strategies I share with students to help them add effective details to narrative pieces:

#1 Add action verbs.
Action verbs—such as gripped, slumped, trudged, glared, and perched—bring boring sentences to life. Too often, young writers are content using weaker versions of these verbs (i.e. held, sat, walked, looked, and stood). Find practice prompts (with standards included) that require students to use strong verbs here.

#2 Use transitions.
Transitional words—such as because, eventually, when, before, and after—belong in all writing genres. They are signposts designed to guide readers into a deeper understanding of the text. Download a list of narrative transitions here.

#3 Add unexpected numbers.
Precise numbers—such as 10:03 PM, 96 degrees, or 81mph—add authenticity to writings. Readers expect an event to start at 8:00 or to learn that a driver is speeding or to be told it’s hot outside—so surprise them by using very specific numbers that will pop off the page and pull them into the scene instead. Find practice prompts (with standards included) that require students to use specific times here.

#4 Include proper nouns.
Names and places—such as Dexter Sweeny, Tiffany Chappelle, Rockville Middle School, and Piccadilly Drive—conjure up images in readers’ minds. Keep readers engaged by teasing them with names and places that will make them curious enough to want to confirm or negate their “first impressions” (e.g. Is Dexter Sweeny rich and spoiled or geeky and intelligent?). Download a sample lesson here. Read the full blog post on the power of proper nouns here.

#5 Use repetition for effect.
Repetition of single words—such as No light. No sound. No movement.—adds rhythm, emphasis, and drama to narratives. Once in a while it’s fun to take control of readers’ emotions before revealing a conflict, a motive, or a consequence. Repeating words or phrases (usually in sets of three) is an effective way to build suspense just before revealing something significant. Find examples here.

#6 Include thought shots.
Thought shots—thoughts that reveal fears, plans, reactions, worries, and joys—allow readers to understand the things that influence characters’ decisions. Find 50 free practice prompts (with standards included) that require students to create thought shots here.

#7 Use emphatic word fragments.
An emphatic word fragment—such as “Regrets. We all have them.”—is a rule-breaking strategy used by many contemporary writers. The use of a single word (usually a noun) followed by a period, forces readers to pay attention to all the sentences that support it. Learn more about emphatic words and phrases here.

#8 Include texture words.
Texture words—such as icy, gritty, varnished, damp, and slippery—are among the most frequently overlooked descriptive words. Think about it. Most writers include sights and sounds. Many add familiar scents and comfort foods. But textures? They are often the forgotten members of the five-senses family. Get a list of 400 texture words here. 

Additional elaboration techniques—such as (1) Creating Believable Protagonists and Antagonists, (2) Designing Novel-Worthy Character Names, (3) Developing Irresistible Personalities, (4) Using Nouns and Verb Combos to Develop Writing Fluency and (5) Turning Broad Adjectives into Active Verb Phrases—are available here.

Visual-Writers-Notebook

Share Point: Now, here’s a question for you: What is one easy writing strategy your students use to add interest to their narrative writings?

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. Visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, or check out the 100’s of free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.


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    LET’S BE HONEST  

Do your students hate prewriting?

Do you they throw a few words on top of their papers and call it a “Prewrite” just to make you happy?

Do your students think that the prewriting stage of the writing process is a waste of their precious time?

If these issues sound painfully familiar, the solution might be a lot easier than you think.

THE PROBLEM

Conflict iStock_000016470694XSmall

After trying everything I could think of to convince my students about the “Power of the Prewrite,” I realized that the message I was really giving them was that “getting ready to write” was a tedious, boring, unnecessary component of the writing process.

After all, what could possibly be interesting or valuable about a piece of writing that no one (except me) would ever see?

Fortunately, that problem was resolved on the day I made one of the best professional purchases of my career. The day I walked out of a CVS with Tiger Beat, Seventeen, and Yikes! instead of People, Reader’s Digest and Real Simple.

ENLIGHTENMENT AT CVS

While searching for a few magazines that would entertain me at the beach, my eyes landed on the teen and tween magazine section. As I scanned some of the cover stories and flipped through the pages of some of the publications, I found exactly the kind of writing I had been hoping to see in my students’ pieces.

