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Category Archives: The Basics

I can remember when my son took swimming lessons so many summers ago. It was great fun to watch him go from a floundering water baby to a  proficient swimmer. Then several years later, he decided to join the swim team. Suddenly his proficient swimming skills were exposed to be basic, beginner techniques. Sure they were good enough to keep him from sinking, even to get him to win the pool game of Marco Polo, but to be a member of the swim team required that he perfect his swimming techniques, from kicking with straight legs to cupping his hands correctly.

Then this summer, watching the Olympics swimming contests, the beauty of the sport lay in the perfection of the techniques, so much so that the techniques weren’t even apparent.

If we think about the progression of learning to swim, it is very similar to the progression of learning to write, specifically how grammar, or the cupping of the hands, fits.

To learn how to swim, children must be in the water. Likewise, to learn how to write, learners must be in a text-rich environment.  Surrounding learners with text they are interested in and honoring their writing is the first step in teaching children to write. Practice worksheets with corrections to make is like having children sit by the pool and practice the dog paddle, explaining they will get to swim once they can show on the dry land that they know how to do the proper strokes.

Once children begin to write on their own, focusing on grammar lessons which are relevant to their writing will make the lessons meaningful and memorable. The basics, capital letters to begin sentences and end punctuation, is  the beginning of managing grammar in writing. From there the rules and techniques grow more and more complex in direct correlation to the complexity of the writing.

The level of instruction needed to teach grammar within a writing curriculum will be based on the level of complexity of a child’s writing. It may be enough to rely on peer editing, parental feedback and tools found within word processing programs.

Ultimately, though, just like my son had a swimming instructor when he was on the swim team, learners will need an expert in writing to be able to explain the nuances and requirements of grammar.

And yes, there is a place for worksheets to practice grammar. When a student is struggling in his writing with correctly punctuating dialog, I provide a worksheet for him to practice these skills. Once he has practiced enough, the rules and techniques will become automatic. Remember, the worksheet is practice that is relevant to the student writing.

Grammar is important. Can you imagine driving without following driving laws with other drivers who are making up their own rules? Now, can you imagine reading this post without relying on grammar and punctuation to guide your reading?

Proficient writers will want to have a mastery of grammar and punctuation rules. Mastery begins with beginning, then slowly adding techniques toward mastery.

Points to remember:

1. Effective grammar lessons are relevant to a learner’s writing.

2. Effective grammar lessons become more complex as a learner’s writing becomes more complex.

3. Effective grammar lessons are best taught by an expert in the field.

4. Practice is an important part of effective grammar lessons when the practice is relevant to authentic writing.

For some great grammar products, go to the “Help for Parents” page.

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When most high school, home school writers think of writing in a journal, they think of Anne Frank’s Diary – personal anecdotes, dreams, and rants captured in a diary.

But most writers use a journal not to capture day to day anecdotes and moods, but to explore writing topics before actually writing about them.

Hence, below is a list of journal topics for exploring specific writing genres.

Enjoy!

Some Possible Journal Topics

 

 

Journaling topics below may help to inspire you to think about topics for your writing projects.

Friendly Letter Writing Journal Topics

 

  1. What is your favorite time of year?
  2. I was happiest when. . . .
  3. What is the most important thing you will ever do?
  4. I always wanted to …
  5. When I’m older. . . .
  6. If I had my way. . . .
  7. My plans for the summer…
  8. Describe the best hour of the day.
  9. Complaints.
  10. Daydreams.
  11. What is your favorite kind of weather? Why?
  12. Write one characteristic or habit about yourself that you like and describe it.
  13. What is your hobby? Why do you enjoy it?
  14. Write about something you desperately wanted when you were a kid.
  15. Write about a time you were talked into something and regretted it.
  16. Did you ever make friends with a wild animal?
  17. Write about picking apples, berries, or other fruit or vegetables.
  18. What was it like to get glasses or braces?
  19. Describe your favorite restaurant.
  20. Write about a time your parents were proud of you.
  21. What is the best decision you have ever made?

