Where have all the “thank you” notes gone?

Here’s what happened the first time I taught the “thank you” note

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Okay, where are the thank you notes? Who said they were no longer necessary? Someone must have, because I often don’t receive one anymore. And it’s not as if I’m expecting one, but I would like to at least know that the gift I shipped was received. Unfortunately, sometimes I never find that out.

So, to counter this trend, last year I added thank you notes to our project list for writer’s workshop.

Here’s the background on how I have done writer’s workshop in my class for the past two years:

I have only done this structured form of writer’s workshop during the first and second quarters of the school year. I gave students a list of 8-10 projects from which they could choose to work on during dedicated workshop time. They were required to choose six projects from this list and complete the projects in any order they chose. There was a writing process to follow for each project. The process included:

  • writing a first draft
  • collaborating through peer response to the first draft
  • revising, editing, and then generating a second draft
  • receiving my feedback on their second draft
  • making final revisions and edits, and then generating a final draft.

At the end of the workshop period, usually the end of the quarter, students turned in all projects andaccompanying paperwork (prewriting, previous drafts, etc.) inside a two-pocket folder. Writing projects included poetry, how-to and/or listicle blog posts, academic essays, contest essays, arguments, short stories, and thank you notes. 

At the beginning of the school year, I bought a few boxes of thank you notes students could use for their notes. They were to write a short (one- to two-paragraphs) note to someone they knew, thanking them for a gift, their friendship, or their help. I asked them to draft out what they planned to write on a sheet of notebook paper, and for this project only, submit that to me as their first draft.

Unfortunately, the thank you note project didn’t go as well as I wanted. Here’s why:

  • Kids tended to rush through this project because they knew it was one they could complete more quickly than the others.
  • Nearly all of my kids didn’t have any idea where to put “Dear Mom,” or “Yours truly,” on the card. I should have spent an entire class period practicing filling out a note card. See the photo below as an example of how kids simply didn’t know how to fill out a note card.

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  • Some of the writing was very personal. Some were so personal, in fact, that I didn’t feel comfortable reading them. Once this happened a few times, I simply asked students to show me their drafts on notebook paper. Then, due to the personal nature of some of the writing, I would skim the notes for mechanical errors instead of reading them carefully for content. Then I would initial their drafts and they could then write their note on a note card. Many of the notes probably contained unclear thinking and I hope they didn’t cause confusion for the readers. My approach seemed like a very lame way to handle the project; however, I just didn’t feel comfortable critiquing such personal messages.

So for the school year that starts in August, I’m undecided about how to teach students to write a thank you note. I think it’s a valuable skill, but I clearly need to take a different approach to it based on my experiences last year. Here are a few things that may help:

  • Perhaps dedicating an entire class period to the basic format or layout of a note card would be sufficient.
  • Also, maybe it would help if, instead of having students write their drafts on notebook paper, I provided a template cut to size so they could practice writing it on the space provided. Transferring their note from a full sheet of paper to the dimensions of a standard-size note card proved difficult for them last year. In fact, from my own experience, I know that figuring out where the words will be placed and where I’ll put any hyphens and such helps me create a more attractive, well-written note. It just makes the note look more planned out, more intentional.
  • Encouraging students to slow down with this project. Just because it’s only a paragraph of writing doesn’t mean it should be done carelessly.
  • For next year, I may also require them to write their thank you notes in cursive. They need to know that many readers will keep their notes as keepsakes and will want to read them again. Writing in cursive will make their note more formal and meaningful.

I’m interested in your ideas. Do you teach traditional letter writing or thank you notes? Do you think this is an important skill or one that may as well be done on a laptop? Leave a comment and let me know!


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more ELA teaching posts! If you have any ideas or resources you’d like to share, feel free to contact me using the menu at the top of the page or leaving a comment below. 

