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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.

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Free Resources to Teach the Writing Process and Writer’s Workshop

The Writing Process and Writers Workshop are not simply processes by which students explore and refine their writing on their own. The teacher plays an active role in teaching and modeling the writing strategies that students need to acquire to become coherent writers. Both explicit and implicit instruction have their appropriate roles within writing instruction. Creating  and maintaining an experimental community of writers is no easy task for the writing instructor. However, the pay-offs are certainly worth the effort.

The diverse classroom provides unique challenges for both students and writing instructor. By its very nature, much of writing instruction is differentiated instruction. Classroom management and creation of a workable writing climate are essentials to successful learning.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to facilitate the Writing Process and Writers Workshop from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

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 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.

Why Using Essay e-C0mments 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 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.

The Difference between Facts and Claims

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/the-difference-between-claims-and-facts/

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.

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. Here are the 438 Essay e-Comments.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

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

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 to Dissect a Writing Prompt

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-dissect-a-writing-prompt/

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.

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.

Computer-Scored Essays

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/computer-scored-essays/

Teachers recognize the value of essay compositions as vital tools for learning, self-expression, and assessment. However, essays just take too much time to read, respond to, and evaluate. As a result, computer-scoring of student writing is being actively marketed to K-12 schools and universities. But teacher organizations, such as the NCTE and CCCC adamantly oppose machine-scored writing. Is there a middle ground that uses technological efficiency and maintains teacher judgment?

Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

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With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers. Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well.

Differentiating Instruction in Writer’s Workshop

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/differentiating-instruction-in-writer%E2%80%99s-workshop/

Critics of Writer’s Workshop often complain that Writer’s Workshop can be inefficient and/or a class management nightmare. Some teachers have tried Writer’s Workshop, but have given up because the workshop is interest-based, not standards-based or because it is student-centered, not teacher-centered. Neither of those criticisms concerns me greatly. However, I do feel that the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop is not as conducive to differentiated instruction as it could be. Specifically, tweaking the mini-lesson will allow teachers to better differentiate instruction within Writer’s Workshop.

Essay Comment Excuses

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/essay-comment-excuses/

Teachers know that detailed essay comments are keys to effective writing instruction but are adept at creating essay comment excuses to avoid the time and energy it takes to do the job. But, how can we do a great job with essay response and still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work? Canned comments. Ones to cut and paste from your computer. But… really good ones.

Analytical Rubrics

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/analytical-rubrics/

Teachers use two types of rubrics to assess student writing: holistic and analytic. Of the two rubrics, the analytical rubric offers both teachers and students much more to work with to improve student writing. Here are five reasons why using analytical rubrics makes sense.

What’s Wrong with Holistic Rubrics?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/whats-wrong-with-holistic-rubrics/

It’s a relatively easy task to criticize any measure of writing assessment. This is my chore in What’s Wrong with Holistic Rubrics. We should use holistic rubrics for many writing assessments. However, we shouldn’t use holistic rubrics to teach writing. Holistic rubrics are, by design, summative assessments. Summative assessment is limited to evaluation, and evaluation is not instruction.

20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/20-tips-to-teach-writing-through-music/

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).

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-a-balanced-writing-program/

Teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced writing program makes sense. Learn the six steps to take to develop a balanced and effective writing program.

Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/using-music-to-develop-a-productive-writing-climate/

Using the craft of songwriting as a guide, the writing teacher can develop a productive writing climate. Combining resources, collaboration, and competition with an atmosphere of social networking can improve student motivation, commitment, and end product.

Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/using-music-to-develop-a-creative-writing-culture/

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing.

Ten Tips for Coaching Basketball and Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ten-tips-for-coaching-basketball-and-writing/

Learning to apply the coaching techniques of an effective basketball coach will significantly improve your ability as a writing coach for your students. Learn the ten tips to change from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”

How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-write-an-effective-essay-prompt/

Writing effective writing prompts that will engage writers and produce the best written responses can be challenging. This article shares the best tips for writing good writing prompts that will allow room for creative interpretation and analysis. The article also defines the common writing direction words that inform and persuade.