It was then that it dawned on me that I was guilty of using all the tired catch phrases to get them to improve their writing skills. You know the ones:

Show, don’t tell.
Be specific, not vague.
Seeing is believing.

In short, I was trying to reach budding writers with the types of clichés I wanted them to avoid.

I’ll show you exactly what I mean.

As I perused the headlines, it became clear that most of them fell into one of three categories:

#1: TOP 10 LISTS for narrative and informational pieces

  • 10 Signs You’re Addicted to Breakfast Foods
  • Weird Ways He Tries to Impress You
  • Ten Tricks That’ll Boost Your Confidence Instantly

#2: PRO TIPS for expository and informational pieces

  • Get Fit: Couch to 5K in 15 Minutes a Day
  • How to Tell Him You Want to Be More Than Friends: Secrets Revealed
  • How Bullies Made Me Stronger: Jennifer Lawrence Spills All about Dealing with Mean Girls

#3: WHAT’S HOT, WHAT’S NOT REPORTS for opinion, research, persuasive and argument pieces

  • Back-to-School Finds and Fails
  • What’s Hot Now: The Trend Report
  • Should You Get a Tattoo?

Are you kidding me? These headlines were written to get consumers (your students) to flip to each article where the subtitles (prewrite subtopics) were typed in bold-faced, brightly-colored print – often with attention-grabbing fonts. It was obvious that the sales of these magazines were contingent upon baiting potential buyers with snappy headlines then reeling them in with engaging subtitles.

Here is a specific example from Seventeen:

HEADLINE: The Weird Ways He Tries to Impress You
COLORFUL, MULTI-FONT SUBTITLE SAMPLES: (1) Faking a British Accent, (2) Throwing a Grey’s Anatomy Party, (3) Joining Pinterest, (4) Pumping Up at the Gym, and (5) Binging on Veggies
TEXT: Each subtitle was followed by a true-life story of a guy who successfully impressed a girl using one of those techniques.

Really?

Was there ever a time in my life when I would have fallen for such a ridiculous and obvious ploy to get me to read a mindless, useless article?

The truth was that I was falling for it at that very moment.

I didn’t even care about what teens were doing to impress other teens, but I just had to know how weird these flirting techniques were and maybe even discover something about the girls who eventually agreed to date the guys whose crazy antics were featured in this article.

AUTHENTIC CONNECTIONS

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I decided that if I found these magazine-selling strategies irresistible, my students definitely would – so I used the teen-and-tween magazines to (once again) try to convince them that prewriting can be their most powerful writing tool.

And guess what? This time I didn’t even have to try.

I was meeting them on their turf, and they were begging to learn more about each one of the articles I used to demonstrate my points. It simply could not have been easier.

And just when I thought the lesson couldn’t have been more successful, one student shared an observation about the school-to-workplace connection – without any formal mini-lesson to help students reach a deeper understanding of the lesson.

So I used that observation as a springboard to brainstorm the marketing strategies that were used to sell the magazines.

Here’s what the class came up with (along with my parenthetical connections):

  1. Capture readers’ attention with an irresistible headline (Begin with a great story title).
  2. Entertain people with unexpected subtitles (Create hooks).
  3. Make potential buyers want to read to get more details (Draft a piece).
  4. Sell customers the magazine (Get an A+ or get published).

Did the students understand my “seeing is believing” reference after this lesson?

You bet they did.

THE SOLUTION

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So here is my new and improved method for getting kids excited about the prewriting portion of the writing process:

Step #1: Have students generate Top 10 Lists, Pro Tip Sheets, and What’s Hot, What’s Not Reports for various writing genres (e.g. opinion pieces, research reports, expository essays, etc.) several weeks (or days) before assigning a formal writing piece. That way, their prewrites will already be finished!

Step #2: Tell students to circle 3 of their favorite Top 10, Pro Tip, or Hot/Not entries.

Step #3: Display the format for whatever genre is being taught or reviewed.

Step #4: Explain that 2 or 3 of the circled prewrite entries will become topic sentences for supporting paragraphs.

Step #5: Require students to begin rough drafts based on the circled entries on their prewrite sheets.

RESOURCES

helpful tips

Here are some resources to get you started:

1. Download these free templates: (1) Pro Tip Sheet, (2) What’s Hot, What’s Not Report, and (3) Top 10 List HERE.

2. Have students Google Search any topic this way:

“______________ Tips from the Pros” (e.g.  BBQ Tips from the Pros),  and ask them to record their favorite findings on the Pro Tip Sheet.

