Tag: elementary (page 1 of 4)

Pet Day Chaos! This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Nothing holds more promise for classroom chaos than Bring Your Pet to School Day, or Pet Day.  In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students are to imagine the most chaotic Pet Day ever in the history of Pet Days.

Have them consider some of the following questions that would make an already chaotic day even more wild:

1.  What strange pets could be brought that day?  A camel?  A penguin?  A snake?  Did someone borrow an animal from the zoo or a circus for the day?

2.  What interactions between the pets lead to further mayhem?  Do dogs meet cats?

3.  How does the ‘Pet Day’ in this class spill over to the rest of the school?  Or is Pet Day a school wide phenomenon?  Do some pets escape?  Do some of them find their way into the duct work of the school’s air conditioning and heating system?  Do some hide in lockers?  Do some of them interrupt other classes?  Do some of them find their way onto school buses?

4.  What heroic deed or brilliant idea could bring all of this catastrophic confusion to an end?

We hope some brilliant writing comes out of this challenge, and will raise some concerns about having a real-life pet day in your class!

Lucky Leprechaun Wishes This Week's COW Writing Challenge

I’ve never seen a green COW, but that doesn’t mean COWs don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!  This week’s COW Writing Challenge is full of leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, and other magical mysteries from the Emerald Isle.

The prompt for this writing challenge is:  A leprechaun granted me three wishes.  My first wish was . . .

But the celebration of everything Irish doesn’t stop there.  As students write, they will encounter bonus words that will make them green with . . . well, not envy.  More like green with delight!


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 Perilous Pool This Week's COW Writing Challenge

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This week’s COW Writing Challenge is a visual prompt, coupled with the written prompt: “As I stood at the edge of the perilous pool, I saw . . .”

Before tackling this writing challenge, have the students consider the following questions:

Where was this perilous pool discovered?

What is this liquid, anyway?  What causes it to bubble and give off steam?

What could possibly live in a pool like this?

If you fell into this pool, where would you go?  What would happen?

We hope your students have a great time writing about this perilous pool.  Wearing a personal floatation device during this writing activity is highly recommended!

It’s Not a Bubble! This week's COW writing challenge

giantbubbleThis week’s COW Writing Challenge is a visual prompt  with a difference.  Writers are asked to imagine that what they see in this photograph is not a bubble.  So, if it’s not a bubble, then what is it?

A pre-writing brainstorming activity with the whole class asking the question, “If it’s not a bubble, then what is it?” should give the students plenty of ideas for their writing.

Another great way to get their imaginations going is to have a session of bubble blowing.  (Or, should that be, giant not-bubble blowing!)  As each bubble floats into the air, imagine what this strange thing could be (if it wasn’t a bubble!)

If you want to blow GIANT bubbles, here’s a great recipe for an amazing bubble blowing solution.  Have fun!

If you do make some of your own GIANT bubbles, please send us some photos!


This Week’s Writing Challenge: Hallowe’en Howl! Plus, Eight Ways to Bring Your Reader to the Edge of Their Seat

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, “Hallowe’en Howl,” students have an opportunity to write their very own suspenseful story on the theme of Hallowe’en.  As a writer building tension within a story and having your reader sit on the edge of their seat with each word  is very challenging.  So, how do writers create suspense in a story?

1.  Create a character your reacher cares about, and put them in a dangerous situation.  Early in the story, introduce a character that your audience can connect with.  Then, put them in a very dangerous, scary situation.

2.  Another way to create suspense is to write in the second person.  For example, “You walk up the narrow stairway, stumbling through the darkness.  You reach forward into the darkness, and your hand grasps something slimey and cold.”

3.  Lead your reader into thinking something terrible is going to happen, but approach that moment slowly.  If there’s a door that needs to be opened, have your character approach it slowly, then provide second by second details on the opening of the door.  “He reached toward the doorknob with a trembling hand and grabbed the ice-cold metal.  Slowly, he turned the doorknob to the right and heard a clunk.  The door inched open, as he felt a cool breeze on his face.”

4.  Show, don’t tell.  Instead of saying that your character is terrified, show your reader by telling them about their trembling hands, their wide-eyed look, the beads of sweat on their forehead, and other physical signs of terror.

5.  Have your readers know more than your characters do.  For example, if your readers know there is something very dangerous behind a door, have your character approach the door unknowingly.  As they open the door, your audience will cringe with anticipation of what will happen when the door opens, while your character remains blissfully ignorant of the dangers.

6.  Remember that violence is not suspense.  The anticipation of possible violence or danger is far more suspenseful than having a scene involving violence. 

7.  Think about what your reader might find suspenseful as you write each part of your story. For example, draw upon certain common human fears, like having a rat run across your back.  What other common human fears can you build into your story?

8.  Build suspense by having a countdown or a deadline which the main character faces.  Is there a ticking clock showing the countdown to something terrible?  Try to build tension during the countdown as the character gets closer to a deadline.

Building suspense in a story is very challenging for a writer.  Yet, there are few more engaging styles of writing than a suspenseful story which holds the reader to the edge of their seat down to the very last word.

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.

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.

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