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Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Academic Literacy Centers

As most teachers have now adjusted their writing instruction and practice into the narrowed focus of the Common Core State Standards (more research and essays and less stories and creative writing), I see a renewed interest in developing the skill sets of student writers.

Teachers have, understandably, focused on the first three Common Core Writing Standards: 1. The argumentative (essay) 2. The informational/explanatory (essay or report) 3. The narrative (story). Most teachers have had professional development in these three genre and teach all three at some time within each school year.

Additionally, most teachers are now implementing Writing Standards W.6, 7, 8, and 9 by using technology for short or extended research writing projects.

However, teachers are less familiar with the other three writing standards and few are well-acquainted with the relevant language standard. Teachers usually refer to these standards as writing skills or strategies. Typically, teachers have taught these tools in isolation as writing openers/worksheets or in the writing context as mini-lessons/editing. These skills or strategies are ideally suited to literacy center (station) lessons.

Following are the often-neglected writing and language standards:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Teachers have used three research-based strategies to teach these writing skills or strategies: 1. Frequent, short, and focused writing practice 2. Sentence revisions 3. Literary response

How to Teach to These Standards

Fortunately, #s 2 and 3 are best accomplished by #1.

Sentence Revision (called by many other names) includes quick, focused instruction and repetitive practice in precise word choice, sentence structure (grammar, usage, and syntax), and sentence variety (varied grammatical forms, sentence combining, sentence length, parallelism, etc.)

Literary Response includes learning from accomplished writers. Teachers have used both expository and narrative mentor texts for years to model how writers communicate artfully and memorably. Typically, students respond to mentor texts in different rhetorical modes (rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form) to develop their own writing style.

If you glance back at the often-neglected writing and language standards above, you’ll see how sentence revision and literary response activities address the components of these standards and can be taught and practiced in frequent, short, and focused writing practice.

One great way to teach sentence revision and literary response writing skills is in literacy centers (stations). The social nature of collaborative writing is especially conducive to literacy centers.

 

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

Get the Writing Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Writing is Taught and Caught

Writing Skills: Taught and Caught

Now that teachers have had plenty of professional development in how to write arguments (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1) and informative/explanatory texts (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2), teachers are looking at their students’ essays or narratives (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3) with a collective sigh. Students just cannot write.

Students seem to understand the content, they know the demands and constraints of the writing genre, they can dissect a writing prompt, they know the writing process… but the words they use, the sentences they construct, and the intangible feeling our student writers convey simply do not engage their readers (teachers especially).

The Problem

Many teachers are not equipping their students with the tools they need in their tool belts. Or, just as bad, teachers introduce the tools, but don’t provide the practice students need to master the tools.

The Solution

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

Fortunately, the Common Core authors do acknowledge the importance of teaching both sentence revisions and literary response in both the Anchor Standards for Writing and the Anchor Standards for Language (highlighting my own):

Writing Anchor Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language Anchor Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Suggestions

Keep your focus on both the content and process of writing. Maintain a balance of extended writing process assignments (especially essays and stories) and short, say twice-per-week writing skill development, especially using sentence revisions and literary response activities.

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

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Essay Conclusion Response Comments

Fair to say that the essay conclusion tends to be the weakest instructional piece of our essay teaching repertoire. The full extent of my own high school English instruction regarding this essay component was “Re-state the thesis, sum up the essay main points, and give a finished feel to the essay.” Not much help and not much thinking required of the writer with those instructions!

For good and bad, most teachers teach as they were taught (or not). True, we do pick up a few things along the way… Early in my teaching career, I attended a writing workshop or read a book encouraging the teaching of a “Call to Action” in the conclusion paragraph. A revelation to me and to my fellow English teachers… something concrete I could teach to my students and a strategy that actually required some thinking! Unfortunately, English teachers square pegged that one to death. I remember an English teacher assigning a response to literature essay analyzing the themes of Moby Dick and requiring a “Call to Action” as part of the conclusion. Made absolutely no sense.

