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Using Graphic Novels in Education: Persepolis | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Persepolis | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund | AdLit |
Welcome to Using Graphic Novels in Education, an ongoing feature from CBLDF that is designed to allay confusion around the content of banned books and to h... (RT @CBLDF: Check out our new feature for educators, Using Graphic Novels in Education!

Via Viviene Tuckerman
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Enabling the CCSS version of exemplary adolescent literacy.
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Reading Specialists Resources - LiveBinder

Reading Specialists Resources - LiveBinder | AdLit |

A collection of resources for Reading Specialists on CCSS

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5 Ways to Win Credibility with Audiences

5 Ways to Win Credibility with Audiences | AdLit |

Credibility: You need it to persuade, motivate, and inspire audiences. Here's how to win it and use it as a tool for speaking success.

Via Sharrock
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Cultivating Discussion Skills in Literature Circles

Cultivating Discussion Skills in Literature Circles | AdLit |
Cultivating Discussion Skills in Literature Circles by Abi Frost and Kathleen Stern Why Discussion Skills? Discussion skills are easy to neglect, especially when there are so many reading and writi...

Via Darren Burris
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Planning Text-Dependent Questions

Planning Text-Dependent Questions | AdLit |
The Common Core emphasizes close reading and text-dependent questions. So what are text-dependent questions, and how can teachers develop them?

Via Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry
Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry's curator insight, April 15, 5:01 PM

I am leading students through a close reading of "The Story of an Hour" tomorrow at a high school as a demonstration for English teachers. I have always enjoyed the this story and I have always considered what I did with the story is close reading. I still continue to believe what I will be doing is a close reading....hopefully we will be videotaping, so you can be the judge once the tape is ready for "prime time" viewing. However, I would never have thought to approach the story as these teachers do...and I'm not sure I could sustain four days of study in this text. Maybe two or three and the third or fourth writing...and I think 39 tier 2 words is too much. Regardless, a good lesson on how to plan for close reading...

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Penzu | AdLit |
Free personal journal and online diary.

Via John Dalziel
John Dalziel's curator insight, April 16, 4:52 AM

With a simple design and paper-like interface, Penzu is extremely intuitive and easy to use.
Keeping a daily diary with Penzu couldn't be easier. Users can write at any time from anywhere.
Reflective Journals help learners to "Get Smarter" - Keeping a journal or diary can not only boost learners' "working memory" but their grades too.
The act of writing can be extremely therapeutic, especially when writing about thoughts that they don't share with others.
Questions to consider daily could include...
   - What did I do today?
   - Did I have any strong feelings, good or bad, about my day?
   - What would I like to remember (or forget)?
   - Do I remember feeling this way before?
   - If my day could have gone better or worse, how might it have unfolded?

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Teaching HAMLET, Again? |

Teaching HAMLET, Again? | | AdLit |

Teaching HAMLET, Again?Hamlet – Perennial TextHamlet? Yes, Again!

In all five states in which I’ve taught, Hamlet has been on the required reading list for seniors. So, after teaching Hamlet for umpteen years, I continually have to remind myself that for most of my students this will be their first and maybe only time, reading this canonical favorite. I want this to be a positive experience for us all, something that will keep the play fresh for me and compelling for the students. How can one resist the frustration of teaching a favorite play year after
year after year? Sounds paradoxical? Keep reading.

It was not enough simply to pass along to them what I’d gotten out of reading the play. Instead, this series of lessons should be an opportunity for them to wrestle with the language, delve into complex character relationships, and emerge with insight into both Elizabethan and 21st Century issues. Moreover, I had to develop a realistic attitude towards the readily accessible my students could find in print and on-line. After all, those are place look for ideas to enhance my own assignments. Instead, my goal was to share the experience of reading the play with them using the tools available to us all.


How, I wondered, can I design lessons that get them into the play before them want out?

What are strategies to get through the play to utilize and hone the reading, writing, discussing and reflection skills they’d been learning throughout their years of schooling?

What will make the lessons intriguing enough for them to stay the course…read closely, participate actively in class, and resist the temptation to depend on published articles, critiques and books about this Shakespeare classic just to do well on the graded assignments I’d be giving?

So, among the assignments I adapted from the zillions in print and on line are those I’ve stored here on my website. These are assignments that each year seemed to re-ignite my interest and inspire my students to read with zest and zeal.

(If you designed any of these strategies, thank you. They come from notes accumulated over the years. Teachers have regularly shared with from one another and, for years, it was not customary for teachers to keep notes on where one borrowed ideas, and at workshops and seminars presenters distributed their handouts but seldom included their names.)



First, I want my students to know that they can understand Shakespeare’s language. So, one of their first assignments has been to paraphrase Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act I. You can do the same by creating a document set up in columns with the soliloquy on the left and space for students to paraphrase on the right. This assignment can be completed during class time. Pairs can read their paraphrases to one another and then volunteers can read theirs aloud to the class. Write along with the students and see what you learn doing this assignment afresh each year. See “Teacher Resources” tab for one of my recent versions.

