Archives for posts with tag: teaching 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/.


SNEAKY MANiStock_000000280311XSmall

    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

???????????????????????????????????????????????

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

HiRes

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

cover

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/.

 

 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:

???????????????????????????????                                               ???????????????????????????????

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/.

%d bloggers like this: