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Writing Style

Although teachers exert considerable effort in showing students the differences between the narrative and essay genre, the both stories and essays do share some common writing rules. Among these are the accepted rules of writing style. Different than grammar, usage, or mechanics rules, the accepted rules of writing style help student writers avoid the pitfalls and excesses of formulaic, padded, and contrived writing.

Additionally, using proper writing style helps students improve coherence and readability. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Writing Center has an excellent article on writing style.

I’ve developed eight writing style posters to teach students the key elements to effective writing style. Written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, teachers and some precocious students will appreciate the humor and all students will learn what not to write in their stories and essays. Teach these rules of writing style and cringe less as you grade that next set of papers.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Purchase Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

 

Get the Writing Style Posters FREE Resource:

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How to Grade Writing

How can we effectively assess student writing? Should we grade upon effort, completion, standards, achievement, or improvement? Is our primary task to respond or to grade?

Here’s my take. We should grade based upon how well students have met our instructional objectives. Because each writer is at a different place, we begin at that place and evaluate the degree to which the student has learned and applied that learning, in terms of effort and achievement. But, our primary task is informed response based upon effective assessment. That’s how to grade writing.

For example, here may be an effective procedure for a writing task as it winds its way through the Writing Process: Read more…

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Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers.

Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well. Make sure to pass along this article to one of your favorite colleagues or your department.

Writer-Teacher Mini-Conference Procedures

  • Not every student needs to be seen every day. Use a Status of the Class chart to plan conferences in advance.
  • Walk the room to complete your planned mini-conferences and supervise student behavior. Briefly eavesdrop on any peer conferences as you circulate.
  • Make students responsible for completing the Status of the Class. Students can certainly x-off the box below their names on the Status of the Class chart after they complete their mini-conference. Some teachers use pocket charts labeled with the stages of the writing process (brainstorming, pre-writing, drafting, peer response, revision, editing, publishing) and students are responsible for placing name cards in the pocket that matches the stage where they are working that day.
  • Keep mini-conferences brief. More frequent conferences tend to work better than less frequent conferences, so shorter conference times mean that the teacher will be able to meet with students more often.
  • Establish a focus for your mini-conferences. Traditional Writer’s Workshop devotees favor a student-centered inquiry approach, asking thought-provoking questions such as What are you working on? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How do you think your writing is going? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How can I help? These are all fine, but I tend to be more directive, so I announce to the class at the beginning of Writer’s Workshop “I will be focusing my conferences on _________ today, so be prepared to discuss this focus and share a writing sample that reflects this focus in our conference.” The daily focus could be any step of the writing process or any of the 6 Traits of Writing. Often, I tie the focus of the mini-conference into the focus of a recent mini-lesson to get more bang for my teaching and coaching bucks.
  • Establish a system of accountability for your conferences. Let students know that you have high expectations of them. I award participation points for my mini-conferences.
  • Allot some of your mini-conference time each day for students to ask you questions and get your coaching feedback on issues of their own writing. During this time, I sit at my desk and students line up with their writing in hand. Tell your students that only three students can be in line at one time for a student-teacher writing conference. You want students to spend most of their time writing, not waiting in line. Sometimes having writing down the students’ names on the board or a “take a number” system is a good way to manage a conference order and keep the students on-task.
  • Some Writer’s Workshop teachers do not write on student papers; I do. To be efficient (and train students for higher education), I teach students the common editing marks. Download my set of Writing Posters (which include these editing marks), if you wish. I do suggest marking only a few mechanics (punctuation and capitalization) and spelling issues per visit.
  • Verbally explain any content, structure, or grammatical problems. If there are such errors, mark a ain front of the sentence and send the student back to revise.
  • Differentiate instruction. If the focus of your mini-conferences is using speaker tags and quotation marks in dialogue, and a dozen of your students need help, invite the group up to your whiteboard to teach these skills or assign targeted worksheets to be completed individually. Oftentimes, a class mini-lesson will not do the trick for every student, so group or individualized instruction certainly makes sense.
  • Use your school’s computer lab to complete mini-conferences. Computers are ideal for the social context of writing and work well with Writer’s Workshop mini-conferences. Have students submit their online for you and their peers to discuss. Submission options are numerous: Google Docs®, Turnitin®, Moodle Docs®, Viper®, Screencast®, a school network dropbox, or e-mail.
  1. Teachers can respond to their students’ writing during mini-conferences with text, hyperlinks, or audio files by using the comment bubbles feature of Microsoft Word®. For accountability, teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes.” Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors!
  2. For those teachers interested in saving time and doing a more thorough job of essay response and grading, check out the The Pennington Manual of StyleThis style manual serves as a wonderful writer’s reference guide with all of the writing tips from the author’s comprehensive essay writing curriculum:  Teaching Essay Strategies. The style manual also includes a download of the 438 writing, grammar, mechanics, and spelling comments teachers use most often in essay response and grading. Placed in the Autocorrects function of Microsoft Word® 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 (XP, Vista,  Windows 7, 8, and 10), teachers can access each comment with a simple mouse click to insert into online student essays or print/e-mail for paper submissions. Each comment identifies the error or writing issue, defines terms, and gives examples so that student writers are empowered to correct/revise on their own. This approach to essay comments produces significantly more accountability and transfer to subsequent writing. Inserting a comment on the student’s word document like the one in the example is simple. Just type an alphanumeric code, such as M1, and the comment magically appears!

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

The first, Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets (perfect for mini-lessons) corresponding to the Common Core Writing Standards, the e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64 sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

The second, Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs, help students learn the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

 

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Differentiating Instruction in Writer’s Workshop

In Writer’s Workshop, students are provided a structured time to write in the social context of the classroom, with the expertise of their teacher as a “guide on the side.” In most Writer’s Workshops, students select their own writing projects and work at their own pace. Typically, a one-hour workshop would include some of these components: a mini-lesson on a writing skill, a brief “status of the class” check-in and goal-setting time, writing time with peer conferences and/or mini-conferences with the teacher, and time for published work or work in progress to be publically presented to the whole class.

Critics of Writer’s Workshop often complain that Writer’s Workshop can be inefficient and/or a class management nightmare. Some teachers have tried Writer’s Workshop, but have given up because the workshop is interest-based, not standards-based or because it is student-centered, not teacher-centered.

Neither of those criticisms concerns me greatly. However, I do feel that the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop is not as conducive to differentiated instruction as it could be. Tweaking one of the above four components does makes sense to me.

The Mini-Lesson

The traditional approach to the Writer’s Workshop mini-lesson is summarized as follows:

The secret to giving effective mini-lessons is asking yourself this question: “What single problem am I trying to help these writers solve?” The best way to do this is simply to take note of the specific problems your students are having, and to ask them from time to time what they would like help with. You don’t have to turn your whole class over to the students, but from time to time, maybe every few weeks or so, ask your students to give some thought to the difficulties they’ve been having, and what kind of help they want next. Then base your lessons on that information. A good rule of thumb for deciding on when to give a particular lesson is this: if more than a third of your class really needs to know about something in order to make progress, it’s time for a mini-lesson.

from “Welcome to Writer’s Workshop” by Steve Peha

The problem with this approach is that it begs a few questions:

Is there a single problem that all of the writers need to solve? Apparently not, if the “more than a third” criteria is followed. By this standard, the mini-lesson would be given to one-half to one-third of the students from whom the problem is not an issue.

Do the student writers really know “what they would like help with” and “what kind of help they want next”? Isn’t this more like the blind leading the blind? Students truly don’t know what they don’t know.

My suggestion is that mini-lessons should be differentiated according to the needs of all students and that the teacher has the expertise to best determine those needs. But, what data should teachers depend upon to plan differentiated instruction?

Advocates of the traditional approach to Writer’s Workshop favor this implicit approach:

In Writer’s Workshop, teachers don’t test their students on every new concept presented. They don’t have to. If the mini-lessons are delivered in a thoughtful and entertaining way that addresses legitimate student needs, and students are given encouragement and ample writing time to try out the new things they’ve learned, the concepts will begin to show up in their writing, which is exactly where we should be looking for them.

from “Welcome to Writer’s Workshop” by Steve Peha

Several problems arise when teachers rely too heavily on implicit formative writing assessments. First of all, this approach is highly inefficient. It may take many writing samples before a teacher can accurately deduce the discreet writing issues a student writer may have. Secondly, writers use their strengths, not weaknesses, so writing samples may not even present the information that a teacher needs to address relative weaknesses. Thirdly, even with “encouragement and ample writing time to try out the new things they’ve learned” the concepts may not ever show up in a student’s writing, if the student never learned the skill from the mini-lesson. Wouldn’t it make more sense to assess students on the discreet writing skills, design mini-lessons or assign targeted worksheets, then determine whether a particular skill has been mastered or requires re-teaching?

On a personal note, I use Writer’s Workshop three days a week with my seventh-graders. Over time, I learned to adjust my writing instruction to what students were and were not learning. Many mini-lessons turned into multiple-day lessons as I re-taught and struggled to find ways to get my students to learn what seemed so easy for me to teach. I learned the value of quick, informal formative writing assessments. Writer’s Workshop and differentiated instruction need not be mutually exclusive teaching designs.

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

The first, Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets (perfect for mini-lessons) corresponding to the Common Core Writing Standards, the e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64 sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

The second, Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

 

 

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How to Write a Summary

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Learning how to write a summary is a valuable skill. Learning how to teach what is and what is not a summary may be even more valuable. A summary is the one writing application that focuses equally on what should be included and what should not be included.

Definition: A summary condenses (shortens) an expository text to its main ideas and major details.

A summary is not…

  • A re-tell of a story. There are no main ideas in the narrative genre. The structure of a narrative work is completely different than that of an expository work.
  • An abstract. A research abstract has a different structure and purpose than say an essay.
  • A review. A review is designed to report on the good and the bad. Its purpose is to opine.
  • An analysis. Summaries list and explain, but do not analyze.

A summary is…

  • Usually no more than one-third of the expository text length and is often much less. The length depends upon the text itself and the purpose of the summary.
  • A useful, brief version that faithfully reflects the main idea(s) and major details of the expository text. Yes, there can be more than one main idea in a summary.
  • Designed to inform or explain such that the readers will be able to decide whether they need or want to read the full expository text.
  • Used to check the readers’ comprehension of an expository text.
  • Used to reinforce the main ideas and major details of an expository text.
  • A stand-alone application. It can be understood on its own and is not dependent upon the expository work from which it is developed.
  • Flexible enough to condense all manner of expository text: definition, analysis, description, persuasion, classification, comparison, and more, and is found in textbooks, encyclopedias, scientific books/journals, atlases, directions, guides, biographies, newspapers, essays, manuals, directions, and more.

