Category: Principles of Writing Instruction (page 1 of 5)

Rules We Need to Break in Our Writing Classroom

While reading Pernille Ripp’s thought-provoking article, Some Rules We Need to Break in Our Reading Classroom, it got me thinking of applying this approach to the teaching of writing.

How much of our instructional practice is driven by rules from the past? How much of what we do is an upholding of traditional approaches?  There is a lot of merit in these traditional practices, yet this doesn’t mean these practices shouldn’t be questioned.  As teachers, we should continually question and examine what we’re doing.  We should be asking whether these long-held practices are still relevant, given contemporary insights into how students learn.  Could other approaches be more effective?   With these thoughts in mind, here are my, Rules We Need to Break in Our Writing Classroom:

Rule #1:  Every piece of writing should be marked or graded by the teacher.

I used to feel as if I was neglected my duties if I didn’t mark every single piece of writing my students completed.  Yet, young writers need the space and freedom to write without having the thought constantly in the back of their mind that the teacher will be marking every sentence they write.  Think of the basketball player practicing foul shots out on the playground away from the coach’s scrutiny.  It’s a time to experiment and fail and try again.    That’s how one improves.  So it is with writing.  The more one writes, the more comfortable one gets with using words to express ideas.  Let your students write mountains of words, but don’t feel you have to scrutinize every one.

Rule #2:  Students must create an outline before they write.

Picasso famously said, “to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”  Planning one’s writing can be a very valuable skill, particularly in expository writing.  However, there’s an element of spontaneity that a writer can bring to a piece of writing which blows beyond the boundaries of an outline.  Free writing provides a way for students to explore this spontaneous element of their creativity, often leading their writing into fascinating new directions.

Rule #3:  All writers follow the steps of the writing process.

Part of learning to be a writer is discovering what approach works best for you.  The writing process is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  There is great value in having young writers try out a variety of writing strategies, discovering what works best for their own uniqueness.

Rule #4:  Writing is serious business.

Contrary to what reluctant writers may think, writing can be a joyful, exhilarating, playful experience.  It need not be drudgery!  It can be largely pain-free!  In fact, if students are able to experience writing as a positive experience– something they actually like doing– that’s half the battle in transforming your students into writers.

Chris McMahen

The Future of Writing is . . . Writing Brad Wilson's Alphabetical Take on the Future of Writing

Our students have an opportunity to write on an incredible range of platforms.  These include emails, texts, blog posts, and other more traditional platforms.  So, how does the plethora of platforms influence the teaching of writing?

Brad Wilson, in a presentation at the Michigan Reading Association’s 2015 conference, discussed the teaching of writing in this new technological milieu in this thought-provoking presentation, The Future of Writing.

Unorthodox Ways to Motivate Writers Week #2 of NaNoCOWMoo

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So, you are into week #2 of NaNoCOWMoo.  Possibly, the initial rush of motivation has begun to flag as the days and weeks wear on.  What began as a novel project (pun intended) has turned into an overwhelming routine.  Through the endurance test known as NaNoCOWMoo, how can you keep your class motivated?  Here are a few unorthodox methods you might want to keep in mind:

1.  Studies have shown that student performance improves if they receive good news just before they begin an activity.  For example, just before the writing session, you can announce, “Last night, I booked our class field trip to Paris!” Okay, maybe it’s just ten minutes of extra recess time, but you get the idea.

2.  Chew gum!  I know, I know . . . gum is banned in many schools for good reasons.  There is some evidence, however, that chewing gum can actually improve concentration.  To put it in plain English, “a fronto-parietal network for mastication exists and may contribute to higher cognitive information processing.

3.  Get outside!  We’re not suggesting you haul the computer lab outside (although, the more I think of it, the more interesting the idea sounds).  Just before a writing session, and possibly part way through, take the kids outside for a run around the playground.  Get those large muscles moving.  Improve that circulation to the brain.

Maintaining motivation over the long haul is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of writing 50,000+ words over 30 days.  If you have any tricks for keeping your students motivated, we’d love to hear from you.  Just leave a comment.

It’s Never Too Late to Start! Week #1 of NaNoCOWmoo

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Did you miss the starting gun for NaNoCOWMoo?  It’s already a few days into November, and maybe you haven’t started your class on theNaNoCOWMoo writing challenge.

No problem!

It’s never too late to start.  Here are some ways you can still participate in NaNoCOWMoo:

1.  Recalibrate your weekly writing goals.  Instead of shooting for 12,500 words a week, just bump up your class’s goal to 17,000.  I know this sounds like a lot, but kids love challenges!  So do teachers!

2.  Encourage your students to do extra writing at home in the evenings or on the weekend.  Let parents know about your class NaNoCOWMoo goal, and encourage them to give their kids a little extra time to write each night.

