Slice of life essays written by elementary students are everywhere; high school slices are harder to find. Here’s one.
Last fall, near the beginning of the school year, I introduced my high school juniors and seniors to slice of life writing. Slices are short narratives that celebrate the ordinary moments in our lives that we may often overlook as worthy of documenting.
To read my post from September about how my students approached Slice of Life writing, click here.
By the way, I learned about slice-of-life writing from this inspirational group of writer-teachers. Teachers write and post their own slices on Tuesdays at this site. For information about this group’s Slice of Life Writing Challenge for classrooms, visit here.
Slice of life writing has few guidelines. Writing a slice is largely a way for students to merge narrative writing with autobiography. Writing slices helps students, especially those who don’t enjoy writing, experience some success within the confines of an essay that runs around 250 words.
Here are the main guidelines that I use when introducing high school students to slice of life writing:
If your students need a word count,
ask them to shoot for 250-300 words.
I also provide mentor texts so students can read examples of the moments that slice of life writing is intended to document. Because this is my first year teaching at the high school level, I didn’t have any examples written by secondary students; all my examples were written by students at my previous middle school position.
And let’s face it, middle school is middle school.
High school students definitely have more mature concerns, goals, and preoccupations. After all, college and career is on the horizon, social relationships deepen, and many students have jobs.
As a result, I decided to share with you a slice written by Kenna, one of my high school juniors. Feel free to use this as an example when you introduce your own older students to slicing. I especially like this slice because it’s very visual and takes its own sweet time to record an activity that many, if not most, girls can identify with. Curling one’s hair is an oft-repeated task that, while mundane, can come alive when approached creatively.
By the way, this was a third draft that she completed during our Writer’s Workshop weeks last fall. It was nice to see her slice improve gradually over three drafts.
Golden Perfection by Kenna D.
“My hair is long, golden and shiny. It flows through my fingers like the flow of a summer breeze. My hair is flat, and fairly straight. It almost looks like it would be stiff…until you run your fingers through it, and until I decide to style it. When you see it, you can already imagine without touching it, that it is soft and silky like a fleece blanket.
As the curling iron heats up on the bathroom counter, I look in the mirror to see how all of the lights are aiming down on my hair. They are making it shine like a star in the night sky.
I begin to curl my hair. The beautiful, golden caramel colors, heating up and twisting around and around the hot iron. As the iron gets close to my head, I can feel the heat, beaming off of the iron. It reminds me of the warmth of a fireplace on a cold, snowy winter morning.
Ten seconds, twenty seconds, I hold the golden swirl of hair around the iron, and wait for it to give the golden swirl that perfect spiral shape. Thirty seconds pass by and it’s time to release the hair. I gently let it unravel itself from the iron. Almost as if it’s in slow motion, my hair falls. For a moment I wonder: Is it really going to curl? Will I have to redo this piece of hair?
Fortunately, the golden spiral coils. I stare back at myself in the mirror to see this beautiful, golden swirl of perfection.
I repeat this over and over again. Little pieces of hair at a time. Until every single piece of my hair is curled into a perfect, bouncy coil.
But wait, here’s the plot twist, I’m not a very “girly” girl. After all that work, I end up putting it up into a ponytail of golden, caramel swirls.”
Wasn’t that an awesome slice of life? For a link to a Google Doc file of this slice, click here: Golden Perfection Slice of Life.
I sat up in my chair as I read it, mesmerized by how Kenna zoomed in on a seemingly boring activity and made it come alive with sensory imagery. I loved seeing the “mind movie” as I read.
In addition, Kenna gave us a glimpse into her personality.
Who of us hasn’t put on our best clothes, or spent a lot of time on our hair, only to abandon it all to throw on a pair of jeans or opt for a ponytail instead?
Thanks for reading again this week! I’ll be adding more high school slice of life essays to my blog over the next few weeks. Follow my blog to catch those mentor texts!
Take word choice, for example
Last December, when I read a student’s second draft of their Treasured Object poem and saw that it contained the word “get” four times, I thought Really? Get? Four times?
It surprised me because I thought I had taught not only sentence variety, but word variety as well. It’s good to vary our words. Yes, a writer can repeat certain words in order to:
- emphasize a point,
- make the writing flow better,
- or to help his or her sentences “hold hands” with transition ideas.
