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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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Essay Hooks and Response Comments

Most teachers have the same general sense of what an essay hook (or introduction strategy) is and what makes a good one.  To make sure that my assumption was right, I googled “essay hooks” to verify the consensus.

Quite a mix of results! Essays for sale sites, scholarly comments, teacher tips, and even an essay hook generator. I’ve included brief comments in order of the resources with links, although my ELA teacher cognitive dissonance pits my need to cite references and avoid plagiarism with my distain for cheating and paying others to do one’s own work. Here’s representative sample of comments:

An essay hook is the first one or two sentences of your essay. It serves as an introduction and works to grab the reader’s attention. The first couple sentences will help your reader decide whether they want to continue reading your essay or not.

The hook provides an “emotional connection with your reader” (Tucker).

“A fisherman will use a shiny lure to get a fish on his or her hook” George Brown University.

When writing an essay, the hook is a connection to the real word that gets the readers interested in reading the rest of the essay.

“Getting your reader to say, ‘Wow! Cool!’ or ‘I need to read more about that!’” (Unknown Blogger)

Generally, I think my assumption was correct. Teachers agree that introduction strategies, such as hooks, are necessary to engage the reader and set up the thesis statement in an essay introduction.

How to Teach Essay Introduction Strategies

Essay Introduction Strategies

Teachers may even know how to teach a variety of essay hooks. However, writing comments to respond to student essays as formative assessment (first or second drafts) and summative assessment (final published draft) is tougher work. It’s both art and science.

The Art of Writing Essay Introduction Comments

Obviously, the teacher needs to comment so that students will actually read and apply the advice. The more I teach, the more I realize how much of my success (and lack thereof) is due to how much I can motivate students. In terms of teaching writing, this means that the teacher needs to know the individual student—what the student already knows, how much criticism the student can take, and if the student responds to cajoling or praise. How many comments will the student be able to handle? How general or specific should the comments be? Does the student have a thin or thick skin?

The Science of Writing Essay Hook Responses

The teacher has got to have the experience both as a reader and as a writer to know what an effective essay introduction looks like. Doing essay read-arounds and norming student essays can be eye-opening (and sometimes humbling) experiences for teachers. Writing is both an objective and subjective experience, as is reading. What makes sense or moves me can be quite different than what does so to a colleague or student. However, most of us can learn to spot a good essay introduction and a poor one… an effective hook and an ineffective one.

Combining the art and science of essay comments, it makes sense to have options. Frankly, many of the same comments will apply to most students. How many

Downloadable Essay Comments

Essay Introduction e-Comments

times have most writing teachers written the same comment a dozen times in grading a batch of student essays? Using e-comments to insert into online student essays submitted on Microsoft Word or in Google Docs helps teachers be selective, prescriptive, and efficient. Of course, many teachers find that printing off a page of e-comments works better for students. Either way, there is a built-in accountability for students to revise work according to the comments. Let’s face it… having an effective bank of essay e-comments would save teachers a whole lot of grading time!

Check out these 16 introduction strategies (hooks) and thesis statement e-comments, with clear instructions about how to insert this comment bank into Microsoft Word HERE. Plus learn how to insert your own comments into your own e-comment bank.

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, for example:

e2 Needs a Different Introduction Strategy Use a variety of introduction strategies. Add a Definition, Question to be Answered, Reference to Something Known in Common, Quote from an Authority, Preview of Topic Sentences, Startling Statement, Background, or Controversial Statement. DQ RAPS BC

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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Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames

I teach a seventh grade ELA class and we’ve just finished reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. In fact, we’ve already written our argumentative essays on “whether Phoebe was a good friend to Sal.” Of course the writing prompt is a bit more complex. It’s my students first attempt at writing the argumentative essay. They are struggling with the counterclaim (counterargument) and refutation (rebuttal) as these are new Standards for seventh graders. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

Although writers use plenty of other options, I’m teaching the counterclaim and refutation in the final body paragraph.

The following sentence frames helped out my students considerably:

First Contrasting Transition + Name the Opposition + Strong Verb + Opposing Point of View + Evidence + Analysis + Second Contrasting Transition + Reference the Opposing Point of View + Turn

First Contrasting Transition +

However, But, Admittedly, Although, Alternatively

Name the Opposition +

others, some

Strong Verbs + Denial/Assertion or Assertion

Denial: reject, oppose,  disagree, question, doubt this view and Assertion: argue that, reason that, claim that, support, conclude that

Opposing Point of View +

State the opposing point of view.

Evidence +

Pick the best evidence to support the opposing point of view. Don’t pick a “straw man.” In other words, don’t pick a weak opposing argument that is too easy to refute.

Analysis +

Explanation, insight, example, logic to support the counterclaim evidence

Second Contrasting Transition +

Still, However, But, Nevertheless, Yet, Despite, Although, Even though

Reference the Opposing Point of View +

this argument, this position, this reasoning, this evidence, this view

Turn

Now you turn the opposing point of view, evidence, and analysis back to support your thesis statement. Various options can be effective:

1. Accept the criticism of the counterclaim. Tell why all or part of the opposing point of view may be reasonable, plausible, or valid, but minimize the opposing position. For example, This evidence may be true; however, the objection does not change the fact that…

2. Reject the counterclaim. For example, This view ignores the conclusive evidence that… This position is mistaken because…

3. Criticize the evidence and analysis of the counterclaim as being unimportant, irrelevant, or a misinterpretation. For example, this argument misses the key point that…

4. Criticize the reasoning of the counterclaim as being flawed, illogical, or biased. 

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to using Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s 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.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

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

Tim Walker

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Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)?

The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

It’s all about scholarship and tactics: intellectual honesty and manipulation.

In argumentative essays the writer must prove his or her thesis according to the rules of the game, but the writer needs to know the rules so thoroughly that these rules can be used to work in the writer’s favor. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a senior at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!).

As a senior I took a seminar on independent research. At the suggestion of a professor, I dug into the Halévy Thesis: the thesis that the rise of religious revivals in Eighteenth Century England helped prevent a French-style revolution. I know. Pretty obscure. But for some reason the project really got me going: The thrill of academic discovery, the smell of the musty old book stacks, the cute library helper, etc.

Anyways, I became convinced that the Halévy Thesis was true. As a twenty-one year old I had discovered absolute truth. Not only did religious revival prevent violent revolution in England, it could also save our society today, cure the common cold, and solve the Middle East problem.

An effective counterclaim can…

  1. show how a different conclusion can be drawn from facts.
  2. show how an assumption many be unwarranted.
  3. show how a key term has been misused.
  4. show how evidence has been ignored or downplayed.
  5. show how an alternative explanation might make more sense.
  6. test your argument.
  7. anticipate objections to your thesis.
  8. help the writer weigh alternatives.
  9. show how informed you the writer are about opposing arguments.
  10. make the writer’s argument stronger.
  11. show that the writer is reasonable and respectful of opposing views.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to Why Use an Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s 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.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

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

Tim Walker

Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim

Where is the best place to put the essay counterclaim? The short and sweet answer? David Oldham, professor at Shoreline Community College, states, “The short answer is a counter-argument (counterclaim) can go anywhere except the conclusion. This is because there has to be a rebuttal paragraph after the counter-argument, so if the counter-argument is in the conclusion, something has been left out.”

The counterclaim is the opposing point of view to one’s thesis and is also known as the counterargument. The counterclaim is always accompanied by a refutation, sometimes referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards include the counterclaim in Writing Standards 1.0 for grades 7-12. These Standards reference the organization of the counterclaim in terms of clear relationships and logical sequencing. See the boldface phrases in the following grades 7-12 Standards.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

 

Seventh Grade: Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Eighth Grade: Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Ninth and Tenth Grade: Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade: Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Placement Options

1. Writers can place a separate counterclaim paragraph with refutation as the last body paragraph prior to the conclusion paragraph.

Separate Paragraph Example #1 

COUNTERCLAIM Opponents argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries. Specifically, health professionals suggest that life-threatening concussions occur at frightening rates for student athletes participating in such popular after school sports as football, soccer, basketball, and wrestling (Bancroft 22, 23). Even minor injuries sustained from participation in after school sports increase absent rates and the expense of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). REFUTATION Although students do suffer both serious and minor injuries in after school sports, these injuries are quite rare. The organization, supervision, and safety measures of school-sponsored sports are superior to those of alternative fee-based community-sponsored recreational leagues or even privately sponsored sports organizations (Kinney 2). Additionally, without free after school sports programs, many students would still play sports without adult supervision and even more injuries would result.

2. Writers can place a separate counterclaim paragraph without refutation as the first body paragraph following the thesis statement to anticipate objections prior to providing evidence to prove the claim of the thesis statement.

Separate Paragraph Example #2 

COUNTERCLAIM Those who favor eliminating after school sports argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries. Specifically, health professionals suggest that life-threatening concussions occur at frightening rates for student athletes participating in such popular after school sports as football, soccer, basketball, and wrestling (Bancroft 22, 23). Even minor injuries sustained from participation in after school sports increase absent rates and the expense of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). Additionally, youth and adolescents are not developmentally ready to play contact sports. Key components of the brain and skeletal structure have not yet formed (Mays 14), and injuries can have lasting damage to young people.

3. Writers can embed a counterclaim and refutation within a body paragraph.

Embedded within Paragraph Example

After school sports provide safe and free programs for students who might otherwise not be able to participate in individual or team sports. The organization, supervision, and safety measures of school-sponsored sports are superior to those of alternative fee-based community-sponsored recreational leagues or even privately sponsored sports organizations (Kinney 2). Additionally, without free after school sports programs, many students would still play sports without adult supervision and even more injuries would result. COUNTERCLAIM However, some people would argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries and resulting absences with the added expenses of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). REFUTATION Although students do suffer both serious and minor injuries in after school sports and there are resulting absences and injury reports, without school-sponsored sports the likelihood of more injuries from less supervised recreational leagues or privately sponsored leagues with fewer safety regulations would, no doubt, be much worse.

4. Writers can embed a counterclaim and refutation within a sentence or sentences found in a body paragraph.

Embedded within Sentences Example

After school sports provide safe and free programs for students who might otherwise not be able to participate in individual or team sports. COUNTERCLAIM Even so, some would question the safety of these programs, citing the numbers of life-threatening concussions from after school sports such as football, REFUTATION but these statistics are misleading. According to the highly respected Youth in Sports report, fewer serious injuries occur to students playing after school sports as compared to students not playing after school sports (Green 22).

5. Writers can embed a counterclaim within the introductory paragraph and use the thesis statement as refutation.

Introductory Paragraph Example

After school sports are extra-curricular activities included in most elementary, middle school, and high schools throughout the world. COUNTERCLAIM Some would argue that schools can no longer afford these programs and the expenses of lawsuits resulting from sports-related injuries. REFUTATION AS THESIS STATEMENT On the contrary, schools can and should invest in well-supervised after school sports to promote health and minimize sports-related injuries.

Each of these counterclaim placements has merit, depending upon the nature of the argumentative essay. Help students develop the writing flexibility and dexterity they need by applying each of these strategies in the draft and revision stages. As always, show models of counterclaims and refutations, teach a variety of types of evidence, and help students avoid the pitfalls of fallacious reasoning.

In addition to Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, What is the Essay Counterclaim?, and Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s 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.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

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

Tim Walker

Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the Essay Counterclaim?

As is often the case, instructional writing terminology can be confusing and there is no consensus as to a common language of instruction. Regarding the essay counterclaim, which words mean exactly what?

Synonyms for the Counterclaim (with or without hyphens): Counterargument, Opposing Claims, Alternate Claims

Synonyms for the Refutation: Rebuttal, Turn

Whichever words are used, most writing teachers would agree that the opposing point of view should be somehow acknowledged and responded to in an argumentative essay.

But here again the academic community is divided: Just what constitutes an essay?

