StarTeaching Writing Ideas

We believe that the most dramatic improvements in writing occur at the first steps in the writing process, and that is where we will focus our efforts.  Have your students concentrate on many activities where they brainstorm & organize, and then write out a draft.  This draft might be several sentences, a paragraph, or an essay, or it may be an entry in a journal, a shopping list, a love letter, a poem, a rap, a set of song lyrics, or another type of writing.  

That's not to say that editing, proofreading, and publishing are not important;  on the contrary, these are vital steps for students AFTER they have mastered the first two steps.  As a teacher, you don't have to take every assignment to a final form.  

Its similar to sports.  You want to practice your fundamental skills in basketball before trying to play a game.  The same is true in writing.  Have your students practice the various skills of writing many times before you expect an awesome, polished piece of writing from them. 

 

Writing Terminology

There are a number of important terms we use for commonality.  It is important to use the same terminology to unify our efforts and so students are all on the same page.  Its easy for students to be confused when teachers do not use the same terms.  It may seem natural for us teachers, but it is often difficult for students.  
WRITING PROCESS TERMS: PARAGRAPH TERMS: GENERIC WRITING TERMS:
BRAINSTORMING:
Thinking of ideas and writing these down on your paper before you begin the actual writing
CLINCHER STATEMENT:
This sentence wraps up, provides closure, and concludes the writing. It tells the reader what you have told them.  At advanced levels, this sentence will also provide a Theme for writing
ESSAY:
This is an extended writing assignment utilizing at least two (or more) paragraphs working together to expand and discuss a topic with more specific detail and examples. 
DRAFTING:
Writing activity in which students transfer their thoughts on a topic into a written or textual form.  This may be sentences, a paragraph, or an essay format.  Mistakes and corrections are expected so students can improve.
DETAILS:
These are the facts, examples, and statistics that make up a Support.  These can be in the form of information from charts, graphs, and even quotes.  
FCAs:
Focal Correction Areas, these are the specific areas in the rubric for students to focus and work on for a particular work.  We begin with FCAs on form and format, then move on to other areas as students master these.  
EDITING:
Revising for content.  This is where students should look to add, remove, or change their ideas 
LEAD:
A Personal Life Experience at the beginning of an essay to hook the reader and relate the writing topic to a related concept outside the classroom.
FLOW & FLUENCY:
The interconnectedness of the ideas in a piece of writing.  Ideas should flow logically  from one to the next, and the reader should follow the presentation without difficulty.  
ORGANIZING:
This is the activity of thinking about what they have brainstormed and developing a plan for writing.  
PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCE:
This is the students' voice in the writing, a sentence where students incorporate a real life experience  or a related concept which directly connects to the writing topic
FORM & FORMAT:
This is the basic 'skeleton' or structure of the paragraph or essay.  
PREWRITING:
The work and thinking that occurs before the students actually start their writing.  This consists of two parts, Brainstorming & Organizing
SUPPORTS:
These are sentences which support the Topic Sentence, and include several details that back opinions or answers stated by the writer
HOOK:
A sentence at the beginning of a paragraph or essay that grabs the reader's attention.  Common hooks will pose questions, give a startling statement, provide unusual facts, or tell a story (a Lead)
PROOFREADING:
Checking over your work for mistakes in spelling, grammar, mechanics, and usage, and then fixing them.  
THEME:
A life lesson, moral, or message that the reader should learn from reading the paper.
PARAGRAPH:
A group of related sentences that work together to present a response to a writing topic.  At a basic level, Paragraphs must include a Topic Sentence, Supports, and a Clincher.  
PUBLISHING:
A final copy of your work, free from errors and ready for a real audience to view it.  
TOPIC SENTENCE:
This sentence introduces the topic of your writing.  It tells the reader what you are going to tell them.  At advanced levels, this sentence will Hook the reader's attention and provide the focus for writing.
RUBRIC:
A guarantee of getting an 'A' on the assignment.  This is the set of criteria used to grade a piece of writing.  Students and teachers both know the rubric ahead of time so both understand the expectations. 
REVISION:
Students working with a piece of writing or text to 
  VOICE:
Sound, tone, and individuality in a piece of writing.  Voice includes personal experience and creative writing.  It should be as if the student was reading the work aloud.  
     
