Smaller tasks can go a long way.
To halt the constant hands on hips, teachers must think differently to ensure students are finding success in monumental task. For instance, students must “improve their essay” is a vague but heavy task for any one person. Instead, it’s better to look at one small aspect of improving a student’s writing. A better example would be to improve “a student’s word choice by upping [choose a numerical number here] words in a certain section or an entire essay.
Remember, smaller tasks are more feasible for young writers.
Anchor text as a model
To give a glimpse of today’s mini-less on word choice, my students were given a one-paragraph piece of writing from a text previously read in the term. I find it best to continually utilize texts they are familiar with as an anchor or model (excerpt taken from The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry). Utilizing the sarcastic tone, I offered how a piece of writing (shown below) was only okay.
We spent some time looking at the text and talking about the word choice. Students were quick to pick up some “muscle” vocabulary in the text (i.e., rustle, stepping softly like a scout, etc.). Many shared this particular piece allowed them to visualize exactly what was occurring in the story.
Reflecting upon word choice
Since most students don’t aspire to be geeky language arts teachers like myself, they do not always reflect upon the word choice used in a piece of writing they read; it’s unfortunately taken for grant it. To build on the importance of word choice, I attempt to build up suspense offering how much better I could write this piece, even when I was in eighth grade. As I get a few dirty looks and a couple chuckles, I offered my rendition of the “eighth grade great” which was really poorly written.
What? Isn’t this good?
I got many odd looks.
I explained to students how the second passage contained the same meaning as the original in O. Henry’s work, but there was something different.
It’s boring and that’s written like a fifth grader a few instant comments were dispersed across the room. The truth of the fact is many young writers choose to write the second way because they cannot always understand the importance of word choice in writing. The eye opening moment works for some, but many still sit back and coast. In other attempts, I have used “eighth grade great” renditions taken from writing artifacts from current students to support how important word choice can be in writing. It was not necessary this time, but it’s a good strategy to use earlier in a year.
Practice what you preach
There are some tricks I attempt to facilitate learning opportunities while in the classroom. First off, I give students a chance to critique some poorly written work I have concocted or taken from a student’s Writers Notebook; sometimes I even have to go back to the first part of a year to get examples.
Here are some examples (classroom worksheet) used of poor writing which was revised by my students in groups, giving a chance to display mastery of word choice.
|Poorly Written Text||Student Updates|
|In the morning, it rained. Mom made breakfast and pretended she was happy. No one believed her. “This weekend is officially going to be bad,” I said. I did not want to be on this vacation.||
|The car came to a stop. There were people all over the street. Mark got out of the car. He was looking for his brother. He could not see because there were a lot of people. Mark got back in the car. He had to find his brother.|| The car screeched to a halt.
Strangers bombarded the streets as Mark quickly climbed out of the vehicle searching for his brother.
Uneasy, Mark got back in the vehicle unable to find his brother.
(retyped due to an unclear image)
|“Watch out, “ she said.“Help me,” he said.
“I will get help,” she said.
The girl call 911 and told them someone was hurt. They said they would be there.
The boulder came hurling down the steep mountain trail.
“Watch out!” she screamed at Mark as the boulder collided into his leg.
“Help me!” he pleaded as he lie down clutching his leg.
“I’ll get help!” she hollered back.
The girl took out her phone and dialed 911. She quickly informed them someone was hurt on the Southern Mountain Trail. They in turn ensured he they would be there.
(retyped due to an unclear image)
Short, easy 10-minutes mini lessons can have an everlasting effect on student writers. I attempt to keep these lessons short with a small number of practices tasks. Too many will only jade your young writers confidence. Also, sometimes you might come across different levels of writers — okay that was a joke — we all come across different levels of writers.
Start simple: Struggling students may only circle simple words and be asked to use a thesaurus or maybe a teacher made list to improve a passage. Highly able students may be challenged to utilize similes or metaphors in place of lower level vocabulary. Regardless of the level of your student, both strategies up the level of student writing and move students farther along in the writing process.
Remember, start small and your simple revisions will go a long way.