Here’s the 7th Grade Missouri State Winner in the 2018 DAR American History Essay Contest

Plus: How I used this contest to teach blended-genre writing

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I put World War I posters around my classroom during October and November to help students understand the era.  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Every fall, my sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders enter an essay in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s   American History Essay Contest. Last fall was the fourth year my students entered the local contest, which is sponsored by the Taneycomo Chapter of the DAR, Forsyth, Mo. I’m proud to say that I’ve had students win at the local level for three of those four years and at the state level for two consecutive years!

Read this past article for information about the contest, guidelines, standards addressed, extra bonus, prizes, deadlines, and anything else I could think of that would be helpful to you.

Without any preview, other than the 2018 prompt, I’ve included below the 1000-word essay written by one of my seventh-grade students, Sara C. This essay was awarded first place among about forty entries submitted to our local county chapter. From there, it progressed to the state level, and placed first among all seventh-grade entries.

Here’s the prompt from the 2018 contest: The end of World War I was the beginning of a new age. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Imagine you are living in 1918. State where you are living and how the end of the war will impact your daily life. Discuss the pros and cons of the changes this War introduced to society and how you imagine those changes will impact the United States in the years to come.

And here’s the essay that won “Best in the State of Missouri” by a seventh-grader: 

World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars

We’re in the midst of the Great War. Women have assumed the jobs men had to abandon to fight with Allies. Ma and I work in the factory making uniforms for men at war. I want to take control for more than just work. I want to vote and be involved in the politics, the decisions, and the future of our country.

            My little brother, Henry, is fighting in the war. He is stationed in the fields of Flanders in Belgium. Little Henry… He should be here, but he’s a man. After he saw all the propaganda posters he decided he needed to help. He enlisted in the United States Army.

These posters were all over town, saying things like, “There is still a place in line for you. Will you fit in?” Or “Will you fight now or wait for this?” Then there was an image of destruction.

Ma and I were at a loss of words when told of his enlistment. It was hard on us. Now I don’t know if he’s safe. I may only hope for him to be okay. Not to starve, suffer a bullet wound, or get raided. I only have hope.

            Some of the other women have been getting angry. They want rights, as I do. Most only want equal pay. We get paid less for the same jobs, you see, and it isn’t fair. I’ve tried to explain the amount of our pay isn’t as important as the way we are treated, but few listen to me. They don’t want to face the truth in other’s eyes, women are just for taking care of children. We are lesser in our brains, or so men think.

            While I was walking home today I saw my friend Mildred. She was once so beautiful and lively. Now she’s very tired and her skin is stained yellow, she has become a canary after working in the munitions factory.

            “It’s just awful!” Mildred  exclaimed. “Remember Ruth? The little redhead?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, she dropped dead today. Out of the blue too,” she explained shaking her head.

            “What of?” I asked. “Was the toxins of the munition, or the Spanish Influenza?” Both have caused many deaths.

The flu was worst. It filled the lungs with fluids so people drowned. Sometimes it turned skin blue, too. It was a terrible thing for someone as small and fragile as a child or a large-built man to die of something beyond their control.

            “We don’t know yet. They say it was most likely from the flu. I think they’re trying to cover up,” she confides. “I believe it was the toxin we are exposed to. It’s not healthy.” Her face turns red with anger.

            In the field next to us kids are singing, skipping rope, and laughing. We heard them loudly chanting,  “I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened the window and in-flu-enza!” A woman scolds the kids as a group before grabbing a young girl by the wrist and pulling her inside their small house.

            “Mildred? I think I want to go to war,” I said.

            She looked ahead then laughed, tossing her head back. “Girls can’t be soldiers!” she wailed. “You’re too funny, Ruby. Way to lighten the mood!” she laughed again.

            “No, I’m serious. I may not be a soldier but I can go fix the soldiers up. They always need nurses,” I reasoned. “We could go help.”

            “Don’t be silly,” Mildred bursted. “What would your Ma do without you?” she exclaimed. “She’s already worried sick about Henry.” She looked at me waiting for an answer.

            “I suppose you’re right,” I sighed. “Someone needs to take care of Ma. And besides,” I said,  “I can’t very well fight for women’s rights on the battlefield.” Mildred rolled her eyes, said goodnight and entered her small house.