     
     

 

RUBRICS

 

Writing Rubric:  Kindergarten  

 

Writing Rubric:  1st Grade

PREWRITE
1.  Brainstorm Ideas
          a.  Draw a picture

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Discuss in class

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH
1.  Use drawings, words, word-like clusters, and/or sentences

 

  PREWRITE
1.  Brainstorm Ideas
          a.  Graphic Organizer
            b. Web

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

  WRITE THE PARAGRAPH
1.  Topic Sentence (Beginning)
2.  One Support Sentence (Middle)
      a.  An example or detail to explain  
          the central idea
3.  Clincher Statement (End)

GUIDELINES

1.      Write one or two connected sentences

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
a.  Students draw a picture

3.      One or Two sentences:

Try to get connected ideas between the sentences

MINIMUM GUIDELINES 
(Writing the Paragraph)

1.      Write three or more connected sentences

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
a.  Students write down at least 5 items

3.      Three sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    One supporting sentence
c.     Clincher statement

 

Writing Rubric:  2nd Grade   Writing Rubric:  3rd Grade

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas
          a.  Graphic Organizer
            b. Web

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)
          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph

2.  Two Support Sentences
          a.  An example or detail to explain the central idea
          b.  A personal life experience that relates to the topic

  3.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Tells what you have told them (wrap up)

 

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas
          a.  Graphic Organizer
          b. Word bank/list
          c.  Venn diagram
          d.  Web
          e.  Who/What/Where/When/Why/How/So What

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)
          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph

2.  Support Sentences
          a.  Facts or statistics from a book
          b.  Charts or graphs
          c.  Quotes from readings

3.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Summarizing the paragraph
          b.  Tells what you have told them (wrap up)

MINIMUM GUIDELINES 
(Writing the Paragraph)

1.      Two Paragraph Clusters

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
a.  Students write down at least 5 items

3.      Four sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Two or more supporting sentences
c.     Clincher statement

MINIMUM GUIDELINES (Writing the Paragraph)

1.      40 words or more

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
a.  Students write down at least 5 items

3.      Five sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Three or more supporting sentences
c.     Clincher statement

 

Writing Rubric:  4th Grade Writing Rubric:  5th Grade

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas
          a.  Graphic Organizer
            b. Word bank/list
          c.  Venn diagram
          d.  Web
          e.  Who/What/Where/When/Why/How/So What  

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)

          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph

2.  Support Sentences
          a.  Facts or statistics from a book
          b.  Charts or graphs
          c.  Quotes from readings

3.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Summarizing the paragraph
          b.  Tells what you have told them (wrap up)

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas (6 items)
          a.  Graphic Organizer
             b. Word bank/list
          c.  Venn diagram
          d.  Web
          e.  Who/What/Where/When/Why/How/So What  

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)
          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph

2.  Support Sentences
          a.  2 Facts or statistics from a book
          b.  or Charts or graphs
          c.  or Quotes from readings
          d.  1 sentence from the students’ Personal Life Experience

3.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Summarizing the paragraph
          b.  Tells what you have told them (wrap up)

MINIMUM GUIDELINES (Writing the Paragraph)

1.      50 words or more

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
    a.  Students write down at least 5 items

3.      Five sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Three or more supporting sentences
c.     Clincher statement

MINIMUM GUIDELINES (Writing the Paragraph)

1.      60 words or more

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
    a.  Students write down at least 6 items

3.      Five sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Three or more supporting sentences
c.     Clincher statement

 

Writing Rubric:  6th Grade   Writing Rubric:  7th Grade

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas (8 items)
          a.  Graphic Organizer
          b. Word bank/list
          c.  Venn diagram
          d.  Web
          e.  Who/What/Where/When/Why/How/So What

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)
          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph
          b.  Answers the given question or states your opinion

2.  Support Sentences
          a.  3 Facts or statistics from a book
          b.  Examples can be from Charts or graphs
          c.  or Quotes from readings

3.  Personal Life Experience (2 sentences long)
          a.  Examples of things that happened to you
          b.  Stories, personal narratives, examples of things that happened to other people

4.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Summarizing the paragraph
          b.  or Restates your answer to the question
          c.  or Restates your opinion
          d.  Many times includes a ‘message for life’ (a Theme)

 

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas (8 items)
          a.  Graphic Organizer
          b. Word bank/list
          c.  Venn diagram
          d.  Web
          e.  Who/What/Where/When/Why/How/So What

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)
          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph
          b.  Answers the given question or states your opinion

2.  Support Sentences
          a.  3 Facts or statistics from a book
          b.  Examples can be from Charts or graphs
          c.  or Quotes from readings

3.  Personal Life Experience (2 sentences long)
          a.  Examples of things that happened to you
          b.  Stories, personal narratives, examples of things that happened to other people

4.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Summarizing the paragraph
          b.  or Restates your answer to the question
          c.  or Restates your opinion
          d.  Many times includes a ‘message for life’ (a Theme)

 

MINIMUM GUIDELINES 
(Writing the Paragraph)

1.      80 words or more

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
a.  Students write down at least 8 items

3.      Eight sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Three or more supporting sentences
c.     Two or more sentences of a Personal Life Experience
d.    Clincher statement

MINIMUM GUIDELINES 
(Writing the Paragraph)

1.      100 words or more

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
a.  Students write down at least 8 items

3.      Eight sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Three or more supporting sentences
c.     Two or more sentences of a Personal Life Experience
d.    Clincher statement

 

Writing Rubric:  8th Grade

   

