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8 Ways to Improve Your Students’ Writing

Coaching Your Students to Writing Success!

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Well, it’s almost September and time for back to school with a whole new bunch of young learners that will teach us as much as we teach them. If you’re like me, one of the toughest challenges we face each year is to find new ways to help our students improve their writing.  It can be a daunting task, but like with anything, if we give our students the right tools for the job, then the path to success is made easier.

What? I can’t just give them a pencil and some writing topics and tell them to write everyday? Okay, Okay, I know you wouldn’t do that anyway, but I do have some tools and tips to share with you that I think will help as you coach young writers.

  1. Plan- Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, good writing starts with a good plan. The author needs to know where they are going with their writing.  What is their purpose? Who is their audience? And what is the mood of their writing?  Each of these could be a quick focus lesson.

Once these decisions are made, it’s time to put a plan on paper. It took me a long time (years, in fact) to come up with a story planner and a non-fiction planner that I really like.  My kiddos find them easy to follow and fill out. Because of this, they actually follow them as they are writing and that makes a huge difference to the creative process. These planners keep them focused.  Yay! ( Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a free copy of these planners with this link and a link at the bottom of the post. Just click  here to get it now.

2.  Content – All good writing starts with a good idea. Teach your students to ask questions about their character or subject. What would they want to know about him/her/it as the reader? What about personality? Quirks? Habits? etc.  Rich details make readers identify with the character and/or subject matter and add to the reading experience. Be careful, though, young authors must be taught to ‘sneak’ the details in context rather than just list them.  Otherwise we end up with the dreaded ‘info dump.’ Not good. Modelling is the best teacher here.  Show your kiddos how to put in the details without explicitly listing them.  Use great examples from authors you love. Kenneth Oppel and Rick Riordan are masters of this.

3. Organization – Kids need to be explicitly taught organization. It doesn’t come naturally to most.  Brainstorm ideas about a topic and write them down, then cut them apart and organize them into topics.  You can set this up in centers and have students do the same.  ‘Sticking to the topic’ is an essential skill in both fiction and non-fiction writing. It’s more obvious in non-fiction, but have you ever read a story that rambled with no clear focus?  Teach your students to keep coming back to the plot line /problem so that every detail, every action and every event have something to do with that plot line/problem.  If it has nothing to do with the plot, leave it out.  Teach them to keep the beginning, middle and end related to the central problem.

4.  Sentencing- Ooh this is a big one, grammar is tricky, but start simple by teaching them big ideas concepts like: Good authors never begin two sentences the same way in a paragraph.  Then have them use colored crayons to underline their beginnings and read them back. Soon they will be able to spot repetitions and problem beginnings.

5. Word choice – Teach your kiddos that a thesaurus is a writers best friend!  Show them how to use it, model using it as you write, and let the kids make a journal/lists of interesting words they’d like to use in their writing during their word work time. Because it’s words they want to use, they will be motivated to find WritingProcessPack_Page_5and use those words. Choice is a powerful motivator!

6. Editing – Students need to have a useful rubric for self evaluating and self-editing their work. I always tell my students that ‘They mark it first’ and ‘I mark it second’.  I created this rubric that helps them go through the process. I photocopy several and they take them as they finish up their stories and go through, mark, and fix their story before handing it in. It’s also wonderfully handy when addressing the next two goals.

7. Set goals to improve your skills- A student can’t focus on everything at once,but needs guidance to focus on just one area that s/he can improve their writing. During conferencing, I use the boxes in the above rubric/marking guide to set a goal each student.  We only focus on one boxed skill area for improvement and set a goal to address that with their next writing project. This keeps students from being overwhelmed and helps them see their progress!

8.  Feedback, feedback, feedback. I can’t stress enough how much students need consistent feedback about their writing.  They need you to care, to listen, to appreciate what they tried to do, and finally, to model how they can improve it.  Give them examples of more interesting ways they could ‘say the same thing.’