            I walk home and say hello to Ma.

            “Please don’t go today,” she begs as I step through the door. “The other girls can handle it,” she says.

            “Ma, please. Come with me,” I say.  I grab my jacket and bag.

            “No, no. I will not go,” she says crossing her arms. “When I was a girl of your age I was married and happy. Why in the world would you want to go and change things? You want to work?  No thank you, I’ll be sitting right here when you get back,” she says sternly.

            “Okay, suit yourself,” I say. “But I’m going to change America.” With that I left.

            I get mad when people tell me I’m wasting my time on something that’s meaningful and important to me. If I want equal rights I will get them. Look at all the work we women are putting in. Shouldn’t that be enough to show we are just as good, qualified, and patriotic as men?

I enter the meeting with my head held high.

            On November 11, 1918 the Great War, now known as WWI ended. We celebrate it as Veterans Day. We have parades and parties; many celebrations and the importance of why we celebrate should be heard; to honor all those who lost their lives for our freedom and safety, for all who suffered what we couldn’t begin to imagine.

            Women won the battle for suffrage. On August 18, 1920 women gained the right to vote. It was the opening of a door to all the rights women now have earned in the decades to come. The right to equal opportunities in work and society, the right that women can do anything a man can do. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

  As a young lady, I’m proud. I’m proud girls can do anything men can do. As an American, I’m proud we have so many brave souls to give us the freedom we so desperately want. I would love nothing more than to thank each and every veteran individually.

Bibliography

American Experience Influenza 1918. Directed by Robert Kenner. WGBH Educational Foundation. Public Broadcasting Service. 1998.

“Spanish Influenza in North America 1918-1919” Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. Harvard University Library Open Collections. Accessed 17, Oct. 2017.

Grant R. G. World War I. The Definitive Flawed History. DK Publishing. 2014. Print.

“In the Aftermath of World War I, Nations Were Forever Changed.” ThoughtCo.com. Newsela.com. 2017. Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.

Keene, Jennifer. “World War I” GilbertLehrman.org. Gilbert Lehrman Institute of American History. 2017. Accessed 17 Oct. 2017

“Outbreak of World War I” History.com. Newsela.com. 2017. Accessed 14 August. 2017.

Sara’s essay is not perfect. It switches points-of-view; there are some grammar issues. However, it does contain lots of period detail and a thorough knowledge of the myriad social changes brought on by the war. Sara paid direct attention to the prompt and made sure her essay addressed all criteria.

How I used this contest to teach blended-genre writing

I decided to use this essay contest to teach my students how to blend genres in their writing. To start, I did that by writing my own first draft of a story that shifted from narrative to expository about halfway through.

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Penelope Willard of the Taneycomo Chapter of the DAR and me at the essay awards ceremony, the 2018 George Washington Tea. The flowers were to recognize that my students have placed first in Missouri for two consecutive years.

I read my first draft aloud while students followed along on their own copy. I read it straight-through first and then we picked it apart, paying special attention to where exactly I “stepped out of” my story and began my informational writing.

You’ll see that this first draft is incomplete and shaky… some of my character’s names weren’t even decided yet and some of the plot’s action was abbreviated or even missing at this stage. Also, the point of view changed to third-person near the end, which I would need to fix.

With this mentor text, I told my students, I merely wanted them to see how to write narratively and then how to “step out of” the narrative and into informational writing. The bolded text at the top was just my note to students.

This is a start at my attempt at a blended genre essay… this is BOTH narrative and INFORMATIONAL….

How does it work in your opinion???

World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars

“Well, don’t you think that since I worked alongside men and other women and other… well, Americans… that I ought to at least be able to cast a vote?” I tossed my head to the side. A strawberry blonde curl fell across my eyes.

I could tell my face was red and I hate it when my face turns red, but I was so sick and tired of having to explain this to people, most of all Mary, my closest friend, or who I thought was my closest friend.  I straightened my wool skirt. I pulled the curl away from my eyes and tucked it behind an ear.  I felt an argument sparking between us.

