Category: COW and Writing Instruction (page 2 of 5)

The Mysterious Doorway


This week’s COW Writing Challenge revolves around this image.  Door #17 was part of an art installation in Nova Scotia.  As soon as I saw it, I was intrigued by the possibilities. 

1.  If you go through this door, where do you end up?

2.  If you knocked on this door, who would answer?

3.  Why is there a ’17’ on the door?

4.  Who put this door here, and why?

5.  If the door was locked, how could you open it?

Doorways offer all sorts of possibilities. They symbolize hope, possibilities, moving on into something new, and, of course, intrigue.  What really is on the other side of that door? 

Doors have played a significant role a number of classic stories.  In The Secret Garden, a door leads children into a magical garden.  Alice had to pass through a tiny door to enter into Wonderland.

So, what wonderful, magical realm exists on the other side of door #17? 

Once Upon a Time The Classic Fairy Tale

For this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students will be writing a classic fairy tale.  Their prompt will be (what else?) “Once upon a time . . .”  The bonus words for this writing challenge are familiar fairy tale elements, including dragons, step-mothers, castles and giants.

Most children grow up hearing, watching, and reading fairy tales from a very early age.  Given their familiarity, fairy tales are a great platform for examining literary conventions.  Before setting students off on this week’s COW Writing Challenge, it’s worthwhile taking the time to reread some of these classic tales, then examine some of the common elements.

Some Common Elements of Fairy Tales

  1. Fairy tales do not need to include fairies.
  2. They are set in the distant past.
  3. They include supernatural, make-believe or fantasy elements like magic.
  4. There are clearly defined good characters and bad characters.
  5. Things usually happen in threes.
  6. The plot involves a problem or conflict that needs to be solved.
  7. The ending solves the conflict and is usually happy.
  8. The tale teaches some sort of lesson or demonstrates something important.

When students complete this writing challenge, have them keep these key elements in mind as they compose their own classic fairy tale.

The Writer’s Mumble The benefits of hearing your own words

In a blog post last week, the benefits of having students read their writing to an audience was discussed.  There are other great spin-off benefits of reading a story aloud, adding further value to this activity.

So often, when a writer reads their story aloud, they pick up grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, and other aspects of their writing which are not apparent when the writing is read silently.

The Writer’s Mumble is an editing technique in which students read over their own writing in a low, mumbling voice.  Simply by reading their writing aloud, many errors or weaknesses can be picked up.  The whole point of the mumble is that an entire class can read at the same time to themselves without the noise level reaching ear-splitting levels.  Students can use the Writer’s Mumble when reviewing their writing in COW’s Edit Mode.

So, next writing class, tell your students to mumble away!

Crunch! Bang! Squeak! Using the Onomatopoeia Writing Challenge in Class

Pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter.  This is the sound of young writers as they head to their keyboard and hoot with joy as they thump those keys to work on this week’s Alieo Writing Challenge.

 The theme of this week’s challenge is the onomatopoeia.

Crunch.  Gurgle.  Mumble.  Munch.  Rumble.  Swoosh.  Thud.

Students will not only be incorporating bonus words into their writing this week, they’ll also be incorporating sound effects.  Their creativity will be stretched to the limit as they attempt to weave squawks, jangles, howls, chirps, splatters and zooms into their writing.

This writing challenge certainly lends itself to very entertaining sharing sessions with the class.  Here are some ideas for how to make your sharing sessions wildly entertaining:

1.  Get Dramatic

As they share their story, when a student reads a sound effect word, encourage them to get dramatic!  Instead of just reading “bump,” read it like, “BUMP!” This is a great way to combine drama with reading a story aloud.

2.  Encourage Audience Participation

Another way to present a story is to make up signs for each of the sound effect words.  So, for example, when a student gets to the word woof in their story, they hold up the sign and everyone listening to the story joins in by making the sound effect.

3.  Become a Foley Artist

Look around for objects that make sounds similar to the sound effect words in the stories.  For example, for boom, find a large bucket and bang it with a fist.  For pop, you could find a plastic bag or even a balloon.  As students read their story, instead of reading the word, make the sound effect with the objects.

With a whoosh, a vroom, and a squelch, get those creative minds snapping!

Student Sharing Sessions A potentially motivating element of writing instruction

As mentioned in the blog post on August 31st, taking the time in class to have students share their writing orally can pay long-term dividends in terms of student motivation. For some students, having a “stage” upon which to share their writing face to face with their peers can prove highly motivating. Of course, there is the flip side.  Some students are reluctant to read their work, finding such an experience to be intimidating.

When having a class sharing session of student writing, giving options increases the likelihood that such an experience will prove motivating.  Here are some options students can be given:

  1. To read their own story out loud themselves.
  2. To have someone else read their story (either the teacher or another student).
  3. To not read their story.

Students reluctant to share at first often, over time, gain confidence and become comfortable with sharing in class. Of course, a supportive, positive environment in the classroom is a given!

My Unusual School Year Students writing what they know . . .

This week’s Alieo Writing Challenge, My Unusual School Year, asks students to imagine a school year with a difference.  There’s an old writing adage that states, “Write what you know.”  Using the setting of a school and the timeframe of a school year will enable students to take what they know, and launch into a piece of writing from this familiar ground.

When setting a writing assignment, it’s important to consider where the young writers are coming from.  Choosing familiar settings and circumstances allows them to draw more extensively upon person experience.

In developing their own writing challenges, teachers can create a writing assignment tailored to the specific background experiences of the students. Here are just a few suggestions for teacher-created writing challenges that tap into the students’ own experiences:

  1. After a field trip, create a bonus word list that relates to the activities and location of the field trip.  For example, think of the amazing stories that could come out of a visit to a science centre.
  2. After a special assembly at the school (with musicians, an author, or a guest speaker) create a writing challenge that draws upon various aspects of the presentation.
  3. If your school has a special day (sports day, a bake sale, a fundraiser, or any other special event), develop a prompt and bonus word list that relates to the special event.  (One of our teachers last year included the school mascot in a bonus word list!)