Prerequisite Skills to Scaffold

Don’ts

  • Don’t include what is not in the expository text. A summary should be like an umbrella, designed to cover the subject and nothing beyond the subject.
  • Don’t comment on, analyze, or offer opinion.
  • Don’t compare to another subject beyond the information provided in the expository text.
  • Don’t write in first or second person.
  • Don’t ask questions.
  • Don’t use bullets or any form of outline. A summary is not simply a list of ideas.
  • Don’t refer to the summary itself. For example, “This summary is about…”

Dos

  • Maintain a consistent author’s voice that is clear, concise, yet impersonal.
  • Write in third person.
  • Include passive voice, if needed to emphasize objectivity.
  • Mimic the organizational pattern of the expository work. If cause-effect, chronological, reasons-based, reflect that presentation in your summary. Structure often communicates meaning.
  • Write in your own words, but when the original author’s words are the most concise presentation of the main ideas or details you should quote and properly cite.
  • Use sentence variety. An effective summary is never boring.
  • Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

    Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

    Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

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How to Teach Helping Verbs

English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns.

“Now wait a minute (I can hear some of you thinking). Some writing necessitates using helping verbs to precisely communicate.” Quite true. Helping verbs can be useful to the writer. There… I just used two (“can be”). Feel any better? However, in most instances helping verbs tend to weaken writing, so students who master strategies to eliminate these “writing crutches” learn to write with greater precision and purpose. This article will help your students learn when to use helping verbs. Students will also learn when not to use them and how not to use them.

When to Use Helping  Verbs

1. Use these helping verbs: will and shall* before the base form of the verb to indicate the future tense. The future verb tense is used for an action or state of being that will definitely (according to plan) take place in the future. For the future verb tense, add a helping verb in front of the base verb form.

Example: Mr. Thomas will go to the meeting tomorrow.

* In American English, the helping verb shall is becoming archaic. Originally, shall was used for first person pronouns and will for second and third person pronouns. Example: I shall go, but you and he will remain. Additionally, shall implies a necessity, while will indicates an intention.

The helping verb will can been combined with has or have + the present participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs) to form the future perfect verb tense in which the verb form refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future.

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

2. Use these helping verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been (the “to-be-verbs”*) when the progressive form of the verb is necessary.

-The past progressive describes an action that took place over a period of time in the past.

Example: Amanda was entertaining her guests when her grandmother arrived.

-The present progressive describes an ongoing action happening or existing now.

Example: She is walking faster than her friend.

-The future progressive describes an ongoing action that will take place over a period of time in the future.

Example: Amanda will be taking reservations over the holidays.

* The “to-be” verbs can also serve as linking verbs in predicate adjectives such as in “She is nice” and in predicate nominatives such as in “I am he.” See How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs for helping teaching strategies.

3. Use these helping verbs: may, might, must, ought to, used to, need to, should, can, could, and would (the “modals”) before the main verb to modify that verb by in order to communicate respect, politeness, permission, possibility, necessity, a command, or state an opinion.

Example: I should know better by now, but I just might ask her anyway.

4. Use these helping verbs: do, does, and did to form negatives with the main verb.

Example: I said do not go in there alone.

-Also use do, does, and did to form interrogatives. Notice how these helping verbs can be separated from the main verb when used in questions.

Example: Did you go in there alone?

-Also use do, does, and did to show emphasis.

Examples: Did you break that? Do visit your grandmother.

-Also use do, does, and did to avoid repeating verbs.

Example: I enjoyed our visit and so did he.

5. Use these helping verbs: has, have, and had to form the perfect verb tenses.

-The past perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that was completed before a specific time in the past. The past perfect is formed with had + the past participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: Cecil and Rae had finished their study by the time that the teacher passed out the test study guide.

-Another form of the past perfect verb tense is the past perfect progressive. The past perfect progressive describes a past action that was interrupted by another past event. It is formed with had been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: My dad had been driving for two hours in the snowstorm when the Highway Patrol put up the “Chains Required” sign.

-The present perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being happening or existing before the present. The present perfect is formed with has or have + the past participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: He has already started his science project.

-Another form of the present perfect verb tense is the present perfect progressive. The present perfect progressive describes the length of time an action has been in progress up to the present time. It is formed with have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students have been writing for over an hour.

-The future perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future. The future perfect is formed with a helping verb such as the modals: cancouldmaymightmustshallshouldwill, and wouldhas or have + the present participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

-Another form of the future perfect verb tense is the future perfect progressive. The future perfect progressive describes the length of time an action will be in progress up to a specific time in the future. It is formed with will have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students will have been playing the same video game for two hours by the time their friends arrive.

When Not to Use Helping  Verbs

1. Don’t use helping verbs when an ongoing action is not meant. An ongoing action is the progressive form of the verb.

Example: Don’t say “I am watching cartoons every day.” “I watch cartoons every day” is correct.

2. Don’t use helping verbs when an action does not indicate some event that takes place before another action. An action that indicates that some event takes place before another action is the function of the perfect tense.

Example: Don’t say “I have watched the five cartoon shows today.” “I watched five cartoon shows today” is correct.

3. Don’t use helping verbs when the passive voice is not necessary.

Example: Don’t say “Canned foods were collected by me to feed the hungry.” “I collected canned foods to feed the hungry” is correct.

4. Don’t use helping verbs when a more specific verb form can make an action less vague.

Example: Don’t say “That point guard is good.” “That point guard dribbles, passes, and shoots well” is more specific.

5. Don’t use an unnecessary helping verb when an active, “show-me” verb will communicate the same thought in a more concise manner.

Example: Don’t say “John never does clean the house.” “John never cleans the house” is better.

Problem-Solving Strategies to Eliminate Helping Verbs

1. Substitute-Sometimes the writer can think of a stronger verb to directly replace a helping verb. For example, instead of “That apple pie sure is good,” substitute the “to-be” verb is with tastes as in “That apple pie sure tastes good.”

2. Rearrange-Start the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate helping verbs. For example, instead of “I could see the monster was creeping down the dark tunnel,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel I saw the monster creep.”

3. Change another word in the sentence into a verb-For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip and did serve as its illustrator,” change the common noun creator to the verb created and illustrator to illustrated as in “Charles Schulz created and illustrated the Peanuts cartoon strip.”

4. Combine sentences-Look at the sentences before and after the one with the “to-be” verb to see if one of them can combine with the “to-be” verb sentence and so eliminate the “to-be” verb. For example, instead of “You should complete your math homework. You must have studied for the math test. Then you can go outside to play,” a writer could revise as “Complete your math homework, study for the math test, and then go outside to play.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the Helping Verbs

1. Post a list of the helping verbs and the problem-solving strategies/examples listed above for student reference.

2. Share and practice the strategies one at a time.

3. Use teacher think-alouds to model the revision process, using the selected strategy on student writing samples. Demonstrate flexible problem-solving and don’t be afraid to show how you can’t always think of a solution to revise helping verbs.

4. Next, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with student writing samples. Ask students to volunteer their revision solutions.

5. Then, require students to revise student writing samples with helping verb individually. Correct whole class and praise the variety of effective revisions.

6. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples.

Teaching the strategies to eliminate unnecessary helping verbs and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “crutches” in their own writing. The results of your instruction? More precise and purposeful student writing with active, “show me” verbs.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

 

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Free Essay Strategies Resources

In my first year of teaching, I assigned a group of eighth grade students what I thought was a rather straight-forward assignment: a five paragraph essay on the causes of the Civil War. I had brilliantly lectured on the three chief causes of the war and so had high expectations that my students would be able to both regurgitate my content and then analyze with a modicum of creative thought. I even was kind enough to jot down this brief organizational structure on the board: Paragraphs: #1 Introduction #2 First Cause #3 Second Cause #4 Third Cause #5 Conclusion. Stop laughing.

The results were not as I expected. Most students came up with five paragraphs. Well, at least they were indented. The introductory paragraph largely consisted of either “In this essay I’m going to talk about the chief causes of the Civil War” or “Once upon a time there was a great Civil War.” The body paragraphs briefly summarized their notes on what I had said. The concluding paragraph largely consisted of “In this essay I talked about the chief causes of the Civil War.” The structure was relatively easy to master, but there was no analysis. The students had no clue about what to put into an introduction and a conclusion. I confess I had no clue either. I could “do them” (at least my college professors seemed to think so), but I certainly could not “teach them.”

Many intermediate, middle, and high school teachers fall into the same trap. Our content papers, on-demand writing fluencies, and standardized tests push us to teach the various domains (genres) of essays as end-products. We wind up teaching these structures, but fail to scaffold the essay strategies that enable students to write coherently with originality and authentic voices. Let’s spend more time on the process, rather than on the product, with respect to essay instruction and practice. It’s hard and sometimes tedious work for students and teacher, but the pay-off is worth the effort.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

How to Teach Essay Strategies

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Coaching writing, especially essay strategies, is a lot like coaching football. Ask any football coach what wins football games and you are likely to get practice as the answer. Football coaches live for the conditioning, the blocking sled, the tackle practice, and the omnipresent videotape. Perhaps we ELA teachers should take a page from our coaches’ playbooks and be a bit more process-centered. Now, I’m not talking about the writing process; I’m talking about teaching the essay strategies that will prepare students for the big game.

The Difference between Facts and Claims

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This article discusses the important differences between a fact and a claim. Plus, learn how knowing the differences should affect your teaching the argumentative essay.

Using Evidence in Writing

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Teaching students to use appropriate evidence in argumentative essays is a difficult task. Students generally understand how to use textual evidence in direct and indirect quotations, but are less adept at creating reasons apart from the text itself. Teach your students the eight types of essay evidence with the memorable FE SCALE CC strategies.

Why Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense

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Good teachers know that students need detailed, prescriptive, and personal comments on their essays throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Check out a common sense approach to save you grading time and do a better job of writer response.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

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Many teachers take pride in red-inking student essays: the more ink the better. Some “grade” essays without comments by using holistic or analytical rubrics, but do not mark papers. For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Work smarter, not harder, while focusing on efficiency and outcomes.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

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Good teachers learn to work smarter not harder. We also learn how to prioritize our time, especially in terms of managing the paper load. Most of us would agree that we need to focus more of our time on planning and teaching, rather than on correcting. Here’s one resource to help you save time grading essays, while doing a better job providing essay response.

438 Essay e-Comments

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The Pennington Manual of Style, sold as a separate product and also as part of the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program, enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

The Parts of an Essay

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We confuse students about the parts of an essay by the labels we use. The problem is compounded by the fact that students are exposed to many different teachers, each with a different knowledge base, a different set of teaching experiences, and a different language of instruction. One solution is to eliminate the labels and substitute a simple numerical code.