Writing Hamlet in your own words  Paraphrase this speech HAMLET’S SPEECH, Act I, ii, 129-159..Click your cursor to the right, opposite the line you’re paraphrasing. You must account for every line.   Original Lines from PlayStudent Paraphrase


Plays are written to spoken and viewed. You could begin with recorded dramatic readings of Hamlet, played as students follow along in their texts. Once students get a sense of what the language sounds like, more of the students are willing to read aloud passages they’d already read for homework.Once we’re into the play, using during Act II, bring in film versions – both dramatizations on stage and those shot on realistic sets, to show the students what the setting and attire could look like. Seeing video helps students visualize as they read.Plays also are written to be viewed in a single performance. Therefore, in order to maximize the power of the playwright’s skill, I encourage you to assign reading the play through the first time as quickly as possible, then would go back and look at structure, dramatic devices, themes, etc. Once the students have a sense of what happened, they’ll be ready to do the expected analysis and reflection our ELA curriculum standards require us to measure.

Waiting frustrated me in my early days because I wanted to get to those activities much too soon. Then I remember, I’ve already read the play…umpteen times, but the students haven’t.Give students as opportunity to memorize and perform lines they choose. Let them know earlyin your reading that they’d be asked to recite lines from the play, to pay attention,
make their choices and sign up soon. To keep things interesting, I’d have no more than two students doing same speech. On recitation day, the line-up of speakers can be the order the speeches occurred in the play. We then had pretty good review of the whole play before the students turned in their final essays.Hamlet Recitations can be evaluated on the following criteriaMemorization - Do you know the lines? Make no, few, or many errors?Characterization – Do you personify the character appropriately for the scene in the play?Phrasing – Do you phrase the lines so that the thoughts are clearly conveyed?Articulation – Do you pronounce the words clearly and correctly?Appearance – Do you use your hands and body effectively to relay the message of the passage you’ve chosen?


To help focus their reading, I asked them to keep journals that included answers to the basic 5W’s and H? Yes, I checked with spot quizzes.

Can you answer the following questions?


Who? Main characters and their relationship to each other What? Conflict(s) problem(s) to be solved. When? Setting (time) Where? Setting (place) Same or different from last scene read? Why? Motivation (reason characters do what they do?) How? (method(s) Shakespeare used to draw us in to find out what happens next)


Wanting the students to have some sense of the universality of this Elizabethan drama, you could design assignments that ask them to make connections between Hamlet, the play and Hamlet the character, and between what they’d observed or experienced themselves. You know – text to text; text to self; text to the world. Typical questions for Act IV

Were you surprised by the turn of events in this act? Describe your reactions.How do you explain Hamlet’s interactions with other characters in Scenes 2, 3, and 4.Why do you think Claudius responds as he does to Laertes?Why do you think Ophelia goes mad?What is a foil (in literature)? What important aspects of Hamlet’s character are reveals by means of the contrast between Hamlet and these two foil characters?Who do you think is the most sympathetic character at this point in the play?How do you think the treatment of Ophelia by Polonius, Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet would be viewed today?

Most important, I want my high school seniors to believe that they have something to add to the discussion, but that I do not expect them to come up with something new or radical. So, among the end of the play assignments is an essay for which they are asked to write about what impressed them, to support or refute at least two of the critical essays we’d read about the play, and to connect the play to something contemporary.


You’d be surprised how refreshing it was to read their essays. See the “Language Arts Resources” link for the rubric that alludes to that assignment. It was pleasant to learn that few students felt the “need” to cheat because their own ideas were welcomed and valued. And because I did the assignments along with them, the play remained fresh and alive for me.

Links to Assignments:

HAMLET -WRITING Hamlet in your own wordsHAMLET Writing About Hamlet with RubricHAMLET- Hamlet Recitation Assignment with Grading Guidelines

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Advancing Adolescent Literacy: Pennsylvania’s Keystones to Opportunity Comprehensive Literacy Program

Advancing Adolescent Literacy: Pennsylvania’s Keystones to Opportunity Comprehensive Literacy Program | AdLit |

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Poet-to-Poet Project- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

Poet-to-Poet Project- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More | AdLit |
A resource from the Academy of American Poets with thousands of poems, essays, biographies, weekly features, and poems for love and every occasion
Lynnette Van Dyke's insight:
Poet-to-Poet ProjectPrint

For National Poetry Month 2014, we introduce Poet-to-Poet, a multimedia educational project that invites young people in grades 3-12 to write poems in response to those shared by some of the award-winning poets who serve on the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors: Poet Laureate of California Juan Felipe Herrera, National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Edward Hirsch, NEA and Guggenheim Fellow Jane Hirshfield, Lannan Foundation Fellow Naomi Shihab Nye, Pulitzer Prize-nominee Ron Padgett, Jackson Poetry Prize-winner Arthur Sze, and Cofounder (with Allen Ginsberg) of the Naropa Institute Anne Waldman.

Students—to participate in Poet-to-Poet, watch the videos below of Chancellors reading and discussing one of their poems. Then, write your own poem in response and email it to us at by April 30, 2014. Please include your name and the name of the poet below who has inspired your poem. We will consider all student poems for publication on in May 2014.

