Monday, September 24, 2007

Ten Writing Exercises to Help Students to Improve Topic Development and Organization

Here’s a list of ideas I’ve gathered from various conferences:

1. From Picture to Words-Many beginning or lower level writers find ideas in visual sources. Keep a resource file of pictures in your classroom that “stumped” students can use to jumpstart their writing. My folder contains pictures from magazines, ads for toys, moveies and videos, posters, wordless picture books, illustrated children’s books, and art reproductions. National Geographic and Kids Discover Magazines are also great resources. Pictures can be used to create a graphic organizer or web to help students organize their ideas.

2. Sombody Else’s Pictures---Collect a few wordless books. They can help students who have problems organizing a story. Ask students to look through the book and write a story based on the pictures. If the student has problems actually writing allow them to dictate the story to you. More advanced students can be shown that several different stories can come from the same set of pictures.

3. Get to the Point-Share a piece of writing that contains so many details the reader is bored or confused. First help students identify the less important details. Then, demonstrate seveal possible revisions:

*a one- or two-sentence summary of the less important details
*deleting the less important details entirely
*adding information that makes the seemingly unnessary detail relevant to the purpose, controlling idea, or story line

4. Paragraph It-Give students multi-paragraph text that is not separated into paragraphs. Have students identify where each new paragraph should begin and explain how they know.

5. Adding Details-First do this activity as a large group so that students understand what you want. Then have them work in small groups or with a classmate. You provide a well-written, interesting topic sentence for a paragraph and have them complete the paragraph by adding four or five detail sentences. Once students have mastered this task, expand by adding details to the details.

6. How Do I Begin?-Take the same paper or text and create two different examples of beginning paragraphs. One should be ordinary and the other more developed and interesting. Have students discuss the differences and which type readers prefer. Have them apply what they’ve learned in their own writing.

7. What to write about?-At the beginning of the year when we set up our writing notebooks one of the first things I do is I share my writing topics with students that I keep in the front of my writers notebook. After I share my list I ask students to think about some of the things I had on my list they could place on theirs. This usually gets them started. The list should be anything that interests them such as people, sports, games, words they can spell, fun words, successess, lost things, scary things, joyful things, etc. Later on as the year progresses and students tell me they don’t have anything to write about I ask them to look at their topics page. It hasn’t failed yet…..

8. Building a Text-Take a well-written, short article from a children’s magazine. Cut it into sections, according to the paragraphs. Make several copies. Mix up the original order. Have students (working alone or in small groups) arrange the jumbled paragraphs in their original order. Discuss the arrangement they came up with. Focus the discussion on what the author did to connect ideas from one paragraph to the next. Use an overhead of each paragraph to point out what the author did to connect ideas and to help the reader move from one idea to the next.

9. Developing Each Part-During the drafting stage, have students write the beginning, middle, and ending on separate sheets of paper to encourage them to develop each part.

10. Read Aloud-During your daily read aloud (if you aren’t, you SHOULD!) ask students to look for particular things such as great use of adjectives, descriptions, etc. I also often ask students to focus on my speed and tone as I read and relate to me how this keeps them interested in the story, and sometimes we have no assignment at all….it’s just enough to enjoy the written word.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Persuasive Writing Topics for Students

1. Take a position on whether students should be required to take physical education (PE) in school. Make your position clear and explain why you think students should or should not be required to take physical education in school.

2. When you visited a friend of yours, he/she acted strange. When you tried to talk to your friend, he/she became defensive. You found out that your friend was failing all of his /her classes. Now you have returned home. Write a letter to your friend explaining ways in which he/she can improve academically. State the problem and make your solutions clear.

3. Your state is considering a law that would require every citizen to participate in a recycling program. This program would be more expensive and inconvenient to the average citizen than the old way of getting rid of garbage. Decide how you feel about a new law requiring all citizens to recycle. Write a letter to the governor clearly explaining why the recyling law should or should not be passed.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writing Prompts for Practice and Assessment at the Elementary and Middle School Levels

Elementary Prompts:

1. Think about a day in your life that you would call a good day. Maybe nothing went wrong. Or, maybe, the day started out bad but got better. Write a story about your good day.