3. Check out completed Hot/Not writing samples at ProCon.org to see side by side comparative reports (e.g. Video Games and Violence), and have students generate similar reports using the What’s Hot, What’s Not Report.

4. Have each student select a topic of interest and generate a “favorites” list (e.g. Movies, Books, Music Videos, etc.), using the Top 10 Template, and ask students to “pair share” their lists.

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

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A collection of 50 + Top 10, multi-purpose lists for Writers’ Notebooks is also available HERE.

You can find more tips on my 50 Five-Minute Teaching Tips Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/

Click this link to have teacher-requested tips and lessons delivered to your inbox:  http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin/ea?v=001_Sihum3TrbPEDe4tqrPgPA%3D%3D

Do you have a favorite prewriting strategy? Please share!

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, and check out the 100’s of free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.

                                                                                                          

Did I miss anything important?

The Question Teachers Dread

One of the most frustrating questions I receive as a teacher comes from well-meaning students who want to make up assignments that they’ve missed.

You know the question. It’s a classic: Did I miss anything important?

Without fail, this single line sends my maturity level packing as every sophomoric retort I can formulate between the-time-the-question-is-asked and the-time-my-reply-is-executed moves in.

Apparently, I am not alone.

The Answers Teachers Think But Don’t Say

When I Googled responses to the did-I-miss-anything question, I found that a lot of teachers have felt the sting of it, too, and were more than happy to share some of their unspoken responses.

Here are three of my favorites:

1. “Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here we sat with our hands folded on our desks in silence, for the full two hours.” from Did I Miss Anything? (Poem by Tom Wayman)

2. “No. We were so depressed by your absence that we didn’t have the energy to carry on.” from But I Didn’t Miss Anything, Did I? (YouTube xtranormal video by Amanda Lynch Morris)  

3. “No, I noticed you were absent so I assigned the class coloring sheets instead.” from someecards (E-card , writer unknown)

To add insult to injury, returning students either ask this question just before class begins, or they send an e-mail, requesting a brief-but-thorough recap of everything they’d ever want to know about the day’s events. Either way their message is clear: They don’t want an answer that will require more than three minutes of their time.

 The While You Were Out Filing System to the Rescue
VIEW VIDEO

While You Were Out

Fortunately, the While You Were Out filing system that has saved me from having to choke back my defensive responses – or blurting out my favorite Google finds. So now if I hear the did-I-miss-anything question, I smile politely and tell students to find the folder marked with the day(s) they were absent and simply follow the guidelines for submission.

The benefits for me and for my students are noteworthy:

(1) Students assume full responsibility for making up missing assignments.

(2) Students who do ask about making up missed work get a quick and friendly response from me – which they appreciate.

(3) And best of all, my emotional stability remains intact.

How to Create a While You Were Out  Filing System

Here is what you will need to put together your own While You Were Out filing system:

Materials:
Five black file folders (The cheapest ones I found were on Amazon.)
Five folder labels and a While You Were Out sign (free at my TpT store)
One glue stick
One heavy, plastic shoe box

Directions:
Attach the While You Were Out sign to a heavy plastic shoe box.
Glue the days-of-the-week labels to black file folders.
Drop the folders into the labeled box.

Now, whenever you give classwork, homework, or long-term assignments to your class, all you have to do is remember to insert the extra papers into the folder marked with the day you presented each assignment. Add a new submit by date to the top of any assignment that will have a different submission date for students who missed your class.

How to Request Materials

Let me know if you’d like more resources like this one by leaving a comment on this blog or by leaving a comment under the rating stars on the Teachers pay Teachers site. You can also have teacher-requested tips delivered to your inbox by clicking: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin/ea?v=001_Sihum3TrbPEDe4tqrPgPA%3D%3D

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, and check out the 100’s of free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.

 

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  Engagement Strategy

It was the last period of the day when I entered the writing lab, and to say that the thirty-two sophomores slumped in desks and computer chairs looked bored would be an understatement.  Images of Salvador Dali’s soft watch paintings drifted through my mind as I scanned the room.