 

 

Personal Narrative Journal Topics

 

  1. Home
  2. My neighborhood
  3. My family
  4. My pets
  5. My favorite holiday
  6. Awards I’ve earned
  7. My favorite toy
  8. My favorite game
  9. My friends
  10. Traveling
  11. My favorite song
  12. My birthday
  13. Chores
  14. My bedroom
  15. The local store
  16. Cousins
  17. My yard
  18. Hobbies
  19. Unforgettable vacations
  20. Strangers

 

Family Narrative Journal Topics

 

  1. Nothing can be worse than. . . .
  2. The problem is. . . .
  3. I know better now.
  4. I’ll never forget …
  5. I took the blame for …
  6. Why does it always have to be me?
  7. Jealousy led to his downfall.
  8. _____ used to be my hero.
  9. I was telling the truth and ____ didn’t believe me.
  10. When he(she) showed up, we were all surprised.
  11. Our next door neighbor…
  12. On my first visit to the dentist…
  13. This weekend I couldn’t ….
  14. My dad’s (mom’s) greatest accomplishment is …
  15. The neighborhood bully…
  16. We were so disappointed …
  17. It seemed like he (she) had everything.
  18. I can’t believe I forgot….
  19. I was only trying to help…
  20. Thank goodness it was only a nightmare.
  21. The best advice I’ve ever gotten was from …

Legend Journal Topics

  1. What is something you do well?
  2. What is a good neighbor?
  3. What is your idea of a dull evening?
  4. What is something that really bugs you?
  5. What is your favorite song and why?
  6. 6.                  What is your favorite movie and why?
  7. What would happen if everyone wore the same clothes?
  8. What would happen if you found gold in your backyard?
  9. What would you do if a friend borrowed things from you but never returned them?
  10. What would you do if the surprise party was for you but you weren’t surprised?
  11. What would you do if you found a magic wand?
  12. If you were five years older you would…
  13. How would you feel if a new child moved into your neighborhood?
  14. How do you feel on a warm sunny day?
  15. How do you feel during a thunderstorm?
  16. How do you feel when something scares you? What do you do when this happens?
  17. How do you think eating junk food affects you?
  18. When you are angry, how do you look?
  19. Once, when your feelings were hurt, what happened?
  20. Once, when you were very frightened, what happened?
  21. Once, when you were embarrassed, what happened?

Interview Journal Topics

  1. Describe a family member.
  2. Compare the personalities of two of your friends.
  3. _____ used to be my hero.
  4. If he/she had his/her way …
  5. My favorite holiday guest is …
  6. I was telling the truth and ____ didn’t believe me.
  7. A strange meeting …
  8. The unexpected guest …
  9. The stranger ….
  10. Our next door neighbor …
  11. My favorite teacher …
  12. My favorite cousin …
  13. My best friend …
  14. I’ll never look him/her in the face again.
  15. Who is the person from history that you would most like to meet and talk to? Why? What would you like to ask?
  16. Who is the person alive today that you would most like to meet and talk to? Why? What would you like to ask?
  17. Who is the person from literature that you would most like to meet and talk to? Why? What would you like to ask?
  18. Babysitting …
  19. How do you get along with your cousins?
  20. A famous person …

Research Project Journal Topics

 

  1. How do I feel about competition? (sports, school, friends, etc.)
  2. How I can earn money.
  3. Buying your own clothes.
  4. Places I have lived.
  5. Describe the qualities of a good teacher.
  6. Describe the qualities of a good parent.
  7. Describe the qualities of a good friend.
  8. Pets are like people.
  9. Cooking is an art.
  10. Who is the person from history that you would most like to meet and talk to? Why? What would you like to ask?
  11. Who is the person alive today that you would most like to meet and talk to? Why? What would you like to ask?
  12. Describe an animal that you identify with strongly.  Why do you have a special feeling about this animal?
  13. What is your favorite kind of weather? Why?
  14. If you could go back in time anywhere and “anywhen,” where/when would you go and why?
  15. What law would you like to see enacted which would help people? How would it help?
  16. What is your hobby? Why do you enjoy it?
  17. Is there any machine you feel you could not live without? Explain.
  18. Write about something you desperately wanted when you were a kid.
  19. Were you ever in a helicopter? limousine? hot-air balloon?
  20. Write about moving to another city.
  21. Describe an outdoor game you used to play in the summertime.

Poetry Journal Topics

 

 

  1. A place from my past, including smells, tastes and textures, is …
  2. Describe sloppy.
  3. Nothing can be worse than…
  4. Compare the personalities of two of your friends.
  5. I was happiest when …
  6. If my desk could talk…
  7. Write about an incident that illustrates shyness.
  8. Write about an incident that illustrates kindness.
  9. Write about an incident that illustrates courage.
  10. Write about an incident that illustrates selfishness.
  11. Write about an incident that illustrates boastfulness.
  12. I cooked the dinner.
  13. If I had my way.
  14. Money of my own.
  15. Being alone…
  16. Pets are like people…
  17. Cooking is ….
  18. My favorite weather …
  19. My first vivid memory is …
  20. The most real emotion is …
  21. Two animals…

 

 

 

Technical Documents Journal Topics

 

 