2. Imagine that a spaceship lands near your home. You become friends with one of the creatures from outer space. Write a story about your adventures with the friendly creature from outer space.

3. Think about your favorite time of year. It may be a season or a special event. What is it that you enjoy doing? Write a story about something that happens during your favorite time of year.

4. One day as you walk home from school you see a large, glass bottle lying next to the road. You pick up the bottle and remove the top. Something surprising happens. Write a story about what happens.

Middle Prompts:

5. Changes in the season bring changes in weather and animal behavior. People change too as fall becomes winter, winter becomes spring, and spring becomes summer. Think about how seasons affect us. Write a paper about one season that interests you. Your paper must be one of the following: your opinion about the season, a real or imagined story about the season, or a report about the season to be presented in class.

6. Have you ever thought about an adventure in a distant land? You might travel to Italy, sail around the world, or only go as far as a nearby state. Write a paper about a faraway land. Your paper must be one of the following: your opinion about a distant land, a real or imagined story about a distant land, and a report about a distant land to be presented in class.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Readers-Writers-Thinkers….What an interesting website for students.

I visited Readers-Writers-Thinkers today and decided to play around a bit. I noticed a link with the words Renassiance Man and decided to follow the path. If I was a fifth grader here is what I would read:

You are a historian about to begin writing a book about Leonardo da Vinci's work. But first, you must discover more about da Vinci. As you investigate the case of the Renaissance Man, you should find out—

where and when he lived
his most famous inventions and artwork
what it means to be a "Renaissance man"
why da Vinci is considered a Renaissance man
how life would be different without his work

Futher directions tell the student to organize his/her notes in outline form and design a table of contents, title, and cover for his/her book.

Think about your language arts curriculum for a minute. How many different standards does this authentic activity/assessment cover? A quick count for me is at least 10 especially if I cross over into Social Studies as well.

A further link in the sidebar reminds students to proofread their work. When I clicked through I found a list of ten things my writing should not have with vocabulary highlighted in yellow such as plagiarism and gratuitous violence. I life this different kind of proofreading list…it fits many of the things I see in my student’s writing these days.

This could be a wonderful resource for those higher level writers in your classroom. During your writing time while you work more closely with the students who need you, the higher level students could work on their own with the website. On the flipside this website could help the lower-end students by helping them with ideas and craft. This site could also be given to parents who ask for recourses to help their child at home.

I plan to explore Readers-Writers-Thinkers a bit more, and I hope you discover it as well.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

7 Resource Books I'd Never Be Without

1. Graphic Organizers...Helping Children Think Visually by Kris Flynn has over 75 classroom ideas that span the curriculum and 29 reproducible forms. A wide selection of open-ended, creative organizers, including story boards, sorting circles, and building plans, offer students unique ways to brainstorm, classify, map, evaluate, and more!

2. The Big Book of Reproducible Graphic Organizers by Jennifer Jacobson and Dottie Raymer is just what the cover says….50 great templates to help kids get more out of reading, writing, social studies, and more. See the table of contents here, but it only lists just a few of the organizers found in the book. Worried about copies? Most of these are so simple I re-create them on the board and we complete them together in class or students draw them and complete them on their own for a quick assessment. It’s a great way to get inside student’s heads to see how they are connecting things.

3. 10 Ready-to-Go Book Report Projects by Rebekah Elmore and Michael Gravois
This book is written by two fifth grade teachers, so they know what they are writing about. The projects detailed in this book challenge and motivate students. They are great. Here's a link to the table of contents.