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

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So, to summarize how many essay comments and what kind, writing research would suggest the following: Comment on rough drafts, not final drafts. Limit the amount of comments and individualize those to the needs of the student writer. Balance the types of comments between writing errors and issues of style, argument, structure, and evidence. Hold students accountable for each mark or comment. Comments are better than diacritical marks alone. Comments should explain what is wrong or explain the writing issue.

How to Write an Introduction

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Few teachers know how to teach essay introductions. Simply stating a “hook” or a “lead” and then stating the thesis make a rather weak introductory paragraph. The article shares the best strategies to include in an essay introduction in a memorable and easy-to-understand format.

How to Write a Conclusion

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Few teachers know how to teach essay conclusions. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing make a rather weak conclusion. The article shares the best strategies to include in a conclusion in a memorable and easy-to-understand format.

How to Write Body Paragraphs

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Writing good body paragraphs is more than using proper paragraph structure. That structure should also provide the evidence to develop the points of the essay. A variety of evidence is necessary to convince the reader of your thesis. This article teaches how to write effective body paragraphs with eight different types of evidence.

How to Use Numerical Values to Write Essays

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Many developing writers get lost in the jargon of writing instruction. Simplify the terms and anyone can write a well-structured multi-paragraph essay. Using an intuitive numerical system, this easy-to-understand and teach system of essay development will quickly take writers from complete sentences to the five-paragraph essay and beyond. It just makes sense.

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

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Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses. Here’s how to write truly effective essay comments.

How to Write a Summary

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Learning how to write a summary is a valuable skill. California even includes the summary as a writing application on its CST writing exam. Learning how to teach what is andwhat is not a summary may be even more valuable. A summary is the one writing application that focuses equally on what should be included and what should not be included.

How to Teach Transitions

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Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science. However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing styles.

How to Teach Thesis Statements

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The most important part of the multi-paragraph essay is a well-worded thesis statement. The thesis statement should state the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proved. Learn how to teach the thesis statement and get three thesis statement worksheets to help your students practice.

How to Teach Proofreading Strategies

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Writers make errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of quotes, paragraphs, usage, and word choice for a variety of reasons. Effective proofreading strategies can help writers find and make corrections to improve their writing.

How to Teach Students to Write in Complete Sentences

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Developing writers often have problems writing in complete sentences. Three teaching techniques will help your students write coherent and complete sentences.

How to Write Complex Sentences

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Writers can increase the maturity of their writing by learning how to convert simple sentences into complex sentences. The article uses easy-to-understand language and clear examples to help developing writers.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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Teaching Essay Strategiesis the comprehensive writing curriculum, designed to teach your students how to write coherent multi-paragraph essays. Students progress at their own pace through 42 sequential essay strategy worksheets and  skill lessons (including writing style, parallelism, coherency, unity, and writing evidence) to compose 8 complete essays in the different essay genres. Also get 64 sentence revision (sentence combining and grammatical sentence patterns) and 64 rhetorical stance“opener” lessons, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, remedial writing worksheets, writing posters, holistic and analytical rubrics, graphic organizers, The Pennington Manual of Style with insertable e-comments, and extensive editing resources. No other writing program matches the comprehensive resources of this curriculum. Truly individualize  instruction with the resources found in this large three-ring binder. 

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies



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Free Writing Style Resources

Writing style is an umbrella term which includes writing rules and conventions, the voice or personality of the writer, how the writer interacts with his or her audience, what the author says, his or her purpose for writing, and how the author says what is said (including form, word choice, grammar, and sentence structure). Writing style also includes the personal agenda and collective experience of the writer. Writing style is all about the writer and his or her choices.

English-language arts teachers tend to argue about whether writing style is caught or taught. In my mind it’s both. Exposure to and recognition of unique writing styles through wide reading of a variety of prose and poetry provides a context for developing writers to experiment with their own voices. Teaching accepted writing rules, practicing sentence combining, requiring different grammatical sentence structures, etc. all impact what and how students write.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Writing Style

How to Improve Writing Style

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Writing style is personal, but also follows a traditional, widely agreed-to form. Indeed, good writing style does have objective rules to follow. Here are the key rules of writing style, written with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek examples. This article lists 24 writing style rules in a truly memorable way.

How to Improve Writing Unity

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Writing unity refers to how well sentences and paragraphs stay focused on the topic sentences and thesis statement. From the reader’s point of view, writing unity means that there are no irrelevant (off the point) details and that the tone of the writing remains consistent. This article gives good and bad examples of writing unity and provides strategies to improve your writing.

How to Improve Writing Parallelism

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Writing parallelism refers to the repeated pattern of words and grammatical structures. Parallel structures assist the comprehension of the reader and provide a memorable rhythm to the writing. Improve your writing style and readability by incorporating parallelism in your writing.

How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers

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To improve writing style and increase readability, learn how to vary sentence structures. Starting sentences with different grammatical sentence openers is the easiest way to add sentence variety. This article lists, explains, and provides clear examples for grammatical sentence openers.

Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

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Music creates the passion, commitment, and authentic voice that we want to see in our students’ writing. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters.

How to Develop Voice in Student Writing

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For students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. Here are 13 teaching tips to help students find their own voices.

Teaching Essay Style: 15 Tricks of the Trade

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“Never start a sentence with But.” Countless middle school and high school English-language arts teachers cringe when their students faithfully repeat this elementary school dictum. “Never use I in your five-paragraph essay.” Now university professors similarly cringe and shake their heads at the straight-jacketed rules placed upon their students. However, maybe there is a method to our madness. Perhaps these writing absolutes serve a useful purpose for developing writers. Perhaps the little white lies that we teach our students are actually our tricks of the trade.

How to Teach Rhetorical Stance

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Students need to practice the elements of rhetorical stance to improve their writing. This article provides clear definitions and a great sample lesson with useful links to learn how to teach voice, audience, purpose, and form to your students.

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

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Writing coherency refers to how well sentences and paragraphs are organized into an understandable whole. Good writing coherency is reader-centered. From the reader’s point of view, the train of thought must be connected, easy to follow, and make sense.

How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs in Writing

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Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves eliminating the “to-be-verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Learn the four strategies to revise these “writing crutches.”

How to Teach Helping Verbs

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English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns. Learn when to use and when not to use helping verbs and how to eliminate them to improve writing.

The Seven Essay Writing Rules

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Essays have certain traditional rules that help maintain a fair and balanced writing style. This article details the seven key essay writing rules with clear examples.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive writing curriculum, designed to teach your students how to write coherent multi-paragraph essays. Students progress at their own pace through 42 sequential essay strategy worksheets and  skill lessons (including writing style, parallelism, coherency, unity, and writing evidence) to compose 8 complete essays in the different essay genres. Also get 64 sentence revision (sentence combining and grammatical sentence patterns) and 64 rhetorical stance “opener” lessons, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, remedial writing worksheets, writing posters, holistic and analytical rubrics, graphic organizers, The Pennington Manual of Style with insertable e-comments, and extensive editing resources. No other writing program matches the comprehensive resources of this curriculum. Truly individualize  instruction with the resources found in this large three-ring binder. 

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate

In my last article, “Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture,” I suggested that music remains the singularly most influential motivator and reflection of youth culture. Ask students how much they listen to music today. It’s certainly more than they spend reading or writing. And they listen to music while they are on Facebook®. That’s a powerful combination. It seems to me that we can apply a few lessons from how our students combine music and social networking to how we should teach them to write.

As music has always been a social medium, in makes sense to analyze the music business, and songwriting in particular, to see how we might apply some of their lessons to improve student writing.

At the height of the Great Depression in 1931, the recently completed Brill Building at Street in Manhattan opened its doors. The owners were forced “by the deepening Depression to rent space to music publishers, since there were few other takers. The first three, Southern Music, Mills Music and Famous Music were soon joined by others. By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses (http://www.rockphiles.com/rp_artist.php?act_id=19).”

“A musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record, and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building. The creative culture of the independent music companies of Brill Building and the nearby 1650 Broadway came to define the influential “Brill Building Sound” and the style of popular music songwriting and recording created by its writers and producers (http://www.rockphiles.com/rp_artist.php?act_id=19).”

While songwriters such as Carole King, Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart (writers of The Monkees hits), and Neil Sedaka were cranking out the hits out of the Brill Building community that defined American music in the 1960s, their British counterparts were doing the same thing on Denmark Street in London. On this short, narrow street The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix all recorded in basement studios. Publishing companies were headquartered on this street.

The Kinks’ Ray Davies writes the following in their 1970 hit, “Denmark Street.”

Down the way from the Tottenham Court Road

Just round the corner from old Soho

There’s a place where the publishers go.

If you don’t know which way to go

Just open your ears and follow your nose

“cos the street is shakin’ from the tapping of toes

You can hear that music play anytime on any day

Every rhythm, every way

In 1972 “Elton John wrote his classic early song Your Song, here. Later, the Sex Pistols lived above number 6 and recorded their first demos there. The street contains London’s largest cluster of music shops. It was also the original home of London’s biggest science fiction and comic store, Forbidden Planet.

Writing Lesson #1

Although writing can be done most anywhere, it certainly makes sense to do so where resources are available and accessible. Both the Brill Building and Denmark Street provided all of the resources necessary to write, record, market, and sell music. A teacher’s classroom can provide the necessary resources for academic writing. Not just dictionaries, thesauruses, and computers… but the human resources as well. The writing expertise of the teacher and the listening ears of fellow student writers make the entire process of composition efficient within the classroom community. In my experience, rarely does the quality of at-home or at-library student writing match the level of in-class composition.

There’s just something about the social nature of composition that motivates creativity. Don Kirshner, 1960s publisher, record producer, and radio/television mogul recognized the fact that massing talent would be beneficial. Kirchner subdivided his Brill Building office space into cubicles and hired eighteen songwriters to crowd into these spaces. He then directed his songwriters to churn out love songs, and occasionally dance and novelty hits, for the teen masses (http://www.rockphiles.com/rp_artist.php?act_id=19).

“Describing conditions in the Brill Building, (Barry) Mann said, Cynthia ( ) and I work in a tiny cubicle, with just a piano and a chair, no window. We’d go in every morning and write songs all day. In the next room Carole (King) and Gerry (Goffin) are doing the same thing, with Neil (Diamond) in the room after that. Sometime when we all get to banging pianos, you can’t tell who’s playing what.’ (http://www.rockphiles.com/rp_artist.php?act_id=19).”

Writing Lesson #2

A productive writing climate can be promoted by establishing a collaborative community of student writers. Allowing students to help each other by “borrowing” ideas, providing immediate feedback (including criticism), and thinking out loud can motivate effort and improve the quality of the product. A community that feels that they are all in the same boat remains task-oriented and maintains motivation. There is a reason that Don Kirshner did not let his songwriters work from their apartments.

The teacher can facilitate this kind of intense writing community, ala Don Kirshner, by establishing a business-like, no-nonsense, and product-driven set of high expectations within the tightly confined community. Kirchner, and good teachers, can choreograph the activities, but the writers are the ones who have to write the hits.

Beyond massing writing resources and developing a collaborative community of writers, there is something to be said for the value of competition and the pressure/adrenaline that it produces. “Carole King described the atmosphere at the Brill Building publishing houses of the period:

“Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific-because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: ‘We need a new smash hit’-and we’d all go back and write a song and the next day we’d each audition of Bobby Vee’s producer (The Sociology of Rock 1978).”

Writing Lesson #3

One of the positive outcomes of developing a productive writing climate is that success breeds success. A healthy competition among student writers can be enormously motivating. Students care about what other students think, no matter what they say. Public sharing of student writing in class, online, in book stores, coffee houses, etc. can inspire quality writing. More gifted students can inhibit some student writers, but the wise teacher can even use these inhibitions to improve writing.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach Essay Strategies

What first pops into your mind when I mention essay strategies? Fair to say that many of us would think of the the characteristics and/or structure of a particular genre (domain), say a persuasive essay.

What first pops into your mind when I mention football? Fair to say that many of us would think of a big game such as the Super Bowl for the pros or the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for college.

Fine. We are all product-centered. We need to have the culminating event in mind, be it the final draft of a response to literature composition or the big football game. However, ask any football coach the question above and you are more likely to get practice as the answer. Football coaches live for the conditioning, the blocking sled, the tackle practice, and the omnipresent videotape. Perhaps we ELA teachers should take a page from our coaches’ playbooks and be a bit more process-centered. Now, I’m not talking about the writing process; I’m talking about teaching the essay strategies that will prepare students for the big game.

My first year of teaching was at a small K-8 school in Sutter Creek, California. Teaching seventh-graders in this isolated “Gold Rush” town was a wake-up call after student teaching the “best and brightest” high school juniors out of my credential program at U.C.L.A. Like most ELA teachers, I had no training nor coursework in how to teach essays. I studied Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and Hemmingway—not how to teach the fundamentals of writing. Like most ELA teachers, I reverted to and mimicked what and how I had been taught. If it worked for me, why wouldn’t it work for my students? And it did work (mostly) for those high school juniors, but it did not work for my seventh-graders.

I remember this debacle well. I began teaching my first seventh-grade class with a scintillating lecture, replete with masterful examples (including my own), on how to teach the five-paragraph essay. The structure, the components, and the unified balance of thought. “Go and do likewise,” I advised.

Of course, you probably already know the results. Most of my students did master the structure and had some sense of what the components were and where they belonged. But that unified balance of thought? I couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t fill in the rest of the blanks. Fortunately, after a few classes with U.C. Davis Area 3 writing mentors (Thank you!), I began to see the value of teaching the part-to-the-whole. I learned that my students needed more practice-more conditioning-to prepare them for their process papers. The following essay strategy tools focus on this conditioning at the sentence level.

Essay Strategies Conditioning

1. Eliminate the crutches

Sometimes removing a writer’s comfort zone is the only strategy that will force the writer to take the necessary risks to learn new tricks of the trade and improve his or her writing craft.

“To-be” Verbs: Restrict students’ usage of is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Nothing forces students to search for concrete nouns and expressive verbs more than this strategy. Nothing makes students alter sentence structure more than this strategy. Nothing teaches students to write in complete sentences more than this strategy. After initial banishment, allow a few of these verbs to trickle into student writing, say one per paragraph. Sometimes the best verb is a “to-be” verb. After all, “To be or not to be. That is the question.” For more, see How to Eliminate To-Be Verbs in Writing.

1st and 2nd Person Pronouns: Essays designed to inform or convince are not written as a direct conversation between the writer and the reader. Instead of using the first person point of view I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, our, ours, or ourselves pronouns or the second person point of view you, your, yours or yourself(ves) pronouns, essays are written in the third person point of view such as in the writing model below. It’s fine to use the third person he, she, it, his, her, its, they, them, their, theirs or themselves pronouns to avoid repeating the same nouns over and over again. Nothing forces students to focus their writing on the subject more than this strategy. Nothing teaches students to rely on objective evidence more than this strategy.

2. Teach and help students practice complex sentences

Some prerequisite direct instruction is required here. Students need to know what an independent clause is. Students need to know what a phrase is. Students need to know what a dependent clause is. Teaching and memorizing the subordinate conjunctions are essentials. See How to Teach Conjunctions for a great memory trick. Students must be able to identify subordinating clauses and create them. Students need to be able to identify complex sentences and use them. Sentence models and analysis works well. I recommend using Sentence Revision, which uses sentence models and requires students to practice sentence combining and sentence manipulation at the sentence level. Using individual student whiteboards for practice and whole class formative assessment works well. You are going to have to differentiate instruction to ensure mastery learning of complex sentences.

3. Teach and help students practice grammatical sentence openers

Students have been trained to write in the subject-verb-complement pattern. Fine. Now we need to revise that writing mindset. We need to teach students that writing style and sentence variety matter. I suggest that you limit your students to composing no more than 50% of their writing in the subject-verb-complement pattern. Teach students to begin their sentences with different grammatical sentence openers. See How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers for a fine list with examples. Nothing forces students to write with greater sentence variety than this strategy. Nothing integrates grammar instruction into writing better than this strategy.

Look for my next article on the Pennington Publishing Blog on helping students learn how to scrimmage. Focusing on the essay writing strategies at the paragraph level, including structure, style, unity, and evidence will further help students prepare for the “big game.”

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science, including the categories of transitions and what each transition means. Teachers can also help students learn how and where to use them with appropriate punctuation.

However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. Teachers do well to point out the effective use of transitions in exemplary writing models and help students mimic these in their own writing. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing voices.

Before teachers launch into instructional strategies, they need to make the case for their students that transitions are necessary for effective writing.

Transitions are Necessary

Transitions provide connections between words and ideas. They also signal change. Without transitions, reading comprehension is minimized. Here are a few classroom-tested activities that will help students see how transitions are essential.

Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bring in the materials: bread, peanut butter, jelly, a butter knife, and plenty of napkins. Tell students to write detailed instructions about how to make this American classic. Then, collect the instructions and call on a few students to follow the directions exactly as you read them. If the transitions are not perfect, you will definitely need the napkins.

Learn and play a new game. Gather a bunch of different board games and/or decks of cards, each with a printed set of directions. Find different card game directions at this site.  Match students to games they have never played. Students learn and play the new game. The teacher directs the students to put away the game and directions and students are to compose their own directions for the game from memory, using effective transitions. Great for sequencing skills, too. Extension: Jigsaw students and have them follow student-created directions to try and learn how to play a new game. Further extension: Have students “tweak” the directions of an existing game and play it as revised. Even further extension: Have students create their own board or card games.

Learning Transitions

Students must understand the definition of the transition words and their categorical relationships.

Instructional Strategies: Teach the meanings of transition words in the context of transition categories. Have students read passages that use different transition categories and discuss. Have students complete a Cloze Procedure, using those same passages. Following are the transition categories (What You Need to Signal) and the common transitions:

What You Need to Signal                  Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

Using Transitions

Students must understand basic sentence syntax, to know where to place transition words.

Transitions can open paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be placed mid-sentence to connect ideas. Transitions can close paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be used to place emphasis on a certain sentence or paragraph component.

Instructional Strategies: Assign students a variety of writing tasks that will each require the use of different transition categories. Have students practice sentence revisions in which they place existing transition words at a different part of the sentence. Have students change transition words ending paragraphs to the beginning of the next paragraph and vice-versa. Have students compose compound and compound-complex sentences with transition words and then revise the placement of these transitions for different emphasis.

A Few Things to Avoid

Remind students that overusing transition words is almost as bad as not using transition words. Don’t teach structured transitions, such as these: Always place transitions at the end of an introduction. Always place transitions in a concluding statement ending a body paragraph. Always begin a conclusion with a transition. By the way, although most teachers insist upon a thesis restatement, most published essays do not have them. Two good rules of thumb apply: If the thesis restatement is expected, such as on the SAT 1® essay, write one. If the essay is long, use one; if it is short, don’t. Don’t use transitions solely as an editing skill.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision andrhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach a Write Aloud

Writing is a complicated thinking process. It requires an enormous amount of multi-tasking, problem-solving, interactivity, and creativity. There is science to effective writing, but there is also art. Unlike reading, which provides the author component of the dialog between reader and text, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Like reading, writing is chiefly learned through direct instruction, modeling, and practice.

Of the three instructional components necessary for effective writing instruction (direct instruction, modeling, and practice), the Write Aloud strategy focuses on the modeling component. In essence, the teacher shows students how he or she composes by thinking out loud and writing out that process so that students can think along with the writer. The Write Aloud is also referred to as “Modeled Writing.”

Writing is certainly not a natural process. Developing writers do not have a priori understanding about how to compose. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good writers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers while they write is vitally important. “Talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency. Placing the emphasis on writing as the reader will read that writing also helps the writer determine the structure of that writing and so unify the whole.

Good writers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies.  That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.”  Students who practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better writing fluency those who do not.

Write Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest section of dialog from a story familiar to all students. The dialog will help students understand the interactive components of the Write Aloud strategy. Post the dialog on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector. Write this brief prompt, or one of your own, below the dialog: “Analyze the character development in ___________.”

2. Tell them that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the brief dialog from ____________, and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the short dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the plot context and what and why the characters are saying what they say. Focus on comprehension, not character development for your first read.

3. After reading, ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read effectively. Quickly remind students to listen well and not to interrupt.

4. Tell students that they are now going to learn an important thinking strategy, and that they will listen to your thoughts as an experienced writer. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs. Explain that learning how to think is the focus of this activity, not what to think. Tell them that they can improve the ways in which they think.

5. Tell students that you are going to brainstorm ideas for a character analysis essay during your Write Aloud. Point to the word brainstorm on your Writing Process charts and tell students that you are only going Write Aloud this one part of the process. Remind students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, but they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during the activity.

6. Now, read the prompt out loud and define analyze as “to break apart the subject and to explain each part” as if you are reminding yourself of the definition. Re-read the dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about how the characters are saying what they say. Write down your comments below the dialog in a graphic organizer. Explain that you are going to use a mapping, a.k.a. bubble cluster, graphic organizer to brainstorm your ideas because it will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to add on new ones as you think of them. Focus your comments (and writing) on these four components: character personalities, descriptions, motives, and author word choice. Ask if the organization and comments will make sense to the reader. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

7. After reading, ask students if listening to you think and watching you write down your thoughts helped them understand how the characters are saying what they say. Their answer will be “Yes.” Ask students to repeat what you said that most helped them understand your thinking process. Ask students how they would think differently about what to write, if they were teaching the Write Aloud.

8. Post two new dialogs on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector with the same prompt as above.

9. Group students into pairs and have students practice their own Write Alouds, using the two dialogs. This can get quite noisy, so establish your expectations and remind students that they will be turning in their graphic organizers.

10. Repeat the Write Aloud procedure often with different components of the Writing Process, with or without different prompts, and with different writing tasks or genre.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at www.penningtonpublishing.com.TES

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Help! My Child Won’t Read or Write

Many parents and teacher struggle with the same problem: motivating children to read and write. Both recognize the critical importance of these life-skills. Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Reading is the key to developing the ability to think critically. Reading is fun! Typical of this struggle is an email I just received this morning (name changed to protect the mom from any judgmental readers).

Hi Mark,

I have a son with mild dyslexia and mild to moderate ADD. I have tried to home school him this year but gained limited success in getting him to want to read. He says he likes to read, but rarely does without being asked. He prefers sports and playing!

He also is very hard to get him to write. He says he doesn’t know why he just sits there for minutes at  a time. He can take 60 min to produce 6 lines or if given a threat of “no recess, hockey unless…” he can do a full page in 25 minutes.

I am so exasperated, that I feel I must send him back to school to see can someone else help him where I can not!

Do you have a suggestion as to which would benefit us most?

Thanks,

Concerned in Connecticut

So here is my response. I hope that  my own personal experience and training as a reading specialist will be of help to both parents and teachers.

—– Original Message —–

From: Concerned in Connecticut

To: mark@penningtonpublishing.com

Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:02 AM

Subject: advice please

Dear Concerned in Connecticut,

Sounds like a normal boy to me. I’ve raised three boys, and all three had the same lack of motivation and initiative. Although we all want to idealistically hope that our children will read and write for the love of learning and self-expression, I’ve found this rarely to be the case. Learning is an acquired taste, I’m afraid. But, while that taste is being acquired, I think that some force-feeding is certainly appropriate.

Good teaching is inherently coercive. You prove this with your carrot and stick method: “…if given a threat of ‘no recess, hockey unless…’ he can do a full page in 25 minutes.”  There is nothing wrong with being a behavioralist. I’m not saying that our children are Pavlov’s dogs or that we have to B.F. Skinner our kids to death. However, I do suggest that we use the extrinsic rewards and/or threats until the intrinsic love of learning kicks in. Spoon feed until the child can and will feed himself. Why? Reading is just too important of a life-skill to leave to the whim of an elementary, middle, or high school student. Most all would rather play video games or text, if given the freedom to choose.

But, you may be thinking… “What if I turn my child off from independent reading? He may never pick up a book to read, if he isn’t forced to read it.”

My own personal experience may be of some help. As a teacher, I gave my three sons a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer the boys chose the option I called Essential Study Skills. Each of my three boys responded the same to my Summer Daily Brainwork: they hated it and were relieved when they “graduated” from this chore at age 16. The primary tasks of this daily summer chore was twofold: 1. independent reading with subsequent discussion of that reading with Dad and 2. writing an expository paragraph with subsequent response to that writing by Dad and revision thereafter. None of the three boys ever read or wrote anything unless required to do so by the teacher or Dad. Oh, Mom did require faithful thank-you notes for every courtesy or gift.

In a recent conversation with my oldest son, now a legislative assistant for a Congressman back in Washington D.C., my son admitted that he actually never read the teacher-assigned independent readings because there was no accountability. This same son is now a voraciously reader and has sent me so many “You’ve-got-to-read-this” books that I’ve turned to Internet book reviews in lieu of actually reading all of them. Reading specialists, like Yours Truly, know how to skim and fake it better than most.

My second son, only reads technical computer manuals. However, the point is that he has the skills to read these and other books of any genre, if he needs/chooses to do so. As to my third son, a graduating senior, the jury is still out on the reading; however, he recently commented that he learned how to write effectively due to our summer paragraphs.

I would certainly recommend some basic study skills: including motivational techniques, procrastination prevention, and goal-setting. We do want to equip our children with the skills they need to succeed on their own someday. However, make ‘em read and write until that someday comes.

Cheers!

Mark Pennington                                                                                                                      

MA Reading Specialist

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Writing

Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves reducing the number of “to be verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

At this point, even before I begin to plead my case, I hear the grumbling of the contrarians. One of them mutters a snide, rhetorical question: Didn’t Shakespeare say “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”? He used three “to be” verbs right there! If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. True, but Will used only six more “to be” verbs in Hamlet’s next 34 lines. My goals are to convince teachers to help their students reduce, not eliminate the “to be” verbs, and so write with greater precision and purpose. There. I just used a “to be” verb. Feeling better?

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

What’s So Wrong with “To Be” Verbs?

  1. The “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been are state of being verbs, which means that they unduly claim a degree of permanence. For example, “I am hungry.” For most Americans, hunger is only a temporary condition.
  2. The “to be” verbs claim absolute truth and exclude other views. “Classical music is very sophisticated.” Few would agree that all classical compositions are always sophisticated.
  3. The “to be” verbs are general and lack specificity. A mother may tell her child, “Be good at school today.” The more specific “Don’t talk when the teacher talks today” would probably work better.
  4. The “to be” verbs are vague. For example, “That school is great.” Clarify the sentence as “That school has wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents.”
  5. The “to be” verbs often confuse the reader about the subject of the sentence. For example, “It was nice of you to visit.” Who or what is the “It?”

Adapted from Ken Ward’s E-Prime article at http://www.trans4mind.com/personal_development/GeneralSemantics/KensEPrime.htm

When Can We Use “To Be” Verbs?

It’s not that “to be” verbs are always bad; sometimes writers must use “to be” verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. In fact, these verb forms can be difficult to replace. When the verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being, it performs one of these five functions:

  1. Exists−Is there any trouble? Yes, I am he (predicate nominative).
  2. Happens−The meetings are over.
  3. Locates−He was at the birthday party.
  4. Identifies−Those children were friendly (predicate adjective).
  5. Describes−That could be scary (helping verb)! He is being helpful (progressive tense). Those girls have been so mean (perfect tense).

Generally, writers should avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing. However, when writers can replace a “to be” verb with a vivid, “show me” verb in any writing genre, it certainly makes sense to do so. With a good “show me” verb, the reader (or listener) can picture the physical or mental action of the verb. The verb engages the interest of the reader and specifically communicates the nature of the action. But, not all non-“to be” verbs are vivid, “show me” verbs. For example, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do not use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy sits down on the bench and thinks what to do next. In contrast, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy slouches down on the bench and studies what to do next.

So, how can we get our students to reduce or eliminate “to be” verbs in their essays to create precision of meaning, specificity, clarity, and just good old sentence variety? How do we get our students to use these vivid “show me” verbs instead? Try these five strategies:

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

  1. IdentifyStudents need to memorize the “to be” verbs to avoid using them and to revise those that they have used in essays: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Teach students to self-edit by circling “to be” verbs in the revision stage of writing. Teach students how to problem-solve whether a “to be” verb is necessary or not. Teach students to identify and revise Non-standard English forms of the “to be” verb (Common Core State Standards L.2,3). For example, “They be watching cartoons” or “She been taking her time” 
  2. SubstituteSometimes a good replacement of a “to be” verb just pops into the brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie is delicious,” substitute the “to be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie tastes delicious.” Also, substitute the “there,” “here,” and “it” + “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “There is the cake, and here are the pies for dessert, and it is served by Mom,” replace with “Mom serves the cake and pies for dessert.” Let’s also add on the “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” + “to be” verbs. Finally, strong linking verbs can replace “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “That was still the best choice,” substitute the “to be” verb was with the linking verb remained as in “That remained the best choice.”
  3. ConvertStudents can start  the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” convert the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.” 
  4. Change−To eliminate a”to be” verb, students can change the subject of the sentence to another noun or pronoun in the sentence and rearrange the order of the sentence. For example, instead of “The car was stopped by a police officer,” change the complete subject, the car, to a police officer to write “A police officer stopped the car.” Also, students can add in a different sentence subject to eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The books were written in Latin,” add in a different sentence subject, such as “authors” to change the passive voice to the active voice and write “Authors wrote the books in Latin. Lastly, starting the sentence with a different word or part of speech will help eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”
  5. CombineLook at the sentences before and after the one with the “to be” verb to see if combining the sentences will eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive child was feeling that way because of the news story,” combine as “The news story saddened the sensitive child.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the “To Be” Verb

  1. Post a list of the “to be” verbs and the problem-solving strategies listed above for student reference. Why not create a Dead Verbs Cemetery bulletin board? (What a great idea for Halloween!) and/or print and reference the free “To be or not to be…” poster.
  2. Share the five strategies one at a time, so as not to overwhelm students. Teach, practice, and master only one strategy  before moving on to another strategy.
  3. Use teacher think-alouds to model the “to be” verb revision process.
  4. Then, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with one student writing sample. Correct whole class and commend the variety of effective revisions. Compare sentence revisions and discuss which strategies worked and did not work to eliminate the “to be” verbs.
  5. Next, collect student writing samples from the whole class and have students individually revise their peers’ “to be” verbs. Peer editing focused on one target issue makes sense.
  6. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples, using the five strategies.

After teaching and practicing all five strategies, set the “rule” that from now on only one “to-be” verb is allowed in any paragraph (excluding direct quotes). Use peer editing to help identify the “to-be” verbs and peer tutors to help struggling students.

Teaching the strategies and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “writing crutches” in their own writing. The end result? More precise and purposeful student writing with vivid, “show me” verbs.

Check out the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the step-by-step resources teachers need to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays. The program includes 8 complete writing process essays with accompanying readings (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory), 42 sequenced essay strategy worksheets, 64 writing opener lessons, dozens of writing skill worksheets (like the “to be” worksheet above), plus writing fluency quick writes Also save time grading essays with the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Also, check out the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video for a concise overview of the program.

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The Seven Essay Writing Rules

Essays have different rules than do stories, letters, poems, or journal writing. Essays respond to a writing prompt or writing topic. The writer is required to develop a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph, then follow with at least two body paragraphs which address the thesis statement, then end with a concluding paragraph.