  1. Describe your concept of luxury. Create an advertisement for it.
  2. Describe your ride home. Create a map with direction for it.
  3. How I can earn money. Write a series of steps to earn money.
  4. Buying your own clothes. Write a series of steps for how to buy new clothes.
  5. Your favorite food. Write the recipe for making your favorite food.
  6. My jobs at home. Write the steps to completing one of these jobs.
  7. My plans for the summer. Create an advertisement.
  8. Describe your holiday dinner table.
  9. Describe a day at the mall.
  10. Describe your dream room.
  11. Describe a day at the beach.
  12. Describe a practical joke you played on a friend or family member.
  13. Describe a narrow escape.
  14. Write an advertisement that describes the qualities of a good teacher.
  15. Write an advertisement that describes the qualities of a good parent.
  16. Write an advertisement that describes the qualities of a good friend.
  17. Write the steps to playing with your favorite childhood toy.
  18. Finish this thought: “If I could change one thing about myself. . .” and write a series of steps for making the change.
  19. What law would you like to see enacted which would help people? How would it help?
  20. Is there any machine you feel you could not live without? Write about how your life would be without it.
  21. Write about a time you performed in front of an audience. List what you did to prepare.

 

 


One reason parents home school is the an opportunity for their children to learn authentically.

What exactly does that mean?

I remember when my own son came home to ask when he would even need to know how to write an essay about a book.

“In college?” I answered.

“Besides school, I mean…” he waited, patiently. I’m sure he was convinced that since I was a high school English teacher and regularly made my own students write essays about books, I would have a better answer.

“The assignment is full of many transferable skills like analyzing themes and critical thinking and -”

He cut me off. “So, never. Right?”

I was tempted to launch into my back up speech about jobs and careers which required good writing skills, but from my experiences with my own students I knew this line of logic would be met with the question: “But essays about books, what jobs will require that I write those?”

Rather than make the case that someday he may become a book reviewer or an English professor who must publish or perish, I nodded. “Right.”

Fortunately, when parents choose to home school, they can allow their children to pursue authentic writing or allow them to write about things which interest them and which are useful to them.

Like Caleb Warner in the article, “Happily Home Schooled,” who explains he is writing short stories and a novel and songs. You might wonder when he will ever write any of these things for a job. Well, if he is lucky enough to become a novelist or song writer… but more importantly, each of these writing assignments falls into the category of a narrative, which is done in any job requiring an employee to write an incident report – most jobs.

Now I admit that I do “guide” the students I tutor to write essays exploring issues or analyzing themes of books, but because the instruction is individualized, the writing assignments are authentic or grow out of the child’s interests and knowledge.

I do have a student who is currently writing a novel, but I also tutor students who write about their own experiences with chronic illness, about their family stories, about the effectiveness of the Israeli West Bank Barrier, and a student who is writing a children’s book.

Authentic writing for Home Schoolers is about helping children to write about what they are interested in and in the genre they are interested in because out of these writing assignments they will learn the conventions of writing.

Here are the steps I take for guiding students to authentic writing.

1. Examine which genre fits the student’s interest and ability. 

For example, a student interested in astronomy may want to write a children’s picture books as a summary for what he knows, may want to write a persuasive essay for why Pluto should be considered a planet, or may choose to write an autobiographical narrative about his first time viewing the stars and why he’s so interested in them. The choices are an endless series of mix and match of interest and genre.

2. Review examples of the genre.

To prepare to write in a particular genre, it is imperative that the writer review how proficient and professional writers are successful. When I teach writing “family legends” I have students read a variety of legends so we can examine the difference between a narrative and a legend.

3. Begin writing but be open to revision of expectations.

Most professional writers have had the experience of sitting down with a writing project in mind only to figure out that the genre does not fit the topic – or at least the treatment of the topic the writer is interested in pursuing. It is a sign of a good writer when she can revise her own expectations to produce the best product.

4. Find an audience.

All authentic pieces of writing have authentic audiences. Whether the audience is a student’s younger sibling, an uncle who works for NASA, the local paper letters to the editor page, or a personal blog, nothing motivates writers like writing for an authentic audience. Usually an authentic audience means someone other than the “teacher.”

Helping your child to write authentic pieces for an authentic audience will help him to be more motivated to write and, hopefully, more successful.


I clearly remember the first time I sought out the meaning of a word. I was reading Arundhati Roy’s novel, “The God of Small Things” and was so involved in the world she described that I couldn’t bear to not savor every detail of it.

Usually when reading, if I come across a word I don’t know, I continue to read relying on context clues to help me figure out the meaning. If that doesn’t work, I keep reading calculating that one word is not important enough to stop my reading.

But this time, I stopped, grabbed a dictionary, and looked up the word “viscous.” I read the definition several times before returning to the novel, rereading the sentence with the word in it, making sure the sentence made sense now that I knew the meaning of the word. Then I took a deep breath and restarted reading at the beginning of the paragraph, dropping back into the story, savoring every detail… “Bright plastic bags blew across its viscous, weedy surface like subtropical flying flowers” (119).

