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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 Teach Rhetorical Stance

Teachers can help students practice the elements of Rhetorical Stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form. Learning these elements will enable students to flexibly address any writing assignment with dexterity and flair. Students need to be able to adjust their writing to a wide variety of genre in order to communicate effectively.

Find clear models of the elements of rhetorical stance and share these with your students. Help students to identify each of the elements in the model. Discuss how each interacts with the others. Make sure to use a wide variety of models.

Then, have students mimic the voice, audience, purpose, and form of the model to respond to an engaging writing prompt. Share their creative triumphs and correct shortcomings.

Voice—Some would define voice at that intangible which makes one’s writing unique, personal, and honest. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing style, point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). Students need to practice mimicking other voices to refine their own voices. Additionally, students need to be able to manipulate their voices to best suit the audience, purpose, and form. Choose student models to share that will broaden your students’ understanding of voice and encourage students to mimic these examples and the voices of other writers. Check out another article I have written, titled “How to Develop Voice in Student Writing” for plenty of instructional strategies. Why not introduce a video clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. to inspire students to mimic his poetic, emotional, and hopeful voice prior to a relevant quick write?

Audience—Students need to understand that all writing is interactive communication. The other is the writer, himself, as reader and any others with whom the writer shares the work. Students all too frequently learn to write to the teacher as their exclusive audience. This practice tends to de-personalize student writing and limit development of voice. Choose student models to share that use a voice that engages and is particularly appropriate to the audience. Ask students to identify which parts of the writing response specifically address the defined audience and why. Why not select a class of third graders as an audience to encourage controlled vocabulary, brevity, and appropriate word choice?

Purpose—My comprehensive essay curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, uses eight key writing direction words (describe, explain, discuss, compare-contrast, analyze, persuade, justify, and evaluate) as the action words of each writing prompt in leveled writing strategy worksheets. These same writing direction words are used on a rotating basis (eight times each) as the purpose components in the 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes. Check out the attached example of a Rhetorical Stance Quick Write and use to guide your instruction in the elements of rhetorical stance. Why not have your students describe the ideal world that they hope to live in as adults?

Form—Although the academic essay becomes the predominate form of composition beginning in the intermediate elementary years and continuing through college, facility in other writing forms is certainly necessary to develop voice, writing fluency, and writing dexterity. Additionally, writing practice using a variety of forms will improve reading comprehension across a wide variety of genres. Use a wide variety of form, from anecdotes to classified ads to help students adjust their writing form and voice to the purpose of the writing and their audience. Why not mimic the rhetorical style, including the parallel “I have a dream” refrains from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a two minute speech?

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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How to Develop Voice in Student Writing

Some teachers would argue that a writer’s voice is so individualized that it must be discovered.

For the uninitiated, the immunity idol is a small, hidden object that fits with the theme of the Survivor location. It is hidden near the tribal camps, or in more recent seasons it has been hidden on Exile Island. If secured by a player, the immunity idol will prevent that contestant from hearing the host’s immortal words, “The tribe has spoken,” which removes the player from further competition.

Survivor players are banished to Exile Island by the other survivors. In fact, some contestants have been sent to the island multiple times. These Robinson Crusoes have no assistance from Fridays, but, with much effort and/or luck, are able to discover clues that will lead them to find the immunity idol.

Constructivists would argue that the only clues provided to developing writers should be widespread reading and unencumbered writing practice. After a journey of self-discovery, the squishy concept of voice may emerge some day for some writing survivors.

The debate hinges somewhat on our definitions of voice. Constructivists tend to adopt a narrow definition that voice is what makes one’s writing unique and personal; the intangibles that demonstrate an honest commitment to its writing.

I take a different view. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing what old-time Strunkers called style, as well as point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). I think that discovering voice should be the result of a guided journey. By the way, the clues on Survivor are quite direct and relevant to the quest; they are not needles in haystacks.

As a reading specialist, I would agree that widespread reading does help students recognize voice; however, I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes. The voice that a student uses to convince a peer to do a favor, should not be the same voice that a student uses to convince a police officer to issue a warning, rather than a speeding ticket.

Here are a few suggestions to teach voice:

  1. Read short passages from writers with diverse voices out loud. Have students identify characteristic diction and intonation (the sound of the writing). Hemingway, King, Jr., Rowling, Shakespeare, and passages from Isaiah are useful. Then, have students mimic the voices of these writers on a topic of teacher or student choice.
  2. Have students practice manipulating the other elements of rhetorical stance (audience, purpose, and form) regularly. Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes, used as bell-ringers, are particularly useful.
  3. Provide word lists, such as strong verbs and feeling words, for students to incorporate into their writing.
  4. Teach students to use poetic elements, such as metaphor, in their narrative and personal writing.
  5. Have students re-write endings of stories or news articles.
  6. Have students re-write third person stories into first person stories.
  7. Have students re-write fairy tales from another point of view, for example, from the wolf’s perspective, rather than that of the pig’s in Three Little Pigs.
  8. Have students identify and re-write the tone of readings. Poetry is a great source for clearly-identifiable tone.
  9. Teach different grammatical sentence openers. Encourage students to avoid “to-be” verbs.
  10. Teach inappropriate writing style and post examples for future student reference. For example, post generic words such as stuff and things and help students brainstorm specific alternatives. Perhaps create a “dead-word or phrase cemetery on a bulletin board.
  11. Have students write essays on controversial and relevant topics to identify divergent points of view, writer commitment to the topic, and sense of audience.
  12. Post a “graffiti board” to encourage students to share their voices.
  13. Have students read their own writing out loud and have their peers identify the elements I define as voice.

Find essay strategy worksheets, rhetorical stance quick writes, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

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