The writing teacher began class with a set of call backs:

Teacher: How do we create characters?
Students: We use proper nouns.
Teacher: How do we create settings?
Students: We use proper nouns

These sing-song call backs continued – using the same two questions and answers – for about five minutes (It felt like five hours.).  Then the students were told to pass their homework assignments to the front of the class.

The teacher shuffled the papers and read each one, stopping occasionally to call on random students to make comments or to ask questions.

You must be saying to yourself, “What’s so spectacular about this lesson? Nothing has impressed me so far.”

 Data-Driven Practices

What made this lesson so remarkable was the quality of the writing. The first opening line was Mick Savage sprinted to the entrance of the Centennial Middle School, but the door was already locked.   Immediately, my curiosity was peaked and I began to formulate questions: Why was Mick sprinting? Was he late for school…again?  Was he going to a dance but arrived just minutes after administrators had locked the doors?  Maybe he was a starter for the basketball team and would soon be banging desperately on the door because the game was about to begin.  Perhaps he was just hoping to grab the door as it was closing so he didn’t have to wait to be buzzed in.

As each paper was read, I noted that the characters were interesting, the plots were believable, and the conflicts were riveting.  When the bell rang, I couldn’t wait to ask the teacher what his secret was for getting such impressive narratives from such a disaffected group.

He told me, “A number of studies have shown that it takes 20 repetitions to transfer information into short-term memory and 40 repetitions to transfer information into long-term memory. I share this information with my students so that they understand the purpose of the call backs. Then, I randomly select students to respond to the writings in order to get students to think like state judges – the ones who will be scoring their drafts at the end of the year.  Students catch on quickly with this method, but it’s not until they see their own writings (and grades) improve, that they’re really convinced.”

If I didn’t hear the writings myself, I would have never believed this strategy could have produced such extraordinary results.

Here is an introductory lesson that will get students started writing thought-provoking and action-packed stories.

Lesson Idea

Funny curious nerd man
Cosmo Finklebean

Step 1: Ask students to brainstorm colorful character names and places from text and film like J.K. Rowling’s Draco Malfoy/Slytherin or Suzanne Collins’ Effie Trinket/District 12.

Here is a link to a five-minute, teaching writing podcast that explains how to help students design colorful characters: http://janiceannemalone.podbean.com/2011/11/27/creating-unforgettable-characters/

Step 2: Tell students to select one name and one setting from these lists (These words will become springboards for their narratives.), and have them write for ten minutes.

Names
Tiffany Hollister
Preston Fletcher
Miranda Leech
Beau Bradstone
Frank Nicoelleti                                                                                                                 

Settings
Seneca High School
Guenther’s Auto Repair
Bobby’s Bar and Grill
Winchester Mansion
Second Avenue

Here are two notebook pages featuring  Cosmo Finklebean and Latisha Wright from San Deigo Junior High in a paired writing activity:

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Step 3: Have volunteers share their stories, stopping from time to time to ask random students to recall parts of the story they found most memorable.

Note: If you absolutely hate the prewriting part of writing, here’s the secret for blowing right past it and diving straight into the drafting part: just make up great character names, drop them into believable settings, and the story will practically write itself! Throw in an unexpected time (8:23 instead of 8:00) along with any color at all and no judge (even a hard-to-please one) will ever know.

Add callback sessions along with random critiquing to this exercise, and see if you experience similar results.

Try Me Lesson

Here is a free lesson and interactive handout that you can use several times during the year when teaching writing to help students understand the importance of using specific rather than general words in their writings: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Snapshot-Lesson.

Try Me

There are also 50 free lessons (along with teacher directions, student directions and  Common Core State Standards) available at http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/prompts-photos/

When students master the art of using proper nouns to enliven their writings, consider checking out my favorite narrative unit of all time entitled, “Make Your Characters Jump Off the Page.”  You can watch the introduction to this unit in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7DLZRCK310 .

Narrative Unit

Layout 1 (Page 1)http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Make-Your-Characters-Jump-Off-the-Page

Share Point

Now, here’s a question for you: What is one easy writing strategy that you use to spice up your own writing or one strategy your students use to add interest to their writings?

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, and check out over 100 free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.

You tell yourself, “This year will be different.”

You have a high-interest, data-driven teaching strategy in place.