The Common Core Writing Standards divides essays into argumentative and informational/explanatory. Argumentative essays argue a position or point of view; informational/ explanatory essays explain and analyze. Each of these types of essays focuses on the subject of the writing prompt and follows the following essay writing rules.

Keep in mind that essays are a very formal type of writing. Although they may certainly express opinions, essays present evidence in a fair and balanced manner. Think of presenting evidence in an essay as an attorney would present evidence in a court of law. All of the traditional rituals have to be followed. The attorney (writer) has introductory remarks (introductory paragraph) in which a verdict (think thesis statement) is stated. Next, the attorney (writer) presents the main points of the case and the evidence that supports them (body paragraphs). Finally, the attorney (writer) presents the closing arguments (conclusion paragraph).

Here are the seven essay writing rules:

1. Write in complete sentences. Intentional fragments, such as “Right?” don’t belong in essays.

2. Write in third person. Talk about the subject of the essay. Don’t personalize with first person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Don’t talk to the reader with second person pronouns such as you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves. The essay is to be objective (fair and balanced), not subjective (personalized). Rid essays of “I think,” “I believe,” and “In my opinion.”

3. Do not abbreviate. Abbreviations are informal and serve as short-cuts, so they don’t belong in essays. So write United States, not U.S. in essays.

4. Do not use slang, such as kids. Use official, or formal, words, such as children.

5. Do not use contractions. Again, essays are very formal, so write “do not” rather than “don’t.”

6. Do not use figures of speech. Be direct and precise in essay writing. Essays do not use poetic devices or idiomatic expressions. For example, don’t write “He let the cat out of the bag.” Instead, say “He shared a secret.”

7. Do not over-use the same words or phrases. For example, avoid over-use of the “to-be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

Find eight complete writing process essays, 40 essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comment download to use computer assisted grading.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

 

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How to Teach the Writing Domains (Genres)

Students need to understand the natures and peculiarities of the many different forms of writing. As students are first exposed to the imaginative/narrative domain (genre) of writing via story books, movies, and storytelling, they tend to organize all writing with a beginning, middle, and an end. While certainly appropriate for many forms of writing such as stories and letters, these forms cannot be applied to expository tasks such as essays or reports.

Teaching the P.A.W.S. writing model can help students understand the characteristics and components of the different domains of writing (genres) and their respective forms. P.A.W.S. stands for purpose, audience, writing organization, and subject. These are key elements of what is known as rhetorical stance. Knowing this information will help developing writers “play by the rules of the game” for each form of writing and also improve writing coherency. Additionally, students become better readers as they understand the purpose of the text and its intended audience. Knowing the organization of the writing and the manner in which the author chooses to develop the subject of that writing will boost reading comprehension, writing unity,  and retention. Truly, there is a reading-writing connection.

Start by telling students that every written work has a purpose, an intended audience, a subject, and a writing method of organization. You may wish to add on voice to your explanation by referencing the content of a related article, titled How to Develop Voice in Student Writing. For example, point out a magazine or newspaper advertisement. Brainstorm its purpose (to sell the product or service), its audience (who is the market), the writer’s organization (how the ad is presented to get the reader’s attention and, or course, the sale), and the subject (what exactly is being sold).

Inform students that there are two basic types of writing: expository and non-expository. The former is factually-based and attempts to understand, explain, or convince with the focus on an argument or a claim. The latter is fictional and attempts to entertain, tell a story, or describe with the focus on a controlling idea or topic.

Next, share that the expository domains (genres) of writing are practical or informative. Cite a few examples of their forms from the diagram and ask students to categorize them as being either practical or informative, in terms of purpose and design. Repeat with analytical and persuasive.

You may wish to have students read an example for each of the domains.

Then, explain that the non-expository domains (genres) of writing are sensory and descriptive. Again, reference the examples of the forms within this domain on the diagram and ask students to categorize them as being either sensory or descriptive, in terms of purpose and design. Repeat with imaginative and narrative. Again, you may wish to have students read an example for each of the domains.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find eight complete writing process essays, 40 essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments software with this wonderful product.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers

One of the best ways to improve your writing style is to improve the variety of your sentence structures. Professional writers vary the subject-verb-object pattern with other grammatical sentence structures. A simple guideline for good sentence variety would be 50% subject-verb-object sentence openers and 50% other grammatical sentence opener forms.

Prepositional Phrase

Start with a phrase beginning with one of these common prepositions to improve writing style:

aboard, about, above, according to, across, after, against, along, among, around, as, as to, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, instead of, into, in place of, in spite of, like, near, next, of, off, on, onto, outside, out of, over, past, regardless of, since, than, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, with, within, without

Place a comma after a prepositional phrase sentence opener when a noun or pronoun follows.

Example

Behind the cabinet, he found the missing watch

Adjective

Start with a word or phrase that describes a proper noun, common noun, or pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind? to improve writing style. Place a comma after an adjective or adjective phrase sentence opener.

Examples

Angry, the neighbor refused to leave.

Happy as always, the child played in the park.

Adverb

Start with a word that answers these questions: How? When? Where? or What Degree? to improve writing style. Many adverbs end in __ly. Usually place a comma after an adverb sentence opener if the adverb is emphasized.

Example

Everywhere, the flowers were blooming; quickly, the winter turned to spring.

Adverbial Clause

Start a dependent clause (a noun and verb that does not express a complete thought) with one of the following subordinating conjunctions to improve writing style:

after, although, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, because, before, even if, even though, how, if, in order that, once, since, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, whether, or while.

Place a comma after an adverbial clause that begins a sentence.

Example

Although better known for its winter activities, Lake Tahoe offers much during the summer.

__d, __ed, or __en Verbs

Start with a __d or __ed verb, acting as an adjective, when combined with a prepositional phrase, or an __en verb, when combined with an adverb to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener.

Examples

Frightened by the noise, I sat up straight in my bed.

Taken quickly, the pill did not dissolve for minutes.

To + Verb

Start with To and then add the base form of a verb to improve writing style. Add related words to create a phrase. Place a comma after the sentence opener, if a noun follows.

Examples

To smile takes great effort.

To play the game, Mark had to sign a contract.

__ing Verbs and Nouns

Start a phrase with an __ing word that acts as an adjective to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener. Start a phrase with an __ing word that serves as a noun. Usually do not place a comma after the sentence opener.

Examples

(Adjective)

Falling rapidly, the climber hopes the rope will hold.

(Noun)

Tasting the sauce makes them hungry for dinner.

Having Verbs and Nouns

Start a phrase with Having and then add a verb that ends in __d, __ed, or __en to serve as an adjective or a noun, referring to something that happened in the past to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener.

Example

(Adjective)

Having listened to his teacher, the student knew how to study.

(Noun)

Having learned all of the answers is helpful.

Noun Clause

Start with a group of words that acts as the subject of a sentence beginning with: How, However, What, Whatever, When, Whenever, Where, Wherever, Which, Whichever, Who, Whoever, or Whomever to improve writing style. Place a comma after the noun clause when used as a sentence opener if it does not serve as the subject of the sentence.

Example

However the students answered, the scores were marked wrong.

Nominative Absolute

Start with a possessive pronoun (my, mine, our, your, his, her, or their) followed by a verb with a  d, __ed, or __en ending to serve as a noun phrase that provides information, but no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence. A comma is placed at the end of the nominative absolute when it opens a sentence.

Example

His friends angry and frustrated, Paul promised to change his behavior

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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How to Write Complex Sentences

More and more candidates for better paying jobs are now required to submit writing samples as part of the interview process. Many applicants with strong verbal skills fail to make the second round of interviews because of their poor writing samples. Frequently, the problems are not unity or coherence, or even inadequate vocabulary/word choice. All too often, poor writers are categorized as such because they only write in simple or compound sentences. A few tips on how to improve writing, using complex sentences will get you through to that second round of interviews.

A Few Definitions and Examples

A simple sentence has a noun (person, place, thing, or idea), a verb (mental or physical action or “to-be” verb—is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been), and the rest of the sentence (known as the complement).

Example: John ran down the street.

A compound sentence combines two simple sentences with a conjunction (a connecting word such as and, but, or so).

Example: John ran down the street, and he saw the crime take place.

A complex sentence has an independent clause and at least one dependent clause. An independent clause means that there is a noun and a verb that express a complete thought. A dependent (subordinate) clause means that there is a noun and a verb that do not express a complete thought.

Example:

Ty completed all his chores (independent clause) + after eating his lunch (dependent clause) = Ty completed all his chores after eating his lunch.

How to Form Complex Sentences

Complex sentences can help define the relationship between complicated ideas and will make your writing more specific and interesting to read. Learn how to improve writing by adding dependent clauses to the beginning, middle, or end of your simple or compound sentences. Oh, by the way, if starting a sentence with a dependent clause, always follow the clause with a comma.

Dependent Clauses

To improve writing, add adjective clauses, which describe nouns or pronouns. Transitions beginning adjective clauses include who, whose, on (for, of) whom to refer to people, that to refer to people or things, and which to refer only to things.

Example: whose work is well-known

To improve writing, add adverbial clauses, which describe describe an adjective, an adverb, or verb. A subordinating conjunction always introduces an adverbial clause. The subordinating conjunction signals the relationship between the adverbial clause and the independent clause. Use a comma to set off an introductory adverbial clause, but not an adverbial clause that ends a sentence. Use this memory trick to remember the subordinating conjunctions:

Bud is wise, but hot! AAA WWW

before, unless, despite (in spite of), in order that, so, while, if, since, even though (if), because, until, that, how, once, than, after, although (though), as (as if, as long as, as though), whether, when (whenever), where (wherever)

Example: as long as she can wait

To improve writing, add noun clauses, which describe are used as a subject, a complement (the rest of the sentence besides the subject and predicate), or as the object of a preposition. Transitions beginning noun clauses include that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, and whomever.

Example: whatever he demands

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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Grades 4-8 Programs

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

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Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt

Writing an effective essay prompt requires equal shares of art and science. The prompt must allow room for creative interpretation and analysis. However, the prompt must also provide organization and boundaries for the writers’ responses. Finally, the prompt should provide ample room for post-writing criticism to help students improve their writing.

Writing Prompt Guidelines

1. The prompt should be brief. Wordiness only serves to confuse the writer.

2. The prompt should be focused. A prompt that rambles in an attempt to explain or motivate is counter-productive.

3. The prompt should require only the prior knowledge that has been emphasized in class instruction. Isolate the variables of personal experience to best assess the outcomes of instruction.