Teachers—if you are interested in using Poet-to-Poet in the classroom, we worked with a curriculum specialist to design a series of activities, aligned with the Common Core, especially for you. Go to the Lesson Plans >

Happy writing

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You’ll love this research-based reading comprehension curriculum. Check out!
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The Why and How of Multiple Texts in Middle and High School Classrooms

The Why and How of Multiple Texts in Middle and High School Classrooms | AdLit |

The ELA Common Core Standards related to reading informational texts (specifically those on integrating knowledge and ideas) shows an increasing need for students to synthesize across multiple texts throughout the grade levels. Without being taught how to do it, however, students often have great difficulty making sense of disciplinary content they encounter when reading from multiple texts. Students often read multiple texts as if they were separate from each other, not noticing contradictions and complexity.


During this one-hour on-demand web seminar, Cynthia Shanahan explores the “why” and “how” of teaching multiple texts using examples from middle and high school Science, Social Studies classrooms including:

The kinds of strategies students need to successfully evaluate information across multiple texts within their discipline in order to communicate conclusions (including handouts to help you start using these strategies in your classroom immediately!)Sample student case studiesApplications of these practices in several science and social studies classrooms

Access the PDF here:

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The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

The Power of Spoken Word Poetry | AdLit |

April is National Poetry Month (1), and since I wrote a Five-Minute Film Fest on poetry in general (2) a few years ago, I thought I'd focus on my favorite style of performance poetry: spoken word. When done well, spoken word has the power to move and enthrall audiences, and it can be an incredible tool for amplifying voices less heard in the mainstream. I've collected a few videos of spoken word poems for you to enjoy -- by teachers, by students, or about issues in schools. Be forewarned: spoken word is known for often including raw language or sensitive themes (in the service of preserving authentic voice). As with any video you plan to use in your classroom, preview first!

Video Playlist: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

Watch the player below to see the whole playlist, or view it on YouTube.



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Assignments Matter. Help Students Become Better Writers

Assignments Matter. Help Students Become Better Writers | AdLit |
In this video, Eleanor Dougherty, author of the ASCD book Assignments Matter, tells how to help students become better writers.
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PVLEGS: A Public Speaking Acronym that's Transforming my Students into Speakers, not just Talkers | Teaching the Core

PVLEGS: A Public Speaking Acronym that's Transforming my Students into Speakers, not just Talkers | Teaching the Core | AdLit |

Before I start lathering at the mouth about PVLEGS, let me just state plainly that this acronym for effective speaking was developed by Erik Palmer.

Via Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry
Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry's curator insight, April 16, 2:09 PM
My message: yes! Everyone should be supporting speaking & listening. Our culture has a slowly dying sense of civility. Improved communication practices would go far to turn this slow death around. Unfortunately, though I love technology, it does little to advance meaningful face-to-face discourse. Modeling responsible dialogue and providing opportunities for constructive discussion, debate, and consensus-making is an imperative placed upon teachers, parents, business, and yes, government.
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English Journal. Intending to Meet, The Truth about Collaboration.pdf

Jill Jordan and Rebecca Kaplan are two educators from an urban high school who began to see the incredible potential of working with colleagues across content areas after they participated in a WestEd Reading Apprenticeship Leadership Institute class and were introduced to the ways in which reading can be taught successfully across the disciplines.


They began a journey of collaboration with several different cross-content groups of educators, facilitating collaboration and helping group members coconstruct knowledge about perceptions and process. "What we want to emphasize more than the value the teachers learned about teaching reading skills," say Jordan and Kaplan, "was the value teachers learned about collaboration. The teachers learned that they could learn from each other, learn valuable teaching strategies, and learn valuable new perspectives about content—their own and their peers."


In this English Journal article, the two describe how, as the group participants began working together outside the class, they learned that finding time to collaborate was not a waste of time, but resulted in better lessons and feeling more supported. They say participants' experiences were similar to "what Thomas M. McCann’s study found, that 'collaborative teams tend to plan strategically, keeping specific target outcomes in mind and planning together a course of instruction that offers the strongest potential for students to attain goals' (111).


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Bringing Hip-Hop to Education in a Meaningful Way

Bringing Hip-Hop to Education in a Meaningful Way | AdLit |
Educator and author Sam Seidel has a game-changing vision for teaching at-risk kids.

Via Keith Heggart
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Close Reading Resources: The What, Why and How | MiddleWeb

Close Reading Resources: The What, Why and How | MiddleWeb | AdLit |
Educators are responding to the close reading mandate with strategies that help students better understand complex texts. Our resource roundup has the links.

Via Mary Clark
Mary Clark's curator insight, April 16, 7:38 AM

Loads of resources here to share with teachers!

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Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading: Part One

Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading: Part One | AdLit |
Teachers know that most adolescents lack motivation to read, both academically and recreationally, yet we can see how crucial it is for students to develop reading interest and stamina in order to ...

Via Erica Beaton, Deanna Mascle
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American Masters | Classroom Resources | PBS Learning Media

American Masters | Classroom Resources | PBS Learning Media | AdLit |

American Masters: Salinger
Grades 9-12 | Collection | Notable Authors
Introduce students to the widely popular novel, "The Catcher in the Rye" and its mythic author, J.D. Salinger using the videos and images in this collection.