You…

…hand out your favorite list of subordinate conjunctions.
…plan a great mini-lesson on independent and dependent clauses.
…provide stimulating practice sessions until your students can write award-worthy sentences on demand.

“This group of students will include masterful complex sentences in future assignments effortlessly,” you convince yourself.
“This group of students will achieve more advanced-proficient writing scores than any students I’ve ever taught.”

You then sit down with a cup of coffee and slide the paper clip off the stack of Period 1 writing assignments, eager to read pieces that will confirm that your hard work has paid off. Instead, you find paper after paper littered with fragments!

Arrgh!  Where did you go wrong?

The answer – more often than not – is that you are giving students too many choices. That’s right. Too many choices.

Luckily, the remedy for this is simple: just limit student choices and skill mastery will follow.

The fact is, teaching students to use complex sentences fluently can be easy.  All you have to do is try a technique I call Sharpening the SAW for two weeks and when the next set of assignments roll in, you will get the results you deserve…guaranteed.

Sharpening the SAW

Step 1 (Monday)
Select one of the following SAW (Since – Although – When) story starters and to write for 10 minutes.

  • Since I was the last one to see Carlo before he disappeared, I knew the police would have to question me.
  • Although everything about Lily Devereaux seemed normal, she was actually the farthest thing from it.
  • When I noticed Max Savage heading to the hardware store again, I knew exactly what I had to do.

Step 2 (Tuesday – Friday)
Click on the 50 Story Starters: Simplifying Complex Sentences picture link:

Have students select a photograph with an opening line that intrigues them and write for 10 minutes. Each of the openings for each picture begins with Since, Although or When. For instance, the opening line for the featured picture showcased above is: “When he opened the tiny letter postmarked December 18, 2025,________ finally understood the meaning of his recurring dream.” This exercise will be repeated for four days.

Step 3 (Monday – Tuesday)
Provide students with choices of three dependent clauses and have each student add an independent clause to one of them. Then get everyone to write for 10 minutes, using one newly-crafted complex sentence.

Monday choices:
Since Mr. Hackney is the toughest teacher in our school,________.
Although I am generally not a fan of reality TV, _______________.
When the school board voted to adopt a four-day school week,_______.

Tuesday choices:
S
ince today is my birthday,______________________________.
Although I promised never to disclose Tom’s secret , __________.
When I found out that I had won the lottery, ________________.

Step 4 (Wednesday)
Click on the Living Punctuation picture link and download four free lessons and a set of punctuation cards:

Students will “perform” the sentences they designed on Monday and Tuesday, using the punctuation poster cards.

Step 5 (Thursday – Friday)
Students design as many original complex sentences – beginning with Since, Although and When – as possible within a 10 minute time frame. When time is called, each class member will select one to share. As each sentence is shared, the reader will say the word COMMA out loud when it appears in the sentence.  Have everyone share one original complex sentence in this manner. At the end of the exercise, explain that Since, Although and When are subordinate conjunctions used to introduce dependent clauses. These dependent clauses will be followed by commas. Be sure to remind students that there must be a complete sentence (an independent clause) after the comma.

Note: Here is the trick that will make grading the next set of essays or narratives more satisfying. First, have students write SAW (Since – Although – When) at the top of their sloppy copies to remind them to include complex sentences in all writing assignments. Next, have students highlight one or more complex sentence(s) on their final drafts. Then, continue to require at least one highlighted, complex sentence in future assignments in order to ensure skill mastery.

When can you expect to see magical changes in your students’ writings?

Right away.

But the best part is that next time you close your eyes, wave your hand over a stack of Period 1 papers, and whisper, “Fragments be gone,” they will be.

If you would like more lessons on Simplifying Complex Sentences, check out the PowerPoint in my TPT store:

Fill-in-the-Blanks Share Point: The acronym or mnemonic device that helps my students remember important concepts is______________. It stands for__________________.

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, go here www.ELAseminars.com.

I don’t remember many English rules from my early years in school (who does?), but I do remember that I wasn’t allowed to put any periods on my paper until I was absolutely certain I had included a noun and a verb in every sentence.

When I landed in middle school, I discovered that the elementary school teachers had been withholding the “you understood” exception to that rule. So from that moment on, I sheepishly included single verbs in all my assignments, punctuated them with periods, and prayed that readers (especially adult readers) would try to correct my “mistakes” so I could share my superior knowledge with them.