PREWRITE

1.  Brainstorm Ideas (10 items)
          a.  Graphic Organizer
            b. Word bank/list
          c.  Venn diagram
          d.  Web
          e.  Who/What/Where/When/Why/How/So What

2.  Organize Work
          a.  Chronological Order
          b.  Order of Importance  

WRITE THE PARAGRAPH

1.  Topic Sentence (central idea)
          a.  Tells what you are going to tell the reader in the paragraph
          b.  Answers the given question or states your opinion

2.  Support Sentences
          a.  3 Facts or statistics from a book
          b.  Examples can be from Charts or graphs
          c.  or Quotes from readings

3.  Personal Life Experience (2 sentences long)
          a.  Examples of things that happened to you
          b.  Stories, personal narratives, examples of things that happened to
other people

4.  Clincher Statement
          a.  Summarizing the paragraph
          b.  or Restates your answer to the question
          c.  or Restates your opinion
          d.  Many times includes a ‘message for life’ (a Theme)

 

MINIMUM GUIDELINES 
(Writing the Paragraph)

1.      125 words or more

2.      Brainstorming & Organizing first!
    a.  Students write down at least 10 items

3.      Eight sentences:
a.     Topic Sentence
b.    Three or more supporting sentences
c.     Two or more sentences of a Personal Life Experience
d.    Clincher statement

 

 

     
     
     

 

 

 

 

INDIVIDUAL PARAGRAPHS

Topic Sentence:  _______________________________________________________________________________  

____________________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________

THREE SUPPORTS (facts/examples):                                             Details about each Support:

1.  _____________________________________________  ___________________________________________

_______________________________________________   ___________________________________________

2.  _____________________________________________  ___________________________________________

_______________________________________________   ___________________________________________

3.  _____________________________________________  ___________________________________________

_______________________________________________   ___________________________________________

Personal Life Experience:  ______________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Clincher Statement:  ___________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Title for the paper:  __________________________________________________________

 

MULTIPLE PARAGRAPH ESSAYS

 

TWO PARAGRAPH OUTLINE & ORGANIZER

Two-Paragraph Essay Outline

1.  PREWRITE
          A.  Brainstorming
          B.  Organizing
                    a.  Circle the TWO most important points you’re going to make

2.  Writing your FIRST paragraph
          A.  Topic Sentence(s)
                    a.  Tells audience what you are going to tell them
                    b.  Answers  the given question or states your opinion
          B.  State your first and most important point
          C.  THREE supports for your first point
                    a.  Your support can be in the form of facts from a book
                    b.  Or examples (also quotes) or statistics
          D.  Transition sentence to connect to the next paragraph
                    a.  Use a transition word (Next, Second, Then, Soon)
                    b.  Use repetition (a word/phrase coming next)

3.  Writing your SECOND paragraph
          A.  Transition sentence to connect with the first paragraph
                    a.  State your second point
                    b.  Use a transition word or repetition from the first paragraph
          B.  Three supports for your second point
                    a.  More facts from a book, examples, quotes, or statistics
          C.  At least one Personal Life Experience from your lives.
                    a.  Examples of things that happened to you
                    b.  Stories, personal narratives, examples of things that happened to other people
          D.  Clincher Statement
                   
a.      Summarizes the essay (both paragraphs)
                    b.     Or restates your answer to the question
                    c.      Or restates your opinion
                    d.     Many times includes a ‘message for life’: a THEME

THREE PARAGRAPH OUTLINE & ORGANIZER

Three-Paragraph Essay Outline

1.  PREWRITE
          A.  Brainstorming & Organizing
                    a.  Circle the TWO most important points you’re going to make

2.  Writing your FIRST paragraph
          A.  LEAD (5-8 lines of a personal life experience story)
          B.  Topic Sentence(s)
                    a.  Tells what’s going on in the entire essay
                    b.  Answers the given question or states your opinion
          C.  State your first and most important PRIMARY SUPPORT
          D.  THREE details for your Primary Support
                    a.  Your details can be in the form of facts from a book
                    b.  Or examples (also quotes) or statistics
          E.  Transition sentence to connect to the next paragraph
                    a.  Use a transition word (Next, Second, Then, Soon)
                    b.  Use repetition (a word/phrase coming next)

3.  Writing your SECOND paragraph
          A.  Transition sentence to connect with the first paragraph
                    a.  State your 2 or 3 SECONDARY SUPPORTS
                    b.  Use a transition word or repetition from the first paragraph
          B.  Two to Three details for each Secondary Support
                    a.  More facts from a book, examples, quotes, or statistics
          C.  Transition sentence to connect to the next paragraph

4.  Writing your THIRD paragraph
          A.  Transition sentence to connect with the first paragraph
          B.  FINAL SUPPORT
                    a.  More facts from a book, examples, quotes, or statistics
          C.  PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCE
                    a.  Continuation of the LEAD with wrap up to the story
          D.  Clincher Statement
               a.      Summarizes the essay (all three paragraphs)
               b.     Or restates your answer to the question
               c.      Or restates your opinion
               d.     Many times includes a ‘message for life’: a THEME