This is the best way to expand one’s vocabulary, in the context of being thoroughly engaged with a subject where the word is found. So why don’t teachers, tutors, or writing curricula use this method? Many try but end up creating an inauthentic form for a process that should grow authentically from a learner’s engagement.

So should you teach vocabulary?

A large vocabulary is a predictor of reading success http://www.breakthroughtoliteracy.com/index.html?SID&page=df_sc_reading_s, of an increased ability to articulate experience and therefore of higher level critical thinking skills  , and of later occupational success http://litemind.com/top-3-reasons-to-improve-your-vocabulary/. Hence, hoping for a learner to be motivated to search for the meaning of words may not be enough.

When undertaking the systematic study of vocabulary, there are two elements of a curriculum that need to be considered.

1. Is the vocabulary list thoughtful?

2. Are the exercises generative?

Vocabulary List

Many curricula present vocabulary lists as “grade level” but this is a random list of words which researchers have determined children should know by a certain grade level. This is not authentic learning and tends to be rote memorization of words. You may find that your child or student already knows most of the list and therefore this is not time well spent. If time is to be spent on rote memorization or “drill and kill” then it is important that the list be worth the effort.

Choosing vocabulary that are “academic” or “tier 2” guarantees that the study of vocabulary is well spent. Academic vocabulary are those words which are found in many academic subjects. Words such as “classify” or “monitor” are used in a variety of academic subjects and will be pertinent for a learner to know for all subjects http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CE4QFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sci.csueastbay.edu%2Febsp%2Fliftoff%2Fsummer2010%2Fmaterials%2FDay%25206%2F6.3%2520Academic%2520Vocab%2520Tier%25201-3%2520for%2520NASA%2520Lift%2520Off.ppt&ei=Bt4VUP-pNInHrQHK-4DgBg&usg=AFQjCNEZUA_bNGXiHCRyi2OWAaCBa31vLA&sig2=7aIj58nskPa_of7JsY-3pw. There are many great curricula with tier 2 vocabulary exercises in them to help with the teaching of vocabulary. A quick search will turn up many options.

Generative Exercises

When choosing a curricula for vocabulary, be sure that the exercises are generative rather than associative.

Associative exercises are those drill and kill exercises most workbooks are filled with. These require learners to associate the word with the clues given either in the form of definitions, synonyms, antonyms or sentences with a blank to be filled.

Generative exercises require students to generate meaning using the word. Having learners write their own sentence using the word is the most well-known exercise. Others include students answering open-ended questions with the vocabulary word embedded in the question, assuring that the student understands the context of the vocabulary and can generate correct answers given the question. For example, questions such as “What is the best method for parents to monitor a teenager’s social activities?” allows the learner to express an opinion, hopefully increasing engagement, and a clear answer ensures the learner understands the vocabulary.

Best

When I am tutoring a child who is reading challenging literature, my favorite method of teaching vocabulary combines all of the above. I skim the pages to be read for the week and search for words that are tier 2. I ask students to explain the meaning of the word. If they are able to, I keep skimming. If they are not able to, I write it down on a worksheet and ask them to copy the sentence from the book where the word is used (identifying the word in context), copy the definition that fits the sentence onto the worksheet (familiarizing self with the definition), then write their own sentence using the word (generative exercise). When we meet again in a week, I check the worksheet and review the word orally, asking an open-ended question using the word to ensure the student knows the word. The worksheet I created for this is below.

Teaching vocabulary as part of a writing curriculum is important because as writers, the larger our vocabulary the better able we are to articulate the thoughts we have, the clearer our writing will be, and the more concise our meaning will be. Thoughtful attention to how to teach vocabulary as part of a writing curriculum will ensure that learners are engaged and progressing.

Name ___________________

Words From My Readings

Each week you are to keep a list of words you have read but don’t know the meaning of. Write the word down, copy the sentence the word is from in your readings, look the word up in the dictionary, and copy the definition, including the part of speech.

  1. word _____________________

Sentence from book: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Definition: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Own Sentence: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2. word _____________________

Sentence from book: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Definition: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Own Sentence: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. word _____________________

Sentence from book: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Definition: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Own Sentence: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


 

Effective Writing Strategies

 

In case you are out of the loop with edu-speak, the latest trend is that all strategies be “evidence-based.” What does that mean? Quite simply, for any strategy to be evidence-based there must be several studies completed which prove its effectiveness. With the internet and computers, this is getting easier and easier to do. A program is written to scan for all studies completed measuring the effectiveness of strategies then a meta-analysis is completed to rate the effectiveness of each strategy. The great thing about using “evidence-based” strategies for teachers and tutors is through the research they can be sure the strategies they use with students are the best. The only thing to be aware of – every student is a unique learner and what works the best for large groups of students may not be the best approach for your learner.