Some writing teachers see all writing as argumentative including essays, research papers, lab reports, you name it. After all, even the most objective evidence must be evaluated through the lenses of inherently biased writers who attempts to inform, impact, or convince their audiences.

The highly regarded Writing Center resources developed by professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seem to adopt this position: What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea” http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/argument/.

Another group of resources often used by writing teachers includes The Online Writing Center (OWL) at Purdue University. These professors differentiate argumentative essays from expository essays, but only in terms of the scope of research. Following is their explanation: “Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/685/05/.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

However, the writers of the Common Core State Standards do see a division in purpose and point of view for the purposes of essay instruction and so have separate Standards for the argumentative essay (W. 1.0) and the informational-explanatory essay (W. 2.0). Whether the separate Standards were created as practical measures to reflect the maturity of Kꟷ12 students or as a position on the rules and roles of different rhetorical types I do not know.

Following are the Common Core State Writing Standards for the argumentative essay counterclaim:

No counterclaim is included until seventh grade. Additions to the seventh grade and subsequent Standards have been boldfaced by this author.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.1.A
Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.A
Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.A
Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.1.A
Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to What is the Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s 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.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

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

Tim Walker

Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Essay Body Paragraphs

When I students how to write evidence in essay body paragraphs, I tell them to imagine themselves as a jury in a murder trial. Each juror will be convinced by different types of evidence. Some lean on eyewitness testimony; others only trust forensic evidence; one or two may be swayed by the logic of circumstantial Wouldn’t it make sense for a prosecuting attorney to reach out to all juror interests to make her case?

Similarly, student writers need to consider the needs of their audience in the types of evidence they include in essay body paragraphs. Following are eight types of evidence with a clever memory trick for students to reference. Of course, not all eight types of evidence would be appropriate for all argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays.

Types of Evidence: FE SCALE C

1. Fact means something actually done or said.

Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

2. Example is a part of something used to explain the whole thing.

Peas, beans, and corn are examples of vegetables.

3. Statistic is an amount, fraction, or percentage learned from scientific research.

The world has over 7 billion people; half live in Asia; only 5% live in the United States.

4. Comparison means to show how one thing is like or unlike another.

Both automobiles are available with hybrid engines, but only one has an all-electric plug-in option.

5. Authority is an expert which can be quoted to support a claim or a topic.

According to the Surgeon General of the United States, “Smoking is the chief cause of lung cancer.”

6. Logic is deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning.

All fruits have vitamins and apples are fruits, so apples have vitamins. The first 10 crayons I picked were red, so the whole box must be filled with red crayons.

7. Experience is a personal observation of or participation in an event.

Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back requires careful planning and takes most of the day.

8. Counterclaim is the argument against one’s point of view, which the writer then minimizes or refutes (proves wrong).

Some argue that a high protein diet is healthy because… However, most doctors disagree due to…

Want to download and print 8 colorful types of evidence posters with explanations and examples? Click Types of Evidence Posters.

Teachers may also be interested in these three articles: How to Improve Writing StyleHow to Write an Introduction and How to Write a Conclusion. Each article includes a link to different writing posters. All are free to download, print, and use as reference tools for your students.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Need the step-by-step resources to teach the argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays? Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, 64 rhetorical stance openers, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency practice, 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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Writing Style

e-Comments for Essay Writing Rules and Style

Essay Writing Rules and Style e-Comments

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.

Check out the essay e-comments teachers need to respond to student essays regarding writing rules and writing style.

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.

Although writing style is certainly unique to every writer, English-language arts teachers have a role in developing that style. Most would agree that there are, in fact, rules of essay style which are unique to that writing genre. I’ve developed a set of 24 Essay Writing Style Rules. 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.

Essay Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

  1. Avoid intentional fragments. Right?
  2. Avoid formulaic phrases in this day and age.
  3. I have shown that you should delete references to your own writing.
  4. Be sort of specific.
  5. Don’t define terms (where a specialized word is used) using “reason is,” “because,” “where,” or “when.”
  6. Avoid using very interesting, nice words that contribute little to a sentence.
  7. Prepositions are not good to end sentences with.
  8. It is a mistake to ever split an infinitive.
  9. But do not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  10. Avoid using clichés like a bad hair day.
  11. Always, avoid attention-getting alliteration.
  12. Parenthetical remarks should (most always) be avoided.
  13. Also, never, never repeat words or phrases very, very much, too.
  14. Use words only as they are defined, no matter how awesome they are.
  15. Even if a metaphor hits the spot, it can be over-played.
  16. Resist exaggeration; it only works once in a million years.
  17. Writers should always avoid generalizations.
  18. Avoid using big words when more utilitarian words would suffice.
  19. What use are rhetorical questions?
  20. The passive voice is a form to be avoided, if it can be helped.
  21. Never write no double negatives.
  22. There are good reasons to avoid starting every sentence with There.
  23. Always, absolutely avoid overstating ideas.
  24. Keep pronoun references close to subjects in long sentences to make them clear.

I’ve developed eight writing style posters with these “rules” to teach students the key elements to effective writing style. Just click on the red button below to get this teachable resource.

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:

Writing , , , , , ,

How to Save Time Grading Essays

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.

No, this is not an automatic grading program. If you’ve tried a few of these, you already have learned that while computers may do a nice job driving our cars, they don’t do as well grading student essays. Instead, the essay e-comments app is simply a “canned” comment base which teachers use “as is” or choose to modify to stop wasting time writing the same comments over and over again. Plus, instead of just identifying the writing issue, the e-Comment teaches students how to revise the problem.

Revise: Too Many “to-be” Verbs Consider limiting use of is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been to one per paragraph. To replace “to be verbs” 1. Substitute a more active verb 2. Begin the sentence with another word from the sentence 3. Change one of the words in the sentence into a verb form.

Teachers can add in their own personalized comments with text or audio files. It’s easy to personalize the e-comment by adding onto the comment bubble. You can also add on a quick audio file to serve as your comment summary.

I’ve developed 438 of these e-comments for these categories of essay response: 1. Essay Organization and Development: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion 2. Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, and Writing Style 3. Format and Citations 4. Sentence Structure and Types of Sentences 5. Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics 6. Spelling

Since these are digital files, teachers can modify and add their own comments to copy and paste into Google Docs, emails, or printed responses. But even better… for essays completed in Microsoft Word®, the app will allow you to insert the e-comments automatically by typing in a simple comment code. For example, simply type in e80 and the e-comment listed above is inserted where you click into the essay you are grading. Cool! Great for peer response, as well. All the app does is to change your autocorrect settings in Word, something you could do manually if you wanted to spend a few hours doing so. Here’s how: How to Add in e-Comments to Microsoft Word Autocorrects

As a reader of the Pennington Publishing Blog, I want to you have this app absolutely free. Download the essay e-comments app: http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Autocorrects.exe) to start working smarter, not harder this school year. To get the complete e-comments comments, quick reference sheet, plus all the resources needed to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays, purchase our Teaching Essay Strategies program.

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 42 essay strategy worksheets that use same language of instruction used in the 438 e-comments, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing TESprocess essays (4 Common Core State Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core State Standard persuasive), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , ,

The Difference between Facts and Claims

What is the difference between these two declarative sentences?

  1. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
  2. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 to keep African-American slaves from gaining U.S. citizenship.

Answer: The assassination is a fact attested by eyewitnesses and medical experts. The reason for the assassination is a claim made by John Wilkes Booth that Lincoln must be killed to prevent granting U.S. citizenship to former slaves.

Knowing the difference between fact and claim is critically important to effective argumentation in both speaking and in writing.

Let’s work at developing a precise definition of these terms: fact and claim.

The word fact is from Latin factum something done, from factus made, from facere to make]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © Harper Collins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014

The word claim is from Old French claimer< Latin clāmāre to cry out; (noun)

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Here’s our first definition.

Fact: Something actually done or something said in a meaningful way.

What is fact?

  • Fact is something that could be verifiable in time and space. Example: The wall was painted blue in 2016. The fact would certainly be verifiable if the school office files contained a similar shade of blue paint chip, attached to a dated 2016 receipt for blue paint and a painting contractor’s 2016 dated invoice marked “Paid in Full.”
  • Fact is an objective reflection of reality. A fact exists independent of our sensory experience. Example: “If a classroom’s walls are blue, then someone must have painted them that color.”

What isn’t fact?

  • Fact is not definition. Examples: “It’s a fact that blue is a mix of green and yellow” or “2 +2 = 4 and If A = B and B = C, then A = C.” Definitions simply state that one thing synonymously shares the same essence or characteristics of another thing. Much of math deals with meaningful definitions, called tautologies, not facts, per se.
  • Fact is not opinion. Example: It’s a fact that the wall color is an ugly shade of blue. Explanation: Again, a fact does not state what something is (a definition). A fact does not state a belief. In contrast, an opinion is a belief or inference (interpretation, judgment, conclusion, or generalization). Check out the related article on Teaching Fact and Opinion by the same author.
  • Fact is not a scientific theory. Example: The universe began fifteen billion years ago with the “Big Bang.” Explanation: “Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” Stephen Jay Gould
  • Fact cannot be wrong.  Example: He got his facts about the blue wall all wrong. Explanation: We really mean that he did not state facts or that he misapplied the use of those facts.
  • Fact is not the same as truth.  Example: It’s a fact that the classroom walls are blue. Explanation: This is known as a category error. We can state the fact that the walls were painted blue or the fact that someone said that they are blue, but this is not the same as truth. There is no process of falsification with facts, as there is with truth. For example, we could not say “It’s not a fact that the classroom walls are black.” Similarly, in a criminal court case, if a defendant pleads not-guilty to the charge that he or she murdered someone, the prosecution must falsify this plea and prove the truth of the guilty charge via evidence, such as facts, in order to convict the defendant.
  • Fact is not a phenomenological representation of reality. Example: The walls appear blue during the day, but have no color at night. Explanation: Just because the blue color appears to disappear at night due to the absence of light, does not mean that this describes reality. To say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west describes how things appear from our perspective, not what factually occurs.

Here’s our second definition.

Claim: An assertion of belief about what is true or what should be.

What is a claim?

  • A claim can be a judgment. Example: Undocumented immigrants who maintain clean criminal records should be not be deported from our country. Explanation: A claim can weigh evidence and reach a conclusion based upon that evidence.
  • A claim can be an inference. Example: The recent missile tests indicate that the country has developed the means to attack neighboring countries. Explanation: The test results regarding missile capabilities can be logically applied to hypothetical situations.
  • A claim can be an interpretation of evidence. Example: The fact the DNA tested on the murder weapon matches the blood type of the defendant means that the defendant could have fired the weapon that killed his wife. Explanation: The interpretation that the physical evidence links to the defendant is a claim. The fact supports the claim.
  • A claim can express a point of view. Example: The election of that candidate would be horrible for the country. Explanation: A point of view expresses an arguable position and frequently considers contrasting points of views by stating counterarguments and refutations.
  • A claim can be supported by research, expert sources, evidence, reasoning, testimony, and academic reasoning. Example: The new research on cancer cures is promising. Explanation: Specific research and quotations from medical authorities may offer convincing evidence.

What isn’t a claim?

  • A claim is not an opinion. Examples: Mr. Sanchez is the best teacher in the school (opinion). Mr. Sanchez’ students perform above the school average on standardized tests (claim). Explanation: The former opinion cannot be proven to be true. The latter claim could be proven to be true with test evidence and data comparisons.
  • A claim is not evidence. Example: In the book, Walk Two Moons, Phoebe was self-centered when she demanded the best bed at the sleepover. Explanation: In an argumentative essay claims can be stated in the thesis and/or topic sentences. For the balance of the essay, the writer uses reason or evidence (which may include facts) and analysis to support the claim(s).
  • A claim is not description. Example: The sunset’s shades of yellow, red, and orange were quite remarkable. Explanation: Description does not assert a truth as a claim does.