Lynnette Van Dyke's insight:

American Masters, public television’s award-winning biography series, brings unique originality and perspective to exploring the lives and illuminating the creative journeys of our most enduring writers, musicians, visual and performing artists, dramatists and filmmakers – those who have left an indelible impression on our nation’s cultural landscape. This collection offers you access to classroom-ready videos and articles drawn from the Series broadcasts and website.

Lynnette Van Dyke's curator insight, April 15, 2:06 PM

American Masters, public television’s award-winning biography series, brings unique originality and perspective to exploring the lives and illuminating the creative journeys of our most enduring writers, musicians, visual and performing artists, dramatists and filmmakers – those who have left an indelible impression on our nation’s cultural landscape. This collection offers you access to classroom-ready videos and articles drawn from the Series broadcasts and website.

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Formal Letters | Writing Format Templates and a Free Guide

Formal Letters | Writing Format Templates and a Free Guide | AdLit |
Formal letter writing is undoubtably one of the most challenging types. When putting it together, often you are addressing a person or organisation with whom you are not familiar and the quality of your content, including spelling and grammar will be strongly scrutinised.
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Running Records for Classroom Teachers: Marie Clay: 9780325002996: Books

Running Records for Classroom Teachers

~ Marie Clay (author) More about this product
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Running Records for Classroom Teachers [Marie Clay] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. What can we notice children doing as they read a simple story? What are they looking at? How do they know when they have lost the message? What do they do about it? Running Records for Classroom Teachers introduces key ideas about using Running records and shows how to take
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A Beautiful Classroom Poster on Writing Accuracy ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

A Beautiful Classroom Poster on Writing Accuracy ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning | AdLit |
Dennis T OConnor's curator insight, April 15, 7:27 AM

Ah, the art of peeling down writing... all shown in an infographic!

Annie Edmonds Skerchek's curator insight, April 16, 11:05 AM

The onion has lots of layers

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How magical is your classroom?

How magical is your classroom? | AdLit |
One may argue that classrooms shouldn’t have to be magical. They may argue that classrooms are a place for rigor. However, I would ask, “What is more magic
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The Write Stuff: Preparing the Next Generation of Writers | Zaner-Bloser

by James Scott Miller, M.Ed., Zaner-Bloser Senior Instructional Consultant and Consulting Author, Strategies for Writers
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Revamping the Classroom Research Project

Revamping the Classroom Research Project | AdLit |

April 2014 | Volume 71 | Number 7 
Writing: A Core Skill Pages 40-44

Revamping the Classroom Research Project

Nanci Werner-Burke

Rigor and interest are not mutually exclusive when students shift from "doing" research papers to engaging in authentic research.

Imagine the early stages of a research project in a traditional English language arts classroom, in which students are typically asked either to choose topics from a list or to select their own topic that they must wholly commit to before moving forward. Choosing from a topic list usually results in students being disengaged from the start. Self-selection of a topic without guidance can be equally ineffective; for a majority of students, the hardest part of such a project is finding a suitable topic (Project Information Literacy, 2010).

A balance between rigidity and lack of direction is possible. As one example, let's consider students Mike and Fran, who have been paired by their teacher, Mrs. Graffius, to discuss possible research topics. Mike completed a paper for a science class several years before on the Great Barrier Reef. Fran knows that she will be spending the next few weeks studying World War II in her social studies class. Both have decided that they will use these topics as the basis for their English language arts research papers, and although their reasons for doing so are different, their levels of engagement and actual passion for their topics is about the same—low.

Instead of just accepting these topic choices, Mrs. Graffius asks her students to complete a "Problems of the Worlds" graphic organizer (Werner-Burke, Knaus, & DeCamp, 2014). This four-lens graphic organizer consists of four concentric circles, with the innermost labeled "My Daily Life." The next circle is labeled "My School," followed by "My Community," and finally "My Country and the World" as the outer circle (see fig. 1). Each of these circles is a lens through which students examine their topic.




Mike and Fran begin by using the four circles to brainstorm problems they encounter in their daily lives (such as having money for gas or getting enough sleep). Moving outward through the circles, they expand to issues they see others in their school coping with (such as drug or alcohol abuse or negativity). Then, they move into the community and identify problems that affect the residents, neighborhoods, organizations, and businesses in their area (such as unemployment or vandalism). They fill the final circle with problems and issues that they believe exist on a national or global scale (such as climate change or the use of genetically modified foods).

Mike and Fran independently fill in their organizers and then share their ideas with each other, a process that often generates additional topics. (On the topic of alcohol, Fran suggests that when they're broke and out of work, people may drink more. Mike, who's been thinking about crime, realizes that when you're angry and depressed, you may steal stuff and want to break things.) After this, the class comes together to complete one large, hand-drawn copy of the organizer. This step exposes Mike and Fran to more lines of thought, and they consider whether the issues others raised (such as human trafficking, suicide, and mass shootings) are related to the ones they generated.