FOUR PARAGRAPH OUTLINE & ORGANIZER

Four-Paragraph Essay Outline

1.  PREWRITE
          A.  Brainstorming & Organizing
                    a.  Circle the TWO most important points you’re going to make

2.  Writing your FIRST paragraph
          A.  LEAD (5-8 lines of a personal life experience story)
          B.  Topic Sentence(s)
                    a.  Tells what’s going on in the entire essay
                    b.  Answers the given question or states your opinion
          C.  State your first and most important PRIMARY SUPPORT
          D.  THREE details for your Primary Support
                    a.  Your details can be in the form of facts from a book
                    b.  Or examples (also quotes) or statistics
          E.  Transition sentence to connect to the next paragraph
                    a.  Use a transition word (Next, Second, Then, Soon)
                    b.  Use repetition (a word/phrase coming next)

3.  Writing your SECOND paragraph
          A.  Transition sentence to connect with the first paragraph
                    a.  State your 2 or 3 SECONDARY SUPPORTS
                    b.  Use a transition word or repetition from the first paragraph
          B.  Two to Three details for each Secondary Support
                    a.  More facts from a book, examples, quotes, or statistics
          C.  Transition sentence to connect to the next paragraph

4  Writing your THIRD paragraph
          A.  Transition sentence to connect with the first paragraph
                    a.  State your FINAL SUPPORT
                    b.  Use a transition word or repetition from the first paragraph
          B.  Two to Three details for each Secondary Support
                    a.  More facts from a book, examples, quotes, or statistics
          C.  Transition sentence to connect to the next paragraph

5.  Writing your FOURTH paragraph
          A.  Transition sentence to connect with the first paragraph
          B.  YOUR OPINION
                    a.  How does this topic affect you or reflect on your actions
                    b.  State how the supports back up your opinion
          C.  PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCE
                    a.  Continuation of the LEAD with wrap up to the story
          D.  Clincher Statement
               a.      Summarizes the essay (all four paragraphs)
               b.     Or restates your answer to the question
               c.      Or restates your opinion
               d.     Many times includes a ‘message for life’: a THEME

 

 

WRITING ACTIVITIES/IDEAS/PROMPTS

 

 

 

Second Day of Class OVERHEAD Sheet

Free Printable Sheet

"Write a paragraph about one of the most important things you learned this summer."

No Questions, No Talking

 

Now, write THREE guidelines / rules that you have learned about writing paragraphs (from a class, a teacher, or another source.
Now Prioritize these (1 most important, 2, 3, ...)

 

Now, Answer the following questions:
1.  What does the TOPIC SENTENCE do for your paragraph?
2.  What goes into the MIDDLE SENTENCES of your paragraph?
3.  What does the CONCLUSION do in your paragraph?
4.  What is the general LENGTH of a paragraph?
5.  What PREPARATION is necessary before you begin writing your paragraph?

 

Now, Look back at the paragraph you wrote above.
1.  Underline your TOPIC SENTENCE.
2.  Number your FACTS, EXAMPLES, and / or LIFE EXPERIENCES
3.  Underline your CONCLUSION (Clincher Statement)

 

Second Day of Class Writing Assignment

 

 
Once the hectic pace of the first day of school is over, you'll want to get your students off and writing 'on the right foot'. We begin the second day of class with a writing assignment / activity that will give me an idea of where the students are in terms of their understanding of the writing process.

Our school uses a common writing program that increases in complexity at each grade level. The teachers use common terminology and formats for paragraphs which are the basis of our drafting. Thus, I know they will have a bit of familiarity with the process. However, even if you are teaching 'on an island' without any class or grade continuity, this activity will allow you to assess your students understanding of the writing process and set them up for the teaching of your expectations for writing paragraphs.

I've put this activity onto an overhead sheet so I can use it each year. At the top are the writing directions: "Write a paragraph describing one of the most important things you learned over the summer. No talking, and no questions." The directions are specific enough that I want a paragraph written, not a page or a few sentences. And the topic is broad enough that everyone can think of something to write about. However, it is just vague enough that students must use their best judgment to decide exactly HOW to structure the writing and how long it should be.

I tell the kids there is no right or wrong way to do this assignment, and there is no right or wrong response to the prompt. In fact, the only wrong thing that can be done is just to NOT write anything at all. This explanation will help most of your students get started right away. If a student is sitting idle for more than a minute, I'll remind them that this is a writing activity, not a thinking activity. They need to get started writing, or I'll assign them a disciplinary paragraph to copy. That's usually enough to get them going.

Undoubtedly you will have some students who seem stumped on this, or will want to ask questions of you. Stand firm on the 'no questions', and let them figure it out for themselves. If you give in now, these same students will rely on you the entire year. You want them to become good thinkers and problem solvers. Let them do it!