In 2007, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York was published which outlined the most effective strategies for teaching writing. You can see the full report here: http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf. Below are the highlights from the report and quick explanations.

 

 

Page 3 – writing skill is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy.

 

This point seems self-evident, unless your learner is a math-wonk or science-brain. But even in math and science, and if your learner doesn’t seem university bound, writing is a basic requirement for participation in the work-place (think incident reports and writing cover letters) and civic life (think writing letters to the editor or emails to family).

Being able to write proficiently allows learners to master all concepts, to think about their thinking and to explain their thinking to others.

 

Page 7 – …although reading and writing are complementary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course, they do not necessarily go hand in hand.

 

Conventional wisdom has held that if a person is an avid reader, he will be a good writer. It is true that there are many learners who learn good writing skills through reading; they absorb the rules and talents implicit in the writing of others. For other learners, though, writing skills and strategies must be made explicit. Making writing skills and strategies is much more than learning to place a comma in the right place. It is learning the rhetorical moves writers make to communicate a point to their readers or audience.

 

Page 8 – While readers form a mental representation of thoughts written by someone else, writers formulate their own thoughts, organize them, and create a written record of them using the conventions of spelling and grammar.

 

The key here is that written conventions: spelling, punctuation and rules of grammar, help readers understand a writer’s point. Likewise, writers must master these conventions to avoid their readers misinterpreting their message. Sure, you can hire an editor to fix all those things, but only if the editor understands your intent.

 

… although writing and reading are both vital aspects of literacy, they each require their own dedicated instruction.

 

This reiterates the idea that being a good reader does not necessarily make a learner a good writer. Dedicated instruction in writing is important to teach the forms of written expression, the rhetorical moves used by writers to enhance their message, and the specific conventions needed to ensure reader understanding of written expression.

 

Page 9 – Proficient writers can adapt their writing flexibly to the context in which it takes place.

 

Reading and responding to a writing prompt appropriately is a discreet skill, a skill that can be taught. Good writers have the ability to write a variety of forms for a variety of purposes to fit the context of the writing situation.

For instance, it used to be that college application essays were about “Why should we admit you?” Today, colleges require applicants to write a unique essay for each their application, and to demonstrate creativity. Some writing prompts include: What have you undertaken or done on your own in the last year or two that has nothing to do with academic work? (Northwestern) or Select a creative work — a novel, a film, a poem, a musical piece, a painting or other work of art — that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and its effect on you. (New York University). You can find 100 examples here: http://www.hpregional.org/departments/english/mhassenplug/100%20topics.html.

 

…it [writing] is a skill that draws on the use of strategies (such as planning, evaluating, and revising texts) to accomplish a variety of goals, such as writing a report or expressing an opinion with the support of evidence. Second, writing is a means of extending and deepening students’ knowledge; it acts as a tool for learning the subject matter.

 

Writing as a tool for learning the subject matter is a time-honored tradition. E.M. Forster famously said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Translation = writing down your thoughts helps to clarify what you think, or what you know. Keeping notes, organizing those notes into a plan, writing an essay or report then revising the text to make sure your ideas are clear is set of complex cognitive skills. This is why writing instruction is so important.

 

Page 15 – Teaching adolescents strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions has shown a dramatic effect on the quality of students’ writing. Strategy instruction involves explicitly and systematically teaching steps necessary for planning, revising, and/or editing text (Graham, 2006).

 

Specific strategies for completing specific writing assignments help learners to understand explicitly how to be successful for each writing situation. For example, a basic book report requires simply that the learner summarize the contents of the book, answering the questions of who, where, when, what and why. Whereas, a book review, while containing a summary, also requires that the learner make evaluations and support those evaluations. Finally, a literary analysis of a book requires the reader to summarize, create a thesis about the literary value of the book, and evaluate the success of the book based on the thesis.

This is just one example of how responding to reading a book can require quite different strategies for planning, revising and editing work.

 

…specific types of writing tasks, such as writing a story, or a persuasive essay… explicitly teaching adolescents strategies for planning, revising and/or editing has a strong impact on the quality of their writing.

 

Again, the research shows that the most effective strategies for teaching planning and revising of a writing project must be specific to the writing task. Writing a story requires much different planning and revisions to be successful than the planning and revisions for writing a successful persuasive essay.

 

Page 16 – [Effective writing instruction is]…characterized by explicit instruction of writing strategies and self-regulation procedures (e.g., self-assessment, and goal- setting), as well as individualized instruction and criterion-based learning.