Mary turned to me, “But, Fiona, if they let women vote, then we’ll have to  …”, she hesitated.

“Be responsible? Intelligent? Up-to-date on what’s going on in the world?” I interrupted. I was flabbergasted. To think that we had both worked in the munitions factory, and had even moved to Chicago because there were so many jobs what with the war raging in Europe. To think that our jobs were contributing to the cause to fight the German Empire filled my heart with patriotism and duty.

===

Here’s where I step out of my story and start writing informationally:

The Great War ended on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. It was the dawn of a new era for the world and for American women like Fiona who had felt the rumblings of progress when they filed one by one into the factories and offices while their men fought overseas. Knowing that they were keeping the country producing weaponry, food, and  the other supplies for the homefront and for our allies caused them to feel the burdens that had been borne primarily by the men of the country. With this knowledge, it only seemed obvious that now they had earned the right to vote alongside the men they had filled in for during the war. Suffrage was justified.

===

Here’s where I step back into my story and resume writing narratively:

This conversation was the exact same one I had been engaged in with various people… friends, other women at the factory, my parents. It seems that no one takes it as seriously as I do, and I don’t understand why. We owe it to our men – the ones who’ve fought in and survived those horrible trenches– to be responsible. Why should they carry all the load? It’s not fair to them, I have tried to explain so many times.

It seems the only people who understand me or agree with me are the suffragists, the women who have been wanting much longer than I have to see that women get the right to vote. I’ve been to a few of their meetings… loud, raucous events that you would think would have more of an impact  than they do.

“Well, Fiona, I know you’re convinced this is the next step for women, but I guess I’m not so sure,” Mary ended the conversation. She picked up her bag, turned and walked away from me. We had arrived at the factory that morning early, done our jobs, and now we were returning to our homes. Separately. I wasn’t sure this would dispute we were in would end amicably. I wasn’t so sure she was truly my closest friend anymore.

The next evening, I attended a suffragette meeting downtown. Alone. Mary wouldn’t go with me.

“I know it’s probably a good thing, but I’ll let those women decide how to get the vote,” she had told me earlier when I inquired whether she wanted to go.

“Well, I’m not going to let others decide what I’m going to do and when. It’s the year 1918. The war is over. And I can’t vote. It’s ridiculous,” I told her.

“Well, ridiculous or  not, I’m not going to that meeting. You’ll have to go alone,” she had said. And so I went alone.

The meeting began at 8:00 p.m. The meeting hall was full but not crowded. Mostly women and girls were there, huddling in groups at the beginning. Around 8:15, a woman took the stage. “Ladies, we are here tonight to once again discuss the Suffragist movement. WE must remain strong. We must convince other women that their opinions, their attitudes matter. The victorious Allied forces owe American women a debt. Because we worked, the Allies won. Through working, we fought in our own way. Because we worked, our men are back home and our country is on the move. The future of the United States of America and its women is bright!” Those in attendance clapped, filling the meeting room with thunderous enthusiasm.

As I watched the activitiy on stage, I noticed the speaker motion to a young man who was standing to the right of the stage. He was in uniform, and  well… there’s just something about a man in uniform. The man walked forward to Stanton, removed his cap, and bowed his head to the audience. Who was he, I asked myself?

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce _______, who has just returned from the battlefield of ______________.  I asked Mr. ____ if he would tell us of his experiences in the Great War and also relate to us his thoughts – and the thoughts of his fellow soldiers — about suffrage. I believe you will be encouraged by his words as we continue to fight for the vote.”

Sgt. ______’s speech goes here:

I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for the suffrage meeting I had attended. When I spoke with Mary at the factory the next morning, there was a frostiness in the air between us. She listened, but barely. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t supportive. How anyone could continue to keep the voice of women out of politics and economic matters baffled me. When I mentioned my short conversation with Sgt. _____, she listened with curiosity at first, and then with disdain at the mention of Sgt. _________.

