Archives for posts with tag: middle school writing

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/.

 

 Bored Students 000019214693XSmall

  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 piqued 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/.

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