Today, I’m reflecting on the larger writing process that I teach with freshmen and sophomores. I’ve realized that within my writing units, I primarily teach five mini-writing lessons.
I teach writing throughout the entire semester with various writing projects after reading or an important discussion. Sure, we complete formal, researched papers. I do frontload information and provide expectations ahead of writing. Still, as I encourage my writers I’ve realized that I use min-writing lessons at different times throughout the semester. I don’t present these lessons in a particular order, but by the end of the semester, I’ve normally taught these.
Not only do the mini-writing lessons boost student understanding allow me to differentiate, but it also eases my grading. Students experience targeted practice and therefore, better writing. My grading is easier. Overall, these writing mini-lessons benefit everyone.
Writing can overwhelm students. Since I provide feedback ahead of the final draft, I take into consideration the “overwhelm” that some students can face.
As I work with a student, I give one piece of feedback and ask the student to return. You can read more ideas about feedback, but basically, I ask students to look at one area for improvement. For instance:
- Sentence variety.
- Topic sentences.
- Integration of sources.
And on! If I feel that a students is particularly overwhelmed, I will focus that student on one sentence. I keep the power of one in mind, and when students sense accomplishment, they almost always begin working on other areas.
Another mini-writing lesson focuses on verbs. With rough drafts, students typically fill their papers with linking verbs and basic verbs (have, does). A rough draft shouldn’t be perfect, so I always emphasize that these verbs are perfect for the rough draft.
Teach students to leverage the power of verbs. Verbs drive a sentence, and verbs can provide an image that adjectives and adverbs can’t. Start by showing students linking verbs. (Sometimes, they don’t realize all of the linking verbs.) Then, we look at predicate adjectives and decide if there is a verb form. Finally, we dive deep into the sentence and find the meaning. Together, we find a verb that portrays the message of the sentence.
Students might not be aware that linking verbs actually lead to simple sentences such as subject, linking verb, predicate adjective. After I teach linking verbs, I then focus on sentence structure.
Sentence Structure Focus
Grammar and writing work together in many ways, but sentence structure absolutely connects the two ideas. I review different sentence types and then ask students to look at one paragraph of their paper.
Often, simple and compound sentences fill the paragraph. Would the addition of a conjunctive adverb or subordinating conjunction show more meaning, and in the process, provide a natural transition? Sometimes, combining sentences can add emphasis to a simple but little-known fact. Other times, using certain types of sentences can convey a larger meaning.
Playing with types of sentences is a powerful grammar and writing lesson. There is no correct answer, but many correct answers. Showing students sentence structures and their possibilities empowers young writers.
Overused Words Focus
Things, stuff, a lot, many: vague words can ruin a paper.
Again, I start by recognizing that overused words are common in a rough draft, but these words don’t add to a paper. I complete a vocabulary lesson to support students and provide examples.
The vocabulary lesson can be anything, really. . . but most often, I use a list of words associated with their papers. For instance, if students are writing about teenagers and sleep, we might look into words that they already know and branch from there. Students can brainstorm: naps, bedtime, exhaustion, focus, deprivation, chronic, difficulty, tiredness, fatigue, and moods.
That’s ten words, and students can use those words in a variety of forms. So, empower students by tapping into their prior knowledge. Then, show students how to branch those words into other ideas. Is a lack of sleep harmful? Do teenagers resist bedtime? Can sleepiness contribute to chronic conditions?
With a bit of help and brainstorming, you can eliminate overused words from student papers.
Students and I use a graphic organizer for mapping out their ideas. I allow students to choose the graphic organizer that makes sense to them. With graphic organizers, I provide images to utilize the benefits of metaphors from brain-based learning. To emphasize the meaning, I carry those metaphors into conferencing sessions.
If students look at their writing as a road, I will tell them that I need more directions, that I need a yield sign or green light. Sometimes when I ask students to add transitions, they simply stick standard transitions into sentences. Instead, I want them to give me alerts ahead of the half-mile turn; I want to know in advance where their point is turning.
Other students might need a more abstract graphic organizer that prompts them to consider the color of their message or the graduation song for their conclusion. (I really will do anything to help students analyze their papers!) These silly techniques get students talking and brainstorming, and when we are finalizing papers, I am sure to return to the graphic organizer that shaped their organization at the beginning of the process.
Referencing the graphic organizer that meant something to them at the start of the writing process helps with organization throughout the paper.
My writing bundle contains various writing lessons with ample tools to support student writers. That bundle carries over the messages that I wrote in this post.