Sunday, January 30, 2011

When there is NO Choice

Testing is a a part of a teacher's life. I detest the once and let's hope everyone passes way of accountability that NCLB has brought, however, it is still there. In September 2010 I guest blogged on Two Writing Teachers and discussed my journey with the state writing test.  If you would like to read it, click here.

Today's post is about how often my kids practice prompt writing after finishing their personal essay.

After I introduce the box and bullet frame, my students practice framing an essay until every child can accomplish this goal without teacher prompt or reteaching.  (It takes about 5-7 school days) Then I show the kids the practice booklet and we talk about flipping through the pages, etc.  I only practice writing two prompt essays. I have come to believe that teaching the writer great writing skills throughout the school year is what creates an accomplished writer and our data has proven it.

In addition, I teach my kids one more thing. What to do when you get stuck. Katherine Bomer in Writing A Life (chapter 9) explains how to use a well written memoir to fit any prompt. This is crucial to teach your kids. Every year I have one or two kids who use this method because of anxiety or drawing a blank on the day of the test.

Preparing kids for the writing test is simply done from the moment your students arrive in your classroom. It is nothing to fear because if you are teaching kids how to write well, they will achieve success.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Transitions are the words that are used to join to things together...right?  I am all for easy transition words, but I feel they need to make sense so I give my students a lot of choices.  Most of my students stick with one reason, another reason, finally, in conclusion, and for example, but I give them this chart any way and sometimes I'm surprised. What I want my students to understand is that there needs to be something that connects the mini-story to the topic sentence.


Friday, January 28, 2011


Mini-stories...really your students have been working on these since the beginning of the year. My kiddos have no problem writing them.  They are the personal stories the writer uses as evidence to back up their reasons aka topic sentences that support the thesis.

When Writing Mini-Stories to Support your Thesis and Topic Sentences
  • make sure the stories have a beginning, middle and end.
  • the story should begin with a transitional word 
  • at the end of the story the writer should reexplain how it supports the thesis and/or topic sentence.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Building A Framework

picture attributed to
When builders begin they start with the foundation and steel beams to support the walls of a building. Writers do the same with words.  We use a framework to guide our ideas so they make sense and blossom into the message to the reader.  Essay writing is organized. It must be structured in such a way that the writer knows that each paragraph will support the main idea.

Thesis:  A claim or idea

One reason
Another reason

The framework  helps outline what the writer will be discussing. My students are allowed to choose a topic of their own. Then they create a thesis statement.

We also worked on an essay as a class. We decided we wanted to write about our school. I purposefully choice to keep the thesis statement simple for whole class instruction.  I also modeled with my own essay which had a more complex thesis statement.

Our school is fun.

  • One reason our school is fun is the teachers work hard to create lessons that are fun.
  • Another reason our school is fun is we have two teachers, one for language arts and socials studies and one for math and science.
  • And finally, our school is fun because we have many different choices on the lunch menu.
Without a framework it is difficult to begin essay writing.  This tool will end up being the base for all prompt writing that will happen one week prior to the Oklahoma OCCT.

How have you taught your students to frame their essays?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Essay Writing

Second semester is the beginning of a new genre study. One that used to bore me tears, however with Calkins' book Breathing Life Into Essays it's become one of my favorites.

Essay writing is a must do.  Students write essays all through high school and college.

How to begin. Really to begin essay writing begins with teaching stamina and descriptive writing effectively. This is done from them moment students enter my classroom in August.

A few important tips to writing essays
  • teach a framework
  • mini-stories
  • transitions
  • choice
Essay writing doesn't have to be painful, boring or scripted.  It can do exactly what writing should do...give students a voice.