Applications to Speaking and Writing

  • Use facts to support your claims and not vice versa.
  • Using more than one fact to support a specific claim can be effective if the facts are directly related. Avoid using a shotgun approach of loosely related facts.
  • Facts usually do not stand on their own as effective evidence. Facts require careful analysis to relate to the claim(s).
  • Don’t rely upon facts as your sole evidence. Other types of evidence can be convincing. A variety of evidence addresses the needs of a variety of readers and provides balance to how you prove your argument. Check out this article on types of evidence by the same author.
  • A claim is not your argument. A claim is not the same thing as the thesis statement or the topic sentences in an argumentative essay. The claim is your overall belief about what is true. How you prove your claim is your argument and your essay structure provides the means to that end.
  • Keep your claim specific. General claims usually are not provable and resort to mere description.
  • Effective claims usually do not consist of absolute statements about what is right and wrong. They explore ideas, theories, points of view, and concepts. In other words, claims rarely involve simple assertions; they are usually multi-faceted and complex.
  • Always acknowledge possible counterclaims and provide counterarguments when relevant.

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

    Teaching Essay Strategies

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 including subject-predicate, unity, coherence, and parallelismwriting fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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438 Essay e-Comments

The user-friendly The Pennington Manual of Style provides concise definitions, explanations, and clear examples to help developing writers learn what is good writing and why it is good writing. Students also learn what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how to fix errors. The manual is organized as follows: Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion), Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format and Citations, Parts of Speech, Grammatical Forms, Usage, Sentence Structure, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules.

For teachers, this guide provides a common language of writing instruction and discourse to use when students submit essays online. The Pennington Manual of Style 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.

Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense      

*Manually responding to essays in red ink can be time-consuming and frustrating. Teachers find themselves using the same comments over and over again, while most students barely glance at their final grade or rubric score and maybe skim the comments before cramming their papers into the depths of their backpacks. Using the computer to respond to student writing solves these problems.

*Having students submit their essays on the computer allows the teacher to insert comprehensive and prescriptive comments in half the time. Students can be held accountable to respond to these comments through revisions and edits.

*Using the 438 e-comments enhances the interactive writing process. The teacher-student interaction changes from static summative evaluation to dynamic formative assessment. This is not an “automatic” grading program. Teachers choose which comments to insert, according to the needs of their students.

*Teachers can edit the 438 e-comments and add in their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Imagine… inserting a quick audio comment to summarize relative strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Unlike other e-grading programs, teachers can save their custom comments.

*Teachers can link to resource sites to provide additional practice or reference.

*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!

*Students can use the Essay e-Comments and add their own for peer response.

*Essay e-Comments can be added onto all teacher and student computers at school and at home, enhancing the social nature of writing response.

The Pennington Manual of Style is included in the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program. Purchase includes the download (into Microsoft Word for any Windows Version) and the teacher short-cuts.

For example, the teacher types “e29” and this comment is inserted into the margin of the student’s essay submission:

e29 Get more specific. The support evidence is too general. Add more specific evidence by including Fact, Example, Statistic, Comparison, Quote from an Authority, Logic, Experience, or Counter-Argument/Refutation. FE SCALE CR

For more examples, check out The Pennington Manual of Style on the author’s website.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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 Pennington Manual of Style e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teaching Essay Strategies

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies is a comprehensive curriculum designed to help teachers teach the essay components of the Common Core Writing Standards. This step-by-step program provides all of the resources for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to teach both the writing process essays and the accompanying writing strategies. The print version includes a digital copy (PDF) of the entire program for classroom display and interactive practice.

The Teaching Essay Strategies program includes the following resources:

Eight Writing Process Essays

The program includes the writing prompts, resource texts, graphic organizers, response, revision, and editing resources to teach eight Writing Process Essays. The first four essays are in the informative/explanatory genre (Common Core Writing Standard 2.0). The last four essays are in the argumentative/persuasive writing genre (Common Core Writing Standard 1.0). Accompanying resource texts include both literary and informational forms, as prescribed by the Common Core Reading Standards.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

This essay curriculum is built upon comprehensive assessment. Each of the eight Writing Process Essays begins with an on-demand diagnostic assessment. Teachers grade this writing task according to relative strengths and weaknesses on an analytical rubric.

Teachers differentiate writing instruction according to this diagnostic data with mini-lessons and targeted worksheets. Remedial resources include lessons in subject-predicate, sentence structure, sentence fragments and run-ons, essay structure, paragraph organization, types of evidence, transitions, essay genre, writing direction words, proofreading, introduction strategies, and conclusion strategies. Advanced resources include lessons in fallacious reasoning, logic, coherence, unity, sentence variety, parallelism, grammatical sentence openers, and writing style.

Formative and Summative Assessment with Essay e-Comments

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the tools for interactive formative assessment. This program includes a downloadable essay e-comments bank of 438 comprehensive and prescriptive writing comments. Teachers who have their students submit their essays electronically can insert these comments into a student’s essay with a click of the mouse. The essay e-comments cut writing response and grading time in half and give students all the tools they need to revise and edit effectively.

Comments cover writing evidence, coherence, essay organization, sentence structure, writing style, grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling—all with concise definitions and examples. Teachers can also add in content links and their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Students revise and edit with Microsoft Word “Track Changes,” then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like professional writers do with their editors! Teachers enter the results of their formative and summative assessments on the analytical rubric. Works on all Windows versions.

Essay Strategy Worksheets

To master the essay strategies detailed in Common Core Writing Standards 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0, students complete 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets. Students move from simple three-word paragraphs to complex multi-paragraph Common Core Writing Standard 1.0 and 2.0 essays, using a time-tested numerical hierarchy for essay organization. This “coding” takes the mystery out of how to organize and compose coherent and unified essays. Students learn and apply the essay writing rules, essay structure, introduction strategies, evidence and argument, conclusion strategies, and all of the common grammatical sentence models in the context of authentic writing practice.

Writing Openers and Quick Writes

Teaching Essay Strategies includes a full year of Sentence Revision (sentence combining, sentence manipulation, and grammatical sentence models), Writing Style Openers, and Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes to help students practice writing dexterity and writing fluency (Common Core Writing Standard 10.0). These 10-minute “openers” require no advance preparation and no teacher correction.

How much class time does it take per week?

The complete Teaching Essay Strategies program takes 90 minutes per week of class time. The resources in this book are user-friendly. External links to wall posters of the key essay writing terms and instructional strategies used in the program are also provided. Absolutely no prep time is required to teach this curriculum.

View the product description here and check out lessons samples in Preview This Book.

The Pennington Manual of Style Preview

RUNLAW Preview

Essay Strategies Toolkit Preview

Preview the introductory video.

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22 MLA Citation Formats

Most mechanics manuals have either too few or too many of the MLA Citation Formats to be of real use to the student, author, or blogger. This one is just right with the most common 22 MLA citation formats. For the few sources that would not be well-suited to these 22, I recommend Purdue Writing Lab’s OWL and Son of Citation Machine. Of course, MLA (the Modern Language Association) is not the only citation format. Two others, APA (American Psychological Association) and CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), are preferred by most social science professors. Here’s a great side by side comparison of all three.

Most would agree that mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. All academicians would agree that proper research citations do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 MLA Citation Formats from The Pennington Mechanics Manual to help you proper cite the most common sources in your Works Cited at the end of a research paper or article and in-text citations and the end of individual direct or indirect quotations. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? Get The Pennington Mechanics Manual PDF here. The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Teaching Essay Strategies program

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Mechanics Manual: 22 MLA Citation Formats

1 MLA Works Cited (Print Book) Pennington, Mark. Teaching Essay Strategies. El Dorado Hills, CA:   Pennington Publishing, 2010. 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

2 MLA Works Cited (Print Encyclopedia) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Encyclopedia of Writing. 1st ed. 1. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2010. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

3 MLA Works Cited (Print Journal) Pennington, M. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. 1.1 (2010): 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

4 MLA Works Cited (Print Magazine) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. 2010: 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

5 MLA Works Cited (Print Newspaper) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” London Bee 5 May 2011: B5. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington B5)

6 MLA Works Cited (Print Textbook or Anthology) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. Ed. Jane Doe. El Dorado Hills: Pennington Publishing, 2010. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

7 MLA Works Cited (Print Letter) Pennington, Mark. “To Jane Doe.” 5 May 2011. El Dorado Hills, CA: 2011. Print. Letter. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

8 MLA Works Cited (Print Document) Pennington, Mark. United States. Civil Air Patrol. District of Colombia: Department of Defense, 2011. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

9 MLA Works Cited (e-Book) Pennington, Mark. Teaching Essay Strategies. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2010. 212-213. e-Book. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

10 MLA Works Cited (Online Journal) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Writing Journal 3.2 (2011): 1-3. Web. 26 Mar 2011.               < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 1-3)

11 MLA Works Cited (Online Magazine) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies 5 May 2011: 22-26. Web. 26 Mar 2011. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 22-26)

12 MLA Works Cited (Online Encyclopedia) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Encyclopedia of Writing. 2. 3. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2011. Web. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 111-113)

13 MLA Works Cited (Web Document) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

14 MLA Works Cited (Web-based Videos or Images) “Sunset in Cancun.” Tropical Paradises. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (“Sunset in Cancun”)

15 MLA Works Cited (Blog) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Pennington Publishing. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com/blog>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

16 MLA Works Cited (Podcast) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Writing Podcasts. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

17 MLA Works Cited (E-Mail) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Message to Jane Doe. 5 May 2011. E-mail.  In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

18 MLA Works Cited (Online Forum) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” 5 May 2011. Online Posting to Writing Forum. Web. 26 Mar 2011. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

19 MLA Works Cited (Online Government Document) Pennington, Mark. United States. Civil Air Patrol. District of Colombia: Department of Defense, 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.departmentofdefense.gov>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 22-26)

20 MLA Works Cited (Radio, Television, Film, or Recording) “Magical Kingdoms.” Behind the Scenes with the Mouse. Pennington Broadcasting Company: KTES, El Dorado Hills, 5 May 2015. Radio. 26 Mar 2011. In-Text Citation: (“Magical Kingdoms”)

21 MLA Works Cited (Online Interview) Pennington, Mark. Writing Works. Interview by Oprah Walters. 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com/blog>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

22 MLA Works Cited (Lecture) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” English-language Arts Class. El Dorado Hills Unified School District. El Dorado High School, El Dorado Hills. 5 May 2011. Lecture. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

Information taken from MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed., 2009, sections 6.4.8, 7.7.1, and 5.6.2.

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22 Quotation Mark Rules

The most misused and confused punctuation marks? Quotation marks have my vote. I have two theories as to why. 

The first is academic; the second is more a matter of mental illness.

First, Americans have the Brits to blame for our confusion (and they have the former colonists for theirs). The British use single quotation marks, when Americans use double quotation marks and we each reverse when using quotes within quotes. The Brits are also consistent in their placement of punctuation, while Americans are not. For example, the Brits place periods to the left of the citation, while we opt for the right. Example: Americans = “Over 22% were sterile” (Hampton 34).  British = “Over 22% were sterile.” (Hampton 34) For more of American-British differences, check here.

Secondly, educated students and adults have access to a vast amount of correct and incorrect use of mechanics and grammar rules. With the Internet our publishing standards have declined as most of us do not hire copy editors, or God forbid use Spell Check and/or Grammar Review to publish on the Web. As is often the case, professionals such as teachers and editors are exposed to so many repeated mistakes that they truly begin to question what is right and what is wrong. As a teacher of 30-something years and author of numerous spelling and grammar, usage, and mechanics books, I would hazard to guess that I’ve seen as many mistakes using quotation marks as I’ve seen correct usage. I truly begin to doubt myself sometimes.