However, many times using the same word repeatedly —- especially a vague one like “get” — is simply a sign of lazy writing.
Here’s the second draft that a student turned in during our fall writer’s workshop:
In our writer’s workshop process, I simply make a few suggestions for revisions and edits on a student’s second draft. I address the most glaring issue that will help the writer improve for his or her third (and usually final) draft. In this case, the most glaring issue was the overuse of “get.”
I circled the four “gets” and in the margins, I wrote “Replace weak verbs.” When I returned it to the student, we talked briefly. I suggested his poem would be stronger with a variety of powerful verbs mainly because the reader wouldn’t be distracted and pulled out of the poem by all the “gets.”
Here’s the student’s third and final draft:
The poem is much stronger, don’t you think?
Sometimes it just takes a little more time to think of a better word.
I also wondered to myself how this poem was the student’s second draft. How did the student who gave him feedback on his first draft not catch this obvious issue? Lazy editing?
Probably, I thought, acknowledging that enabling students to provide effective feedback is still one area in my high school writer’s workshop process that needs improvement.
This poem allowed a quick fix for a common problem. And it caused the unnecessary repetition to be readily recognized and quickly and effectively repaired. This is yet another reason I like teaching poetry. It truly does teach some concepts more efficiently than I can.
Thanks for reading again this week! How is your poetry practice? Do you encourage and/or assign students to write poems? Do tell. And by the way, my next post will focus on the “Treasured Object” poem. I love this easy-to-write poem that allows students to get personal and write about a belonging they wouldn’t part with for the world. Follow my blog to catch my next post!
Now I know exactly what they each need to focus on
Last week, I gave each student a sticky note and asked each of my students to write their top one or two grammar or conventions issues they struggle with on a regular basis.
I suggested, “Y’know… those things that you always have to look up on Google or wherever… those things that you continue to stumble with.”
As for me, I struggle with the difference between lay and lie. It always makes me stop to Google up Grammar Girl or some other such website. For whatever reason, I just have to look it up every time. I also struggle sometimes with commas between certain coordinate adjectives.
Anyway, I wanted my students to tell me what they struggle with in particular. Knowing their problem areas will help me plan mini-lessons over the next few months.
Without further ado, here are the top grammar issues my students struggle with followed by the number of students who reported the particular item listed:
- Semicolons (18)
- Run-on sentences (6)
- Commas in dialogue (4)
- Hyphenated words (4)
- Commas inside or outside of quotation marks (3)
- Commas in a series (The Oxford comma) (3)
- Than vs. Then (2)
- There/They’re/Their (2)
- John and me versus John and I (Subject vs. object pronouns); (2)
- Where vs. were (2)
- When to use single quotation marks (1)
- Capitalizing Dad vs. my dad (1)
- Affect vs. effect (1)
- To/Too/Two (1)
- Apostrophes in possessive case (1)
- When to paragraph (1)
- Semicolons vs. colons (1)
- Commas before who or which (1)
- Parenthetical citations in MLA style (1)
When I have only one student struggling with, say, run-on sentences, I’ll be able to help them individually during one-on-one conferencing time when we do Writer’s Workshop. For other issues that a few or several students mentioned, I can plan to address those in mini-lessons.
And here’s another thing: some students may not even know they are struggling with a particular issue. For example, I know that more than six students struggle with run-on sentences. I see this issue all the time in many students’ drafts. So, as useful as this list is, I also possess my own knowledge about my students’ problem areas… whether they know about those problem areas or not.
Still, I’m glad I have this list. My copy contains the problem area(s) next to each student’s name. I can reference it continually to recall who needs to work on what. To make sure I remember to teach each of these issues, I’ve decided to enter them into my plan for future class periods in my lesson plan calendar on Planbook.
Eventually, my idea is to know without a doubt that I’ve addressed each student’s particular grammar problems. That will be a good feeling.
Thanks for reading again this week! How do you keep track of exactly what each student needs special help with? Become a follower of this site to receive emails when I publish a new post. Also, feel free to share your comments and ELA teaching experiences.
Students turned in their final portfolios on Friday, and just like that, the semester is nearly over.