We usually give students about ten minutes to write. Although this is less than normal, it's just enough to get them on the right track and enough for you to see if they have any idea what they're doing.

Once the time is up, each student draws a line across his/her paper right under the paragraph. I then uncover the second part of the activity. Students must now "write down THREE rules, guidelines, or expectations they have learned about writing paragraphs." After these are written down, the students prioritize them, the most important labeled #1, and so forth. These provide excellent prompts for class discussions, which is next. We look to affirm correct ideas, and dispel the wrong ones. Then the students draw another line across the page.

Lastly, the students number their page #1-5, and write in their responses to four questions I pose for them. We then discuss their answers, and I'm able to evaluate what they know and what they think they know about paragraph writing.

Again, these help me to see what knowledge the students bring to class, and how closely they are to our class's writing expectations.

The last thing we do is a bit of self-editing. The students are to underline their topic sentences and clincher statements and number their three supporting statements (just imagine their surprise if any realize they didn't write these down!) This also makes for great conversation.

Now they're ready to learn the rules, procedures, and expectations for the formatting of a paragraph in this class. I have these on an overhead sheet and also on a PowerPoint presentation. Both have a note sheet so students can write down the information as it is presented. They quickly learn the rules and expectations I have for the formatting and writing of their paragraphs.

 

 

 

Teacher Directions for Administering 
Paragraph Writing in Class

  1.        Announce to the class that they will be writing a basic Paragraph.  By saying this, they already know the format of HOW they will be writing and have a basic understanding of WHAT is expected of them during this time.

  2.        Have students get out a regular, lined piece of paper.  They can put their NAME in the upper RIGHT CORNER, and write FCA in the upper LEFT CORNER. 

  3.        Put up the topic for the paragraph on the board or overhead.  Students will COPY THE TOPIC at the TOP CENTER of the paper, between the FCA and their NAME.

  4.        Once you reveal the FCAs for the paper, have students copy them down exactly under the FCA (top left corner).  If they don’t tell you what to grade on their paper (by writing the FCA) you don’t have to grade the paper!

  5.        You may wish to explain or give more information about the topic.  You can have class discussion if you wish, or just have the students start working.

  6.        Students begin with BRAINSTORMING ideas at the top middle of the paper, just below the topic.  Students are required to include  AT LEAST 8 pieces of information (or more depending on the teacher and/or topic).  This can be done in a WEB, LIST, or OUTLINE (again depends on the teacher and/or topic). 

  7.        Once the BRAINSTORMING has been completed, students ORGANIZE these items by order of importance (or some other type of order determined by teacher and/or topic).  We usually number them from 1-8, 1 the most important to 8 the least important.  This will then determine the organization for the paragraph, so students have a plan for writing.

  8.        The teacher walks around checking progress and answering questions.  Once the students have finished their BRAINSTORMING and ORGANIZING (web/list/outline of 8 items which are numbered for importance), teacher will give the paper a CHECKMARK at the top indicating that the BRAINSTORMING and ORGANIZING is finished.  Check each paper to see that the proper format is achieved (see above). 

  9.        At this point (ONLY WHEN THE PAPER HAS A CHECK MARK) the students may begin writing their paragraph. 

  10.     Continue to walk around checking progress and answering questions.  There should be NO TALKING.  Give a lot of positive reinforcement and praise.  Remind them of how good writers they are. 

  11.     When students have finished, they should SELF CHECK their paper for mistakes, banned words, spelling, etc.  Students should also see that they covered all of the FCAs.  They then give themselves a score (out of 20 points) at the top, and turn the paragraph in.

12.     All paragraphs must be turned in at the end of the hour.  DO NOT LET THEM GO HOME OR GIVE ADDITIONAL TIME.  This is to practice for the time limits of the MEAP test.  Keep the pressure on!

 

 

Paragraph Writing Worksheet 

Paragraph Writing Sheet                   Name:  ________________________________  Date:  _______________
                                  Topic:  __________________________________________________________________
FCAs:

 

 

 

 

Brainstorming & Organizing:

Topic Sentence:  _____________________________________________________________________________

  ___________________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________

THREE SUPPORTS (facts/examples):                                             Details about each Support:

1.  _____________________________________________ ___________________________________________

2.  _____________________________________________  __________________________________________

3.  _____________________________________________  __________________________________________

Personal Life Experience:  ____________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Clincher Statement:  _________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Title for the paper:  _____________________________________________________

 

Grading Procedures for Class Paragraphs

The beauty of our class Paragraph system is its administration and management.  It is designed so that the teacher is NOT spending hours out of school grading every minor and major detail.   

SO, JUST WHAT IS A 'FCA'?

Instead, the teacher grades the papers based on the FCA (Focal Correction Areas) chosen for the paragraph.  These are the specific areas that students concentrated on while writing.  The FCAs will evolve through the year as the focus moves from basic formatting of the paragraphs to concentrating on different aspects of the writing craft.  Don’t worry about correcting everything on every paper – you’ll lose your sanity! 