I distinctly remember a late afternoon, sitting alone in my classroom in Sutter Creek, California. I was teaching eighth grade English and I had one more essay to grade before hopping on my motorcycle to head home. The student spelled thier in his first sentence. I had a brief panic attack, thinking that the student must be right and that I had just red-circled at least thirty thiers on other student papers. I actually had to look it up in a dictionary. The older we get, the more mental illness of this sort sets in. We get confused about quotation marks because we so often see them abused. Check out this their, there, they’re cartoon to help you remember correct usage and spelling.

For additional use of quotation marks in academic research, I highly recommend Purdue Writing Lab’s The Owl.

Here’s the 22 quotation marks rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to give you the help you need. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Quotation Mark Rules 

1 Double Quotation Marks Use double quotation marks to title parts of whole things, short things, or things which can’t be picked up from a table. Specifically, enclose titles of book chapters, articles, songs, videos, short poems, documents, reports, and short stories within double quotation marks. Example: The best chapter is titled “Mad Men.”

2 Double Quotation Marks for Special Use Words or Phrases Use double quotation marks to enclose words or phrases used in a different way than the norm. Example: With “friends” like that, who needs enemies? Use double quotation marks for technical terms. Example: The politician argued against “pork belly politics.”

3 Double Quotation Marks for Translation Double quotation marks or parentheses are used to enclose a translation. Example: The work was muy duro “very hard.”

4 Double Quotation Marks for Nicknames When used in the middle of someone’s full name, a nickname is enclosed in double quotation marks. Example: George Herman “Babe” Ruth

5 Single and Double Quotation Marks for Numbers When numbers are used for measurement, single and double quotation marks are used to show differences in number sets. Examples: The young woman stood 5’9” tall.

6 Double Quotation Marks in Dialogue Use quotation marks before and after dialogue with commas placed to the left of the quotation marks. Ending punctuation goes inside (to the left) of the closing double quotation marks. Begin a new paragraph for each new speaker. Examples:

———She said, “Call me.”

———“If I call,” he said, “it’ll be too late!”

———“So text me,” she replied.

7 Multiple Dialogue Sentences Separate speaker tags from multiple sentences used in a dialogue. Examples: “Call him tomorrow,” John urged. “Then text me what he says.” “Call him tomorrow. Then text me what he says,” urged John. 

8 Dialogue Ending a Paragraph Writers may choose to add dialogue to the end of a paragraph if the paragraph specifically relates to the speaker of the dialogue or the subject to which the dialogue refers. Example: Tom is so unpredictable. You never know how he will react. First, he said that he would not visit. Later, he texted me to call him that night, but I don’t think I will. “I’ll call him tomorrow, instead,” I said out loud.

9 No Punctuation before Dialogue or Direct Quotations If the quoted words flows directly without a pause from the first part of the sentence, no punctuation should be used. Examples: We asked him and he said “okay.” The author thought that “the evidence was quite clear” (Levy 76).

10 Period Placement with Uncited Direct Quotations Periods are placed inside (to the left) of ending double quotation marks for figures of speech and informal quotations. This is the rule even when ending the sentence with a quoted title. Examples: Everyone knows that “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” The music critic “loved everything the band performed.” She especially enjoyed “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree.”

11 Period Placement with Cited Direct Quotations Periods are placed outside (to the right) of the parenthetical citation following a direct quotation. Examples: According to the author, “Few remained to help” (Zaner 45). Ezekiel saw “what seemed to be four living creatures,” each with faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezek. 1.5-10).

12 Question Marks and Exclamation Points with Cited Direct Quotations Question marks and exclamation points go inside (to the left) of the double quotation marks, if part of the quoted sentence, but outside (to the right) of, if not. Example: “Why should we care?” the author asked (Peavy 22). When asking a question about a quotation, remove the ending punctuation, add an ending quotation mark, and then follow with the question mark. Example: In The Declaration of Independence, did Jefferson say “…all men are created equal”?

13 Semicolons with Cited Direct Quotations Semicolons go outside (to the right) of the closing quotation marks. Example: George exclaimed, “I made twenty sales today”; however, George said he had only twelve.

14 Colons with Cited Direct Quotations Colons replace commas following beginning speaker tags to introduce long sentences or passages. Example: The researcher explained:  “No one knew whether the emergency doctor knew how to handle the medical crisis or not.” Colons go outside the closing quotation marks. Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”: these words were President John F. Kennedy’s most memorable. 

15 Removing Words from Direct Quotations When removing words from a direct quotation, use the ellipsis (…) inside the double quotation marks. Only remove information that is irrelevant to the quotation. Example: Did Madison say “…in order to form a more perfect union…”?

16 Long Quotations longer than three lines (not three sentences) should be indented one tab space as a block text. Block quotations are not enclosed with double quotation marks. The citation is placed following all ending punctuation, even periods.

Example:        

———No one knows me

———and no one seems to understand

———the things that I feel

———and the things that I don’t. (Pennington 43)

17 Indirect Quotations Indirect quotations do not need quotation marks because the ideas are paraphrased. Only indirect quotations of a general nature may be used without citations. Example: She told me everything about college life. Indirect quotations of any online or printed sources must be cited in the same manner as direct quotations, but do not need quotation marks. Indirect quotations still require citations. Example: Most credited General Washington’s inspiring leadership (Adams 34).

18 Single Quotations within Double Quotations Use single quotation marks before and after a title that is punctuated by quotation marks or before and after a quotation that appears within the double quotation marks enclosing dialog or a direct quotation. Examples: He asked, “What did Dr. King mean in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by the phrase ‘free at last’?”

19 Italicizing and Underlining Titles Italicizing and underlining are used for the same purposes. Italics are used in word processing; underlines are used in handwriting. Use italics or underlines to title whole things, long things, or things which can be picked up from a table. Specifically, italicize or underline titles of books (except religious books such as the Koran, albums/CDs, movies, television shows, games, magazines, newspapers, plays, blogs, and works of art. Example: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book in the series.

20 Italicizing and Underlining Uncommon Words and Phrases Use italics or underlines to refer to an uncommon word or phrase. The scientist warned of the dangers of frackingthe process of injecting liquid at high pressure beneath the earth’s surface to force open existing fissures to be able to extract oil or gas.

21 Italicizing and Underlining References to Words Use italics or underlines to refer to words within a sentence. Examples: By manage, she really meant control. 

22 Italicizing and Underlining Foreign Words and Phrases Use italics or underlines to refer to a word or for an uncommon foreign words or phrases; use italics or underline instead. Examples: By manage, she really meant control. She certainly did not practice laissez-faire management.

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22 Punctuation Rules

Most of us got plenty of practice in elementary and middle school with commas and capitalization. We thought we were on secure footing until freshman English. At some point during that year, our English teacher tossed out a copy of E.B. White poetry and everything we learned about punctuation went out the door. Besides, we started reading articles and plenty of other expository text with weird things like  semicolons, colons, acronyms, and plural possessives with strange apostrophe placements. Who thought there were actual rules about dashes, brackets, parentheses, and such? And don’t get me started on parentheses. All we knew was that our frosh English teacher loved to use that red pen for the “other punctuation” and grammar rules. We needed, and most of us still need, a bit of help.

Here’s the 22 other punctuation rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to give you the help you need. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Other Punctuation Rules 

1 Singular Possessive A possessive is a noun or pronoun that serves as an adjective to show ownership. For a singular possessive, place an apostrophe at the end of the noun and add an s. Example: His mom’s cookies are the best. Don’t use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun (yours, his, hers, ours, yours, its, theirs). Examples: That plate is your’s. Revision: That plate is yours.

2 Singular Possessive Ending in s or /z/ When ending in an s having a /z/ sound, place an apostrophe, then an s, or simply end with an apostrophe. Examples: Charles’s friend or Charles’ friend is fun.

3 Singular Possessive Gerunds A singular possessive noun can connect to gerunds (verb forms ending in “ing” that serve as sentence subjects). Example: Joe’s cooking is not the best.

4 Singular Possessive Indefinite Pronouns Place the apostrophe before the s for singular indefinite pronouns. Examples: Now it is anybody’s, everybody’s, somebody’s, somebody else’s, either’s ballgame.

5 Plural Possessive without s Ending For a plural possessive of a singular word that doesn’t end in s, place the apostrophe after the s. If the singular and plural forms are spelled     differently, place the apostrophe before the s. Examples: The girls’ team is good, but the women’s team isn’t.

6 Plural Possessive with s Ending For a plural possessive of a singular word that does end in s, add “es” and then the apostrophe. Example: Our stove worked better than the Thomases’ stove.

7 Plural Possessive Joint Ownership When two or more words share joint ownership, the possessive form is used only for the last word. Example: Matt and Suzanne’s wedding was the social event of the season.

8 Plural Possessive Individual Ownership When two or more words are combined to show individual ownership of something, the possessive form is used for each of the words. Examples: Linda’s, Christie’s, and Wendy’s dresses were each individually designed. 

9 Period after Initials and Abbreviations When ending declarative and imperative  sentences with initials and abbreviations, use one period. When ending interrogative and exclamatory sentences, keep the period and add the question mark or exclamation point.  Examples: Is he John, Jr.? Viva U.S.A.!

10 Acronyms An acronym is any abbreviation formed from the first letters of each word in a phrase. Most frequently used acronyms do not require periods. Example: HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language).

11 Contractions A contraction is a shortened form of one or two words (one of which is usually a verb). An apostrophe takes the place of a missing letter(s) at the      beginning, middle, or end of the word. Examples: ‘Tis almost Halloween, but don’t light the jack-o’-lantern yet.

12 Semicolons Use semicolons to join independent clauses with or without conjunctions. Semicolons combine related phrases or dependent clauses. Example: Anna showed up late; Louise didn’t at all.

13 Colons with Ratios Use colons to show a relationship between numbers. Example: At 8:02 p.m. the ratio of girls to boys at the dance was 3:1.

14 Colons within Titles Use colons to show a relationship within titles. Example: Many people are familiar with “Psalm 23: 1” and refer to it as “The Lord is My Shepherd: Psalm 23.”

15 Colons in Business Letters Use colons after business letter salutations. Example: To Whom It May Concern: Thank you for your employment application.

16 Colons with Independent Clauses Use colons at the end of an independent clause to introduce information to explain the clause. Example: This is the most important rule: Keep your hands to yourself.

17 Exclamation Points Use one exclamation point at the end of a word, phrase, or complete sentence to show strong emotion or surprise. Phrases or clauses beginning with What and How that don’t ask questions should end with exclamation points. Examples: Wow! How amazing! The decision really shocked me!

18 Parentheses as Appositives Use parentheses following words as appositives to identify, explain, or define. Dashes or commas can serve the same function. Examples: That shade of lipstick (the red) goes perfectly with her hair color. The new schedule (which begins next year) seems confusing. The protocol (rules to be followed) was to ask questions after the presentation. 

19 Parentheses with Ending Punctuation Ending punctuation never is placed inside of parentheses, even when the parenthetical remark stands on its own as a complete sentence. Examples: I want that Popsicle® (the orange one). He was crazy. (He didn’t even know what day it was).

20 Dashes Use dashes, not hyphens, before and after appositives. Dashes are longer than hyphens and are found in INSERT > SYMBOL in Microsoft Word®. Appositives identify, explain, or define. Example: The best-loved movies−those with memorable plots−are worth repeated viewings. Also use dashes to indicate a numerical range. Example: Pages 4−29

21 Brackets Use brackets before and after words or ideas to make them more clear. Brackets add explanation or necessary background knowledge for the reader. Examples: George Washington [1732-1799] was gracious to Lord Cornwallis [the British general who surrendered at Yorktown].

22 Hyphens Use hyphens to divided words at syllables when more space is required at the end of a line. Also use hyphens to join words that are necessarily related, but are not compound words. Don’t capitalize the letter following the hyphen. Example: We read a spine-tingling story in English-language Arts.

