Friday, July 29, 2011

Play-Doh Writing? Yes!

I simply love the comparison here of the writing process to creating things with Play-Doh. And what student doesn't love to play with Play-Doh? Check it out! I think I will keep a stash of Play-Doh in my sub bag from now on.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Meaning of Revision

"Writers go back to drafts not because the drafts are bad and need fixing, but to see what else is possible." Katie Wood Ray writes this insightful tidbit in Wondrous Words.

One of my big challenges in teaching writing has been in taking students through the writing process. Many students are happy to brainstorm for topics, do practice activities, and write a draft. What I get the most complaints about is the revising and editing portion of the process. I find many don't know even where to begin. Or all they know to do is look for misspelled words and improper punctuation to be fixed.  I love this quote as a starting point.

Ray goes on to say that in order to be able to see what else is possible, writers have to see what's not there yet. And that involves envisioning. We must prompt students to ask themselves about things they have seen and read in their lives that might lead to possibilities for the piece they are writing. What story does their piece remind them of? And what does that story do that their piece doesn't? Studying the craft of writing makes better writers.

Revision is more about reflection and possibilities than improvement or correction.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Building on the Kernel Essay

First of all, if you ever have the opportunity to go to a workshop by Gretchen Bernabei, definitely do so. She offers so many great ideas to teach writing, and one that I hooked onto and have used successfully many times is the Quick List and Kernel Essay. What I found when using them was that even students were surprised at how good their writing sounded. Plus they also creates a structure to build a great piece of writing.

The first step is to create a Quick List of possible topics, or students can use a topic they already have. As a substitute, I always have the students create a Quick List since it avoids the "I don't know what to write about" dilemma. I have students number a paper 1 though 5. And then I provide a guide as to what those five topic choices will be. I usually do something like: 1) A time when you felt the most proud; 2) A sad time; 3) A reptile moment (some sort of encounter with a reptile); 4) The last time you laughed really hard; 5) A pet peeve. Along the way, I give examples and share stories from my life. Once the list is created, the students look over their responses and circle one. That is their topic for the Kernel Essay.

To start the Kernel Essay, I tell students to write one sentence telling me where they were at this time. The next sentence answers the question, "What happened first?" Continue having students write one sentence for: what happened next; how were you feeling; what happened last; and what did you learn. Again, I model along the way, choosing a topic from my life. You can change up the questions as you wish. Gretchen Bernabei offers many examples in her workshops and books. Once a sentence is written for these six questions, I have students share what they have written. The results are amazing!

The Kernel Essay is just a starting piece for a more involved piece of writing. I like to have the students create flip books, writing one sentence from their kernel on each page. Then having them add as many details on each page as possible. Once all this is written together, students have a complete piece of writing. Try it! I promise you will like the results!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Get Creative!

Towards the end of the school year, I was substituting in a great third grade classroom. We finished all the lesson plans with about 30 minutes left in the school day. I wanted to fill the time with something productive, so I went to my go-to lesson... writing. Not having any materials prepared, I handed out notebook paper. The students peppered me with questions of what we were doing. I simply told them "writing," and was met with a chorus of moans. Then I wrote a crazy prompt on the board. I used something like, "Tell about the day you walked into your classroom and found out your substitute teacher was a gorilla." I got questions about how long it needed to be, would it be a grade, etc. I told them the only rules were to write, be creative, and have fun. I was surprised with what happened next. They all started writing and laughing, wanting to share what they had written. I let as many as possible share with the class and was entertained by their creative stories.

I substituted in the same classroom again not long after that. When I walked into the classroom, many of students asked if "we could do more of those fun writing games." I realized with time crunches and testing parameters, students don't get much of a chance to go crazy with their imaginations... and they LOVE that! If teachers can get students excited about writing in any way, maybe great test results will come easier.

So, if you have time to fill or want to build eager students... JUST WRITE!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's in a Signature?

My daughter just finished a week of Young Writers' Camp at Gemini Ink, a nonprofit, independent literary center in San Antonio, Texas. It was our first dealings with this organization, and I have to say I was very impressed. My daughter loved the lessons and time spent writing and can't wait for her public reading on Sunday. Of course, I was picking her brain each afternoon after camp to see what juicy gems I could carry into a classroom. An exercise in character development was one of my favorites.

The instructor wrote a signature on the board and the students had to develop a character based on that. They analyzed the name itself, the shape and structure of the signature, and all the other little nuances. From that, they painted a description of a character in both words and pictures. It was such a simple exercise, but allowed so much creativity and discussion. I will definitely be trying this in a classroom in the near future.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just Write

It has taken me quite a while to get this blog going. I was worried about the perfect concept, the perfect look, the perfect set-up. Would I have followers? Am I doing it correctly? And the whole thing stopped me dead in my tracks. But then I got to thinking... I need to follow my own advice and JUST WRITE. It is my basic philosophy for doing writing and teaching writing. When you don't know what to do, JUST WRITE. The rest can follow. You can delete it and start all over if need be. You can teach your students mechanics, voice, focus, etc. in time. But it all has to start with writing. So, this blog is intended to get everyone writing. I will provide ideas for composing, teaching, and editing writing. And I'm sure that focus will shift over time. But in the meantime, JUST WRITE!