Students are going to make mistakes.  But they are also going to learn as they practice the writing craft OFTEN.  Choose to correct and work on a few items at a time so they are not overwhelmed (and you are not overwhelmed by looking for everything when you grade). 

SO WHAT DOES THE TEACHER DO?

Much of the teacher’s role in checking papers is to walk around the class WHILE the students are actually engaged in writing.  Help the students as you go, answer questions and give guidance where necessary.  Help the students to be successful at the assignment by making sure they have covered all of the FCAs. 

Give generous praise to the students for their work and efforts.  It is not easy for students to write in a constrained time period.  Remind students that they “don’t’ have worries about time because they are strong, creative writers”. 

Students MUST check their FCAs when they finish and give themselves a score at the top of the paper.  We DO NOT accept papers without a score at the top. 

PEER CHECKING

Many times we will pass out the papers the next day (or even the same day if you have time) to DIFFERENT students and peer check them.  The peer checking always involves proofreading for mistakes and spelling, and scanning for banned words.  However, the peer checking should also include looking at revision, editing, and reflection. 

GRADING THE PAPERS

  We chose 20 points for our paragraphs because that particular number matches up with other similar assignments with the same points.  Each FCA is worth points, and in many cases 2 points each.  Students have already checked their FCAs and written a score at the top.  The teacher’s job is to double check that the FCAs have been adequately covered in the paper.  This should take only a few seconds to scan the paper. 

  Choose and develop your FCAs wisely!  Let the students do the work for you!  Have them circle, underline, or draw a box around items you want to grade.  Have them label with letters or numbers in circles.  That way, you use THEIR energy to help save YOURS!

  As the students write through the year, many FCAs will be repeated until mastered by the class.  This repetition is great for practice, and the teacher will become faster and more proficient at looking for those particular areas.   For example, we use many of the basic formatting FCAs well into the year.  Areas such as Restating the Topic in the Topic Sentence, Restating the Topic in the Clincher Statement, and Circling the Personal Life Experience, are utilized throughout the year because it reminds students of the basics of paragraph writing:  1.  Tell what you are going to tell your audience, 2.  Tell them, and 3.  Tell them what you told them.  

WHAT ABOUT REDOs?

We do allow students to fix paragraphs and turn them back in for a corrected score.  This is at the teacher’s discretion.  The student can keep the grade, or correct it within 24 hours and hand the paper back in.  This helps the student to see the mistakes made AND then correct them. 

IF A STUDENT IS ABSENT

  Students are sometimes absent from class.  We DO NOT make up writing assignments.  By writing nearly every day, the students are going to get plenty of good practice.  The next writing assignment will count ‘double’, and that same grade will be put into the grade  book spot of the missed writing.

 

 

 

 

Class Paragraph Writings

 

Writing paragraphs in our school's program means following a specific rubric. We teach the students to use the same format and steps. Paragraph writing for us means drafting, which will be full of mistakes and correctible areas. When first introduced, students will be practicing writing paragraphs every day until they master the format we use.

The first step is brainstorming. We require a specific number of 'triggers' for each topic. Students generally choose between making a web or a list to visually show their brainstorming. For example, our 7th graders must include eight triggers, while seniors must have at least fifteen. You and your school will decide what is appropriate. Then all triggers are ORGANIZED by order of importance, chronological order, etc. Students are asked to number the triggers 1-8. Of course, students are always encouraged to write down more triggers (sometimes we even offer extra credit for more triggers!). We also encourage students to freewrite as brainstorming. Students look over their prewriting and start using their organized triggers to form the ideas presented in the paragraph.

Students then create a topic sentence (T.S.). This is an introductory sentence which captures the reader's attention and gives the reader an idea of what the paragraph is about. We require students to restate the topic in the T. S. This begins to create flow (the connectedness of ideas and transitions) by using several words in the topic.

At least three body sentences follow (we require six in the 7th grade). These will include details and examples, as well as data in the form of facts or statistics. Make sure these all support the topic sentence. The body sentences also will include a personal life experience (PLE) which connects the topic to the writer's life or to a real-life situation (7th graders must have two sentences for each PLE). The body sentences must connect to the topic sentences, and be sure their details flow in a logical manner.

Finally, wrap up the paragraph with a CLINCHER STATEMENT. This again restates the topic, brings closure to the paragraph, and summarizes the ideas presented.

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: How much time do we give students to write out a paragraph?

A: The paragraph structure was developed in response to the demands of the MEAP test (Michigan's high takes test) as well as to our own school's curriculum and class needs. We wanted a structure that could be easily learned and remembered (by both students and staff). It had to be versatile enough to use at any grade level or course. And it needed to allow for students to make it their own - we believe it promotes students' creativity, writing style, and voice while giving them a structure that nearly guarantees success. Thus, it had to be written in a fairly short span of time to allow for students to proof and edit. Brainstorming & organizing should take no more than five minutes (most of our students can do it in under a minute with practice!). The whole paragraph can be written in fifteen minutes or less (again with practice). We NEVER let these go home, and they're always due in class. Students cannot take their MEAP tests home to finish, remember! Time frames start out longer at first, but then we shorten the time as they become more proficient.