4. Quick and Creative Reading Response Activities by Jane Fowler and Stephanie Newlon.
Sometimes you just feel like you can’t ask students to complete one more essay or drawing. You need to change it up every now and then and the ideas in this book certainly have recharged my asssignments from time to time. Many of my unmotivated readers suddenly get excited to complete their book once they know they have a choice of some of the activities in this book. You can use these activities with books or stories you have assigned or with books that have been read independently. For example, when students are studying fact and opinion students can complete French Fry Facts. If the assignment concerns analyzing problem and solution students can use Light Bulb Lab. Want more ideas? Purchase the book!

5. 40 Rubrics and Checklists to Assess Reading and Writing by Adele Fiderer
I’ve purchased other books by Fiderer and I’m always pleased. This book includes reproducible forms for reading and listening comprehension, story character analysis, content-area research reports, personal experience essays, letters, and more. Instead of photocopying some of the student pages that give easy directions, scoring tips, etc. I write this information on the board. Here's a link to a page.

6. 3-Minute Reading Assessments by Timothy V. Rasinkski and Nancy Padak
This link takes you to the version for grades 5 and above; however, I actually own the version for grades 1-4. While I always pay attention the state assessment for reading I don’t use it exclusively when I am trying to get a picture of a child’s reading ability. I try to use as many tools as I can throughout the year to assess my teaching and student learning.

3-Minute Reading Assessments is a great resource because the passages are leveled with ready-to-use assessment pages. I can screen students for low word recognition, poor fluency rate, and inadquate comprehension. The book also includes rubrics and grade-level norms that make interpreting the data simple and easy. The record-keeping forms benefit documentation.
there is also a version for grades 1-4

7. 75 Language Arts Assessment Tools by Mary Sullivan
This resource contains rubrics, checklists, rating sheets, evaluation forms. Here's a link to the FIRST page of the table of contents. There are over 160 pages in this book and I refer to it often when I need some sort of of check off list. Rather than waste time reinventing the wheel I’ll find exactly what I need in this source.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tools to Help Students and Educators Evaluate Websites for Use in the Classroom

I like to use the Internet in my classroom. Personally, I use it to e-mail colleagues, authors, parents, and students. I use the computer to research content, plan lessons through research and formulation, and as a tool to teach with by utilizing power point, etc.

Perhaps that’s your same experience.

What abut your students? Are they using your classroom computers regularly?

One of those first of the year activities I complete with students is a few lessons on how to use my computers, and most importantly….how to review a website. It is true that most students know how to use the computer probably better than I do, however, my job is on the line if they do something they shouldn’t, and I have posted rules that must be adhered to.

We want students to use the computer for personal enjoyment, but we also want them to understand that information is there at their fingertips waiting to be tapped. The computer isn’t just a place to watch videos and build a MySpace site.

One of the downsides to the Intenet is the wealth of information that can be obtained. Educators and students need to know how to evaluate various websites to determine if the particular site has an hidden agenda in the information it contains and if the site is credible for education use.

In the book Teaching With the Internet K-12: New Literacies for New Timesthe authors provide a checklist for students and teachers to use to evaluate a website and the information it presents in the form of five questions that help develop new insights and more critical awareness about the sites they visit:

1. Who created the site?
2. What is the purpose of the site?
3. When was the site created?
4. Where can I check the accuracy of this site’s information?
5. How will the information at this site be shaped by the stance of the sites creator and sponsors?

Even with these questions answered it is easy to be led astray on the Internet. Some sites are simply misleading or even fraudulent. Many are owned by various hate groups and their agenda is carefully hidden. Many of these sites relate to social studies especially in the area of civil rights, history, and biographies.

Media Awareness Network is one site you can investigate to help set up procedures and lesson plans to help students.

Teaching Zack to Think is a lesson from Media Awareness Network that is especially effective and is mentioned in the book I refer to above.

Happy searching, but be careful out there!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What Should a Georgia Fourth Grader Look Like?

If I remember correctly this was taken mainly from the opening paragraphs of the Language Arts standards from the Georgia State Board of Education.