“Well, of course, your advocacy for suffrage only builds when there’s suddenly a handsome soldier involved!” She deposited her handbag into her locker, turned the key, and stomped off to her sewing machine. I stared after her, then headed for my own station.

Could I let this friendship go? Was I ready to take that step? Women usually work together, stick by each other, and  support one another.

I arrived early at the next meeting of the suffrage society, …. Was placed on a committee of young women to plan events to ensure that suffrage will pass. My committee was tasked with setting goals for the members as we work together to ensure passage of the 19th amendment.

First on the list: women should be allowed to vote alongside men, and to eventually hold office alongside men, whether it’s the office of head garbage collector, mayor, or even President of the United States!” I chimed in, amazed at my own bravery and high-minded idealism. This movement, born out of necessity from the horrors of the Great War, was changing me!

Has another conversation with Sgt. __________… it goes well and holds promise for the future for her personal life.

She decides to give up the friendship with Mary. It’s a tough decision, but having a say in elections is more important to Fiona than a friendship full of constant disagreement. Once she makes this decision, she knows she has made the right one. She feels that suffrage is more than just an idea, it’s a movement, a tidal wave, progress. It’s one of the few good things that came out of World War 1 and it will positively impact the future of the Uniteid States.

And it’s only a matter of time.

( 1,018 words)

Using my self-written mentor text was key to helping students see how they could write a story that they could, while in the same paper, “step out of” in order to explain facts, details and other information about the war.

Nearly all my students understood how to take the blended-genre approach to their entry and most used that approach. None of my IEP kids took the blended-genre route, which was fine. I knew they recognized when the genre shifted from narrative to informative; however, writing that on their own (with help) was difficult, and they tried. At least they were exposed to the technique… maybe next year!

This is the main reason I love the DAR American History Essay Contest: It has always allowed kids to write narratively, but the prompt can also be elevated to show kids how to blend genres. That’s an advanced skill, and one that isn’t addressed in the Missouri Learning Standards until ninth grade. It’s nice to know that my students have a “heads up” on this advanced writing move.


Thanks for reading! If you learned something with this post, click “like” and then leave a comment to let me know exactly what resonated with you, or if you have a question… ask away!

Also, follow this blog for a future post where I’ll share how I’ll prepare my students for the 2019 DAR contest. The theme? The Passage of the 19th Amendment, Women’s Right to Vote.

I’ll share about finding helpful videos, texts, and other resources, plus how I make homework assignments that build prior knowledge and lead up to the contest.  I also have students focus on precise details that can infuse their essays with realism. 

So far, these methods have worked for me and have helped my students win and build their writing confidence— my ultimate goal.

A good thing: Weekly in-class awards

I enjoy recognizing students for their on-time, on-target writing

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Students like to check the board each week to see if their writing earned one of these awards. I recognize them in class and give them five “brave bucks,” an incentive used by our school to recognize students for being respectful, responsible and safe. They can spend these bucks on Fridays in the school store.

Last year, sometime during the second quarter, I decided to start awarding students for their hard work on their weekly written homework assignments. I came up with four awards to recognize students for being on-time and for doing a good job. The awards and the skills they address follow:

  • The Annotator Award for their annotating of the nonfiction article that was assigned
  • The Most Interesting Lead in the World for the lead they wrote to begin the response to the prompt of the assignment
  • The Voice Award for using their unique writer’s voice and not being afraid to take a risk by showing that voice
  • The Extra Award for their proficiency in some other area

Using memegenerator.net, I created some memes to put on a bulletin board in my classroom. The bulletin board is shown above.

This weekly recognition has had good results. Students like to check the board when they enter my classroom on Mondays to see who won the awards in the previous week’s assignment.

I post the student’s work next to their award’s sign, and make sure to write feedback and notes in the margins. Sometimes I highlight the “golden lines” that really stood out to me as I reviewed their writing.

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Weekly Class Awards!

I’ll write more about these particular weekly assignments in a separate post coming soon, but with today’s post, I wanted to relate the importance and positive outcomes of providing these weekly awards.