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22 Capitalization Rules

When should you capitalize and when do you not? Contrary to popular belief, capitalization does not add importance, prestige, or respect. If you want to get real controversial, try taking a stance on capitalizing pronouns referring to God. Do you refer to He, Him, His or he, him, or his? Let’s not even go to the gender issue. Check out the controversy if you wish, but for the rest of us, what about those capitalization rules?

Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 capitalization rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer your capitalization questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats?  The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Capitalization Rules 

1 People and Character Names Capitalize people’s and characters’ names. Also, capitalize people’s titles, such as The President f the United States or Alexander the Great. Do not capitalize an article (a, an, the) that it part of the title, unless it begins the title. Example: President James Earl Carter worked to provide housing for the poor.

2 Place Names Capitalize place names. Do not capitalize a preposition that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Examples: Stratford upon Avon or Cardiff by the Sea.      Examples: Ryan visited Los Angeles to see the Holocaust Museum.

3 Names of Things Capitalize named things. Do not capitalize a conjunction that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Example: President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home is a national monument in Washington D.C. Example: The Old North Church and Fenway Park are in Boston.

4 Names of Holidays Capitalize holidays. Normally, it is proper form to spell out numbers from one through ten in writing. However, when used as a date name, the numerical number is used. Example: They celebrate the 4th of July, but not Easter.

5 Dates and Seasons Names Capitalize dates, but do not capitalize seasons. Example: The winter months consist of December, January, February, and March.

6 Titles of Things Capitalize the words in titles. Don’t capitalize articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and), or prepositions (with), unless these words begin or end the title. Examples: My favorite Jim Morrison song is “The End.” I like the movie Gone with the Wind.

7 Titles of Courses or Classes Capitalize the titles of specific academic course or classes, including any  connected letters. Example: Next spring Jake has to take Math Analysis 2C in order to stay on track for early graduation.

8 Hyphenated Titles Capitalize the first and second parts of hyphenated titles if they are nouns or adjectives that have equal importance. Example: The Twentieth-Century was haunted by two world wars. Don’t capitalize a word following a hyphen if both words make up a single word or if the second word is a participle modifying the first word. Examples: Top Twenty Large-sized Models and English-language Arts

9 Organization Names Capitalize the names of  organizations and the letters of acronyms that represent  organizations. More commonly now, writers drop the       periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: M.A.D.D. has both parents and teachers as members, as does the PTA.

10 Letter Salutations and Closings Capitalize the salutations and closings in both friendly and business letters, excluding articles, conjunctions, and prepositions that don’t begin or end the salutations or closings. Examples: Dear Son, … Love, Dad

11 Business Names Capitalize the names of businesses and the letters of acronyms that represent organizations and businesses. More commonly now, writers drop the periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: McDonald’s provided money for our school uniforms, as did IBM.

12 Language and Dialect Names Capitalize the names of languages and dialects. Examples: He spoke Spanish with a Castilian dialect.

13 People Groups Capitalize the names of people groups, including nationalities, races, and ethnic groups. However, do not capitalize colors, such as black or white, when referring to race. Examples: Both Aztecs and Mexicans share a common heritage.

14 Event Names Capitalize the names of special events. Examples: The New Year’s Day Parade was fun, but the Mardi Gras was even better.

15 Historical Period Names Capitalize named historical periods. Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the historical period. Examples: My favorite period of history to study has to be the Middle Ages or the Age of Reason.

16 Time Period Names Capitalize the names of special periods of time. Use lower case and periods for “a.m.” and “p.m.” Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the time period. Example: Next year we celebrate the Year of the Dog.

17 Quotation Capitalization Capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence. Don’t capitalize the first word of a continuing quote that was interrupted by a speaker tag. Examples: She said, “You are crazy. However,” she paused, “it is crazy to be in love with you.” Don’t use a capital letter when the quoted material is only part of the original  complete sentence.

18 Capitalization Following Colons Capitalize the first word following a colon if it begins a series of sentences. Example: Good writing rules should include the following: Neatness counts. Indent each paragraph one inch. Proofread before publishing.

19 Lower Case Following Colons Don’t capitalize the first word (or any word) in a list following a colon if the first word of the list is a common noun. Example: Bring home these items: tortillas, sugar, and milk. Don’t capitalize the first word following a colon that begins an independent clause. Example: I just re-read Lincoln’s best speech: his Second Inaugural Address is brilliant.

20 Titles of People Capitalize the title of a person when it precedes the name. Don’t capitalize the title if it does not precede the name. Examples: I heard the senator ask Mayor Johnson a question. Capitalize the title of a person when it follows someone’s name-then a comma-in  correspondence. Example: The letter was signed as follows: John Pearson, Chairperson. Capitalize the title of a person when the title is used as a noun of direct address. Example: I do plead guilty, Your Honor.

21 Locational Names Capitalize the locational names on a compass when they refer to specific places. Leave directions in lower case. Examples: Ivan grew up here on the Lower Eastside of New York City, but I am from the South.  Ivan knew that we should head south for two blocks.

22 Titles of Agencies Capitalize the titles of  governmental agencies, including these words when connected to the agency titles: City, County, Commonwealth, State, and Federal. Example: The Federal Bureau of Investigation had targeted his operation.

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22 Comma Rules

When should you use a comma and when should not? It could be a life or death matter. After all, “Let’s eat Grandma” is considerably different than “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose.

Here’s the 22 comma rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer all of your comma questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? . The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Comma Rules 

1 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas after a beginning speaker tag to the left of the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: He said, “I shouldn’t listen to what you say.”

2 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas before and after a middle speaker tag to the left of both  quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: “But if you don’t,” he shouted “you will never win.”

3 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas before an ending speaker tag to the left of the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: “Okay. I will give you another chance,” he responded.

4 Appositive Use commas to set apart appositives. An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun or pronoun to identify, define, or describe it. The     appositive can be a word, phrase, or clause. Example: That man, the one with the hat, left town quickly.

5 Commas in Series Use commas after each item in lists (except the last). Use commas after each item in lists, except the last one. Example: John, Jane, and Jose left early.

6 Introductory Word Use commas only after introductory words which receive special emphasis. Examples: Conversely, you could listen. Then I went home.

7 Introductory Phrase Use commas after introductory phrases when followed by a modifying noun or pronoun . Example: Bold and beautiful, the statue was popular. Don’t use commas if the phrase modifies the following noun or pronoun or if another part of speech follows the phrase. Examples: A bold and beautiful statue was popular. Bold and beautiful was the popular statue.

* Exception: Avoid using commas after short (four words or less) introductory prepositional phrases. Examples: Under the tree he hid. Under the shady oak tree, he hid.

8 Introductory Dependent Clauses A dependent clause includes a noun or pronoun and connected verb, but does not express a complete thought. Place a comma following introductory dependent clauses. Examples: Even though I listened, I didn’t understand.

9 Ending Dependent Clause A dependent clause includes a noun or pronoun and connected verb, but does not express a complete thought. Don’t  place a comma before an ending dependent clause. Example: I never got her letter although she did write.

10 Geography Place commas between related geographical place names and after the last place name,  unless it appears the end of a sentence. When the place name is a possessive, this rule does not apply. Examples: She lived in Rome, Italy, for a year. Rome, Italy’s traffic is congested.

11 Dates Use commas to separate number dates and years. Don’t place a comma following the year. Example: It all happened on May 3, 1999. On May 4, 1999 we went back home.

12 Beginning Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If at the beginning of the sentence, one comma follows. Examples: Kristen, leave some for your sister. Officer Daniels, I need your help. Whoever you are, stop talking.

13 Middle Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If in the middle of the sentence, one comma goes before and one follows. Examples: If you insist, Dad, I will. If you insist, Your Honor, I will.

14 Ending Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If at the end of the sentence, one comma goes before the noun. Examples: Just leave a little bit, honey. Just leave a little bit, best girlfriend.

15 Compound Sentence Use commas before coordinating conjunctions to join two independent clauses if one or more of the sentences is long. Example: I liked her, and she definitely said that she liked me.

16 Commas to Enclose Parenthetical Expressions Use commas before and after words that interrupt the flow of the sentence. If the interruption is minimal, you may leave out the commas. Example: The best way to see the game, if you can afford it, is in person.

17 Commas to Set Off Non-restrictive Clauses A nonrestrictive clause can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. The relative pronouns who, whom, whose, and which, but not that, begin nonrestrictive relative clauses. Use commas to set off nonrestrictive relative clauses from the noun or pronoun before the clause. Example: The girl, who sits in the corner, is sleepy.

18 Commas and Restrictive Clauses A restrictive clause can’t be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. A restrictive clause limits the meaning of the independent clause to which it is attached. Don’t use commas before and after restrictive clauses. Example: The student who wins the most votes will be elected Student Council President.

19 Comma and Abbreviations These abbreviations: Sr. (senior), Jr. (junior), and etc. (et cetera) are always preceded by a comma. Don’t place commas after these abbreviations. Examples: Howard, Sr. had Howard, Jr., take out the trash, water the lawn, pull weeds, etc.

20 Comma and Duplicate Words Place commas between repeated words when needed to improve clarity. Examples: Tommy and Pam moved in, in May.

21 Comma to Replace Missing Words Use commas to replace omitted words, especially the word that. Examples: I am a vegetarian; my wife, a meat-eater. Win some, lose some. What I mean is, she hasn’t changed her diet and followed mine.

22 Comma in Parenthetical Citations Place a comma after each author’s name, except the last in a multiple author citation. Don’t use a comma between the author(s) and the page number(s). Example: (Peabody, Jones, and Smith 14) Don’t place a comma between different authors or resource titles citing information; use a semicolon.

Examples: (Peabody 16; Jimenez 55) (The Nature of Change; Wrong Policy)

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How to Write a Good Thesis Statement

The Common Core State Standards Writing Strand includes the argumentative essay (W.1) and the informational/explanatory essay (W.2). Each genre requires a different form for its thesis statement. 

Of course, the thesis statement is dictated by the demands of the writing prompt. The writing prompt tells you what to write about and how to do so. A good thesis statement directly responds to the writing prompt. For an argumentative essay, the thesis statement states the claim(s) of the essay. For an informational/explanatory essay, the thesis statement states the specific purpose of the essay.

How to Write a Good (2) Thesis Statement

To make sure that you directly respond to the writing prompt, include the writing topic and key words of that writing prompt in your (2) Thesis Statement. Usually place the (2) Thesis Statement at the end of the introductory paragraph. The (2) Thesis Statement should be as specific as possible, but general enough to permit more than one (3) Topic Sentence to support the purpose or point of view.

Mistakes to Avoid in a (2) Thesis Statement

The (2) Thesis Statement does not state your specific purpose for informational/explanatory essay.

The (2) Thesis Statement does not state your specific point of view for an argumentative essay.

(2) Thesis Statement introduces evidence (4) or (5).

(2) Thesis Statement refers to only part of the task of the writing prompt.

(2) Thesis Statement refers to the essay and to the writer.

(2) Thesis Statement includes a split (divided) focus which either argues against itself or introduces more than one focus of the essay.

(2) Thesis Statement confuses the writing genre. For example, the writer states a point of view for an informational/explanatory writing prompt.

(2) Thesis Statement is too specific and does not allow the writer to address the broader demands of the writing prompt.

Practice #1

Directions: Carefully read the Writing Direction Word and Writing Prompt. Study the Bad (2) Thesis Statement and the Explanation. Then revise into a Good (2) Thesis Statement.

Writing Direction Word: Analyze means to break apart the subject and explain each part.

Writing Prompt: Service to one’s country is true patriotism. President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to “…ask not what your country can do for you−ask what you can do for your country.” Analyze what President Kennedy meant by this statement in his Inaugural Address from January 20, 1961 to share during class discussion.