On Friday, my seventh- and eighth-graders turned in their final Writer’s Workshop portfolios. In early November, students began choosing eight writing projects from a list of twelve. The list offered a range of projects ranging from poetry to arguments to narratives to informational works. The focus of WW was the writing process. The procedure required that they complete three drafts and share their work with their peers and me for feedback and revision suggestions.
Click here to read my post from three weeks ago that outlines how WW works in my classroom.
By the way, I didn’t include a list of the various writing projects in that earlier post. Here are two photos of the final portfolio rubric I used this year, which lists the projects students could choose from.
It might appear that the grading was intensive and time-consuming. However, since I had already seen the students’ second drafts and provided feedback on those, my main task in assessment was confirming that students followed the writing process for each project. Students turned in a two-pocket folder with their eight projects enclosed. For each project, I looked for their first draft, their first draft responder sheet, their second draft (the draft I provided feedback on), and finally on top of the stack, their third and final draft. I did make sure that significant changes were made at each stage of revision. Points were deducted if they didn’t make any changes from draft to draft. In addition, I gave a “quality of writing & presentation” grade and then also circled a holistic rating for their work (see arrow on the final portfolio rubric in the photo below).
In case you’re wondering, yes, we do use a lot of paper (and ink) in my classroom. Students composed mostly on their Chromebooks, but then I also required that every project is printed. I know many students share their Google Docs with each other for revision and editing purposes, but I still require that students turn in hard copies of all drafts. Here’s my post that explains my loyalty to having students submit paper copies, rather than just dropping a file into Google Classroom.
Overall, WW was a great experience this year. As I graded rubrics this weekend, I came upon three main take-aways. Here they are:
- Require that students choose an equal number of each genre. While the variety offered in the project list usually guarantees that students will write across genres, I did notice that some students were heavy on poetry, which makes sense. Free-verse poetry (which I encourage over rhyme) seems to have (to students, anyway) fewer rules and punctuation usage can be looser. However, I would prefer that students get more practice in essay writing. Next year, I’ll make sure to enforce “genre equality!”
- Schedule a progress grade mid-way through the workshop schedule. I did this informally by checking with students during conferencing to ensure they were on-task throughout the six weeks, but assigning a formal grade that required the completion of four projects at the three-week point may have helped some of the students with budgeting their time.
- Continue the responder sheet grade. This year, I added a responder sheet grade. I asked each student to show me a responder sheet that they filled out for another student. If they followed the directions on the responder sheet, which were to choose four to six questions and answer them in writing on the back of the sheet, they would receive full points. If they answered only two questions, then half points. If they only made a few editing marks on the draft, or provided minimal answers (as in “I think it’s great!” with no suggestions for improvement), they would earn fewer points. Including this grade in the workshop this year made students more accountable for providing constructive feedback. I need to make sure I continue with this practice.
It’s been a good semester and I’m looking forward to January. After Christmas break, seventh-graders will begin reading Chasing Lincoln’s Killer followed by an analysis of the film, The Conspirator; eighth-graders will continue work on their human rights dissertation and also begin reading Frederick Douglass’ narrative. My sixth-graders? They’ll be continuing their mastery of the beloved five-paragraph essay, the champion of academic writing. More on that in a later post!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to click like and leave a comment with your own Writer’s Workshop experiences.
I’m so glad I didn’t give up on what is now one of my favorite activities
Since I began teaching seven years ago, I’ve learned that sometimes it may be necessary to try a new technique, a new curriculum unit, or simply a new idea more than once in order to fairly assess its effectiveness.
Usually, the first time I try anything, it fizzles. At the conclusion of the semester, when students were turning in their final drafts of their projects, I was glad Writer’s Workshop (WW) was finally over. I didn’t like the unstructured nature of class time that the workshop encouraged. Perhaps my classroom management skills weren’t up to par, or perhaps I’ve just relaxed a little. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but the less structured nature doesn’t concern me like it used to because…
I’m sold on Writer’s Workshop now.
Besides, my WW is fairly structured in its procedure to begin with. That built-in structure requires that kids stay on task. If I had decided to give up on WW after my first attempt, or even the second, I would have missed out on an activity that some students say is their favorite. Many students seem to like coming into class, having a short lesson, and then being able to work at their own pace on the projects of their choosing.
