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Epic Writing Lessons

How to get better “One-Word Summaries” from your students

Make these off-limits: the topic and their opinion In the past, after I assigned One-Word Summaries, I would often feel a little let down when I walked around the room, glancing over students’ shoulders as they wrote their paragraphs defending their chosen word. Read my post on the One-Word Summary if you’re unfamiliar with this…

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Exploding a Moment: How I Show Students This Revision Strategy in Action

Seeing is believing with my “before and after” handout First things first: THANK YOU, BARRY LANE! Barry Lane’s video where he retells the story of “Jane Wilson’s poured milk memory” is one of my all-time favorites to introduce my students to the idea of exploding a moment. Exploding a moment is one of Lane’s signature…

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How to get middle schoolers to write 16-page essays

Try “The 8th-Grade Human Rights Dissertation” Want to be impressed by your middle school ELA students? Want to see them rise to the writing occasion? Try this extended writing assignment that I call the 8th-Grade Human Rights Dissertation. Sidenote: Obviously, this is not an assignment for distance learning. It’s designed for a normal full-time schedule…

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Try This Low-Stakes Writing Activity: “Take a line for a walk”

It’s a keeper. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to the 2020 Write-to-Learn Conference sponsored by the Missouri State Council of the Int’. Literacy Association, The Missouri Writing Projects Network, and the Missouri Council of Teachers of English. Even though I attended only one day of the three-day conference, I’m happy with the handful…

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Teaching transitions in writing, part 2

This student-written essay illustrates transition ideas A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how the nonfiction author James Swanson’ transitions from paragraph and from chapter to chapter in his nonfiction narrative Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. The post discussed transitions words (such as therefore, however, in contrast, nonetheless, and others) that we all know and…

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Teaching transitions in writing, part 1 (updated 6/2021)

Don’t teach just transition words… teach transition ideas as well. Note added on June 5, 2021: I often go back to my previous blog posts and see the details of how I taught a certain book or writing mini-lesson. In fact, I recently did that with this post. In April, I was working with my…

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Need a list of memoir topics? Draw a map

Students draw maps to explore memoir ideas If your students struggle with getting memoir topic ideas, read on. A few weeks ago, my junior and senior students wrote memoirs… creative personal narratives about an important memory that taught them an important truth about life, growing up, or the world in general. In the past I’ve…

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Focus Your Binoculars and Zoom In

A revision mini-lesson Because it seems my high school students would benefit from learning some revision strategies, I decided to do a search on Teachers Pay Teachers for any revision handouts featuring the work of Barry Lane. I found this one (it’s FREE from Texas ELAR Coach) entitled Writing Strategy: Adding Detail by Zooming In…

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My number one most effective writing assignment: Gallagher’s AOW

Nothing works better to build writing stamina. If there’s one assignment I would never give up it would be the AOW, the Article of the Week. Gotta have it. Gotta do it. I can’t imagine teaching without it. You may have heard of AOWs. They’re pretty well-known among English teachers. They were developed by Kelly…

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It’s a Wrap! Three Take-Aways from Writer’s Workshop

Lessons learned from Writer’s Workshop 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…

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Writer’s Workshop for Middle School

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.…

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“Exploding a Moment” with Barry Lane

This year, we wrote out an exploded moment instead of just watching one be narrated in a video. Last Tuesday, I planned an activity for my seventh- and eighth-grade classes that worked so well, I knew I had to share. We exploded a baseball moment. “Exploding a moment “ is what writing teacher Barry Lane…

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Three Points I Pull from “They Say I Say”

Effective revision strategies I came across this book, They Say I Say (Third Edition, 2015), when my son’s college English composition instructor required it for his freshman-level course. I thumbed through it, read a few chapters, and found some very concise passages written to help students solve probably the number one problem that I see…

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How to teach sentence variety

A mini-lesson from Gary Provost Copy off the paragraph below from writing guru Gary Provost and read it aloud to your students at the beginning of class or as a mini-lesson. Don’t just read it aloud… make sure they follow along on their own copy. It’s more effective that way. You’ll see the light bulbs…

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