Bad (2): President Kennedy meant Americans should not view their country as existing for their benefit when he said “…ask not what your country can do for you…”

Explanation: This (2) Thesis Statement refers to only part of the task of the writing prompt.

Good (2): _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Practice #2

Directions: Carefully read the Writing Direction Word and Writing Prompt. Study the Bad (2) Thesis Statement (Claim) and the Explanation. Then revise into a Good (2) Thesis Statement.

Writing Direction Word: Persuade means to convince the reader of your argument or claim.

Writing Prompt: The editorial from the Reno Times includes research studies and statistical data to demonstrate the benefits of regular exercise. The editor claims that elementary school students do not get enough exercise. Write a letter to the editor to persuade the editor and readers that elementary schools need more money to buy playground equipment.

Bad (2): Every elementary school must have a jungle gym, ten swings, and four seesaws.

Explanation: This (2) Thesis Statement is too specific does not address the broader demands of the writing prompt.

Good (2): _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

For more thesis statement and essay practice, check out the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. This curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an 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 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 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.

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How to Teach Writing Transitions

Well-intentioned teachers sometimes create more problems than they solve. Teachers often fail to teach developing writers how to use effective writing transitions within or between paragraphs in argumentative, informational/explanatory, or narrative writing (Common Core Writing Standards 1, 2, and 3). Three key instructional practices can lead to counter-productive learning.

How to Teach Writing Transitions

First, many teachers assume that their students understand the meanings of transitional words and phrases. These teachers simply post a Transitions Poster on the classroom wall and assume that their students will grab which ones they need for each writing exercise. Both are faulty assumptions. To use transitions effectively, developing writers must know both the denotative and connotative meanings of commonly used transitions. Using the wrong or imprecise transition create confusion for readers. Developing writers also need to learn which transitions work in each writing context. One helpful solution to this problem is to teach transitions in categories of meaning. Download this helpful Writing Transitions page for instruction and reference.

Another reason some teachers fail to get their students to use effective writing transitions is because teachers tend to focus on teaching writing structure over content. Requiring students to “write a five-paragraph essay with transitions between each sentence and paragraph” will force most students into incoherent writing. Requiring students to use an arbitrary number or placement of transitions within and between paragraphs will result in padded and chunky writing. Some teachers even award points for each transition–not the best motivator for concise and coherent writing. Instead of pitting structure versus content, my advice is to teach flexible writing. Begin students with a structure to paragraphing and multi-paragraph writing, but model, permit, and encourage deviation from the basic structure to fit the needs of the content. Content should always dictate structure.

Finally, teachers sometimes fail to teach their students the two secrets of effective transitions. The first writing rule for argumentative, informational/explanatory, or narrative writing is to “Always continue a new paragraph where the previous one ended.” This continuity helps the readers understand the progression of the writing and is oftentimes a better writing technique than “add-on” transition words and phrases. The second writing rule is to “use repetition, paraphrase, and reference.” Repeating key words or phrases found in preceding sentences or paragraphs unifies the writing and is considerate to the readers. Paraphrasing previous ideas helps the readers see the idea from another point of view and avoids the over-use of irritating repetitions. Reference to previous writing with relative pronouns and adverbs, demonstrative pronouns and adjectives, and well-connected pronouns and antecedents improves writing coherence. However, make sure to teach students not to use references to the writing itself. For example, “In the last paragraph…; This essay was about… That sentence proves that…”

Using effective writing transitions can significantly improve writing coherence and help the reader understand the writing as a unified whole. However, teachers need to emphasize the precise meanings of “add-on” transition words and phrases, avoid over-emphasis of structure over writing content, and teach the value of repetitions, paraphrases, and references.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing unity, coherence, and parallelism.

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an 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 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How Much and What to Mark on Essays

Many teachers and professors take pride in red-inking student essays: the more ink the better. Some shift the burden of marking grammar and mechanics errors onto readers or grad students, while retaining the job of marking and grading content, argument, and evidence. Some “grade” essays without comments by using holistic or analytical rubrics, but do not mark papers. Others latch onto familiar excuses: the subjective nature of essay grading, the lack of time, the lack of student writing skills and conveniently avoid the work altogether by giving objective exams.

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. Working smarter, not harder and focusing on efficiency and outcomes over pedagogical purity are worthy mantras for effective writing instruction.

How Much to Mark on Essays

…………

  • There is no significant statistical difference in the overall quality of student writing between teachers who mark all mistakes and teachers who mark only a few of the mistakes (Arnold 1964).
  • Both Harris (1978) and Lamberg (1980) found that voluminous essay comments do not improve student writing.
  • Shuman (1979) found that most students respond effectively to no more than five error corrections per paper.
  • Dudenhyer (1976), Beach (1979), Harris (1978), Thompson (1981), and Moore (1992) found that marks on final drafts have little impact on subsequent writing.

In sum, less is better than more, especially on final drafts or essay exams. Moreover, focusing on reader response is essential. In other words, how much the student will absorb and apply.

What to Mark on Essays

…………

Concentrate on Status Errors

Hairston (1981) suggests that certain errors are perceived as higher status than others. Hairston found that these errors were seen to be more egregious by most teachers: nonstandard verb forms, lack of subject-verb agreement, double negatives, objective pronoun as subject. Other errors are perceived as low status and may not warrant marking: unnecessary or inaccurate modifiers, use of a singular verb with data, use of a colon after a linking verb.

So, consider concentrating on high status error corrections. Some errors just bother people more than others.

Mark and Explain Teachable Errors

Teachers tend to mark errors and comment on content or process. Instead, writing researchers suggest that teachers should comment on both. Choosing to concentrate on errors that can be easily explained to the student with the greater likelihood of producing positive transfer to subsequent writing assignments just makes sense. For example, errors in speaker tag commas can be easily remediated because the rules are relatively unambiguous; errors in commas isolating dependent clauses are harder to remediate because the rules are more ambiguous and context dependent.

Maintain a Balance between Error Correction and Writing Analysis

Writing researchers suggest striking a balance in essay response between error correction and writing content/evidence/argument analysis.

Following are key elements of writing discourse for writing teachers to keep in mind to strike this balance:

  • Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion)
  • Coherence
  • Word Choice
  • Sentence Variety
  • Writing Style
  • Format and Citations
  • Parts of Speech
  • Grammatical Forms
  • Usage
  • Sentence Structure
  • Types of Sentences
  • Mechanics
  • Conventional Spelling Rules.

Differentiate and Individualize Assessment-based Instruction

Knowing the relative strengths and weaknesses of individual student writers should guide the teacher’s comments. Two data sources are integral to effective writing instruction: diagnostic assessments and frequent student writing. The former affords the teacher quantitative data, while the latter provides qualitative data. Each is useful.
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
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 (included in the Common Core aligned Teaching Essay Strategies, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

Teacher response to student writing often falls into two extremes:

1. The holistic rubric devotees who simply parrot standardized writing test grading by assigning numerical scores for “catch-all” writing categories or

2. The red-ink zealots who mark every single error and writing issue with their secret codes, a.k.a. diacritical proofreading marks and extensive writing comments.

The first approach of the holistic rubric hardly merits comment. Students merely look at the total score and continue the same errors or writing issues on the subsequent draft and next writing assignment. Intuitively, the second approach would seem to produce some benefit; however, the writing research is clear that student response to extensive marks and comments on rough drafts is minimal and the transfer of learning from such comments on final drafts to the next writing assignment is almost non-existent.

A middle ground can achieve more results. However, we have to make a distinction between rough drafts and final drafts. Researchers have found that marks on final drafts have little effect on student’s application to subsequent writing tasks (Dudenhyer 1976; Beach 1979; Thompson 1981; Harris 1978). But, conscientious teachers should make comments on rough drafts and writing research does support this practice. But how many essay comments make sense? And what kind of essay comments produce the produce the most revision and application to future writing tasks?

How Many Essay Comments

Many teachers take pride in the number of essay marks and comments they make on a paper. Some colleagues buy red pens by the truckload and spend significant time at their task. However, writing research has some disheartening news for these teachers. No significant difference in the quality of student writing was found between those teachers who marked all mistakes as compared to those teachers who made only minimal (Arnold 1964). Also, writing extensive comments does not improve student’s writing (Harris 1978; Lamberg 1980). Additionally, most students are able to respond effectively to no more than five comments per composition (Shuman 1979).

Clearly, more is not necessarily better. Knowing the student’s individual needs from frequent writing will help teachers prioritize which marks and comments will most help that student’s writing.

What Kind of Comments

Students tend to revise errors more so than issues of style, argument, structure, and content. The reason is simple: it’s easier to revise errors. Research shows that teachers tend to follow the same pattern as students: they mark and comment on errors much more often than on matters of style, argument, structure, and content (Connors and Lunsford 1988). So, teachers should keep in mind a balance between errors and writing issues when making essay comments. When a minimal credit is awarded for writing revisions, students tend to gravitate toward fixing the errors, rather than tackling the tougher chore of the writing issues. Awarding more points for writing revision and holding students accountable for addressing all marks and comments will motivate more and more meaningful revisions.

Teachers tend to mark errors with some form of diacritical mark, such as “cs” for a comma splice, and write brief comments, such as “awkward” for style or content. However, Hairston (1981) found that students tended to revise more when explanations were provided, rather than simple error identification. So, comments work better than simple diacritical marks.

So, which comments are most important to include? Clearly, issues of coherence and unity merit comments. So would issues of organization, content, and evidence. Hairston also suggested focusing comments on those issues which readers found to reflect lack of writing expertise. For example, nonstandard verb forms such as brung instead of brought are considered more egregious status indicators than a who-whom mistake. Good teachers can certainly make informed judgments about which comments to include and which comments to avoid.

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.

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 (included in the Common Core aligned Teaching Essay Strategies, 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.

Comments include…

  • Essay Organization and Development
  • Coherence
  • Word Choice
  • Sentence Variety
  • Writing Style
  • Format and Citations
  • Parts of Speech
  • Grammatical Forms
  • Usage
  • Sentence Structure
  • Types of Sentences
  • Mechanics
  • Conventional Spelling Rules
Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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

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Why Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense

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. It would not be unusual for a teacher to spend 15 minutes to red-mark and write comments on the rough draft of a five-paragraph essay, then repeat the process to evaluate the final draft. Even with that significant amount of time, comments would have to be concise and rely upon abbreviations and diacritical marks. The focus has to be limited to identifying what is wrong, not explaining why it is wrong. No time for examples or suggestions as to how to improve the writing. Maybe a quick positive comment. Exhausting!

Additionally, frustration mounts as the teacher has to write the same comments over and over again throughout a stack of student papers. Only to be exacerbated when, after receiving their graded essays, students simply glance at their final grades before cramming the essay into the bottom of their backpacks. There has got to be a better way… Read more…

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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.

What is the Essay Counterclaim?

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/what-is-the-essay-counterclaim/

As is often the case, instructional writing terminology can be confusing and there is no consensus as to a common language of instruction. Regarding the essay counterclaim, which words mean exactly what? Whichever words are used, most writing teachers would agree that the opposing point of view should be somehow acknowledged and responded to in an argumentative essay. 

Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

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Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)? The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/where-to-put-the-essay-counterclaim/

Where is the best place to put the essay counterclaim? Five placements serve different purposes within the argumentative essay.

Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frame

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Transitions within the counterclaim paragraph are extremely important to master in order to create clear connections between the counterclaim and refutation. Check out these sentence frames to teach your students the counterargument and rebuttal.

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

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/using-evidence-in-writing/

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

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/why-using-essay-e-comments-makes-sense/

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

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/how-much-and-what-to-mark-on-essays/

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

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/how-to-save-time-grading-essays/

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

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/438-essay-e-comments/

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-many-essay-comments-and-what-kind/

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-write-an-introduction/

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

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

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.