After this activity, neither Mike nor Fran has chosen a topic, but both have abandoned their original choices because they are more engaged with the topics from the discussion.

Vetting Potential Topics

When the class meets again, Mrs. Graffius brings up the Edmodo website on her classroom's interactive whiteboard. Her students have used this site regularly to access her assignments and resource materials. Mrs. Graffius has used her iPad and a free service called Educreations to generate brief slide shows about effective keyword searches, website evaluation, note-taking options, writing thesis statements, and citation requirements. These resources, as well as the schedule of due dates for the research project and related rubrics, are all posted on the Edmodo site.

After she provides an overview of these resources to the class, Mrs. Graffius guides students through two additional topic-vetting activities.

The Top Ten

Students brainstorm a list of five facts that they already know about a topic and five questions they would need to answer through their research. If they can readily list five facts and can't identify five additional questions, they aren't going to be adding to their knowledge base significantly with the potential topic and should consider another one.

If Mike had decided to stay with the Great Barrier Reef, this exercise would have at least pushed him to cover new ground. Now, however, he is thinking about vandalism, and the Top Ten exercise helps him realize that although he thought he knew a lot about the topic of vandalism, many of the items he originally listed as things he already knows aren't facts but rather assumptions (for example, "vandalism is caused by anger"). His "already know" list quickly morphs into a "need answers" list, and he decides that one of the first things he will need is a clear-cut definition of what constitutes vandalism.

The Five-Minute Google

In this exercise, students have five minutes to find at least three credible and readable sources to answer one of their research questions. To complete this activity, they will need to have already been taught how to evaluate a source's credibility. It is also important that students be able to size up a site by visually scanning it and determining whether it is within their immediate realm of reading comprehension. Sites that are too simplified or too complex are not useful at this point, whereas "just right sites" can be incredibly fruitful. (Students can revisit more complex sites later, when they have developed deeper background knowledge.) Mike uses the search phrase "definition of vandalism, causes" for this exercise.

Fran has chosen to explore the topic of using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Her "already know" list includes her definition of the term and a few facts about the topic (companies own the seeds, crops are more pest-resistant, some people feel the foods are less healthy, GMOs are the opposite of organic foods). For her Five-Minute Google, she begins with the term "GMO benefits," but as she is typing, the Google search bar suggests "GMO disadvantages." She uses that phrase for her second search.

Fran scans her results, deciding that her first search result (an article from the publication Nature Education) might be more understandable after she familiarizes herself more with the topic. The second find (from the Common Ground organization) is more accessible. She skims the text and adds the phrase "World Health Organization" to her bank of key search terms.

When the buzzer sounds, Mike and Fran have determined that these topics and the accompanying resources are viable enough for them to continue.

Taking Notes

Mike and Fran's previous teachers required them to use note cards to capture and organize information. Mrs. Graffius introduces them to some digital options. In her demonstrations, Mrs. Graffius implements a think-aloud approach by articulating her thought processes during an actual note-taking activity. She has chosen the topic, "Learning Through Play and Games." As she works with different sources, she reads the titles aloud and predicts what might be in the different sections, making clear how she evaluates the word choices and determines key concepts and search terms. To keep the class engaged, Mrs. Graffius has also built in a few hands-on activities.

First, Mrs. Graffius demonstrates how to use PowerPoint to set up a series of slides as digital note cards. Referring back to her "Learning Through Play and Games" topic, she sets up slides with different headings (play in school, role-playing games, board games, computer games) and then searches for, selects, and pastes content from several sources onto the slides for these different categories. She color-codes the pasted text with its reference information and paraphrases, in black, what she has pasted on each slide.

Before moving on, Mrs. Graffius directs the students to draw out six slides on paper and label them with tentative categories related to their own topics. Mike has a bit of trouble coming up with six subcategories for his vandalism topic but eventually finishes (definitions, types, causes, punishments, amounts of damage, and laws). Fran finalizes her GMO list quickly (what it is, how it works, comparisons, benefits, disadvantages, controversies, and regulations).

Next, Mike and Fran's teacher demonstrates how to create an account and take notes with NoodleTools. This online service offers digital note cards that can be color-coded, tagged with keywords or visual cues, and stored on the web. The cards can be stacked online and organized with an outlining tool. Each card has a place to paste in the content and a separate space for students to add their own paraphrasing of the material, a step that can safeguard against plagiarism (Werner-Burke & Vanderpool, 2013). There is also a space for a thesis statement or driving question.

The final digital tool, Citelighter, requires users to download and install a custom toolbar on their web browser. When users find useful information online, they highlight it and hit the capture button in Citelighter. The service automatically pulls information from the source page to create a citation and begins to build the bibliography. Writers can export the work to Word, e-mail it, or store it right on the web. Mrs. Graffius again models how to create an account and use the tool to take effective notes. She refers the class back to a previous minilesson on citation requirements and directs the students to create a full citation for one of their sources from the Five-Minute Google.