How to Teach the Writing Domains (Genres)

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-teach-the-writing-domains-genres-and-rhetorical-stance/

Teaching the writing domains (genres) and rhetorical stance are two essential lessons for developing young writers.

Process vs. On Demand Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/process-vs-on-demand-writing/

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students learn to write and succeed on these tests: process writing, on demand writing, or a mix of the two. All three approaches share the same challenge: little time is allocated for writing instruction.

Ten Tips to Teach On-Demand Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/ten-tips-to-teach-on-demand-writing/

On-demand writing assessments are here to stay. Teachers do a disservice to their students by not preparing them for the on-demand writing tasks that they will face throughout their academic and vocational careers. Here are ten practical tips to teach timed, on-demand writing to ensure success for your students.

Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/eight-great-tips-for-teaching-writing-fluency/

Similar to reading fluency, writing fluency is the ability to write effortlessly without interruption. Writing fluency is developed through concentrated practice; however, some practices are more effective than others. This article shares the best writing fluency strategies.

How to Teach a Write Aloud

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-a-write-aloud/

Research shows that the best writers have learned how to creatively multi-task, problem-solve, and interact with the anticipated reader. This is a skill that can be effectively taught by using the Write Aloud strategy.

Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

Educators often talk about the reading-writing connection. Teaching reading and writing strategies concurrently allows teachers to “kill two birds with one stone.” The following twelve techniques to teach the reading-writing connection will enhance students’ facility in both disciplines.

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. 359 pages

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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.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

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

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

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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 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 Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction

In my last article, I classified the chief divisions in grammatical instruction* as follows: 1. those who favor part to whole instruction and 2. those who prefer whole to part instruction. I argued that teachers need not accept an “either-or” philosophy of instruction, but can certainly be eclectic in their instructional strategies. Of course, kind and persistent readers of the Pennington Publishing Blog are naturally putting me to the test to flesh out how I balance instruction, using both forms of  those inductive and deductive instructional strategies.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

Teachers too often teach what some students do not know at the expense of some students who already know what is being taught. For example, students learn the definition and identification of a sentence subject over and over again from third through twelfth grade. Teachers legitimize this repeated instruction by arguing that learning is recursive and, thus, reviewing is necessary.

Instead of making excuses, teachers should address the problems inherent in a diverse classroom. Why not administer diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction in sentence subjects? Then, use the data to inform and differentiate instruction. Targeted worksheets that correspond to the diagnostic assessment, as in my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, with individual one-on-one follow-up conferences or in small group review just makes sense. How often and how much class time do I devote to grammar differentiation? Twice per week, 15 minutes per day.

Direct Instruction

Front-loading grammar and mechanics instruction is efficient and transfers to student writing when a teacher follows a coherent scope and sequence of instruction that builds upon previous instruction and writing practice. For example, here is a scope and sequence for teaching adverbs that builds in year-to-year review, and also helps students deepen their understanding of this part of speech to improve their writing:

  • Primary students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a physical action verb and practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to sentences.
  • Intermediate students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a mental action (e.g. knows) or state of being (e.g. was) verb. They should also practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to various places within sentences.
  • Upper elementary students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? and Where? to describe verbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs, including adverbial phrases, in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbs to various places within sentences and as transitions within paragraphs.
  • Middle school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs and adverbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs.
  • High school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to provide sentence variety to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs. Students should also practice elements of style, such as placing shorter adverbs before longer adverbs and placing general adverbs before specific adverbs within sentences. Students should also contrast comparative adjectives and adverbial phrases, identify dangling modifiers, and practice recognition and revision of these errors for SAT/ACT test preparation practice.