Q: How much do you worry about mistakes in spelling, grammar, mechanics, etc.?

A: Remember, this is drafting. We always encourage the students to be careful about what they write. However, we want them focusing on the structure and the logical flow of ideas. Corrections can be made if/when we revise and proof for a final copy.

Q: Does the PLE have to come at the end of the paragraph?

A: Certainly not! It should be inserted where it makes the most sense in the paragraph. Think about how that story will fit in the flow of ideas in the paragraph. PLEs can even occur in the beginning of the paragraph; we call these LEADS.

Q: Can a topic sentence or clincher be more than one sentence in length?

A: We try to keep these at one sentence in our younger grades, but as students become more mature writers, it is expected that they will attempt and experiment with developing their own personal style. If a middle school student asked about this, I'd ask back, "Why do you need more than one sentence?" If there is a compelling reason, I wouldn't have a problem.

 

 

Paragraph Writing Directions
On a PowerPoint You Can Use

Also a FREE note-taking worksheet for your students!

In the 7th grade, we've put together a Power Point we use with our students at the beginning of the year.  We call it the Inland Lakes Paragraph because we use it here at Inland Lakes Schools.  

Simply click the following link to access the Paragraph PowerPoint:

http://www.starteaching.com/ParagraphPowerPoint_files/frame.htm

 

You can also use the following note-taking worksheet with your students so they have a written record of the expectations of their writing (and you can be sure they are paying attention too!)

Paragraph PowerPoint Presentation               Name:  __________________________________
1.  At the 7th grade level, you must have at least __________________ words, which is about ________ lines or the space covered by your teacher's _______________

2.  If your teacher wants to know for sure how many words you've written, what will he/she do?

3.  What is in the UPPER RIGHT corner?  _______________________________

4.  What is in the TOP CENTER of the paper?  _______________________________

5.  What is in the UPPER LEFT corner?  ________________________________

6.  PREWRITING is two parts, the ____________________________ and the __________________________

7.  You must have at least 3 _________________, ___________________, or _______________________

8.  What does a CLINCHER STATEMENT do?

 

9.  What does FCA stand for?  ______________________________________________________

10.  How many points is a typical Paragraph worth?  ________________________

11.  List 3 different FCAs you could see on a paragraph:

_______________________________, ____________________________, __________________________

12.  What are 3 different ways to BRAINSTORM?  ________________, _________________, _____________

13.  What is a PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCE?

 

14.  A PLE is always at least _______________ sentences long.

15.  What does a TOPIC SENTENCE do?

 

16.  Often, a CLINCHER STATEMENT will contain a ___________________

17.  How many BRAINSTORMING items are required on every paper?  ___________________________

 

Writing Every Day in Class

For your students to be good at any skill, they must practice it on a daily basis. This is true for any skill, and writing is an excellent example. Regardless of whether your goal is to improve your students abilities, or to raise test scores, you need to structure and designate specific time to practice this skill every day. As the classroom instructor, it must be YOUR goal to have your students practice the skill daily.

Now, you don't have to spend your entire class period on writing. There are many activities you can use that take anywhere from five to ten minutes and will accomplish this goal of writing daily.

We should briefly describe the parts of the writing process, so we can then develop activities to improve each step. There are many different terms educators will use to name the parts of the writing process. Undoubtedly you have seen several different ways to name each step. Your school may even have a specific set of terminology you need to use. That's fine, especially if your students are hearing the same terms through different classes and grade levels. However you decide to designate each step of the writing process, there are several distinct parts.

The first is brainstorming and organizing information. This is the 'prewriting', thinking of topics and ideas about which the students will write. The second is drafting, writing out a first copy which we know will not be perfect but will need more work. The third is revising, adding in more information, changing information around, or removing information not pertinent to the topic. The fourth step is to proofread and edit for surface errors and mistakes. The last step is to rewrite the draft making the corrections from steps three and four. This last step may be another draft, or it may be a finished, published piece. Now, you may want to add more steps to these basic five, and that's up to you. You'll get no resistance from me. The important thing is to fully understand what you're teaching and to make sure your students understand it!

Before we get into activities, you will want to create a special, specific place for the students to keep their work. I choose to keep this work in class so I know it will ALWAYS be there. No more losing it in folders, at home, or in lockers. Each student is provided a hanging file in a cabinet drawer (each class gets its own drawer). If you do not have an extra file cabinet, you can pick up plastic storage crates or boxes fairy cheaply. When I want the students to work with previous writes, they simply need to grab one out of their file. And best of all, the work is already in class.