4. The prompt should be age appropriate. Know the developmental capabilities and interests of your students and translate these into the writing prompt.

5. The prompt should avoid issues which students or parents would find objectionable. Save the PG-13 issues for older students. Don’t let the subject interfere with the writing task.

6. The prompt should not be so personal that the privacy of the writer is jeopardized. A writing prompt should not inhibit the writer from answering honestly and comfortably.

7. The prompt should not embarrass the gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background of the writer. Stay sensitive to these variables within your classroom. Words have different meanings according to one’s perspective.

8. The prompt should allow students of varying abilities to respond effectively. An ideal prompt allows all students to experience success in their writing.

9. The prompt should be interesting enough to motivate the writer. A prompt that does not provoke thought will reap a thoughtless response.

10. The prompt should allow “room to breathe” for divergent thinkers. Expect the unexpected in student responses, and design prompts to allow for a variety of responses.

11. The prompt should enable the writer to respond with a thesis that states the purpose of the writing and/or the author’s point of view. If you can’t turn the writing prompt into a thesis statement without effort, your students will never accomplish this task.

12. The prompt should not artificially force the writer into a certain thesis. A one-sided prompt that demands a certain thesis will not produce original thought.

13. The prompt can provide a writing situation to set the writing directions in context. However, the writing situation should not overwhelm or confuse the writing instructions.

14. The prompt should have clear writing instructions. Writers are the best judges as to whether the prompt has clear instructions. Avoid vocabulary and terms that will confuse the students. Don’t use writing direction words, such as “analyze”, if your students do not understand them.

15. The prompt should be one that will afford your writers plenty of evidence with which to prove or elaborate upon their topic sentences. Picking narrow or obscure writing subjects will not allow your writers to weigh easily accesible evidence. They will also be tempted to plagiarize or invent when little evidence is available.

Writing directions words for essays designed to inform the reader…

1. Describe means to show the characteristics of the subject to the reader through visual details.

2. Explain means to make something clear or easy to understand.

3. Discuss means to talk about all sides of the subject.

4. Compare means to show how things are the same, and contrast means to show how things are different. If the writing prompt only mentions compare, you must still do both tasks.

Writing directions words for essays designed to convince the reader…

5. Analyze means to break apart the subject and explain each part.

6. Persuade means to convince the reader of your argument or claim.

7. Justify means to give reasons, based upon established rules, to support your arguments.

8. Evaluate means to make a judgment about the good and bad points of the subject.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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How to Teach the Essay Introduction

Although the three components of the essay introduction (introducing the topic, engaging the audience, and transitioning to the thesis statement) would seem to suggest a three-sentence paragraph, this application may work nicely with some essays, but not with all. The problem with teaching formulaic introductory paragraphs for argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays is that the square peg does not always fit the round hole.

Teaching students how to write an essay introduction is challenging work. The thesis statement is not usually the issue; most teachers do a fine job of teaching the most important sentence of the essay. More often, teachers need help teaching their students how to introduce the topic and engage the audience. Some teachers refer to these introduction strategies as the hooklead-in, or transition. The instructional challenge is that some introduction strategies work for some writing tasks and some work for others. Students need to learn a variety of introduction strategies to begin their essays and transition into their thesis statements. The following introduction strategies and examples will equip teachers with a flexible, not formulaic approach to teaching How to Write an Essay Introduction.

Introduction Strategies: DQ REPS BC

1. Definition: Explains the meaning of an unfamiliar term or makes a general essay topic more specific.

Examples: Prior to the Civil War, the term popular sovereignty referred to the policy of allowing the voters of individual states to determine whether slavery should be legal or not. The issue of sports-related concussions requires special consideration with youth contact sports.

2. Question: Asks your audience to think about why the essay topic is important or relevant.

Example: Why has the President issued the executive order at this point of his administration?

3. Reference to Common Knowledge: States an idea or fact that is known and accepted by your audience in order to build consensus.

Example: Most Americans favor some form of tax reform.

4. Expert Quotation: Provides an insightful comment about the essay topic from a well-known authority.

Example: Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, called youth e-cigarette smoking “a major public health concern.”

5. Preview of Topic Sentences: Lists the main point from each topic sentence before or within the thesis statement.

Example: Both positive consequences and negative effects of the new law require close examination.

6. Surprise: States an unexpected fact or idea, one that is unknown to your audience, or one that provokes curiosity about the essay topic.

Examples: Women live longer than men. Few Americans know that the number of Supreme Court Justices has changed throughout history. The report offers new clues about how to improve memory.

7. Background: Describes the relevant problem, historical circumstances, or literary context of the essay topic.

Examples: Gang-related murders have increased dramatically over the last decade. Over the past 100 years the average increase of Arctic temperatures has nearly doubled that of the rest of the world. In Sharon Creech’s novel, Walk Two Moons, the main character, Salamanca, learns to cope with the unexpected death of her mother. 

8. Controversy: Sparks interest because many might disagree with what is being said.

Example: However, freedom of speech extends to the rights of speakers as well as to the rights of protesters.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Introductions

Do…

  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match the topic and tone of your essay. For example, the Expert Quotation and Controversy introduction strategies might serve as perfect lead-ins to this thesis statement: State and local governments should pass legislation banning the use of plastic grocery bags. However, the same two introduction strategies would probably not be used as lead-ins to this thesis statement: Americans have changed taste preferences for their favorite ice cream flavors.
  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph argumentative essay would not include references to the argumentative strategy of the writer, but a half-hour argumentative speech certainly should. A five paragraph informational-explanatory essay would not include a separate introductory paragraph on the research methodology, but a five page research paper might necessitate such an explanation.
  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match your audience. For example, the Background introduction strategy may be essential if writing a response to literature essay to an audience unfamiliar with the novel; however, identifying the main characters and setting may be unnecessary or even condescending to an audience of students and teacher who have already read the novel. Furthermore, the Reference to Common Knowledge introduction strategy might be necessary for an audience of fourth graders, but not for eighth graders.
  • Place the thesis statement last in short essays. The audience (your reader) expects the purpose or point of view of the essay to be in this position. Don’t disappoint your audience unless you have a specific reason for placing the thesis statement elsewhere.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer.
  • Pad the introductory paragraph with overly general statements or say what does not need to be said. For example, The fact of the matter is that Americans have differences of opinions on this issue. Of course, Americans believe in freedom and justice.
  • Be uncertain or apologetic. For example, saying “it may or may not be true” or “more research needs to be done to reach a firm conclusion” does not build confidence in your audience that your essay will be convincing or informative.
  • Use anecdotes for short essays. For example, take this often-used anecdote: “When Abraham Lincoln was working as a clerk in a store, he once overcharged a customer by 6 1/4 cents. Upon discovering his mistake, he walked three miles to return the woman’s money.”  This anecdote might work nicely for a long essay or speech on the subject of honesty, but not in an introductory paragraph for a short five paragraph essay. The anecdote might serve better as evidence in a body paragraph. Plus, confusing narrative elements with exposition when establishing the voice of the essay in the introduction can be confusing to the audience.

The Big Picture

Think of writing an essay introduction much as how a prosecuting attorney might design an opening statement. The attorney would take time to consider which introduction strategies would best fit the nature of the case, the character of the defendant, and those listening and deliberating in the courtroom. The attorney begins by explaining the crime. (The crime is the topic.) Next, the attorney connects that crime to the defendant and engages the jury. (The defendant and jury are the audience.) Finally, the attorney states the assertion (or claim) that the defendant is guilty of the crime. (The assertion or claim of “guilty” is the attorney’s thesis statement.) Now that you have mastered How to Teach the Essay Introduction, your students will need the evidence strategies to convince their juries. Check out the FE SCALE CC to learn how to teach these types of evidence strategies.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Introduction Strategies in your classroom?

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Get this resource plus 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions (works great with Microsoft Word and Google Docs).

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How to Teach the Essay Conclusion

Few teachers feel comfortable teaching students how to write a conclusion paragraph for an essay. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing the main points of an essay make a rather weak conclusion. In a related article on How to Teach the Essay Introduction, I compare the essay introduction to a prosecuting attorney’s opening statements. Using the same courtroom scene, the essay conclusion can be compared to the attorney’s closing arguments.

If the prosecuting attorney followed his high school English teacher’s advice to “give a finished feel to the essay” by adding a conclusion paragraph that re-states the thesis and summarizes the main points, the closing arguments would be as follows:

“As I said in my opening statement, the defendant is guilty of grand theft auto. The fingerprints on the stolen car, the DNA evidence on the driver’s seat, and the two eyewitnesses conclusively prove the defendant to be guilty.”

Most defense attorneys would relish following such a weak closing argument with their own more effective closing arguments.

It’s not that re-stating the thesis and providing a summary of main points are poor conclusion strategies… The point is that by themselves, they do not accomplish the purpose of an essay conclusion paragraph: to analytically comment, synthesize, and make judgments about the evidence presented in the body paragraphs.

Plus, the conclusion strategies which work for some essays will not work for all essays. Teachers need to teach a variety of conclusion strategies, so that student writers can match the appropriate strategies to the essay topic and evidence presented. Formulaic conclusions often wind up trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

The following conclusion strategies will help you learn how to teach the essay conclusion strategies which are appropriate to the writing task.

Conclusion Strategies GQ SALE SC

Generalization-Broadens a specific point of the essay into a more general focus.

Example: The issue of state lawmakers refusing to vote on controversial issues by encouraging statewide votes brings up the question as to whether our system of representative democracy still serves a purpose.

Question for Further Study-Asks about a related topic or question that is relevant, but beyond the focus of the essay.

Example: If concussions present such a danger to professional football players, why do schools and communities continue to support youth football?

Statement of Significance-States why the proven thesis statement is important or relevant.

Example: With the extinction of one species, the web of nature may be disrupted in unexpected ways.

Application-Applies the proven thesis statement to another idea or issue.

Example: If celebrities and politicians are excused from the consequences of lying to authorities, students may assume that lying to their parents or teacher should be excused as well.

Argument Limitations-Explains how or why your conclusions are limited.

Example: Although the evidence clearly suggests that the student cheated on this test, it does not prove that the student  cheated on previous tests.

Emphasis of Key Point-Repeats specific evidence and explains why it is the most convincing or important evidence.

Example: Most importantly, slavery caused the Civil War because it was the one division between the North and the South which could no longer be compromised.

Summary Statement-Lists the main points of the essay.

Example: Her natural talent, work ethic, and luck contributed to her surprising success.

Call to Action- Challenges the reader to take a stand, make a difference, or get involved.