 

Teaching writing is not only about the teaching of evidence-based writing strategies, but also include teaching learners to assess their own writing (self-assessment) and goal-setting.  Helping learners recognize their strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement engages learners in metacognition (thinking about their thinking). Having students set and reach writing goals creates habits for writing that will carry them throughout their writing life. Finally, individualized instruction that is “criterion-based” or based on specific expectations, with a skilled teacher or tutor, is best.

 

Page 17 – Setting product goals involves assigning students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete. It includes identifying the purpose of the assignment (e.g., to persuade) as well as characteristics of the final product.

 

These goals include a clear writing prompt which declares the writing situation, the needed written response and the intended audience for the assignment, as well as clear expectations for the final product. A great way to be sure your learner has access to both the purpose of the assignment and the characteristics of the final product is to use the “test-released” writing prompts and accompanying grading rubrics from state tests.

In the state of California, sample writing prompts and sample student responses are available for learners to use as guides for their own writing. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/documents/studyela08sec6.pdf . Using these writing prompts and rubrics helps teachers and tutors to define the writing situation and the expectations.

 

The use of word-processing equipment can be particularly helpful for low-achieving writers. …may be especially effective in enhancing the quality of text produced by low-achieving writers.

 

The use of technology not only motivates advanced learners, but also aids learners who struggle with writing. In my experience, showing learners the tools to help them with spelling and watching them use the program to free themselves to worry more about creating an engaging story or persuasive argument is, well, priceless!

 

Page 18 – …Pre-writing engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition. Engaging adolescents in such activities before they write a first draft improves the quality of their writing. Pre-writing activities include gathering possible information for a paper through reading or developing a visual representation of their ideas before sitting down to write.

 

Offering learners a variety of methods for pre-writing allows them to find the strategy that works best for their writing style or for the writing assignment. Teaching how to outline, how to free-write, how to use graphic organizers or thinking maps, or how to write from the end gives learners a assortment of tools to help them prepare to write.

 

Page 19 – encouraging cycles of planning, translating, and reviewing: stressing personal responsibility and ownership of writing projects; …encouraging self-reflection and evaluation; and offering personalized individual assistance, brief instructional lessons to meet students’ individual needs, and, in some instances, more extended and systematic instruction.

 

Though there will be times when learners must write a composition on demand, teaching writing is more about teaching the process of writing, of creating a finished product which has gone through several cycles of writing and rewriting and ending with editing. Teachers and tutors must focus on the needs of the individual learner in the process of writing a specific, unique product to help that learner reach her full potential.

 

Page 20 – The study of models provides adolescents with good models for each type of writing that is the focus of instruction.

 

This seems to contradict the idea that good readers are automatically good writers. Actually, if teachers or tutors can explicitly use models of good writing to teach explicitly the rhetorical moves made by proficient writers, this allows learners to model these specific rhetorical moves within their own writing.

 

Page 21 – …traditional grammar instruction is unlikely to help improve the quality of students’ writing. Studies specifically examining the impact of grammar instruction with low-achieving writers…yielded negative results.

 

Do not make the mistake here that learners don’t need grammar instruction. The key here is “traditional grammar instruction” which includes “drill and kill” worksheets. What has been proven to work are mini-lessons focused on the needs of the learner and the specific writing assignment. So…

 

…teaching students to focus on the function and practical application of grammar within the context of writing (versus teaching grammar as an independent activity) produced strong and positive effects on students’ writing.

 

Of course, this requires having a proficient instructor who is able to identify the needs of a learner in the context of the writing assignment.

 

Page 23 – Writing proficiency develops over time. … As they become more proficient writers, students gradually move from “knowledge-telling” to “knowledge-transformation” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987, p. 5 – 6 ).

 

This is the movement of learners writing to show us what they know to writing to express what they are learning to writing to express what we should know. This is a magical transformation that is possible for all writers with the application of these “evidence-based” practices.

 

In conclusion, this is an important meta-analysis of what works for writing instruction. If you want to examine the “Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction” in order of effectiveness, it is found on page 4 of the report. Learners who have instructors who are versed in these evidence-based strategies or who have writing curriculum which makes these strategies explicit will find success on their writing journeys.

 

Works Cited

 

Graham, S., & Perin, D.(2007). Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York.  Washington,DC:Alliance for Excellent Education.

 


Journal Writing

Why Journal?

 

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”                                    – Joan Didion

 

Journaling (or keeping letters or diaries) is an ancient tradition, one that dates back to at least 10th centuryJapan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals. Presidents have maintained them for posterity. Oscar Wilde, 19th century playwright, said: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Journaling is also beneficial for the typical citizen. The benefits of journaling are numerous.