Students who have completed the fourth grade program consistently choose various genres on their own to read and do not need an instructor’s preview to have success. Students are able to read and understand informational text in various subject areas and use many different metacognitive strategies to assist in comprehension. They read thoughtfully and purposefully to constantly check for understanding of the author’s intent and meaning to achieve a sound interpretation.

By the end of their fourth grade year students are used to writing daily for a variety of purposes and audiences. In addition to writing necessary for the business of school students are also comfortable writing journals, notes, and email. Student’s writing consistently develops a central idea or tells a story utilizing the writing process. Strong evidence of the use of Standard English conventions are presented in all forms of writing. Students understand that reading and writing strategies are used interchangeably and utilize these strategies to include personal voice and author’s craft in their writing.

Students have continually practiced and are adept in various student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions and communicate their ideas effectively, politely, and appropriately whether conversations take place during classroom discussions or cooperative groups.

Culminating Activities for Fourth Grade Language Arts

At some point our team was considering Georgia standards for Language Arts, and what students should be able to do at the end of the year. This is a list of the expectations we finally arrived at last year.

Conventions: Students will perform error analysis on no more than three paragraphs that contain errors involving parts of speech, mechanics, and sentence structure. Students will use standard correction marks to correct the paragraphs and will rewrite the paragraphs in corrected form.

Critical Reading: Students will read an informational article and will be able to identify features of the text and the text structure. Students will locate specific facts and will be able to state the main idea of the article.

Reading Comprehension: Students will read a book of literature that reflects their specific reading level. Students will present an in depth analysis of the book using graphic organizers, artwork, and written paragraphs displayed on a poster. Through their analysis students will indicate they can identify the various literature elements and genre. Students will make judgments based on the overall worthiness of the book and evaluate character actions using specific evidence from the text.

Students will choose a favorite poem and will present it to an audience. Students will interpret their poem by having props (costumes, things to hold, posters, etc) with them as they recite the poem. Students will also create a written analysis of the poem identifying the speaker and will discuss the sensory and/or figurative language in the poem. Finally, students will state how the rhyme, rhythm, and repetition of the poem impact the meaning of the poem.

Vocabulary Development: The student will demonstrate an understanding of semanic relationships by using context clues, word meanings, and prior knowledge to accurately complete a Semanic Feature Analysis chart on concepts about which he/she has read.

Students will use context clues, knowledge of common Greek and Latin roots, and common prefixes and suffixes to identify the meaning of unknown words embedded in isolated and non-isolated sentences.

Listening, Speaking, and Viewing:
Students will compile and present a research report on a topic of general interest to the class. Students will use various resources including media and the Internet to gather information.

As I review this list now it does not include writing activities for the writing domain. I hope to have this done soon.

Current articles for this site can be found HERE.
Use the labels for this post to find other posts on the same topic.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

There's Nothing Like a Little Walk and Some Browsing

Browsing through a lesson and picture walks aren’t just for our youngest students.

Upper elementary and middle school students can use these strategies with non-fiction tradebooks and textbooks. It doesn’t hurt to preview the material by flipping through the pages and looking at the pictures. Often students complete this activity with a partner so that they can share and feed off each others thoughts.

Encourage students to pay attention to the picture captions and graphics such as charts and maps. Many standardized tests now ask questions about information found in these areas.

Students often have to be trained to look at the whole page instead of just the columns of text. So often than not our upper elementary and middle school student arrive at our classroom door lacking skills. Many times I have to model picture walks and lesson browsing for them so they can see exactly what it is I want them to do.

Even when a science or social studies text is being used it doesn’t hurt to get students to flex their inference muscles by inferring or predicting what the lesson will tell them by using hints from the pictures and digrams as well as the headings and sub-headings. Another strategy that I like to use is asking students to connect personally with the events in the story or lesson. Personal connections help with scaffolding the material and retention rates are increased.