I figured that if students found motivation and agency when they completed their submissions for the various contests we entered, they would do the same if I treated these weekly assignments like mini-contests. That’s exactly what’s happened.

It’s been a good thing and one I plan to continue for the 2018-19 year.


Follow my blog for more ideas and notes about my experiences teaching middle school English Language Arts. Thanks for reading and click like if you found this useful or leave a comment. It’s good to know what kinds of posts are resonating with my readers.

2017-18 VFW Patriot’s Pen Youth Essay Contest Results

Finally… here’s that follow-up post I promised plus the winning essay entry

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Photo: Pixabay

Last winter, I wrote a post about a contest that my seventh-graders enter each fall: the Patriot’s Pen youth essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the conclusion of that post, I wrote that I would update you on the results of that contest. Well, ahem… I’m just now getting to that. Whoops.

Here’s an announcement that I wrote at the time on my classroom website:

The 2017 Patriot’s Pen essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars was another success this year. The first-place winner in this seventh-grade contest was Avery F. Second-place went to Bella F. and third-place went to Logan C. The winners were awarded certificates, pins, and $100, $75 and $50 cash prizes, respectively. This year’s theme was “America’s Gift to My Generation.”

The awards were presented by Hollister VFW Post Commander, Gerald Long (at right in photo below), and VFW State Inspector Paul Frampton (at left).

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2017 VFW Patriots Pen Winners

Avery F.’s first-place essay follows:

America’s Gift to my Generation

A whisper; a promising whisper. It doesn’t promise death, but rather life. It doesn’t kill but rather sacrifices. For when there’s something that we love, we really truly love, we must do any and everything we can to protect it.

For we are Americans. We grew up with a freedom many people only dream of having. Our ancestors fought many brutal wars so that we could lavish in a country and all be united. A country where diversity is alive; where we all can consider ourselves brothers and sisters, children of God despite our differences.

This is America’s gift to my generation: a country that was taught by the promises, the brave actions that good people like my great-grandfather, a veteran gunner on the USS Franklin during World War II, fought for. America was raised by people who wanted to ring the best out of the world and people from different cultures with different traditions and the same desire: a place to possess rights to embrace the different cultures, traditions, and languages that could someday, today be admired by people of all sorts.

When America was first born, there were seven key founding fathers. These men imagined a country of peace in diversity. They had the courage to separate themselves from injustice because they hoped for a country blessed with freedom where people were able to believe in what they wanted to.  These men made a proclamation for “we the people” to follow known as the U.S. Constitution, a document that establishes our rights as equals, the privileges they fought for us to have.

Those whispers, those promising whispers don’t promise death; for when a battle is being fought, nothing can be quite positively assured. They rather promise life. When brave men and women volunteer for the military, they show their love, compassion that they have for their family, not just their blood family, but the family that we the people of the United States create when we unite ourselves as one under God. For when there’s something that we love, we really truly love, we must do any and everything we can to protect it. This is America’s gift to my generation.

I hope you’ll consider having your students enter this contest this fall. There is so much room for creativity within each year’s provided theme. Plus, my students love contests and especially this one with its cash prizes and recognition. Next year will be the fourth year my kids have participated. It’s truly a highlight of the year!


Thanks for reading! If you found this informative, click “like” and feel free to leave a comment. Follow this blog for updates on the 2018-19 VFW Patriot’s Pen contest. I already have some details that I’ll be posting soon. Stay tuned!

 

Words are things that are beautiful to picture, things that glow in the world.

Today’s post: Sixth-graders reflect on their writing

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Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Today, I’m posting some responses from a reflection assignment I gave to my sixth-graders the last week of school. I asked them to write a 300-word reflection of the progress they made in my language arts class this year. Read more about the assignment and my seventh-grade reflections at this link.

I love this assignment.  And to think that I almost didn’t assign it due to the “busy-ness” of the last week and its field trips, assemblies, and other end-of-year activities. Through the words of my students, I’ve learned so much about what is important to them with regards to my classes, including those areas they know they need to grow in next year.