Journaling has been shown to strengthen the right brain, the area of the brain that is creative and intuitive, as well as the left brain, the area of the brain that is rational, intellectual, and orderly (Dowrick, 2007). The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.

Journaling offers you the chance to reflect on what you are learning and experiencing (Spalding & Wilson, 2002) because journaling triggers metacognition – the ability to think about one’s thinking – requiring you to think about how you are thinking and how to express that it writing (Urquhart & McIver, 2005).

Journaling is a means of recording your personal thoughts, daily experiences, and evolving insights. You also are able to review or reread earlier writings to gain perspective or obtain clarification of previous events, feelings or thoughts. Journaling can also be used as a means for recording parts of books and articles you read, insights gained, new ideas you find, and reflection of your own personal growth. (Purcell, 2006).

You may also use journaling as a means for critical self-reflection when dilemmas, contradictions or changing life-views occur. Writing about these occurrences allows you the private time and space to explore, work through and hopefully resolve these moments in your growth.

Keeping track of what you did and when is another aspect of journal keeping. The ability to look back on your progress at the end of each school year will help you recognize the effort and commitment you have made to your education.

Finally, if you are hurt or angry about something that happens, a journal is a great place to vent your feelings. This may help take the “edge off” how you are feeling and make you more capable of handling the situation calmly and effectively.

Journal writing captures our thoughts and feelings on paper. This shows us how we think, create, learn and intuit. When we can see what we’re thinking, we can work with our thoughts in new ways. We break through habitual patterns to discover our innate wisdom and creative genius. (Hiemstra, 2002)

 

Types of Journal Writing

 

There are such a variety of journal writing “types” that it should be easy for everyone to find a type which fits his or her style. Once familiar with the types of journal writing, you may want to choose one type and stick with it for the year, or switch among the types to fit your mood, or the constraints of your time.

Learning Journals: This is typically a hand-written notebook or pad of paper for recording thoughts, reflections, feeling, personal opinions, and even hopes or fears during the learning experience. The process of maintaining this type of journal will help you become more organized and focused on the topic at hand. It may also help with the forming of new opinions, changing beliefs and changing feelings about certain topics.

Diary: This is typically a notebook or booklet of blank pages where you can record your thoughts, feelings, reactions to life, and fears about your experiences. It is usually unstructured, but many students like to keep track of dated entries for reflection at some future time. This is usually the most private type of writing and generally not shared with others.

Autobiography, Life Stories or Memoirs: This type of journal provides you with an arena to record your life experiences. This writing focuses not only on the experiences you have had, but allows you to focus on an understanding of your life experiences especially as they relate to a specific topic. Writing your life story allows you to be self-reflective and may encourage you to share your experiences with others to examine similarities or differences.

Interactive Reading Log: The interactive reading log provides you with a space to copy or record specific information you read, rephrase the reading into your own words then reflect on what the reading means to you personally. It is helpful to begin with a paragraph explaining what you are reading and why, make your entries as you read, and finish with a paragraph or two summarizing your experience.

 

Making Journaling a Family Activity

 

Journaling as a family activity allows all members of the family to connect in new ways. Perhaps one family member is quiet while others are boisterous. Often, the quiet person doesn’t always get to share his/her opinion and ideas because the boisterous members are better at being heard. A journal that is shared with the entire family allows everyone to have an equal voice in the discussions.

Sharing family stories used to be done around the dinner table, around the camp fire or for simple family entertainment. With our fast-paced lives and technology, often these stories go untold. Recording family stories is way to record family history and create a shared family history and vision.

Family journaling also allows senior members of the family to share their life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences while allowing younger members to share their hopes and dreams for the future.

Family journals allow readers to see the world through another family member’s eyes. Gaining a new perspective on an event or idea by reading what someone else thinks about it broadens the family vision and allows for empathy to be shared among family members.

Finally, family journaling allows everyone to feel connected. Being able to share one’s feelings and read about another family member’s feelings about the same thing helps the family to feel connected. (Huxley, 2003).

Family journaling can take many forms. One simple way to begin family journaling is to create a space for a common family journal where all family members are welcome to read and write in. Making time once a week when the family gets together to volunteer to read from their journals also works. What is important is to create a family dynamic that is sustainable around journaling, whatever form that takes for your family.

 

If you are new to journaling, it is a good idea to explore several types of journal writing. Practice with each type will provide you an opportunity to explore which type fits your style of reflection and, hopefully, you will be comfortable using many of the types to fit your desired outcome. (Hiemstra, 2002)

 

 

Journal Writing Guidelines

  1. Use a standard, spiral notebook for your journal.

 

  1. Use your journal only for writing. Do not use it for other subjects

 

  1. Write in your journal outside of the required writing assignments, as well as for prewriting and drafting for your writing assignments.

