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Knowledge of Language | Anchor Standards for Language

Writing Openers to Teach Knowledge of Language

Writing Openers Language Application

Tucked away in the often-overlooked recesses of the Common Core State Standards, the Anchor Standards for Language includes a practical, if somewhat ambiguous Standard: Knowledge of Language L.3. Over the past decade, I’ve noted with interest that the educational community has cherry-picked certain Standards and ignored others.

As an author of numerous ELA curricula, I assumed that the initial focus (rightfully so) of district curriculum implementation would be the reading, writing, and math Standards. In my field, I decided to write in anticipation of the next focus area. I assumed that, for ELA, it would center on the Anchor Standards for Language. These Language Standards were quite revolutionary in some circles because the Common Core authors emphasized the direct instruction of grammar, usage, and mechanics. Furthermore, the authors provocatively addressed the issue of non-Standard English and seemed to swing the pendulum toward a traditional grammar approach. Think rules, correct and incorrect usage, and application.

Over the next two years I poured hours into the development of comprehensive grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school programs to teach all of the Standards in the Language Strand. My Teaching the Language Strand title was ill-chosen. Much to my chagrin, ELA teachers rarely got past the Reading and Writing Standards. I moved the title to the subtitle position and re-named the series Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand). The longest title in the history of educational publishing. Subsequently, I broke the comprehensive program into affordable grade-level slices and achieved more sales: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsWriting Openers Language Application, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

Even within the largely ignored Anchor Standards for Language, one Standard, in particular, has received scant recognition:

The Hidden Gem: Knowledge of Language Standard L.3

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
 …
The key word in the Knowledge of Language Standard is apply. The somewhat ambiguous term, language, refers to the other five Standards in the Language Strand which encompass grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. The purpose of this practical Standard is to help students more fully comprehend how language impacts reading and informs writing and apply this knowledge. The slice of my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) series, which aligns to the Knowledge of Language Standards L.3 is Writing Openers Language Application.
Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) provides 56 whole-class, twice-per-week “quick writes,” designed to help students learn, practice, and apply grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and sentence variety Standards. The Common Core authors are certainly right that grammar should not be taught solely in isolation. Grammatical instruction needs to be taught in the reading and writing contexts and applied in spoken and written language.

The grade-level Writing Openers programs align to the Anchor Standards for Language:

Each of the 56 lessons takes about 5­-10 minutes to complete. Lessons are derived from the Conventions of Standard English (L. 1, 2), Knowledge and Use of Language Standards (L. 3), and the Language Progressive Skills found in the Common Core State Standards Language Strand. The lessons help students “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening” (Common Core Language Strand Knowledge of Language). In other words, lots of practice in sentence revision, sentence combination, and identification of and application of grammar.

The lessons are formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction. The teacher reads and explains the Lesson Focus and Example(s) while students follow along on their own accompanying worksheet. Next, the students annotate the Lesson Focus and summarize the Key Idea(s). Afterwards, the students complete the Practice Section (sentence combining, sentence revisions). Finally, students complete the My Own Sentence writing task. The My Own Sentence serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have mastered the Lesson Focus.

Plus, get 13 sentence structure worksheets with answers. Worksheets include simple subjects, compound subjects, simple predicates, compound predicates, simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences, identifying sentence fragments, revising sentence fragments, identifying sentence run-ons, revising sentence run-ons, and identifying parallelism.

FREE SAMPLE LESSONS TO TEST-DRIVE THE PROGRAMS

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 4) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 5) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 6) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 7) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 8) Lessons HERE.

Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) is one instructional component of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary grade-level BUNDLES.

*****

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodgepodge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

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Writer’s Handbook | The Pennington Manual of Style

Lately, I’ve received more than my fair share of compliments about my writing. Yesterday, I posted a brief comment on a teacher’s post on the seller’s forum on Teachers Pay Teachers. The author of the post labeled my response as “eloquent.”

Now, I read enough to know that I’m a decent, but not great, writer. However, this is the first time I’ve been accused of being eloquent. My take is that educators have been so acclimated to Facebook, Twitter, and texting writing style, that heretofore normal discourse would, indeed, seem eloquent.

Fortunately, I’ve noticed a new and developing interest in writing style and I don’t think it’s a nostalgic homage to Strunk and White’s The Elements of StyleIndeed, our collective writing craft has diminished over the years, but when I see twenty-something teachers driving a return to grammar handbooks and style manuals I see more than a glimpse of hope. The bright and talented ELA teachers who have recently joined our English staff at the middle school I recently left are looking for a rule of thumb. That search can be frustrating.

Recently, I got tired of answering questions and talking about the serial comma. I decided to take the lazy approach and write the definitive article in favor of retaining the traditional Oxford comma for this, that, and various reasons. My thought was that in the future I will be able to respond to any discourse on this subject with a simple link. In doing a bit of research for the article I looked at various style guides: Modern Language Association, Turabian, Chicago, Associated Press, American Psychological Association, the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual, and the go-to web resources of the Purdue Writing Lab (OWL) and Grammar GirlSuch discrepancies and no unanimity! And not just regarding the serial comma. No wonder teachers want a simple and workable set of writing rules.