I also remember spending hours crafting descriptive paragraphs about people and places in order to put my advanced vocabulary (which was actually my obsession with the thesaurus) on display.

Surprisingly, nobody ever expressed admiration for my knowledge of punctuation rules or for my stellar use of multisyllabic adjectives.

And now, it seems, it is too late.

Today, many rules have become negotiable. So many, that it is risky to challenge one without being labeled a “dinosaur.”

But for those willing to toss out Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition Handbook, here are two writing techniques that might be worth adding to your writer’s toolbox:

USE EMPHATIC WORDS AND PHRASES   

Emphatic words and phrases are regularly used in contemporary literature. These artful fragments add melodrama to narrative writing.

Mini-Lesson: Post the examples below, tell students to select one to use in a free write, and listen to the results.

Examples       

Lies.

No response.

Gone. Skipped out. Didn’t leave a note.

Slow-moving fans. Wooden tables. Wicker chairs.

No light. No sound. No movement.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      .Note: NOTE: Emphatic words and phrases are the “bad boys” of the literary world. They deliberately break rules and defiantly draw attention to themselves. That’s what makes them so irresistible.     

BE A NAME DROPPER

Brand-name proper nouns instantly conjure up sensory connections for readers. Instead of having to work to make audiences inhale, observe and salivate, writers can simply drop one into a writing piece and voila…c’est manifique! It’s almost too easy.

Mini-Lesson: Post the following brand names, ask students to incorporate one into a piece of writing, and ask them to share.

Examples                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Cheetos

Alka-Seltzer

Olive Garden

Sunoco

Forever 21

NOTE: Invoking brand-name nouns may feel like cheating on a test or trespassing on private property. But since those nouns are always hanging around – begging to be exploited – take advantage of them guilt-free.

So there you have it: Two ways to grab the attention of readers that would never have received the approval of John E. Warriner in 1969.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, go here www.ELAseminars.com.

Share Point:

Okay, now here are two questions for you:

1.What unconventional writing techniques have you tried that have improved your own or your students’ writings?  and/or  2. What are your biggest pet peeves when you are reading professional writings or grading student writings?

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

I know. It sounds devious to write a “How To” piece designed to equip young writers with tools that play mind games with their readers. So I am going to backpedal a bit and call this a “Readers Beware” piece instead. Either way you look at it, it’s always fun to explore the impact of words.

 1. Regrettably

The job of this drama queen is to convince an audience that you are emotionally involved with your topic or story. Direct this empathy-builder to enter on cue whenever you feel the desire to connect more deeply with your readers. After all, who can resist the sight of a spontaneous tear rolling down a cheek or the disquieting sound of mournful sigh?

 2. For Instance

As the sophisticated alternative to its generic counterpart “for example,” this transitional phrase is comfortable just about anywhere. While she is capable of confidently introducing a sentence, she is equally comfortable quietly slipping into the middle of  (or resting at the end of)  one. This versatile transition phrase is your own personal lady-in-waiting.

 3. Fortunately

Before you even share your valuable insights, understand that this word choice promises to flood readers with a sunny perspective. And they expect you to deliver. So make sure that you pack a ton of “feel good” information into the sentences that follow it so you can maintain the trust of your audience.

 4. Perhaps

Welcome this reader-friendly word into your writings as if you were bringing an old friend into your home. This likable fellow is happiest when it is given the chance to air its opinions as well as its musings. As an open-minded companion, he has perfected the simple art of conversation.

5. Ultimately

Put this prizefighter in your closing paragraph and it will fight for you. The moment this word is read or uttered it will either empower readers to take a firm stand on an issue or it will elevate you (the writer) to a position of authority. Either way, this transition packs a powerful punch.

 

Note: Don’t be fooled. Transitions are manipulative companions who are obsessed with controlling readers’ minds and actions. Use them intelligently.

Janice Malone  www.ELAseminars.com.

 Share Point: Now, here’s a question for you: What is your pet transition or transition phrase, and what is its special power? (Click on the comment icon at the top of this post.)

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

I’m hoping to connect with fellow English Language Arts teachers and bloggers who are looking to share high-interest, low-prep writing exercises that engage middle and secondary students.

Janice Malone

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