Writer’s Workshop puts these two things front and center: student choice and the writing process. Here’s what it looks like in my classroom: Every student gets a project sheet that lists about twelve possible writing projects. The list includes a mix of discourses: narrative, informational, argument, and poetry. I usually don’t specify how many of each discourse they must do, since there’s enough of a mix to guarantee they’ll write a variety. Kids must complete eight projects of their choice in a given time period. This fall, we started Writer’s Workshop on November 1, and their final portfolios are due Dec. 14. Here’s the rest of the basic procedure:
- On day one of WW, as a class, we discuss the entire project list. Some of the assignments are new and don’t require that we go over them, but I introduce a few new projects each time, so we make sure to briefly discuss those. I pass out an assignment sheet to each student and we talk through each assignment, brainstorm some ideas, and talk about other details such as that assignment’s word count requirement.
- After discussing each assignment, I gather up the project sheets and put them in a manila folder labelled with the project name in a rack on a book shelf at the front of the classroom for kids to reference later when they need them. (By the way, the procedures for WW are listed on the back of each project assignment sheet.)
- Writers choose a project, read through the project’s assignment sheet, and then brainstorm, and write a first draft. The first drafts can be handwritten or typed at this point; eventually, they’ll need to be typed.
- After completing a first draft, writers must find a classmate to be their reviewer, who will provide feedback and suggestions for revisions. This is done by attaching a narrative, informative, argument, or poetry responder sheet to the first draft. (The responder sheets are also kept in labeled manila folders in a rack next to the assignment project sheets at the front of the room.)
- The reviewer then must answer in writing four questions listed on the responder sheet. The reviewer writes their answers on the back of the responder sheet on the lines provided. One thing I learned after my first WW attempt: If I don’t provide lines on the back of the page, students won’t write their answers down. They’ll simply jot a few very brief notes, or just tell the writer, “It was great. You don’t need to change anything. The lines on the back of the responder sheet holds students accountable to be more thorough with their feedback. I check these first draft sheets and talk with students who aren’t doing their fair share of feedback.
- After providing their feedback, the reviewer gives the first draft and responder sheet back to the writer, who makes revisions, edits, and any other changes suggested. This creates a second draft, which the writer then places (with the first draft and responder sheet) in my second draft box. I do set a deadline for students to turn in their second drafts. At this point, that second draft deadline is one week before final portfolios are due. (I may need to reset that deadline to an earlier date.)
- I read the second draft and fill out my own responder sheet, which has my suggestions and notes for the student. I ask that students give me a few days to return their second drafts to them.
- After I return the second draft to the writer, they generate a third and final draft, referring to my ideas, revisions and edits that I suggest. While I don’t have time to mark every issue I notice on a paper, I do make sure that students understand what I do mark. I’ll usually talk with students when I hand their second draft back to them. This is always a good time to get in some one-on-one conferencing with each student, which, by the way, I am doing now on my phone with the help of Google Forms. (I’ll explain this new experiment from Two Writing Teachers in a future post after I become more accustomed to it.)
- After completing their final draft, students compile all three drafts, responder sheets, and any prewriting or brainstorming and staple their “latest greatest” final draft on top. They then keep these finished projects in a two-pocket folder in a file cabinet in my room. On December 14, these folders will be turned in. And yes, I get it, that’s a lot of work being turned in at once; however, I’ve already seen every assignment in the folders (if students put their second drafts in the box). It’s basically a matter of verifying that students used the writing process to complete the assignments.
only aspect of WW I’d like to change for next time would be a more direct way for students to publish their work. Right now, I plan to post articles and stories and poetry in the hallway or in my room. Next semester, if all goes well, I will be having students choose which of their projects they would like to publish online in their Kidblog portfolio. (Again, that’s another future post.) Having an audience and a readership is crucial for motivating kids to write; I know this from my own writing experience on this blog and on Medium.com.
Here’s where I give credit where credit is due:
My Writer’s Workshop format is based on one designed and used by Corbett Harrison, a K-16 teacher with an EXTREMELY comprehensive website I located on the internet. Search his site (and its associated Northern Nevada Writing Project and WritingFix websites) for all kinds of ELA materials and ideas. (In fact, block out an hour or two if you intend to look at his site. It’s chock full of ideas and resources.) In the past, I’ve also had success with his creative approach to vocabulary instruction that provides as much choice and accountability as his WW.