 

  1. Write about topics that interest you.

 

  1. Experiment with new writing forms and styles in your journal.

 

  1. You will be “graded” for completion. I will not read your journal unless you invite me to. I will flip through pages to be sure you have completed the assigned amount of writing.

 

  1. Take some of your good journal entries and develop them into polished pieces.

 

  1. Review your journal periodically and see how you are growing as a writer.

 

*Templates for each “journal” type are provided below.

 

Learning Journal

 

 

What I learned today:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thoughts about what I learned today:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I feel about what I learned today:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other areas of my life I can apply this new knowledge to:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary

 

 

Date :___________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autobiography, Life Stories, Memoirs

 

            I remember when…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Be sure to include sensory details: what you heard, saw, felt, smelled and tasted, as well as how you felt about the experience then and how you feel about the experience now.)

 

Interactive Reading Log

What I’m reading and why:

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt or Quote: _________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 

Rephrasing of Information: ________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 

 

My thoughts about this:

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Excerpt or Quote: _________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 

Rephrasing of Information: ________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 

 

My thoughts about this:

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 

Summary of what I read:

 

Evaluation:

 

Student will be assessed based on oral description of assigned reading materials, completion of worksheets and evidence of self-motivated writing assignments.


I moved into my first house when I was 19 years old. My husband and I had very little money since I was still in college and he was a new teacher. Still, right away I was motivated to improve my new house. With very little money, the easiest transformation was to fix up the yard. When you do the work yourself, moving dirt, getting cuttings from family and friends and planting these cuttings, and clearing weeds is cheap. It also improved the property so much so, that neighbors came by to comment and friends were impressed.

I did not have any gardening experience before that first house. I had never worked in the yard as part of my chores, never taken a horticulture class at school, nor ever thought before buying that first house that I would be interested in gardening.

Twenty-five years later, I have a beautiful yard in my third house. I am a self-taught gardener. I still have never taken a class, but I have paid attention. First I bought lots of books about gardening. I read through them carefully, studying the names of plants, the diagrams for planting schemes, and the pictures of gardens I liked. Then I paid attention to the gardens in my neighborhood. If there was a plant in a neighbor’s yard I liked, I went to the nursery and asked about it. If my neighbor had entire plantings I thought were beautiful, when I saw that neighbor out, I would strike up a conversation the next time I saw that neighbor and ask lots of questions. And, I experimented. There have been lots of misguided plantings in all of my yards. In other words, when I decide to plant my yard, I pay attention.

Gardening is like writing. When I begin to plant in a new yard, I pay attention to other gardens and gardeners in the area. A desert garden is different than a valley garden. When I begin to write a new piece, I pay attention to other writing in that genre and other writers of that genre. A legend is different than a research report. Paying attention means reading in that genre.

In the National report put out by Alliance for Excellent Education, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York, it is acknowledged that reading and writing are complementary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course (Graham, S., & Perin, D. 2007). To grow as a writer, you must become a good reader.

Besides, reading can motivate your own writing. There is the legend of James Fenimore Cooper, that after reading a western novel of his time, he commented to his wife that he could write a better book than the one he just read. His wife told him to go ahead and do it, then. And he did, becoming one of the most celebrated writers of westerns. Currently I am working on a series of essays about my job. Mr. Cooper was inspired by other writers through his belief that he could do better.

On the other hand, reading other writers can inspire you to improve your own writing by trying to write as well as writers you love. After I write a first draft of an essay, I read other writers I enjoy and admire. I look for how these writers successfully completed their essays then apply those techniques to my own writing. I am motivated to improve my writing through reading the writing of others.

Good writers are excellent readers, so in addition to your writing assignments, you need to read.  The reading should be enjoyable and introduce you to both classic literature that every writer needs to be familiar with, as well as introduce you to new writers you may not yet know.

It’s a good idea to complete a reading log for each reading session. The reading log allows you to record what you read, summarizing what you read. Writing summaries is a skill you will need for most types of writing, whether for tests at school, providing readers summaries of information that is pertinent to your topic, but not the focus of your essay or story, or completing incident reports at work. Like any skill, the more you practice the skill, the better you will be at it. Remember that to write a summary, you need to record the who, where, when, what and why of the reading you’ve completed. The expectation is that the summary will be written in complete sentences, in paragraph form.

Reading for 20 minutes five days a week should inform the type of writing you are completing. Reading is part of any writing curriculum, just like weeding is part of any gardener’s chores. The weeding is never admired, but all good gardeners know that without weeding, the most avid planter will not have a garden. Likewise, though reading is not the measurable part of this curriculum, without it writing quality pieces is very unlikely.