Example: The evidence suggests that public protest may stop this abuse of the mayor’s power. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Conclusions

Do…

  • Re-state the thesis as the first sentence in your conclusion paragraph. Although redundant and unnecessary in a short argumentative or informational-explanatory essay, the audience (the reader) expects to be reminded of the thesis and the re-statement signals the concluding paragraph.
  • Use the GQ SALE SC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph informational-explanatory essay on trending ice cream flavors would not include a Statement of Significance or Call to Action; however, an argumentative essay on changing the electoral college system of electing the President certainly could use these strategies.
  • Comment on and evaluate evidence. For example, not all evidence is equally convincing. Commenting on the quality of evidence and prioritizing evidence is a mark of good scholarship and writing.
  • Synthesize and apply evidence. For example, “The combination of unseasonably warm storms and lack of levee maintenance contributed to the flooding.” The sum of the evidence parts can be greater than the whole.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer. Instead, use qualified modifiers such as maymightprobably, most likely, generally, etc.
  • Simply repeat. A cleverly worded thesis re-statement will transition to the analysis, insights, and judgments of an effective conclusion paragraph. Even the Summary Statement should be selective, not repetitive.
  • Add new evidence. For example, the conclusion paragraph is not the place to add on “forgot to mention” or “Additionally” or “one more” statements.
  • Begin the conclusion paragraph with unnecessary transitions. Avoid phrases like “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in summary,” and “to sum up.” These phrases can be useful–even welcome–in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You’ll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious (Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University).

The Big Picture

Think of an essay conclusion as a vital part of demonstrating how you have proven your point of view in an argumentative essay or achieved the purpose of your essay in an informational-essay.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Conclusion Strategies in your classroom?

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Get this resource plus 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions (works great with Microsoft Word and Google Docs).

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How to Use Numerical Values to Write Essays

Using numerical values to identify and apply expository writing structure has proved an effective tool in identifying expository text structure and helping writers organize essays. The numerical values eliminate the writing jargon that varies from teacher to teacher and curriculum to curriculum. Instead, writers simply apply the implicit hierarchy of the number system to that of reading and writing. Writers just seem to intuitively “get” the idea of a number system applied to their expository writing in essays.

The Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum uses following number system:

(1) for the introductory strategies of an essay introduction—for example, a definition or a preview of the topic sentences.

(2) for the thesis statement that “talks about” the introduction strategies.

(3) for the topic sentences that “talk about” the thesis statement.

(4) for the major details that “talk about” the topic sentence.

(5) for the support details that “talk about” the major details.

(6) for the conclusion strategies—for example, a thesis re-statement or summary.

For Developing Recognition of Text Structure

Try analyzing expository reading by numbering the sentences. Critique the writing by analyzing the structure and whether there is sufficient evidence, e.g. enough (5s) to back the (4s).

For Essay Writing

Using your own writing prompts, practice varying sentence order within the numerical hierarchy to help students develop a flexible writing style to address the demands of the writing prompt and improve the quality of your essays. Try the following paragraph organizations and watch your students improve their writing structure and recognition of text structure at the same time.

1. (3)-(4)-(4)

2. (3)-(4)-(4)-(4)

3. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

4. (4)-(5)-(3)-(4)-(5)

5. (4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(3)

6. (4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

7. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

8. (3)-(4)-(4)-(4)-(5)

9. (3)-(4)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

10. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(5)

11. (Transition Statement)-(3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

12. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(Concluding Statement)

13. (1)-(1)-(2) added to any two of the above body paragraphs

14. (6)-(6)-(6) added to any two of the above body paragraphs

15. (1)-(1)-(2) added to any two of the above body paragraphs (6)-(6)-(6)

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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How to Write Body Paragraphs

A fourth grade teacher wisely discourages her students from beginning sentences with Because because sentence fragments will result. Example: Because I am learning to write. An eighth grade teacher wisely encourages his students to begin sentences with Because because sophisticated complex sentences will result. Example: Because I am learning to write, the teacher should have different instructional approaches to adjust to the maturity of the student. Both teachers know how to teach to the developmental levels of their student writers. When an eighth grade student complains about the fourth grade teacher teaching something wrong, I smile and ask if that teenager would answer the following question the same way to a fourth and eighth grader: Where do babies come from? Obviously it makes sense to teach on a needs to know basis.

Teachers certainly need to consider the age of the student writer when teaching the structure and components of the multi-paragraph argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays. This is particularly important when teaching How to Write an Essay Introduction. The following introduction strategies will equip teachers to have a flexible approach to teaching students How to Write an Essay Introduction.

Many writers have not learned how to write body paragraphs for an essay, article, formal research paper, or business letter. All too often, students only received this limited instruction about how to write body paragraphs: “Write a topic sentence; write major detail sentences; then, support the major detail sentences with minor detail sentences.” Not much help with that limited instruction…

The following strategies will help you write learn how to write body paragraphs that will be appropriate to the writing task, provide pertinent evidence to prove your thesis, and also show off your writing skills. The CeF SCALE memory trick will help remind you of the evidence strategies you need to use on timed writing tasks. Not every evidence strategy fits the purpose of every writing task, so learn and practice these options to increase your writing skill-set.

CeF SCALE Evidence Strategies (Think Centigrade Fahrenheit) 

  1. A comparison means to show how the subject is like something else in a meaningful way. (C)
  2. An experience used as evidence may be a commonly known event or an event of which there is limited knowledge. (e)
  3. A fact means something actually said or done. Use quotes for direct or indirect quotations. (F)
  4. A statistic is a numerical figure that represents evidence gained from scientific research. (S)
  5. A counterpoint states an argument against your thesis statement and then provides evidence against that argument. (C)
  6. An appeal to authority is a reference from an authority on a certain subject. (A)
  7. Logic means to use deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning to prove a point. (L)
  8. An example is a subset typical of a category or group. (E)

Body paragraphs are organized around the topic sentence, which is the main point, reason, or argument to prove the thesis statement. Always place your topic sentence at the beginning of each body paragraph. Writing research indicates that the topic sentence is placed at the beginning of the body paragraph 80% of the time in published works, so don’t re-invent the wheel. Write in the way your reader expects to read.

Then, use the CeF SCALE evidence strategies to provide the evidence you need to support your topic sentence. Think of writing body paragraphs much as a prosecuting attorney uses evidence to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime. Connect your body paragraph evidence strategies with effective transition words to maintain coherence. The body paragraph should flow together as one whole. Every word should move the reader toward the demanded verdict, which is your thesis statement.

Use a variety of evidence to support your topic sentence in each paragraph. I suggest that two or three types of evidence per body paragraph is most effective. A good attorney uses a wide variety of evidence. Limiting evidence to one form will weaken your overall argument and not win your conviction. Think of the O.J. Simpson’s “Trial of the Century.” The prosecution overly relied on DNA evidence and failed to convince its jury. All it took was “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” to provide enough doubt to the jury to acquit the defendant.

After composing the topic sentence, flesh out each evidence strategy in a compound-complex sentence or two separate sentences. Then, analyze the evidence in another sentence. Of course, sometimes it is also appropriate to do the reverse: state a major detail that addresses the topic sentence and then provide the evidence strategy to support that detail.

A good body paragraph might be structured in this way:

  • Topic Sentence
  • Evidence Strategy #1 Sentence
  • Analysis Sentence
  • Evidence Strategy #2 Sentence
  • Analysis Sentence
  • Major Detail
  • Evidence Strategy #3 Sentence

Generally, avoid concluding statements in short essays. Concluding statements are helpful when used in longer research papers, following several paragraphs organized by one umbrella topic sentence.

I suggest that you take the time to pre-write before drafting any writing task. Compose your thesis statement first; then, brainstorm the body paragraphs. Next, draft the body paragraphs, skipping space to later write your introductory paragraph. Then, write the introduction. Finish the writing with your conclusion paragraph.

Now you have the right strategies to make your case, using a variety of effective evidence. Using the CeF SCALE evidence strategies will help you convince your jury.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

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Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies
Find 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets and quickly move students from simple three-word paragraphs to complex multi-paragraph essays. With 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources, the teacher can differentiate instruction with no additional prep with Teaching Essay Strategies.

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Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

With the inclusion of essays on high-stakes tests such as the SAT® and ACT®, as well as many state standards tests and high-school exit exams, the need to improve writing fluency has recently surfaced as a desired goal. Which approaches to writing fluency work best?

1. Teach students to read a variety of writing prompts. Expose students to different content area and writing domain prompts. For example, using social science, literature, and science content with informational, expository, analytical, and persuasive domains. Teach students to read the writing prompt twice—the first time for understanding and the second time to circle the subject and highlight key words.

2. Give students ample practice in turning writing prompts into effective essay topic sentences. “Thesis Turn-Arounds” can be a productive “opener” to any lesson in any subject area. For example, if the prompt reads “Analyze the causes of the Civil War,” students could begin their theses with “Many causes contributed to the Civil War.”

3. Give students practice in developing quick pre-writes to organize a multi-paragraph writing response. Teach a variety of graphic organizers and review how each is appropriate to different writing prompts.

4. Give students practice in writing introductory paragraphs after pre-writing. Give students practice in writing just one timed body paragraph to address one aspect of the essay after pre-writing.

5. Provide immediate individual feedback to students with brief writers conferences.

6. Use the overhead projector to use critique real student samples. Write along with students and have them critique your writing samples.

7. Teach how to pace various allotted essay times. For example, the SAT® essay is only 25 minutes. The Smarter Balance and PAARC tests provide unlimited writing time. Brainstorm and allocate times before a full essay writing fluency for the following: analysis of the writing prompt, pre-write, draft, revisions, editing.

8. If a brief reading passage is part of the background for the writing task, teach students to annotate the passage with margin notes as they read.

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Improve Writing Parallelism

Writing parallelism refers to the repeated usage of words and grammatical structures in a well-designed pattern. Parallel structures assist the comprehension of the reader and provide a memorable rhythm to the writing.

Most all writing is structured and writing parallelism improves writing structure. The structure changes according to the domain of the writing, but when an author consistently follows a plan, the reader can clearly follow what the author intends to share or to prove.

Hints to Improve Writing Parallelism

  1. Repeat key words throughout an essay to help the reader maintain focus.
  2. Use the same grammatical structures for phrases within lists, for example, verb endings.
  3. Repeated transitions can also produce interesting writing parallelism.

One of the greatest examples of writing parallelism in American literature is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

-Carefully read the address and then examine the phrases listed below to identify the writing parallelism Review the text to see how the parallel structures are repeated.

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground.

a new nation

conceived in liberty

we are engaged

so conceived

that nation

we can not dedicate

-Now, pick out the writing parallelism in the remainder of the text on your own.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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