Writing Style

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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.

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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 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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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. 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

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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. 

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Common Core State Writing Standards

For years, English teachers have struggled with essay terminology. Fittingly, the word essay derives from the French verb essayer which roughly means “to try” or “to attempt.” Some teachers have attempted rather precise definitions and limitations of the genre. More recently, state exams have become the tails that wag the dogs in terms of essay classification. In California, for example, the California Standards Test even refers to a multi-paragraph summary as an essay.

Now, we have a different approach to defining the essay. The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

Following is an executive summary of the two essay classifications, using the language of the document within my own organizational structure. The full document (Appendix A) is found here.

Argument

Definition

Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring about some action on the reader’s part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer’s explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem. An argument is a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades 6-12

  • In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about.
  • In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation.
  • In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims.

Grades K-5

Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. In grades K–5, the term opinion is used to refer to this developing form of argument.

Informational/Explanatory Writing

Definition

Informational/explanatory writing conveys information accurately. This kind of writing serves one or more closely related purposes: to increase readers’ knowledge of a subject, to help readers better understand a procedure or process, or to provide readers with an enhanced comprehension of a concept. To produce this kind of writing, students draw from what they already know and from primary and secondary sources. With practice, students become better able to develop a controlling idea and a coherent focus on a topic and more skilled at selecting and incorporating relevant examples, facts, and details into their writing. They are also able to use a variety of techniques to convey information, such as naming, defining, describing, or differentiating different types or parts; comparing or contrasting ideas or concepts; and citing an anecdote or a scenario to illustrate a point.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades K-12

Informational/explanatory writing addresses matters such as the following:

  • Types (What are the different types of poetry?)
  • Components (What are the parts of a motor?)
  • Size, function, or behavior (How big is the United States? What is an X-ray used for? How do penguins find food?)
  • How things work (How does the legislative branch of government function?)
  • Why things happen (Why do some authors blend genres?).

Informational/explanatory writing includes a wide array of genres, including academic genres such as literary analyses, scientific and historical reports, summaries, and precis writing as well as forms of workplace and functional writing such as instructions, manuals, memos, reports, applications, and resumes. As students advance through the grades, they expand their repertoire of informational/explanatory genres and use them effectively in a variety of disciplines and domains.

Comparing and Contrasting the Essay Classifications

Although information is provided in both arguments and explanations, the two types of writing have different aims.

  • Arguments seek to make people believe that something is true or to persuade people to change their beliefs or behavior. Explanations, on the other hand, start with the assumption of truthfulness and answer questions about why or how. Their aim is to make the reader understand rather than to persuade him or her to accept a certain point of view. In short, arguments are used for persuasion and explanations for clarification.
  • Like arguments, explanations provide information about causes, contexts, and consequences of processes, phenomena, states of affairs, objects, terminology, and so on. However, in an argument, the writer not only gives information but also presents a case with the “pros” (supporting ideas) and “cons” (opposing ideas) on a debatable issue. Because an argument deals with whether the main claim is true, it demands empirical descriptive evidence, statistics, or definitions for support. When writing an argument, the writer supports his or her claim(s) with sound reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing conveys experience, either real or imaginary, and uses time as its deep structure. It can be used for many purposes, such as to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain. In English language arts, students produce narratives that take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, and autobiographies. Over time, they learn to provide visual details of scenes, objects, or people; to depict specific actions for example, movements and gestures).

Creative Writing beyond Narrative

The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.

My Take

Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification (I happen to use the same classifications in my Teaching Essay Strategies writing curriculum, teaching four argumentative and four informational/explanatory essays), much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.

  • Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
  • Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing?
  • Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
  • Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

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, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

There is no doubt that popular music transcends arbitrary barriers of age, culture, and language. My students and I share the same passion, although not the same music. Music speaks to their generation just as must as it has to mine. In fact, most students probably listen to more music than I did growing up. As a result, students have internalized the structure, syntax, and rules of music far more than that of any writing genre. This prior knowledge is simply too valuable for the writing teacher to ignore. Analyzing the songwriting composition process will enable students to apply the relevant strategies to their own writing of narratives, poetry, essays, and reports (and maybe even songs).

As an amateur songwriter and English-language arts teacher, my experience in learning the craft of songwriting has constantly informed my writing instruction. Here are 20 tips I’ve picked up over the years about how to apply the techniques of songwriting to writing in any genre.

Background: Paying Your Dues

1. Experience Matters

You don’t have to become a heroin addict to play the blues. However, knowing that blues usually follows a twelve-bar (measure) pattern provides an important foundation for a songwriter. Knowing the different blues genre of Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, and Texas Blues will help the songwriter follow the rules and stylistic features of the chosen genre.

Prior knowledge in writing content, genre, and style informs composition. For students lacking this experience, it is essential to “frontload” as much as possible to provide an equal playing field and give these writers what they need to be successful in a given writing task.

2. Reading to Write

Bob Dylan (Zimmerman) graduated from high school in a small town in Minnesota and moved to Greenwich Village. During his apprenticeship, Dylan played clubs and learned a catalog of folk and blues songs; however, he spent much much of his time reading everything that he could lay his hands on. In his autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, Dylan comments on his reading: “I was looking for the part of my education that I never got (p. 36).” His body of work shows the impact of this reading on his music.

 

Dr. Kate Kinsella of San Francisco State University summarizes the reading-writing connection research as follows:Reading widely and regularly contributes to the development of writing ability. Good writers were read to as children. Increasing reading frequency has a stronger influence on improving writing than does solely increasing writing frequency. Developmental writers must see and analyze multiple effective examples of the various kinds of writing they are being asked to produce (as well as ineffective examples); they cannot, for example, be expected to write successful expository essays if they are primarily reading narrative texts.

Teaching the reading-writing connection will help your students significantly improve both their reading and writing.

3. Learning the Tools

You’ve got to learn the tools to practice the craft. Not every instrument is conducive to songwriting. It’s hard to play the trombone and sing at the same time. Tools are the means to an end and are self-limiting. Having written songs with the guitar for years, I know that there are limitations to the instrument. Learning piano has expanded my songwriting potential. Some tools fit some genre and some don’t.

Teachers generally do a fine job of teaching the structure and identifying characteristics of the various writing genre. Teachers generally do a poor job of teaching writing strategies, sentence structure, grammar, usage, and style.

4. Learning Writing by Writing

Burt Bacharach: “Music breeds its own inspiration. You can only do it by doing it. You may not feel like it, but you push yourself. It’s a work process. Or just improvise. Something will come (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

It’s simplistic, but true: you get better at something by practicing it. And this includes writing. Practice needs to be regular with both subjective and objective feedback. Writing fluency comes from daily writing practice, not from occasional on-demand writing assignments.

Brainstorming and Prewriting

5. Content is Writing

A songwriter with nothing to say cannot write a song. Even the most simplistic love song says something. What the songs says must ring true, even if it is completely fictional. Successful songwriters study the content of songs, newspapers, poetry, literature, and life. Paul Simon: “It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true. If you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Studying literature, history, and science is all writing instruction. A student with nothing to say cannot write a poem, an essay, or a story.

6. Location Matters

Jimmy Buffet: “You know, as a writer, I’m more of a listener than a writer, cuz if I hear something I will write it down. And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And New Orleans is one of them (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

The collaborative classroom can be ideal for creating a productive writing climate. All of the resources are there: computers, dictionaries, thesauri, the writing teacher, the peers. Rarely do students compose as well at home as they do in the classroom. The classroom can be optimally suited to the social nature of the writing process.

7. Emotional Connections

Bono: “You can have 1000 ideas, but unless you capture an emotion, it’s an essay (http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=458609330&blogId=481041893).” Sting: “Songwriting is a kind of therapy for both the writer and the listener if you choose to use it that way. When you see that stuff help other people that’s great and wonderful confirmation that you’re doing the right thing (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

All too often, students mimic their teachers in order to please us and demonstrate that they have harvested our pearls of wisdom. Students often have little understanding of audience and even less passionate commitment to their writing subject. Developing the emotional connection to their writing in an authentic voice is key to connected and committed writing.

8. Titles and Hooks

Most all songwriters begin their songs with a catchy or meaningful title-one that provokes curiosity. A writer on a songwriting blog comments, “After you answer the question, ‘What is the title of my song going to be?’, your next job is to think about hooks. Here you need to decide what the central point of your song is and create song hooks around this thought. Briefly, a hook is anything that will help the listener remember the song. With many songs, it’s the melody, the chorus or even some of the lyrics. It might even a be a sound effect added to make the song more interesting (http://hubpages.com/hub/How-To-Write-A-Song-Title).”

Teach how songwriting titles and hooks capture the essence of the writing topic and thesis statement. Every stream flows from the one source. Good writing is essentially deductive in both narrative and expository forms.

9. Self-Questioning

Many songwriters flesh out the lyrics by asking questions of their song title. After coming up with the title “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty could have posed the following questions to develop his lyrics: Why won’t I back down? What’s happened in the past to make me have this attitude? Are there exceptions?

Student writers can use the process of self-questioning during brainstorming. Using the topic or thesis as a prompt, students look at the direction of their essay from a variety of points of view. Using the conflict as a prompt, students look at the direction of their narrative from the major and minor characters’ perspectives.

Drafting

10. Structural Foundations

Songs follow well-established organizational patterns. Verses (same melody, different words), choruses (same melody and words), perhaps a bridge (a different melody and lyric), and perhaps a pre-chorus (a short section at the end of a verse leading into the chorus) are the songwriters’ foundational structures. Robbie Robertson: “It would be nice to abandon the verse-chorus-bridge structure completely, and make it so none of these things are definable…Make up new names for them. Instead of a bridge, you can call it a highway, or an overpass…Music should never be harmless (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Similarly, narratives follow the elements of plot and essays have introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. All good writing has structure. Even most all poetry follows prescribed structures.

11. Flexibility

Some songwriters write the lyrics first, then follow with the melody. I tend to write both lyrics and melody together, though I have completed songs in many different ways.

Beware of straight-jacketing students with the components of the writing process. Some students prefer to spent significant amounts of time pre-writing; others would rather jump right in and draft. Some students revise and edit as they draft; others like to do multiple drafts and/or edit at the end. Word processing enables many options.

12. The Rules Do and Don’t Apply

The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” follows the structure of many pop songs; however, it breaks every rule of chord progressions. “Each verse sung by Lennon follows the same basic layout, but each has a different way of ending. The first verse, which is twenty measures, ends with a repetition of the F major chord progression before returning to the home key. The second verse, two measures shorter than the first, ends on the C major chord rather than repeating the F major progression. The third verse is the same as the second, except that there is one more measure (to accommodate the ‘I’d love to’), and the verse does not return to the home key. Instead it leads to a bridge, a 24-measure long glissando-like crescendo starting from low E to an E several octaves higher. Random cymbal crashes are interspersed near the end to ‘challenge your sense of meter’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Day_in_the_Life).” Paul McCartney instructed the accompanying orchestra musicians to play notes beyond the range of their instruments to intentionally break the rules.

Each writing genre has its own rules. A Shakespearian Sonnet has its own rhyming pattern, a persuasive essay has a counterargument, and a story must resolve its conflict. However, knowing and applying the rules permits intentional deviations for special effect.

13. Mimickery

Songwriters advise aspiring musicians to study the techniques of those they admire and emulate their styles. Because everyone has his own unique voice and experiences, no two compositions will be the same. Chord progressions are not copyrighted. The chords for “Louie, Louie,” “Wild Thing,” “I Like it Like That” and hundreds of other hits are all the same.

Some English-language arts teachers believe that discovering one’s voice is the result of a self-guided journey. I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. It is not plagiarism to mimic the writing style of good authors. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes.