With tools like these, Mike and Fran realize that it will be far less tedious to take notes than it was with index cards. They return to their lists of subtopics and draft a thesis statement related to these topics. Mike's first try at a thesis statement is "Vandalism is a growing problem in our society." Fran's is in the form of a question that becomes the title of her paper: "GMOs: Are They Worth the Risk?" They then number their slides in the order that they think will fit best in their paper.

Casting a New Net

Surveys and interviews are not new, but tools like SurveyMonkey and e-mail turn students into sand-kicking fact-finders with superhuman capabilities. Instead of using surveys and interviews to collect information that is already readily available, students should use them to gather information that adds new depth to their work. For this reason, students should do a substantial amount of research before incorporating surveys and interviews into the project.

The students' four-lens graphic organizer (fig. 1), now titled "Resources of the Worlds," is again put into service. Using the same four circles and categories, Mike and Fran complete the organizer by asking themselves, "Who in my daily life/school/community/the world could be a good source of information on my topic?" Having already done some research that brought up occupations and organizations related to their topics, Fran and Mike are better positioned to answer the question than they were at the start of the project.

Fran had already identified the World Health Organization as a high-quality source. When completing the organizer, she realizes that there is a source closer to home, in the form of an agricultural outreach center. A visit there leaves her with more pamphlets and print sources, but she is not able to secure an interview with anyone on the staff. She decides instead to survey community members to gauge the level of local awareness about the facts she uncovered in her research.

Mike had originally considered interviewing local residents who were victims of a large-scale egging incident he had read about in the local paper. However, his research has led him to think about hate crimes, and the new organizer propels him to think on a larger scale. He goes on to find a large amount of statistical information about hate crimes on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website, and he decides to conduct an interview to learn more. Mike's teacher helps him connect with a professor in the criminal justice administration program at a state university for this purpose. Mike also signs up on the FBI site to receive updates and so begins to receive useful reports in his e-mail.

The Fat and Skinny of It

Effective interview questions are open-ended—or "fat"—questions, requiring more than a one-word response (Skiffington-Dickson, Heyler, Reilly, & Romano, 2006, p. 14). Students should be prepared to listen and generate new questions that encourage the interviewee to expand on a comment or clarify points in the discussion. Mike creates a list of tentative interview questions and engages in a number of e-mail discussions with his university contact who is able to tell him about cases with which he had firsthand experience.

Survey questions, on the other hand, are closed—or "skinny." The goal is to collect responses from many people and to have the results reported in a form that can be easily aggregated. Fran reviews the question formats on SurveyMonkey and experiments with multiple-choice and Likert-scale formats before constructing her survey. She chooses 10 items from her research that had surprised her (for example, "Genetically modified produce is grown within 50 miles of our town") and organizes them into a true-or-false format.

Fran then asks the agricultural outreach center to link to her survey on its Facebook page. She also distributes small slips of paper with the survey link and a request for people to participate in taking it. After obtaining permission, she leaves these slips at the main desk at the local library. Within a week, Fran has results from about 40 people. She uses the bar graph feature in SurveyMonkey to show the results in her paper.

Beyond an Audience of One

Too often, all the sweat of creating a research paper culminates with an audience of one—the teacher. Having an authentic audience is far more motivating than "writing for nobody" or just the teacher (Calfee & Miller, 2007, p. 277). By returning one last time to the four-lens graphic organizer, now titled "Your World Audience," students use the four categories to consider the questions, "Who is the best audience for my work? Who would benefit from it the most?" Identifying the audience helps them determine how to present their work.

Fran's 12-page paper titled "GMOs: Are They Worth the Risk?" morphs into a feature article titled "Eating Whole Foods for Health" that she submits to the local newspaper. For her 600-word submission, she selects only items from her paper that are related to whole foods, although the rest of the paper greatly informs her writing. In addition to writing his paper, Mike uses Educreations to prepare a two-minute slide show combining statistics from the FBI website and quotes from his university contact. He searches for and adds pictures of hostile-looking people and then records his own voice, asking repeatedly throughout, "Still think this isn't your problem?"

Real Skills, Real Knowledge

Classroom research can be an effective pathway to developing core literacy skills and knowledge of the world. As they conduct research, students develop information-gathering and communication skills they will need in other classes and in the workplace. They connect their academic work directly to the real world in a powerful and meaningful way. Through such research tasks, students like Mike and Fran gain the capacity to take ownership of their learning and make an authentic contribution to larger conversations beyond the classroom.


Calfee, R. C., & Miller, R. G. (2007). Best practices in writing assessment. In S. Graham, C. A. MacArthur, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Best practices in writing instruction (pp. 265–286). New York: Guilford Press.

Project Information Literacy. (2010). Peter Morville: Search and the paradox of choice. Smart Talks, 1. Retrieved from

Skiffington-Dickson, D., Heyler, D., Reilly, L. G., & Romano, S. (2006). The oral history project: Connecting students to their community, grades 4–8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Werner-Burke, N., Knaus, K., & DeCamp, A. (2014). Rebuilding research writing: Strategies for sparking informational inquiry. New York: Routledge.

Werner-Burke, N., & Vanderpool, D. (2013). No more index cards! No notebooks! Pulling new paradigms through to practice. In K. Pytash, R. Ferdig, & T. Rasinski (Eds.), Preparing teachers to teach writing using technology (pp. 43–55). Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press at Carnegie Mellon University.