Harrison offers a free 18-page PDF that explains how he facilitates WW in his middle school classroom. This PDF also includes the responder sheets and my second draft responder sheet. I can’t recommend Harrison’s plans enough. If you haven’t tried WW in your classes, his would be a good place to start. The plans have definitely worked for me by providing me a template to tweak here and there over the past couple of years. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this solid, necessary, tried-and-true activity in my middle school ELA classroom.
Thanks for stopping by! Click like and follow this blog for more posts about middle school ELA. Also, feel free to leave a comment about how you approach Writer’s Workshop in your classroom.
You gotta start somewhere.
I’m finally doing NaNoWriMo with my students. Well, sort of.
All during November, about fifteen students ranging from fifth- through eighth-grade arrive in my room after school and write for forty-five minutes. I only know a little about what they’re writing. That’s because I’m busy working, too, on my own project… what I call my “historical memoir project thing.” Yes, you heard right. I’m doing NaNoWriMo and I’m not even writing a novel. Oh, well. You gotta start somewhere.
No, the NaNoWriMo in my classroom is not a full-blown NaNoWriMo experience. I don’t have the official posters, or the workbooks, or the full curriculum. But we’re still having a good time getting together after school and just writing.
From some conversations I’ve overheard around my classroom, I know some kids are writing fantasy stories. Some are writing sci-fi. One kid is writing about a worm. Regardless, each student is writing for themselves and that’s the key.
In case you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, when writers around the country write a first draft of a 50,000-word novel. There’s a youth version of this challenge, where students set personal goals to accomplish the first drafts of their own novels, and that’s what we are attempting in my classroom every day after school all November long.
I’ve thought about doing NaNoWriMo for a few years, and finally, last summer, I decided I would stop waiting to do it “right” and, in a nod to Nike, “just do it.” So, in June, I tested the idea with my students with a teaser post on my private class Instagram. Several were interested, including some recently graduated students who were disappointed that I hadn’t tried it when they were in middle school.
Jump forward to last Monday, Nov. 5, the first day on my calendar that we could meet. At the end of the day, when I was tired and definitely ready to lay out my plans for Tuesday and head for home, I asked myself Why did I ever decide to do this?!
However, now with that first week behind me, I’m so glad I “just did it” because my lame version of NaNoWriMo is already illuminating two truths that are easy to forget:
- It’s amazing how dedicated kids can be when they’re personally motivated. The mood in my classroom during NaNoWriMo is quite different from my regular classroom, which always contains a few students with little desire to pursue writing. They distract others. They sharpen their pencils four times an hour. They need drinks and bathroom breaks. But after school during NaNoWriMo, it’s a different world. These kids are choosing to write, imagine, create, produce, and they go at it earnestly and with enthusiasm.
- Some kids have writing lives outside of school. It’s gratifying to know that there are several students who are writing on their own, at home in notebooks, and online. They “own” these works… no teacher has asked them to outline their ideas, no teacher has asked them to turn in a synopsis or a summary.
Plus, these kids are excited to get to work. I’m amazed that—after eight hours of classes, mind you— my NaNoWriMo kids willingly (with smiles on their faces!) walk into my room with their coats and binders, drop them into a chair, get a laptop from the computer cart, sit down, and write. And think. And quietly chat with others at their table.
It’s a social get-together, after all. I bring snacks of some kind on Mondays, but for the rest of the week, the kids bring their own if they need to. Some bring an orange, some a small bag of chips or crackers, but most don’t bring food.
What they do bring is their imaginations, their productivity, and their determination to get something down on paper. I’ve made sure to tell them that NANOWRIMO is the time to shut off their “inner editor” and just get words on the page. Revision can happen later.
At the end of the hour, we fill out our word-count goal chart. On this chart, we’ve each listed our names with our word-count goal for the month at the far right. If a student reaches their word-count goal for the day (the monthly goal divided by the number of days in the month), they put an X on the chart in that day’s column.
We’ve kept our goals reasonable. Next year, we may be more ambitious. This is not a real NaNoWriMo after all. However, it’s a start. We each have a word-count goal. We each have a project to work on and the dedicated time to work on it.
Who would have thought that I would have accomplished real progress on my “historical memoir project thing” in just forty-five minutes a day… at the end of a busy school day… with twelve to fifteen middle schoolers in the same room?