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.