Nanci Werner-Burke is an associate professor in the Department of Education and Special Education at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. She is the author, with Karin Knaus and Amy Helt DeCamp, of Rebuilding Research Writing: Strategies for Sparking Informational Inquiry (Routledge, 2014).

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A Core Skill:Teaching the Writer's Craft

April 2014 | Volume 71 | Number 7 
Writing: A Core Skill Pages 34-39

Teaching the Writer's Craft

Penny Kittle

Help young writers hone their craft through rich independent reading, modeling, engagement—and most of all, meaningful daily practice.

Writing is a core skill for living, not just for school. Writing sharpens our vision, tunes us in to what matters, and helps us think through what we must live through. We write to express what we know and see and believe, and we have the power to determine exactly how readers will hear our work: where sentences will glide and where they'll stop. That power is writing craft.

We want students to know this and to write with clarity, voice, and authority. We want them to listen to their writing, and then use punctuation to fasten parts together. Sentence structure is creative work. Yet teachers too often act like scolds, red pens in hand, stamping out sin and punishing errors. There's a better way; we can lure students into crafting artful sentences through systematic and playful practice.

Understanding the Problem

In too many classrooms, we assign and assess writing without teaching the craft of it. I understand why this happens. Teaching hundreds of students means reading hundreds of papers that we sort into As,Bs, and Cs. Many teachers spend hours circling errors, expecting that students will work to correct that kind of error in the next assignment. Most do not. Students rarely pay attention to teacher comments on finished work.

I think back to my high school tennis coach reading from her clipboard at the end of a match: You put your backhand here, and it should have been here. This error analysis didn't make me a better tennis player. Why? It couldn't change the outcome of that match. I was only half listening—I was already looking ahead to my next match. On the other hand, when she stood beside me at practice and helped me read the shot, when she adjusted the line of my racquet and I could see the difference, when she assigned 50 practice serves for every double fault—those moments of modeling and practice improved my game.

I once worked at a school where the 5th grade teachers had a policy—on the third error, the writing went in the trash. There was a ceremony to this shaming. The student came to the front with his or her paper; the teacher called out an error, "One!" and at "Two!" let the student have a chance to take the paper back and look for more errors. If the teacher called "Three!" it fluttered to the bottom of the steel bin. At an English department meeting recently, a teacher shared a list of "11 Grammar Rules We Are Done With" and her penalty of a point off for each mistake.

But worry creates constipation. It's not surprising that many students come to writing reluctantly—like I drag myself to the dentist, expecting distress. If we teach 10-year-olds or 18-year-olds that writing is about avoiding hazards, their fear will create dependence. Instead of producing writing that's alive with confidence, they will ask for teacher guidance on every paragraph.

It's time to stop scolding and start teaching.

Six Practices That Build Savvy WritersIndependent Reading

Students need rich reading lives of depth and complexity and power. They need to be exposed to the fine craft of skillful writing in large doses. In school, we can lead students to build an individual reading life of challenge, whim, curiosity, and hunger.

This idea of a reading life is different from "proficiency" and "complexity." It is larger—it contains multitudes. It is Leo Tolstoy and Sherman Alexie and Billy Collins and shelves of young adult literature consumed like the last deep breath you take before a dive. When books reach students, students reach for books. I expect my high school students to read 25 or more books independently this year, and I nurture that mission through my daily work conferring with readers and matching them to books. I press them to read more.

Reading provides constant visual clues about the look of sentences. Readers see and hear how punctuation creates rhythm as they listen to narrative and nonfiction.

Today in class, I ask students to find a passage of powerful writing from the books they are reading independently during our school's daily reading break. Students add these examples to our book graffiti board on the south wall of the classroom. We fill our room with beautifully crafted sentences, which we use for imitation or sentence study. A student posts this passage from Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (1999):


From October to April the walls of Limerick glistened with the damp. Clothes never dried: tweed and woolen coats housed living things, sometimes sprouted mysterious vegetations. In pubs, steam rose from damp bodies and garments to be inhaled with cigarette and pipe smoke laced with the stale fumes of spilled stout and whiskey and tinged with the odor of piss wafting in from the outdoor jakes where many a man puked up his week's wages. (p. 12)


There is much to study here. If McCourt had said, "The weather was dreadful," readers would miss the tweed and woolen coats sprouting vegetations. Without concrete, specific nouns (cigarette, pipe, whiskey, Limerick) we would see less and experience less.

Writers craft experiences not just through word choice but also through sentence length. In this passage, my students and I look at the length of his three sentences and wonder why the last is so long—what is the writer's purpose? Billy says, "He wants you to smell all of it at once. If he breaks it up into shorter sentences, you won't."

I also lead students to read like writers in books across one subject. Today Cal finished Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Incredible Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012). His engagement with the book had propelled him to read obsessively, unlike any reading he had done in high school so far. I encourage him to read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 1999) next because it is also about North Korea (and he has deep, recent background knowledge of this topic) but is written in a different voice. I suggest that we discuss these differences in our next conference. Because we have set a purpose for his reading, Cal will read with intention as well as interest. He will be a more engaged and thoughtful reader because he will read like a writer.