But which writing rules? Newer ELA teachers are pragmatists. Unlike boomers, they like rules; they want to make sense out of ambiguity. Newer ELA teachers tend to prioritize writing issues. They choose their battles. It reminds me of the writing research at the beginning of my teaching career regarding 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.

Specifically, teachers wishing to return to some common ground of teaching writing focus on these categories:

  • 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.

As the author of the Teaching Essay Strategies program, I decided to include a writer’s handbook within the program: The Pennington Manual of Style. The goal was to create a student-centered handbook which identifies writing problems with clear examples and to provide the applicable solutions. Take a look at a sample preview of the manual including the e-comments on Essay Writing Rules and Style. If interested, navigate back to the following product description:

The Pennington Manual of Style (eBook) sold on its own and also as a slice of the Teaching Essay Strategies program has been designed to serve as a writer’s reference guide for both students and teachers.

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. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

Using Google docs? Simply batch download your students’ essays into Microsoft Word®. Then open up the essays as Microsoft Word® documents and make your e-Comments. You can then upload them back as Google docs, share the Word® documents in a dropbox, email, or network folder… or print. Quite easy!

Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense     

Essay Response: The Pennington Manual of Style

The Pennington Manual of Style

*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.

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Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Teaching Essay Strategies Program

Teaching Essay Strategies

Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive curriculum designed to help teachers teach the essay components of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing. 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 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 StyleOpeners, 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.

Writing Posters

Get 59 pages of colorful writing posters to serve as anchor charts to teach and reinforce the key instructional components of the program including Essay Direction Words, Essay Rules, Introduction Strategies,Types of Evidence, Conclusion Strategies, Writing Style, Essay Numerical Hierarchy, Limit Using “to–be” Verbs, First and Second Person Pronouns, Transitions, and Editing Marks.

How much class time does it take per week?

The complete Teaching Essay Strategies program takes 70 minutes per week of class time. The resources in this book are user-friendly. Absolutely no prep time is required to teach this curriculum.

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 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 StyleOpeners, 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.

Writing Posters

Get 59 pages of colorful writing posters to serve as anchor charts to teach and reinforce the key instructional components of the program including Essay Direction Words, Essay Rules, Introduction Strategies,Types of Evidence, Conclusion Strategies, Writing Style, Essay Numerical Hierarchy, Limit Using “to–be” Verbs, First and Second Person Pronouns, Transitions, and Editing Marks.

How much class time does it take per week?

The complete Teaching Essay Strategies program takes 70 minutes per week of class time. The resources in this book are user-friendly. Absolutely no prep time is required to teach this curriculum.

Writing Openers Language Application

Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) provides 56 whole-class, twice-per-week “quick writes,” designed to help students learn, practice, and apply grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and sentence variety Standards. The Common Core authors are certainly right that grammar should not be taught solely in isolation. Grammatical instruction needs to be taught in the reading and writing contexts and applied in spoken and written language.

Each of the 56 lessons takes about 5­-10 minutes to complete. Lessons are derived from the Conventions of Standard English (L. 1, 2), Knowledge and Use of Language Standards (L. 3), and the Language Progressive Skills found in the Common Core State Standards Language Strand. The lessons help students “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening” (Common Core Language Strand Knowledge of Language). In other words, lots of practice in sentence revision, sentence combination, and identification of and application of grammar.

The lessons are formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction. The teacher reads and explains the Lesson Focus and Example(s) while students follow along on their own accompanying worksheet. Next, the students annotate the Lesson Focus and summarize the Key Idea(s). Afterwards, the students complete the Practice Section (sentence combining, sentence revisions). Finally, students complete the My Own Sentence writing task. The My Own Sentence serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have mastered the Lesson Focus.

Check out the extensive preview of Teaching Reading Strategies, including an entire writing process essay with analytical rubric, HERE.

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Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Academic Literacy Centers

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

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

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

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

Following are the often-neglected writing and language standards:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

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

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

Range of Writing:

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

Language

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

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

How to Teach to These Standards

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Get the Writing Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Writing is Taught and Caught

Writing Skills: Taught and Caught

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

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

The Problem

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

The Solution

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

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

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

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

Writing Anchor Standards

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

Language Anchor Standards

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

Suggestions

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

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

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

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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 Dissect a Writing Prompt

Using Google Maps is a life-saver. However, we’ve all had the experience of misreading or miswriting our destination. If we don’t have the correct or precise destination in mind, we can wind up hopelessly lost. For example, in my town we love trees. You had better carefully input “Pine Tree Street,” not “Pine Tree Court,” “Pine Tree Avenue,” or “Pine Tree Lane.” Otherwise you might be knocking on the wrong door.