And, by the way, this was a first-draft assignment, which meant we would not be taking the time to revise; however, students know that I expect them to polish their first drafts, making any corrections or revisions needed before turning in.

Here are a few golden lines from some of my sixth-graders, transcribed here without corrections, along with my own reflections and thoughts.

“I am so much better at punctuation that I was last year. punctuation has always been hard for me, because I always seem to be using the wrong mark.”

  • It’s nice to know this student feels progress in this area.

“I used to just say, ‘I walked to the store.’  Now I add alot more detail and say, ‘I cassually walked to the small, brightly colored store.’  So because I add in more detail the reader gets a better picture, and I won’t need to answer as many questions.”

  • Sensory language and imagery are emphasized in class and it shows. With her funny final remark, I think this student is relating that her descriptions paint a picture so clear that the reader isn’t left with questions. That’s progress!

“I feel like I explain things in all my stories instead of making it an interesting story that people would actually read.”

  • This student is beginning to understand “show don’t tell.”

“Granted, there are spell check softwares, but computers can’t fix everything, like tense and homophones.”

  • Yes! A student who sees the limits of technology!

“I can tell what transitions are I used to get them mixed up. And the same with fanboys. But now I can actually remember most of them and when I can use them and how to use them.”

  • This student is becoming adept at some of the most often used tools that writers use to express their ideas smoothly… conjunctions and transitions.

“Writing is a way that I express myself. It helps me have less stress and helps me worry less.”

  • This is a milestone in itself. This student will go far if she has this mindset in sixth grade!

“I feel Mrs. Yung makes you do a lot of writing so you get compturible it’s rough at first but by a month or two you will be find you’ll write for fun also.”

  • This student struggles with many basics, but has shown improvement over the course of the school year. He also wants to improve, which is half the battle. Goals for next year: learning to reserve enough time to polish and revise the writing.

“Mrs. Yung put writing contest so if you you get a prize or even in a book. I think writing is the easiest thing to do case you write about when you think about and it takes skill too.”

  • I know this assignment was a challenge for this student. He didn’t reach the word requirement, but did get his thoughts onto the page. Goals for next year: syntax, simple sentence structure.

“We wrote from just writing a big blob of words to dividing into paragraphs.”

  • A primary objective of elementary writing instruction is mastering the paragraph. Writing a draft of multiple paragraphs is indeed new territory and one we will continue to observe in seventh grade. I still see too many one-paragraph essays.

“Words are things that are beautiful to picture, things that glow in the world.”

  • This student obviously values words and does it with a creative flair. Score!

“I really like poems now. Last year I always thought poems had to rhyme but when I went to 6th grade I learned that they didn’t have to rhyme.”

“I have also learned that there are many types of things to write. My where I’m from poem this is a good example of something I was proud of. I put basically everything I know about myself in there.”

  • Variety is the spice of life and that goes for writing, too! While it’s good to focus on the standards, argument writing, et al, it’s important to show students the more creative side of the craft.

“Another thing is that I can put more feeling and emotion into my stories and essays, by using descriptive words and I feel like I could throw my voice into it.”

  • It’s gratifying that this student feels free to express himself on the page.

“Language arts isn’t my favorite subject actually science is but Language arts is interesting and has a lot of rules. Sadly I don’t quite understand all of them, because they are tricky and English is one of the hardest languages to understand this makes it more difficult. Also, I’ve been practicing it sense I was a little child.”

  • It’s easy to forget that English is a difficult language to master. It’s full of rules and contradictions to those rules. This response reminds me how important it is for me to provide students the writing tools and techniques they will need as they mature to more developed writing.

Thanks for reading! If you see enjoy my blog, please follow! I’m trying to find ways to make my site more valuable… more than just a place for me to “show and tell” what happens in my classroom. If you have ideas for stories or have specific questions about something you read here or about teaching in general, please leave a comment so we can share our experiences. 

Worth the wait… fifteen students are now published writers!

