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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A teacher taught a lesson on telling a Six-Word Story. There are websites that provide examples of this writing style. On the surface, the task appears simple, but it's quite challenging when you dig into it. The students seemed intrigued by the idea of composing these stories, until the teacher said with enthusiasm, "Let's get writing."

One student immediately asked questions that the teacher grappled to answer. Two boys stared at their blank page. Presuming positive intent, I asked the boys if they were thinking about ideas to write. They shrugged as if to say, "I have no idea what to write." I gave them a pep talk followed by doing a Fastwrite/Freewrite protocol (see below), which helps writers find their focus and explore ideas. Once written, the boys found it easier to uncover their six-word story's first draft.

Learning how to write can be further challenging when a student lacks confidence in his or her skills as a writer. How we mediate student perception of writing is as important as teaching the skills. Using diverse strategies via the writing process, any teacher can ensure that when a student struggles to write, a different approach is readily available. Add to this need the Common Core (Wri#5), TEKs (Wri#13), or SOLs (Wri#6), among national and state standards, which addresses the writing process and can drive successful development of all the writing expectations. This post shares a variety of strategies for pre-writing and drafting that help teachers to coach students. My following post will explore the power of revision and publication.

Pre-Writing

Many aspiring writers struggle with developing and refining their ideas. Give a classroom of students a prompt to write, and observe how many stare at their blank page or write disjointed ideas. The struggle can range from feeling as if they can't draw on any relevant experience to having so many ideas that they don't know where to start. These strategies help students open their creative/reflective faucet:

Fastwrite/Freewrite

This two-part protocol helps writers break through barriers and write. With a fastwrite, learners pour out their ideas without judging words or direction. Next, writers sift their content for ideas, and then, in a freewrite, expand on those ideas. The result is easily transferable into a first draft.

Journaling

When writers journal, there are no constraints, similar to a fastwrite, yet there is a focus.

  • Giving a point of view to write from, in both fiction and non-fiction, encourages students to explore ideas from a perspective other than themselves. Try the RAFTs format.
  • Read articles that provoke ideas and beliefs. In groups of 2-4, use a reflective dialog protocol like Save the Last Word (PDF, 52KB), The Final Word (PDF, 57KB), or Say Something (PDF, 57KB). Journal after the conversation.

The result is a bounty of words and ideas to sift through for use in a writing project. Ralph Fletcher has many good resources, especially Breathing In, Breathing Out, for keeping a notebook.

Drafting

Composing a paper that has a basic organization, content, and a good opening and closing is a struggle for some. Developing details is one of the biggest challenges in student-generated papers. A revision process helps writers develop stronger products, but teachers struggle with committing time to this critical need due to external pressures from curricular mandates. Developing a strong first draft saves time. The following strategies can help in structuring a solid first draft to go through the revision process.

RAFTs (Role-Audience-Format-Topic-Strong Verb)

This is a good system for helping students understand core elements to an organized paper. Role gives writers a context to write from. Audience focuses their choice of words and details to meet specific needs. Format can be flexible for any student's interest or learning profile. Topic structures the message. Strong verb creates a call to action. This approach gives students options for choosing their own role, audience, format, or topic. Here are a few links for exploring this strategy:

Window Activity

Pump up the excitement of a writing topic by using a detailed picture to write from. This three-step protocol guides writers to develop a variety of detail skills, such as sensory and observations. Point of view is another skill developed as participants go deeper into the steps. Students get peer feedback through small group readings at the end. After sharing their writing with peers, many students have an epiphany that they can write better than they believed.

Words Have Power

Differentiation helps develop strong writers by mediating the self-perception that many students have about "not being a writer." The more they hear themselves called writers, practice the skills of writers, and talk about craft like writers, they will start to believe. These pre-writing and drafting strategies build momentum and foundation to help student writers tackle the rest of the writing process: revision and publication. The result is increased writer confidence by students -- and teachers.

What writing strategies have you used to spark confidence in your students?

Was this useful? (1)
Differentiated Instruction
When it comes to how students learn, one size does NOT fit all.

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

SHF's picture

Articles like this are frustrating. They claim to contain vital information, but are actually just a series of links to other websites, with other articles written by other authors. Those articles often are written in the same format, making the reader chase information across the internet, often with disappointing results. This is lazy writing. We would not accept such an essay from our students. We wouldn't accept this in a newspaper story, a magazine article, in TV news stories, or in radio news. Next time, just give us a bulleted list of websites to visit and admit you have nothing of your own to contribute to the topic. Don't try to pass of a list of websites as a scholarly article.

(2)
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

The best strategy I have found is choice -- giving my students choice and ownership in their writing. Although they won't always have that power, I think the best way to help them develop confidence and identify as writers is to give them the freedom to choose what they will write about. Currently my students are writing novels (as part of National Novel Writing Month), and they completely own that writing. They write with an enthusiasm rarely seen in a middle school classroom. Next semester, when we move on to expository writing, they will each produce and publish their own magazine on whatever topic they want. That power to own the writing means they write about something they care about, which usually means better effort, better revision/editing, and better end result. Even when writing literary analysis, I ask my students to write about what matters to them from the literature. This means they have to care (at least a little bit) about what they are reading, and that makes for better writing.

(1)
Andrea Rickard's picture
Andrea Rickard
3rd grade teacher

Wow. I disagree, SHF. I clicked on three links. Each led to a detailed practice that I can use with my students next week.

(2)

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