To my knowledge I’ve never met a teacher who said she remembers learning specific conclusion strategies in undergrad or grad school English composition classes. Nothing in Strunk’s Elements of Style on essay conclusions, either. We all tend to devalue what we don’t understand or experience and esteem that which we easily comprehend and practice. For example, I came across the same set of instructions when grading state writing exams a number of years ago. I was surprised in discussing the scoring rubric that a student could achieve a perfect 6 score without including a conclusion. Clearly, these test-writers did not appreciate the value of the essay conclusion.

As a teacher, I’ve found that most of my colleagues do an admirable job of teaching essay and paragraph structure, especially how to dissect a writing prompt, how to write an effective thesis statement, and how to compose body paragraphs. However, the teaching of the introduction strategies (the hooks) and the conclusion strategies receive short shrift. My guess is that teachers have little knowledge and experience about these essay components, and so they focus on what they know, have done, and can teach best.

But we do have other models of how the essay conclusion can be an essential ingredient to the essay. Talk to any upper elementary, middle, or high school science teacher about the role that conclusions play in the scientific method. The conclusions in science lab reports come to mind: a true analysis of the observations; commentary on the experimental design; verification of the hypothesis; suggestions for related research and experimentation.

I say let’s re-focus our attention on the essay conclusion. Let’s broaden the opportunities for students to reflect and provide meaningful analysis and application of the evidence, argument, and/or information presented in the body paragraphs. Let’s encourage students to not just re-state the thesis (Do so… the audience expects it!), but also to analyze the degree to which they were able or unable to prove their purpose or point of view.

How to Teach Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies

Check a related article on How to Teach the Essay Conclusion for a variety of conclusion strategies. Also, look at the targeted comments I’ve developed for all components of the essay, including conclusion paragraphs. They are the same kinds of comments you’d type up and program if you took the time to do so. Learn how to use these comments to respond to first or second drafts, and not just as summative comments on the final draft.

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to access a downloaded comment.

Examples:

e46 Needs Thesis Re-statement Essay conclusions traditionally begin with a thesis re-statement. Consider using a different grammatical sentence opener or opening transition word to avoid repetition.

e47 Needs Another Conclusion Strategy Use at least two conclusion strategies. Add a Generalization, Question for Further Study, Statement of Significance, Application, Argument Limitations, Emphasis of Key Point, Summary Statement, or Call to Action. GQ SALE SC

e48 Needs a Different Conclusion Strategy Use a  variety of conclusion strategies. Add a Generalization, Question for Further Study, Statement of Significance, Application, Argument Limitations, Emphasis of Key Point, Summary Statement, or Call to Action. GQ SALE SC

e49 Needs a Finished Feeling  A conclusion needs to provide a finished feeling for the reader. The conclusion must satisfy the reader that the purpose has been achieved or point of view has been convincingly argued.

As we all know, many of the same comments will apply to most students. How many times have we veteran English teachers written out this comment in an essay conclusion: “Don’t introduce new evidence in the conclusion”? 1000? One smart solution would be to develop a bank of most-often used essay comments to help students revise all areas of the essay:

Introduction Paragraphs, Body Paragraphs: Argument, Analysis, Evidence, Conclusion Paragraphs, Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format, Textual Citations, Parts of Speech, Subjects and Predicates, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules 

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to

Response Comments for Essay Conclusions

Essay Conclusion e-Comments

access a downloaded comment (See above examples). Using e-comments to insert into online student essays submitted on Microsoft Word or in Google Docs can save grading time and allow teachers be selective, prescriptive, and efficient. Of course, many teachers prefer to copy and paste these comments and then print off a comments for each student. Teachers can then hold students accountable for revision.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Works great in Microsoft Word and can be batch dumped easily into Google Docs. Nice for paper comments as well. The comments use the same, consistent language Common Core language of instruction. I’ve included this comment download in my Teaching Essay Strategies and The Pennington Manual of Style (a slice of the comprehensive essay program).

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