Ok, so lets examine a few exercises to practice at each step. First for brainstorming and organizing. This is one of the most important steps, and it can be practiced in any subject area. You are going to want to have your students practice this two to three times each week. Have your students brainstorm in lists, in graphic organizers, in webs/maps, and by freewriting. Give them topics and a time limit and turn them loose. Use ideas from your text, from reading activities, and from real life situations that involve your students. You can create games and contests to encourage them to generate long lists.

There are many ways to draft. We've covered several in past newsletters (see the links below for more information on each) including FREEWRITES, JOURNAL WRITES, and PARAGRAPHS. You will probably have other forms and styles to use too. Drafting does not have to take a long time, either. Give your students a specific time limit and the minimums you want them to write. Be very clear about your expectations and rules so the students will have clear understanding of what you're looking for. Feel free to impose minimums such as a time period, length of paper, or number of words. Remind yourself you are working with activities with shorter time slots. You want your students to really push themselves, and you may have to push them at the beginning to get them up to the speed you want!

Editing activities work well when your students already have several pieces finished to look over. You can have students edit their own, or peer edit by trading writings. I usually hold off for a month to collect enough drafts so students can choose their own writing to edit. Normally students like this step the least, and try to resist editing. So you will want to make this a fun activity, and be sure to give it a grade. I also try to give out extra credit so they will want to do these activities. We practice question writing with our SQ3R reading techniques, and we apply this to editing too. Some of the best editing is done by students posing questions, looking for more information, or needing clarification of ideas. This is not proofreading, remember! We use overheads (again so they can be re-used) with guiding questions and thoughts that will help students generate questions of the writing in front of them.

Undoubtedly you'll have a handful of students who think their first draft is perfect and needs no additional work. And you may even agree that some of these students are very good writers. But don't fall into the trap of letting them avoid editing. Even professional writers go through many stages of editing (as of this time, I've already edited this article four times!). Keep your kids following the writing process - no short cuts! Allowing one or more students to cut corners will lead to more asking, and then hard feelings among classmates ("Why doesnt so-and-so have to edit?") None of your students will be experts, none are perfect, even if you have seniors. There are always things you can adjust, clarify, or add to writings. And all of the students will benefit from good editing activities, whether they like it or not.

Another issue you will deal with at this step is a fragile student ego. Some students will fear having criticism of their work. And there will also be students who fear writing criticism on their classmates' papers. You will have to have some heart-to-heart talks with your students and convince them (or persuade them) that they are helping their classmates and themselves when editing. They're not there to rip on each other, just make everyone better writers.

Having your students write on a daily basis may seem like a homework-checking nightmare waiting to happen. You will need to create an administrative plan to make your life simple. In our class I use the random choices technique (discussed in length in the September issue.) A white chip indicates we don't grade it, just file it. A blue chip is a peer check and immediate grade. And a red chip is a collection of the papers so I can read and score them. This keeps me from having to read and grade every paper every day. And for paragraph drafts, we use FCAs (focal correction areas) for grades (look for more on FCAs in an upcoming issue!) These administrative strategies help keep my sanity while allowing my students to practice a lot of writing on a daily basis.

 

Examples of Student Work (Parts 'n' Parts)

 

Here are two examples from the high school.  Notice the Brainstorming, the Topic Sentence (T.S.), and the picture tells the story.  These demonstrate the Parts 'n' Parts, where you focus on a particular aspect of writing without dealing with the entire work.  This saves the teacher and students many headaches!

 

 

 

 

Third Day of Class Writing Assignment

The writing process is important to focus on for all teachers.  The Third Day Assignment gets our kids into the swing of essay writing for the year. 

This is the first real attempt by our students to write a paragraph under the rules and guidelines for their grade level. The topic is easy, because it asks them to describe something they learned during the first two days of school. There are dozens of things students learn those two days, in school (classes, passing periods, lunch time, recess) and out of school (at home, at practice, at clubs or organizations, with their families or friends).

Brainstorming and organizing are key to the first paragraph, so we spend a great deal of time in discussion of the topic. It is important that each student has a concrete example to use in his or her paragraph. Have students fill out the graphic organizer, and go over it with them. Even pair up students if necessary. Teach the prewriting at this point and work hard at it so the students can go through this step quickly in the next writing assignment coming up in a few days.

Be sure to allow a generous amount of time this day for the extended teaching of the prewriting and the students' attempt at writing out a paragraph. Now we know some students will be good at this and really fly through it, and that's fine. Make sure those students have a secondary assignment to work on when they're done. Your real task is getting those middle-of-the-road and below average writers kicked in. Keep the time period risk free and encourage your kids, but also prod and push them to finish. Regardless of how much they completed, be sure to collect ALL the essays at the end of the class period.

Keep in mind that this is the first attempt by your students, and there will be a few pretty good ones, several ok ones, and probably a lot of bad ones. Keep the encouragement going. You want the kids to give you an excellent effort, even if it is a poor product. It's much easier to improve the writing than the student's effort

 

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