Sentence modeling from exemplary student writing and literature should be examined and emulated in brief student writing exercises with direct instructional feedback. Alongside of sentence models, contrasting sentences with writing errors should also be analyzed, but not in the context of an incoherent, scatter-gun D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) “program.” Download an example of my Sentence Lifting exercise at  Grammar Openers Toolkit Sampler to see how this direct instruction approach integrates grammar and mechanics instruction within the context of real writing. My Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum has 64 Sentence Lifting lessons with multiple instruction layers of instruction (as in the adverb example above) to provide the teacher with resources that reflect leveled degrees of difficulty. How often and how much class time do I devote to direct grammar and mechanics instruction? Three times per week, 15-20 minutes per day.

Writing Strategies

Teachers should practice sentence manipulation and sentence combining. For example, re-writing subject-verb-complement sentence construction to begin with complex sentences, such as with adverbial clause sentence openers is excellent practice. I use Sentence Revision exercises such as in the Writing Openers Toolkit Sampler from my Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum to help students practice sentence construction and revision. Sentence Revision also provides exercises in writing style. How often and how much class time do I devote to Sentence Revision? Three times per week, 10 minutes per day.

Writing Process

I require students to include specific sentence openers that we have practiced within their writing process pieces. Students re-write sentences to reflect their practice within the revision stage of the writing process. Peer editing focuses on the specific grammar and mechanics that we have been learning in our Sentence Lifting and Sentence Revision lessons.

Here are brief overviews of the two curricular sources described above: 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. Find whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments with 72 targeted worksheets to differentiate instruction based upon these assessments and a full year of 15-minute Sentence Llifting lessons with standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills in Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. Download free previews or purchase on my website.

*By grammatical instruction, I refer to usage, word choice, grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, spelling rules, and the like, as most teachers tend to lump together these writing skills.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

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How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Writing

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

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

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

What’s So Wrong with “To Be” Verbs?

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

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

When Can We Use “To Be” Verbs?

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

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

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

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

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

  1. IdentifyStudents need to memorize the “to be” verbs to avoid using them and to revise those that they have used in essays: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Teach students to self-edit by circling “to be” verbs in the revision stage of writing. Teach students how to problem-solve whether a “to be” verb is necessary or not. Teach students to identify and revise Non-standard English forms of the “to be” verb (Common Core State Standards L.2,3). For example, “They be watching cartoons” or “She been taking her time” 
  2. SubstituteSometimes a good replacement of a “to be” verb just pops into the brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie is delicious,” substitute the “to be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie tastes delicious.” If a strong, vivid verb does not pop into the brain, HERE is a great list of action verbs, specifically designed for persuasive/argumentative essays, informational/explanatory essays, literary analysis, and narratives (W1.0, 2.0, 3.0 of the Common Core Writing Standards) with useful categories for your students. Thanks to Mary Beth Foster, University of Arizona Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center for compiling this list. Also, substitute the “there,” “here,” and “it” + “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “There is the cake, and here are the pies for dessert, and it is served by Mom,” replace with “Mom serves the cake and pies for dessert.” Let’s also add on the “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” + “to be” verbs. Finally, strong linking verbs can replace “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “That was still the best choice,” substitute the “to be” verb was with the linking verb remained as in “That remained the best choice.”
  3. ConvertStudents can start  the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” convert the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.” 
  4. Change−To eliminate a”to be” verb, students can change the subject of the sentence to another noun or pronoun in the sentence and rearrange the order of the sentence. For example, instead of “The car was stopped by a police officer,” change the complete subject, the car, to a police officer to write “A police officer stopped the car.” Also, students can add in a different sentence subject to eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The books were written in Latin,” add in a different sentence subject, such as “authors” to change the passive voice to the active voice and write “Authors wrote the books in Latin. Lastly, starting the sentence with a different word or part of speech will help eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”
  5. CombineLook at the sentences before and after the one with the “to be” verb to see if combining the sentences will eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive child was feeling that way because of the news story,” combine as “The news story saddened the sensitive child.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the “To Be” Verb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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