3.  Check the NaNoCOWMoo leader board on the main page.  See how many words your class needs to write to appear on the NaNoCOWMoo leader board.  Sure, they may have gotten off to a late start, but don’t let that stop them.

Your class can be just like the hare in the Aesop Fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare, except . . .

. . .the hare shows up late for the race, and the tortoise already has a head start,

. . . the hare doesn’t stop to take a nap.

. . . the hare wins!

The new moral of the story is:  It’s never too late to start!


Meet My Avatar This week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, we are asking our writers to write from the point of view of their avatar.  Writing in the first person, they are to tell us all about their avatar’s imaginary life, including where they live, who is in their family, what their school is like, or any other details they wish to include.  Their writing prompt will be:  “Hello.  Let me introduce myself.  My name is . . .”

Teaching Extensions

This COW Writing Challenge lends itself to exploring Point of View, in writing.  It provides a good opportunity to introduce the differences between first, third, and even second person narrative. 

a.  First Person Narrative:  I walked up to the door and knocked.  The door swung open and I gasped at what I saw.

b.  Second Person Narrative:  You walk up to the door and knock.  The door swings open and you gasp at what you see.

c.  Third Person Narrative:  She walked up to the door and knocked.  The door swung open and she gasped at what she saw.

Ways of exploring these different forms of narrative with your students include:

Read examples from novels using either first, second or third person narratives, and ask the following questions:

     1.  Why did the author choose to use this form of narrative in this novel?

     2.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of each form of narrative?

     3.  Of your favourite novels, which is the most common narrative form? 

     4.  Which narrative form do you prefer, and why?

Challenge your students to use COW’s Edit Mode and write three versions of the same story– one in the first person, one in the second person, and one in the third person.  Have them read through their three versions, and decide which one is most effective, giving reasons why.

One of the most significant decisions an author makes when writing a book is deciding upon which narrative voice to use.  Making students aware of the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of the first, second and third person narrative voice is vital to their development as emerging writers.

COW’s Writing Session Word Goal Goal-setting in the Quest for Writing Fluency

When starting a writing session, how many times have teachers been asked, “How much do I have to write?” If you’d asked Ernest Hemingway, his answer would have been to write a minimum of five hundred words a day.  For Jack London, his goal was a thousand words.  Stephen King?  Ten pages.

Concrete writing goals are useful for all writers, be they accomplished or just starting to learn the craft.  The reason?  The most difficult part of writing for many writers is just getting started.  Like a runner who finds the first mile difficult before they catch their “second wind,” writers also have to overcome their initial creative sluggishness before they get rolling and write with fluency.  Having a concrete word goal to work towards helps the writer push through this initial stage of writing lethargy.

COW’s Writing Session Word Goal

In each writing session with COW, students are given an incentive to write a minimum number of one words.  The default setting is one hundred words.  By writing at least one hundred words, students will be awarded Alieo Credits for that piece of writing.

The Writing Session Word Goal also discourages students from starting a piece of writing and abandoning it prematurely before the narrative can be fully developed.  COW encourages students to develop a “stick-to-itiveness” with their writing.

Meeting Individual Student Needs

To meet the individual needs of your students, teachers have the ability within COW to change the Writing Session Word goal for individuals.  If you deem the one hundred word minimum to be too high for some of your students, you have the ability to reduce that number.  Conversely, teachers can raise that number if they feel students need to be challenged further.

How to Change the Minimum Word Goal in COW

1.  Select My Classes in the navigation bar.

2.  Select the class from the teacher dashboard.

3.  Select Settings

4.  Under the column Word Goal, makes changes to students.

Can a Writing Assignment Change Lives?

Never underestimate the importance of a teacher in the lives of children.  Although it may feel like you’re swimming upstream against a strong headwind, your efforts have a profound and lasting impact upon the lives of your students.

This applies even to what may seem like a small part of what a teacher does:  the writing assignment.

Here is a an amazing article about the profound impact felt in the lives of those students fortunate enough to receive one particular writing assignment.  It shows how writing can have a powerful effect upon the way we move forward in our lives and radically alter the way we see ourselves.

How to Become a Better Writer There's one simple rule.

In learning every craft, there’s always the dilemma of quality versus quantity.  Do you ply your craft deliberately and carefully, producing less, or do you plunge into a creative frenzy of producing more with less deliberation?

Joe Bunting is the author of the Amazon bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story, as well as the co-founder of Story Cartel.  He offers some interesting insights into how a writer can best see improvement in their craft.

If you don’t have time to read his article, here’s a quick summary. “To be a writer, you have to write. Every day.”  

COW provides an easy platform for students to do daily writing practice.  Students are further motivated to write more often with COW’s Monthly Writing Goal.  If they write twelve times in a single month – which is only three times a week – they will receive a free special item from the avatar store.

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!

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!

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