Triple Scoop of Tips for Teaching Writing

A triple scoop of tips for teaching writing is extra sweet with a serving of cookies!

A triple scoop of tips for teaching writing is extra sweet with a serving of cookies!

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Here’s the latest dish on how to help students master core writing skills. It’s a triple scoop full of attention-getting tips, with cookies on the side. Yummy!…

…In hot weather or not, ice cream and other frozen desserts are favorites in many corners of the world.

If you’re in the middle of summer vacation, file this triple scoop of tips for the coming school year. Got a full plate of kids in class right now in a year-round school or in the Southern Hemisphere? Dip right in . Why?

Answer: The way kids write is changing fast. In a global economy driven by technology, kids’ writing tends to be a “hodge-podge,” meaning that students tend to mix up informal and formal language. This concerns educators because writing skills are more important than ever before.  “Hodge-podge” often doesn’t always make the grade.

Research conducted by Kristen Purcell with the well-respected Pew Institute suggests that students are communicating in the written form much more than in previous decades…but…and there is a BIG but…student writing is trending towards rushed, informal language. Think about it…when kids can text, tweet, send messages and images almost instantly with no time or continuous care for spell-check, grammar check, or elaboration, this trend is no surprise.

Mind/Shift, a wonderful online resource for educators, recently posted a feature based on the Pew Institute research. The Mind/Shift piece, written by Katrina Schwartz, is titled, “How Do Tech Tools Affect the Way Students Write?” The feature is largely based on surveys of middle and high school teachers, but I found the information easily adaptable to grades 3 – 5…Scoop up this adaptation for elementary school…

First Scoop: Introduce an activity that encourages slower writing and elaboration. Ask students to complete a partly written story titled, My Snapshot of Me.

  • At the beginning of a school term create a master of a partly written story with the title, My Snapshot of Me.
  • Type sentences with blank lines that you’ll ask students to complete.
  • Use large type and leave lots of room for students’ writing.
  • Tell your class that you’ve used large type on purpose to make space for their work.
  • Sentences may include the following: My name is _______. My _________ is someone I love in my family. My friend ________ is also close to me.  We have a “blast”
    Students complete partly written sentences that offer snapshots of themselves.

    Students complete partly written sentences that offer snapshots of themselves.

    playing ________. Playing _______also puts me in a good mood. __________ is my favorite food. My favorite animals are _________. The way they ________ is funny to me. __________ is something I’d like to see. Once I got a cool souvenir from __________. I love to visit __________ for holidays. My favorite time is ________ time on school days. This story was written by __________.

Second Scoop: Involve the class in a group review of their partly written stories with a focus on these four goals:

1) encourage less rushed writing

2) promote use of more formal language

3) practice adding details for elaboration

4) show benefits of peer review

Here’s HOW to “serve” up the second scoop:

  • After your class has finished completing the sentences in their My Snapshot of Me stories, ask for a volunteer reader/presenter. 
  • Invite the volunteer to come to the front of the class, to “center stage,” so that everyone can see and hear her/him well.
  • Advise the class to listen carefully to the first draft of their classmate’s story. Repeat that this is a first draft, saying, “Yes, class, set your own story – your own first draft – down for now, but we will all be revising our stories later. Listen now to our presenter at “center stage.”
  • Discuss the following points, one by one, after the volunteer reads. NOTE: This is the most flavorful part of the scoop! You’ll be teaching to the four goals above:

a) Congratulate the volunteer on including her/his last name in the first sentence if she/he did so.

b) If the volunteer neglected to include last name, suggest its addition. Ask the class if everyone agrees. Why? Answers: “Ours last names are an important part of who we are. Writing in someone’s last name, at least when he/she is first introduced in a story or other writing, helps the reader/listener get to “know” that person/character.”

c) NOTE: Depending on how much time you have for this writing lesson, advise everyone to take a moment to add their last names to their stories, if needed. NOTE: Apply this process throughout the lesson, as time permits. You may need to break this activity into several parts to maximize its value.

d) Ask if anyone listening to the volunteer’s story got to know her/him better after hearing their writing. This presents another “teachable moment;” it’s an opportunity to talk about how stories bring people together in community (school, camp, etc.) helping to break through barriers – cultural and otherwise (elaborate on this theme using age-appropriate language and concepts).

e) Ask the volunteer reader/presenter to re-read aloud the sentence that begins, Once I got a cool souvenir from… If, as is likely, she/he simply wrote, for example, Disney World or Disneyland (US), suggest that more detail would “paint a bigger, brighter picture with words.” Remind the class, “this is elaboration; elaboration catches a reader’s or listener’s attention and adds richness and depth to writing.”

f) Invite students, including the volunteer, to suggest what details this writer could add. For example, she/he could add a sentence describing what the souvenir was, including specific details about it, such as its color, etc.

g) Pause for a moment and ask, “Does adding these kinds of details to writing take time, class? YES it does, but it’s time well spent. Remember not to rush your work!”

h) By now, kids will be thinking bigger about their writing. As time allows, ask if the volunteer could add detail to the sentence about holiday visits and favorite school time. Absolutely YES! Note that’s it’s important to learn when/how to add sentences to stories and to not write ones that “run on” too long.

i) If the volunteer has completed a sentence that reads, for example, “Me and Julia…” remind the class that formal writing calls for reversing the order to read, “Julia and I…”

Third Scoop: Give students time to write a second draft of their stories, My Snapshot of Me, employing the tips you’ve “dished out.” 

  • When students have revised their writing, set up groups for further peer review. Announce that you’ll host a Snapshot Fest when more volunteer readers can present their finished work.

Fun and functional “food for thought.” The opportunities for you to use this kid-pleasing triple scoop of tips are endless!

If your students like to add toppings to their frozen treats, “sprinkle” some extra vocabulary with an icy connection during these writing lessons. Teach kids the words for ice cream in languages other than English (or your own). For example, in Spanish, ice cream is helado; Italian: gelato; French: crème glacée; German: Eis; Bosnian: sladoled; Russian: мороженое; Hindi: आइसक्रीम; Afrikaans: roomys; Haitian Creole: krèm glase…and around the world we go! American ice cream-lovers, note…yesterday was National Ice Cream Day.

A triple scoop of tips for teaching writing can whet kids’ appetites for learning to pay closer, more careful attention to expressing themselves in print.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Stop by on Wednesday for Mid-Week Focus and again on Thursday for Part II of International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – Vietnam. As I always, your comments are welcome.

Talk with you soon,

Barbara The Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students are having trouble writing connecting sentences between the beginning, middle and end of a story.

Solution: Show toy airplanes, pretending to make them "take off" across notebook paper. Explain to the class that stories, like airplanes, require clear "flight paths."

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