The possibilities of creating writing challenges for students drawn from their immediate experiences are endless.  When students are able to write what they know, the act of writing becomes an exciting adventure into drawing ideas from their own lives. 

How to Teach Editing Using COW In Five Amazing Steps

In an earlier blog post, the importance of editing in the writing process was highlighted.  COW provides an “Edit Mode” which can be a valuable tool for teachers in teaching their students some rudimentary skills in the fine art of editing.

Step 1- Give Them a Reason for Editing

Give students a reason for embarking on the process of editing. Have them choose one piece of writing in COW they would like to have published in a class anthology, printed out to take home, handed in for evaluation, or some other reason to revisit  their writing and improve upon it.

Step 2– Look Back at the Stats Page

After the students have chosen the piece of writing in COW they would like to edit, have them open the story and look at the stats page.

Step 3– Choose Three Areas for Improvement

Examine the stats page carefully, and look for areas which would improve the writing.  In looking at the stats, they may want to ask the following questions:

a.  Do I need more variety in sentence length?

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b.  Do I need more variety in the words I use as sentence starters?

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c.  Do I need more adjectives?  Do I need more or fewer adverbs?

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d.  Do I need to add more descriptions using the five senses?

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e.  Do I overuse some words?  Should I replace some of these with other words?

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f.  Was my writing consistent in terms of tense (past, present, future)?

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Have students choose no more than three areas to improve in their writing.

Step 4-  Rework the Story in Edit Mode

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Step 5– Examine the New Stats Page

Once the students have edited their work, have them re-run the stats page.  They can then examine the new stats for their revised writing and actually see whether their editing has resulted in changes to the stats in a positive way.

The fine art of editing goes way beyond these areas of consideration in writing.  However, it will benefit students greatly to see their efforts in editing returned to them in vivid statistical feedback.  From this quantitative measure of editing success, they can see how revisiting their writing and paying attention to specific details can result in greatly improved writing.

My Amazing Summer–Fact or Fiction? Using this week's Writing Challenge in the classroom

This week’s Alieo Writing Challenge  is “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” with a twist.  We’re asking writers to get creative and imagine the most incredible summer vacation ever.  Here’s the twist– only one part of their story must be true.  The rest can come from their imagination.  Can they make it really difficult for their readers to tell which part of their story is true? 

After your students have written this week’s Alieo Writing Challenge, here’s a classroom extension activity to further engage the class as writers share their work.

As each student reads their piece of writing, have the rest of the class listen carefully.  Their job as listeners is to attempt to determine the facts from the fiction.  After each student has read their piece of writing, have the students guess which part of the story was fact and which was fiction.

An alternative approach is to have the students read each story on the Class Bookshelf.  They then write down one part of each story which they think is factual.  The culmination of this activity is to have each writer reveal to the rest of the class which part of their writing was fact.

It never hurts to have some fun while turning your students into motivated writers!

The Challenges of Editing Taking Student Writing to the Next Level

Thomas Edison said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. This rule certainly holds true when it comes to writing. The reality is that most professional writers spend the vast majority of their time editing an initial draft, bringing it to a final, polished product.

When it comes to writing instruction, it would be difficult to find an area more challenging than teaching students the fine art of editing. Often, students will dash off a very inspired first draft and declare their work “Perfect!.” The thrill of creating the initial first draft may be gone, but much work is still needed to refine the work. Convincing students of the need for editing can be a tremendous challenge.

Certainly, the ability to generate ideas and express them in words (writing fluency) is a fundamental part of the writing process. However, enabling students to hone their skills to take their writing to the next level of refinement through editing is of vital importance.

To many students, editing means correcting spelling, capitalization, grammar and other technical aspects of the conventions of writing.

Editing is much more than this.

Editing involves cutting, moving, adding, and rearranging text to make the writing more effective in conveying the intentions of the author whatever the genre of writing may be. The ability to critically analyze one’s own work takes specific skills which are incredibly challenging to teach. Throw in the logistical challenges of helping thirty or more students in a class with editing a wide range of idiosyncratic writing styles, and logistical complications increase greatly.

In developing COW, we’ve recognized the importance of editing in the writing process. With this in mind, we have created the “Edit Mode” within COW, giving students and teachers a valuable tool for refining their writing.

Stay tuned for a future post in which we’ll show you how to make the most of COW’s “Edit Mode” in teaching those elusive skills of editing, while keeping your students motivated to improve their writing.

Developing the Habits of Outstanding Writers How COW enables students to develop effective sentence construction

There is no singular set of rules for becoming an outstanding writer.  There are, however, a number of habits writers acquire which become second nature in the creation of effective writing.  These include an awareness of sentence construction. 

Two critical aspects of sentence construction for outstanding writing include:

1.  A variety of sentence length.

2.  A variety of sentence openings.

Among the feedback students receive after each writing session with COW is a graph of sentence lengths.

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By examining this graph, students receive a comprehensive view of the variety of sentence length in their composition.  The length of their longest sentence is also indicated, giving an immediate “heads up!” to the dreaded run-on sentence.

Another graph that reveals an important aspect of student writing is “Sentence Starters.” 

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This graphs shows students how many times they have used specific words to start sentences in their composition.  Overusing certain words to start sentences, such as “The” or “I” becomes immediately apparent with a quick glance of the “Sentence Starters” graph. 

By giving students feedback on these important aspects of sentence construction on a continual basis, they can become much more mindful of these important compositional aspects during the writing process. 

In the end, they’ll be better writers.

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