 

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Several of my students’ writing appears in this anthology.
Last spring, many of my students entered their “Where I’m From” poems in Creative Communication‘s Spring 2017 Poetry Contest. Fifteen are now published writers with the printing of the anthology shown in the photo. I am so proud of them! I’ve also shared these photos and posted them on my class Instagram page… I am that excited!

They wrote, revised, and rewrote their poems before submitting them online last spring. Eighteen were approved to be published and all but three gained permission from parents to be published. Those who didn’t receive parental permission failed to take the approval form home, I guess, and unfortunately, regret not making that extra effort to see their name in print.

In addition, our school, Kirbyville Middle School, is listed in the front of the anthology as a “Poetic Distinction Honor School” since more than fifteen students were published in this volume.  Bonus!

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If you haven’t tried this contest with your students, read more about it here.

In the past, Creative Communication also held essay contests and published anthologies for those. Unfortunately, as of last spring, they have ceased holding the essay contests. That’s a shame, in my opinion. My students submitted “Slice of Life” essays last fall, and grew to appreciate the genre and many looked forward to writing them. Oh, well. I guess I’ll have to keep hunting for more essay contests.  I’ll keep you posted as I find more.

In the meantime, stay tuned for a post about an argument essay contest my eighth-graders enter every February.

Thanks for reading! If you learned something from this post, click “like,” leave a comment, and follow my blog to read more about what I’m figuring out as I teach middle school language arts.

 

 

It’s hard to teach middle schoolers this: grammar rules exist to bring readers on your journey

Part 4 of 4

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Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

 

In my classroom, I stress that writing is so much more than just knowing a bunch of grammar and punctuation rules.

Writing is really about expressing oneself, your dreams, your beliefs, your hopes, your imagination.  Writers don’t write to show off to readers that they know how to avoid vague pronouns; instead, writers use the rules to capture readers and take them on their journey through, as examples, the logic of their argument against homework, the plot of their sci-fi fantasy, or their description of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system.

When students understand that they have a vested interest in learning the rules — to keep the reader engaged — their desire to get the rules right increases.

So how does a teacher help middle schoolers understand that all these rules they hear in my class mini-lessons are there solely to help the reader stay on their journey?  I’ve tried my hand at  having small discussions that go something like this:

“When you forget about the rules and goof up — like if you misspell a word, leave out an important comma, write a run-on, or use a vague pronoun  —  you distract your reader.  If you spell a word wrong, they’ll lose their concentration and think stuff like That word looks funny. I think it’s wrong… or is it?  At this point, you know what? You’ve lost your reader. Now they’re thinking about that word you misspelled, and not about your ideas.”

“Or say you have a run-on sentence in your writing. Your reader stumbles through your sentence or paragraph and then they stop. They think, Wait. What?? That didn’t make sense. Then they re-read it, trying to figure out your sentence. At this point, guess what? You’ve lost ’em. Now they’re trying to piece together what you wrote to figure out what you really meant to write. Basically, your run-on sentence pulled your reader’s mind away from your once-riveting story, and now you just have to hope they have the patience to keep reading.”

Sometimes, I give them an example from the movies:

“Have you ever been absorbed in a really good movie and notice that an actor’s once-rumpled hair suddenly appears perfectly in place? Or you notice a glass perched on a tabletop that wasn’t there before? What happened when you noticed that glass? You were pulled out of the movie. You missed some dialogue. You got lost for a bit. You missed out on something, maybe something important.”

“If the editors had noticed and fixed that mistake, they wouldn’t have caused you to become distracted. It’s the same with writing. We have to keep our readers interested in our ideas, not distract them with our mistakes.”

“This is the reason we learn capitalization, how to use commas, how to spell, how to link our sentences correctly… to keep the reader thinking about your story or article, and not the silly comma you forgot to include.”

So that’s how the discussion goes when I help my middle schoolers learn that there are real reasons to understand grammar and conventions. Sometimes they get it; sometimes they don’t. Either way, we keep working on it when we conference. How do you help your students care about editing? Leave a comment. I really want to know.