14. Time to Percolate

Carole King: “If you are sitting down and you feel that you want to write andnothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back again and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back. It always comes back and the only thing that is a problem is when you get in your own way worrying about it (http://www.buffalostate.edu/library/rooftop/past/docs/2008-10-15_Songwriters_on_Songwriting_excerpts.pdf).”

Neil Young: “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn…My songs speak for themselves (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

We live in the real world. Our students do as well. The SAT 1® allots 25 minutes for an essay that counts 240 points out of the 800 overall writing score. College professors give timed essays. Bosses want that report due by 3:00 p.m. or else. We need to equip our students to face these time constraints in their writing. Certainly, some on-demand writing practice makes sense, but the best practice to develop writing fluency remains untimed, day to day writing practice in a variety of writing genre. Good teachers provide time for writing reflection and revision. Good teachers allow students to face writer’s block and practice problem-solving.

15. Let the Writing Write

John Lennon: “Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something and then you’re allowed to sleep. It’s always in the middle of the night, or you’re half-awake or tired, when your critical faculties are switched off. So letting go is what the whole game is. Every time you try to put your finger on it, it slips away. You turn on the lights and the cockroaches run away. You can never grasp them (http://home.att.net/~midnightflyer/jl.html).”

Good writing instruction provides students with enough practice so that a degree of automaticity has been achieved. Writing fluency is familiarity with the structures, rules, and patterns of writing. Writing fluency is the conversation between author and the writing. Writing fluency does not mean effortless writing; sometimes content knowledge and writing dexterity can challenge the writer as much as would sheer ignorance.

Revision and Editing

16. Read the Writing

Tom Petty: “You’re dealing in magic–it’s this intangible thing that has to happen. And to seek it out too much might not be a good idea. Because, you know, it’s very shy, too. But once you’ve got the essence of them, you can work songs and improve them. You see if there’s a better word, or a better change (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

“I edit as I go. Especially when I go to commit it to paper… I edit as I am committing it to paper. I like to see the words before me and I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” They appear before me and they fit. I don’t usually take large parts out. If I get stuck early in a song, I take it as a sign that I might be writing the chorus and don’t know it. Sometimes,you gotta step back a little bit and take a look at what you’re doing.” — John Prine, quoted by Paul Zollo in “Legends: John Prine,” (American Songwriter, Jan / Feb 2010).

Revision is the hard work of writing. It involves a conversation with the text and audience to ensure coherency. It appropriates everything in the writer’s tool kit. It also necessarily reaches out to others for feedback. Frequently teachers expect that inexperienced writers will be able to revise with little guidance. Simply modeling how to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange a paragraph does not mean that a student will be apply to apply these skills to her draft. Young writers need objective and subjective feedback from both teacher and their peers. Writers conferences and response groups at all stages of the writing process will provide the feedback necessary for revision.

17. Grunt Work

Neil Diamond: “Performing is the easiest part of what I do, and songwriting is the hardest.” George Gershwin: “Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Writing inspiration is an unfaithful friend. Mature writers certainly welcome her visit, but the more we depend upon her, the less gets done. Much of any writing is simply grunt work. The more experience and tools that a writer has acquired, the more choices are afforded to the decision-making process. The grunt work of word choice, transitions, examples, and more are the last few puzzle pieces that just don’t seem to fit. I, personally, take more satisfaction out of placing these puzzle pieces (even if I have to shave off the edges to make them fit) than the ones that come without effort. Still, no writer is completely satisfied with his own writing. Indeed, few writers ever revisit their own works after publication.

18. Collaborative Competition

One of the reasons that John Lennon and Paul McCartney enjoyed such a fruitful songwriting collaboration was because John was right-handed and Paul was left-handed. Thus, both songwriters could sit facing one another, eye to eye, without the guitars banging up against each other.

Teachers can do much to establish a collaborative writing culture. The Web 2.0 culture provides both vulnerability and anonymity that writing teachers can use to motivate students in their writing. Most all writing is a social venture and teachers can appropriately guide this experience in and out of the classroom. Online postings afford students the opportunity of time and reflective thought through the students’ own self-regulated filters. Students can choose what to and what not to share. However, in-class face-to-face time is necessary to provide the unfiltered audience and conversations that balance the ones on the web. Teachers control the climate of in-class writing and can model and sometimes referee the collaborative efforts.

19. Publish to Write

Hearing the sound on the published record or CD guides the songwriting process, but the studio experience and interaction of the musicians can certainly change the composition. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones says that he never finishes a song before entering the studio, in order to allow some room for creativity in the recording process. There are also happy accidents. John Lennon accidentally left his volume turned up on his guitar and leaned it against his amplifier while tape was rolling. The screeching feedback began and Lennon kept the mistake as the introduction to the Beatles Number One Hit: “I Feel Fine.” This was the first time that feedback was incorporated into a song.

Teachers need to let students in on one of the secrets of successful writers: writing rarely turns out precisely as planned. The variables of the publication process often determine the end results. Some things are simply beyond the writer’s control. Constraints of time, mistakes, and misunderstandings contribute to the final writing product. Students will be frustrated at times by their published work, or by fellow students’ responses, or by the teacher’s grade and comments. Writing is about as subjective as we get in academia, despite our analytical rubrics and our objective pretenses.

20. Writing for a Pay-off

Paul McCartney: “Somebody said to me, But the Beatles were anti-materialistic. That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, Now, let’s write a swimming pool (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).

Our students frequently write only to please an audience of one (their teacher), and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is often little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

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 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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Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

A few years back, I sat down at my kitchen table on an early Saturday morning to begin the arduous process of grading a set of seventh-grade persuasive essays. I had postponed the task for too long and grades were due on Monday. Why did I dread the grading so much?

I knew what to expect. I would see the results of my instruction and significant improvement. I would feel self-validated and be able to give myself a well-earned pat on the back. The essays would sound like miniature versions of me. No doubt my essays would make me look good that week during our department read-around. However, I knew what would be missing in my students’ writing: Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection. No… it was not the fault of the writing prompt. There were several to choose among, and they were intrinsically motivating for my students. There was something else.

As many teachers naturally do, I reflected back to my own successes as a writer. I drifted back to my own junior high experience. Mr. Devlin was an odd teacher with horribly worn black shoes. He was odd, even by English-language arts teacher standards. However, his writing assignment is the only one I’ve saved from my entire K-12 experience.

Mr. Devlin gave us a journal assignment with no rules. No, I’m not advocating this kind of unstructured experience, per se. After all, I’m still assigning those argumentative essays, right? In fact, it was not the assignment that was meaningful at all; it was what I did with it.

My room was my personal sanctuary. I’m dating myself at this point. My room was covered with psychedelic rock-art posters-each painted/printed in luminescent color. Yes, I had a black light. Yes, I had a strobe light. I begged my parents for black-out drapes, but olive-green was their choice. My stereo was bitchin’. I burned incense, even though I hated the smell. It was 1968.

I played the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour albums non-stop. One of the most irritating memories I have is that of my father, a professional musician, saying that the flutes sounded like cheap recorders on Paul’s “The Fool on the Hill.” He said the song was garbage.

I listened-no… I felt the music and I wrote. As I read the journals today, much of the writing is juvenile and prurient—a budding Steinbeck I was not. However, my analysis of lyrics, wanna-be girlfriends, my parents, comments and warnings to Mr. Devlin to hold true to his promise that he wouldn’t read the journals rings true to my age and experience. The journal had what my students’ persuasive essays lacked-an authentic voice. With all of the Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection.

I graded the argumentative essays, and as I expected, most were technically very good. But, I vowed to do things much differently with their next persuasive essay. I was going to Mr. Devlin their writing by allowing my students’ cultures to create their own voices. Music would be the transformative medium. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters. Music was just as influential, just as pervasive, for my students as it was for me. I knew what I was getting into. I hate their hip hop, new R&B, metal, and rap. It really is garbage.

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing writing. Read how teachers can develop a productive writing climate by learning a bit about how the music business operates.

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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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.

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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 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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Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

I am a dinosaur. I have to face the fact that I am culturally irrelevant to my students. My English-language arts colleagues are all young twenty-somethings. They do all of the student clubs, sports, and activities such as the overnight bus trip to Disneyland. They even do yard duty/campus supervision when they don’t have to. But, I’ve got one thing that they don’t have yet-reflective experience.

As I reflect back on my experience as a junior high and high school student, one creative medium was singularly influential and remains so for my students today-music. Music inspired me. Music made me dream big dreams. Music made me want to write.

Now, music didn’t make me want to write the way that Mr. Devlin, my junior high English teacher, wanted me to write. And music didn’t inspire me to write the stupid five-paragraph essays that Ms. Carruthers, my senior Advanced English teacher, assigned each week. Music made me want to write like John and Paul, Mick and Keith, and Bob Dylan. Somehow, my English-language arts teachers just did not tap into that motivating influence.

Now we did analyze a few songs in class. I remember Mr. Devlin helping us to interpret the Beatles’ “Revolution.” I ate it up, but there was no follow-through. It was a one-time experience, and then back to the literary anthology. No connection to our own writing as students. Our art teacher was very cool. She played our records while we worked with paint and clay. I discovered The Doors in her class. But, the music was background and its creative potential was not instructionally connected to our paper mache Christmas angels.

Music is just as influential on today’s students as it was for me. 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.

Music has always been a social medium. Let’s do a bit of reflective thinking about the music business, and songwriting in particular, to see how we might apply some of this to improve student writing.

Toward the end of the Nineteenth Century musical tastes were changing from minstrel shows to vaudeville. The economic up-tick following the terrible recession of 1873 put more money in the hands of more Americans. Recently freed slaves migrated north into already-crowed cities. Increasing immigration added wealth to the expanding economy and consumers enjoyed some of the trickle-down benefits of the Gilded Age, including more leisure time and a bit more discretionary money.

A number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan along 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway to take advantage of the economic boom and sell music to the popular vaudeville shows and sheet music to consumers to play on their parlor pianos. This neighborhood became known as “Tin Pan Alley,” probably due to “the cacophony of the many pianos being pounded in publisher’s demo rooms… characterized as sounding as though hundreds of people were pounding on tin pans (Wikipedia).”

“Song composers were hire under contract giving the publisher exclusive rights to popular composer’s works. The market was surveyed to determine what style of song was selling best and then the composers were directed to compose in that style. Once written, a song was actually tested with both performers and listeners to determine which would be published and which would go to the trash bin. All of a sudden t seemed that music was becoming an industry more than an art. Once a song was published, song pluggers (performers who worked in music shops playing the latest releases, akin to playing new CD releases in a record store today) were hired and performers were persuaded to play the new songs in their acts to give the music exposure to the public (Wikipedia).”

Writing Lesson #1

Publishing was the motivator for songwriting in Tin Pan Alley. This was, indeed, writing for a purpose. The profit-motive and pay-off were paramount; art was a by-product of that end. In contrast, our students are frequently only required to write to please an audience of one, that is their teacher, and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

Writing Lesson #2

Encourage mimicry of author’s styles. Just as vaudevillian composers were directed to compose in popular styles, help students to do the same. Help students identify components of popular author’s styles, including those of musical composers. Yes, hip hop is music. Don’t fret about lack of originality. One’s writing voice is an amalgam of one’s reading experiences and other voices.

Writing Lesson #3

Have students serve as song pluggers and performers for each other. We create a writing culture when peers begin responding to each other’s work. Students care more about their peers’ responses than those of their teacher. Teach constructive criticism: the “I like way you did ______, but you might try ______” needs both modeling and practice. Trust-building activities are a must. Allow students some degree of choice with whom they will work. After all, students don’t “friend” everyone on Facebook®. Try directed and undirected response groups, but don’t relegate these to the end of the writing process. Response groups work well after both prewriting and drafting. Don’t use student response solely as editing assistance. The more students perceive writing as a collaborative and social art, the more commitment and investment in their own writing will result.

Read a related article on Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate.

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 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

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