The same attention to detail is necessary when reading a writing prompt and planning your writing destination. Learning how to dissect the Writing Prompt is the first step in writing an effective essay that will get you where you’re headed. Knowing exactly what the writing assignment requires in terms of the audience, role of the writer, topic and its context, purpose of the essay, essay format, resource text, and key writing direction words are all necessary components of this task.

Following is a step-by-step procedure for dissecting a writing prompt. These directions are carefully designed to work with the Common Core State Standards Writing 1 (arguments) and 2 (inform or explain) standards with brief explanations why each step is important. Don’t leave out a step or you might wind up on Pine Tree Blvd. in Australia.

Let’s use the following as our writing prompt example:

Creating a town culture and identity is important to the success of any town. Towns that have clear cultures and identities don’t just evolve-they are carefully planned. Town planners help craft the ongoing vision of a town. Town planners know first-hand the truth of the old adage-“You can’t please all the people all of the time.” Effective planning involves saying “Yes” to some things and “No” to others. For example, many towns have enacted ordinances limiting the number of fast food restaurants. Take on the role of a town planner in a newspaper editorial to persuade businesses and residents that your town needs such restrictions, referring to the reading resource: Pine Town Business Ordinances.

How to Dissect the Writing Prompt

1. WHO

Underline any words which identify the audience or the role of the writer.

Good writing is a dialogue between author and audience. Writing is not a one-way task. First, find out who your audience will be. The audience may or may not be clearly stated. Don’t assume that you are writing just to your teacher or grader. Consider your audience’s level of expertise and degree of familiarity with the subject. This will help frame your word choice, which terms need to be defined, your audience’s point of view, and how much prior knowledge you need to tap into to create a coherent dialogue. In the writing prompt example, you should underline “businesses” and “residents,” because these are the two audience members in the writing task.

Look for words that help define your role as the writer. Are you to be an information provider, a thought-provoker, a teacher, a persuader, or ? Are you to remain objective and even-handed to treat all sides of an issue fairly? Or are you to be subjective with your primary task to convince or change your audience’s mind to your position? The answers to these questions will determine your writing voice. Your writing voice is your personal attitude toward the subject of the writing and your audience; it’s the way you come across. Of course, the writing voice must be consistent throughout your writing response so as not to confuse your readers. You never want to send mixed messages to your audience. In the writing prompt example, you should underline “town planner,” because this is your assigned role in writing assignment.

2. WHAT

Circle any words which identify the topic, context, or purpose of the writing task.

As you read the writing prompt, search for words or phrases that clearly state the topic of the writing. The topic is the main subject about which you are to write, not the detail that explains the subject. For example, in this portion of the writing prompt example: “Many towns have enacted ordinances limiting the number of fast food restaurants” the topic would be “laws” and “fast food restaurants,” not “towns” or “number.” Stick to the main ideas, not the details that are parts of the whole or too general.

The context refers to the necessary background or situation that explains the significance of the topic. In the writing prompt example, the words “culture,” “identity,” and “planned” should be circled because they indicate the necessary context to understand why the topic is important. If your circled topic seems trivial, re-read the writing prompt to ensure that you’ve circled the correct topic.

The purpose of the writing task is the main focus of your writing task. As a writer, you are limited to this focus. You may not want this to be your focus, not you are stuck with this assignment. Keep the focus narrow and don’t “read into” the purpose of the writing task what is not stated. In the writing prompt example, the words “persuade,” and “restrictions” should be circled.

3. HOW

Bracket any words which identify the writing format or the resources to use.

The format of the writing task simply means how the writing response is to be shared with your audience. It is the form in which the writing task is to be composed. Again, the writer is limited to this form; there is no choice here. Often the writing format is assumed to be an essay. In the writing prompt example, the writing format is a newspaper editorial. Now, this assumes that the writer knows what an editorial is and is not. Prior knowledge is a harsh master; if you don’t know the characteristics of the format, you are in some trouble. Using the rest of the language of the writing prompt and the clue word “newspaper” will at least get the writer in the right ballpark of the writing format. Bracket the words “newspaper editorial.”

If a reading resource is stated, you should bracket that resource. In the writing prompt example, “Pine Town Business Ordinances” is that resource.

4. DO

Box any words which identify key writing direction words.

Often there is some overlap here. In the writing prompt example, “Persuade” should have been circled in the second WHAT step. Go ahead and box over the circle to emphasize exactly what you are to do as the writer. Knowing the academic language of key writing direction words is critically important. Following are the most often used writing direction words.

Writing directions words for essays designed as argument…

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

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

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

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

Writing directions words for essays designed to inform or explain…

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

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

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

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

Here is a nice teaching summary of the WHO, WHAT, HOW, and DO strategy for dissecting writing prompts for display and reference and some writing prompts for dissection. Dissecting the Writing Prompt 

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to 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 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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