Writing is a love of mine, so you can see that I get excited about teaching young people to communicate their ideas more clearly with the written word.  I hope these ideas help you in that endeavour, also. Now for your freebie as promised click on the word below:

WritingPlanner

 

Easy Steps to a Differentiated Spelling Program

25waysspellingfunEach September I begin by asking my students why we write? I want them to fully understand that the basic purpose of writing is to communicate our ideas. Grasping this concept is a step in the right direction to having them want to improve their skills.  After all, if they work at developing good writing skills, it will be easier for them to get their message across.

This leads us to the spelling issue. In this day and age of spellcheckers and technology, do we really need to focus on spelling in school?  The answer is yes. Poor spelling leads to miscommunication, so I use an example of poor spelling to get my point across.  After seeing the difference that spelling makes to the clarity of a message, students are eager to improve their skills, but the traditional spelling list does little to actually help them achieve their goals. The trick is tailoring the spelling instruction to individual needs of students.  This is a summary of how I differentiate to meet the spelling instruction needs of my students. I hope it will help you meet the needs of your students, too.

  At the end of these lessons, you will be able to:

*identify and share the different purposes for writing

*identify improving spelling as a way to better communicate in writing

*identify and apply common spelling generalizations in own writing

Write this message to your students on the board or pop this picture up on your smart board.  Turn and talk with an elbow partner:spellingexemplar

Why was it difficult to read the message?

In a whole-group discussion, share the problems with the message: spelling, punctuation, printing.

What would you do to improve the message?

Give students a copy of the message and see if they can work with a partner to make it better.

Hand out new notebooks that the students will use to improve their spelling of the words they don’t know. Label the book with “My Spelling Words to Study”.

Explain to the students that we all have different spelling skills, just like we all wear different shoe sizes. That’s why we all need to work at learning to spell different words, but first we need to know which words we need to work on.

Follow up with a test of the top 300-500 (depending on grade level) high-frequency words. It may take several sessions to complete this diagnostic assessment. I usually give about 50 words at a time. Higher grades may want to use words  500+. I recommend using Rebecca Sitton’s Spelling Sourcebook

After each test, mark the student’s work and circle each misspelled word and write the correct spelling word beside the misspelled word.

Following the tests, have students transfer the first ten of the correct spelling of the words they need to know to their “Words to Study” list included in this package. We will repeat this each week from the 300 words. After that, I will give a new test of the next 100 high-frequency words and/or use the “problem words from their writing”. Students now have an individualized list of words that they need to work from during the year. Each week they will work on these words during their word work time using a variety of generic spelling games and study activities which have been taught.

For home practice,  I give students a recording sheet to make their lists each week.  This is how I set mine up:

Each week the students will refer to their “Words to Study” list to make their spelling list to study for that week. If you are teaching specific spelling patterns each week, you may have them choose five words from the list and five words from the spelling pattern you are currently studying. They make two copies of the list.  One that goes home to study and one that stays at school for the peer test that students give each other later in the week. If students do not spell every word on their  “Word Work/Spelling List Record Sheet” correctly, they must transfer the words they got incorrect, to next week’s list  and continue to do so until they have mastered them. Each week that they master their list, they get a coin for their “Master Spellers” certificate. At the beginning of the year,  I also send home the “25 Ideas” in two page protectors. Students can post these on their fridge for fun ways to practice their words at home.easyspelling25ways

Vital to student success and growth in spelling will be the provision of many goal-setting conferences to identify successes in improved spelling in their writing.  The connection between good spelling skills and clarity of written messages needs to be continually reinforced during these teacher-student conversations.  These conferences should go a long way towards helping students see that their efforts are resulting in progress toward their better spelling and communication goals.

On in my TPT store, I put together a complete package for you to help get you started. In it,  I tried to include everything you’ll need for your word work program this year. Included in this package you’ll find:

easystepsmultisheet* My Word to Study Listwordstostudypic

*Student Spelling List Record Sheets

* Student Spelling test sheets

* Word Work Activity Ideas

* “Master Speller” coin collector student sheet

I hope this is a valuable resource for you in providing a differentiated spelling program for the students in your classroom. The whole package is on sale this week to give you a chance to get it, and try it, for an introductory low price.  Check it out here:

EASY STEPS DIFFERENTIATED SPELLINGcoins

Questions? I’d love to hear from you. What do you do in your classroom to differentiate instruction for students?

Best,

Sharon