Students become better writers when they read voraciously, deeply, and often. The lack of books in our schools, the closure of libraries, and the lack of time to read impair student understanding of writing. We can and must change this.

Providing Topic Choice

I write best when I care about my subject and my audience. Students who choose what they write about bring passion and focus to the task of writing. Don't ask students to write only about Walden or the impact of slavery on early America; let them write about what captivates them. Ask them to argue for changes they believe in. Give them audiences throughout the school and the world. As Donald Graves said,


Our anxieties about child growth lead us to take control of the writing away from children …. When children feel in control of their writing their dedication is such that they violate the child labor laws. We could never assign what they choose to do. (Newkirk & Kittle, 2013, pp. 52–53)


This week, Keenan, a struggling 10th grade writer, writes in his notebook about his mother's incarceration. Her absence has been a strain exacerbated by the holiday season. In line after line of tight print, filled with spelling and punctuation errors, Keenan rants about the injustice of her arrest for stealing at her workplace. It is raw, first-draft thinking; but his passion for telling this story is the fuel for research and revision. He crafts a letter to her former boss; and although he may never send it, imagining his audience forces him to pay attention to correct punctuation and smooth, clear sentences. Keenan rereads his draft and questions his choices, practicing the process of bringing rough thinking to clarity.

Daily Revision

I teach students to listen to their writing. My students and I respond freely to a poem or a graph or an editorial for several minutes each day. We then reread as though we were strangers to the piece of writing, sharpening ideas and images while shaping our sentences to be clear and smooth. We collect this low-stakes, ungraded practice in writing notebooks. This daily rereading, listening, and tuning of their writing has a huge effect on my students' understanding of the power of their voice and the rhythm of their words.

I ask students to find a place in their writing where specific detail like what Frank McCourt shows us could make their writing stronger. As they work, I confer with them and nudge them toward specific nouns and clear images. At the end of class, students share these revisions with partners.

Molly shares her first draft, "My feet knock under the table," and then reads her revision, "My feet, clad in cheap turquoise canvas sneakers perforated with puncture wounds from four years of constant abuse, knock together under the table, and wads of salt and sleet dribble onto my socks."

"That right there is good writing," Mackenzie comments.

"Why exactly?" I press.

"You know why, Mrs. Kittle. You can just see it—the sneakers, the puncture wounds, the salt …."

Frequent practice with writing and revision should not be limited to English class. Ideas and thinking are not just expressed in language; they are constructed through language (Vygotsky, 1986). We help students write about a subject to increase their understanding of it. Yet the mastery of mechanics is an illusion; errors increase when we are unsure of what we are trying to say. Students who conquer conventions when writing stories may stumble when composing a market analysis. We need ungraded practice across the school day.

Sentence Study

Students can learn to write with a sense of craft guiding them. I ask students to imitate interesting sentences, noticing how punctuation works in a sentence and then practice using it as they craft their own sentences.

We study the opening sentences of Kevin Powers's Iraq war novel The Yellow Birds, a 2012 National Book Award finalist. I have a copy of the following passage for each student. As I read it aloud, I ask them to think about what the writer is up to, why he is crafting words in this way. What effect is he hoping to have on a reader?


The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Ninevah and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire. (Powers, 2012, p. 1)


I give students a few minutes to reread and annotate the text before turning to share their thinking with another student. I listen in as they talk, writing notes to share with the class. Students mention personification, repetition, and parallel sentence structure. We look closely at how long sentences sit near short sentences, and we talk about how variety gives the passage rhythm.

I ask students to collaborate or work alone to imitate Powers's craft using any topic they choose. Here is Ryan's imitation:


Idleness threatened to kill me. It waited, hiding in the shadows until my actions lapsed, until I stopped for one second to catch my breath, and then it overtook me. It pounced, secured me in its grasp, held on until I gave in and stopped struggling. Once it had me, I was powerless to resist. The idleness was draining me of my drive, my dedication. It told me to stop trying, stop fighting, just sit … and wait …. It was deadly, and I felt my time slipping away.


Combining Sentences

In their meta-analysis of writing instruction, Graham & Perin (2007) cite combining sentences as one of 11 strategies that move adolescent writers forward. This strategy helps writers experiment with possibilities.

I give students four sentences: Biff graduated #7 in his high school class and missed only three questions on the SAT. He was undefeated in tennis senior year. He received a generous scholarship in math. He was denied admission to three universities he hoped to attend. I ask them to combine the information into one or two sentences, applying their understanding of complex sentences. As students work, I teach in the moment to correct misunderstandings or reinforce smart choices.

Issac says, "You'll like this, Mrs. Kittle: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Biff was undefeated in tennis and graduated #7 in his class with a generous scholarship in math due to his stellar SAT performance; however, he was denied admission to three universities he hoped to attend." He's right. I love it.

Modeling the Writer's Craft

I write in front of my students, demonstrating the decisions I make to clarify and tune sentences. I model the composition of essays, letters, and stories that matter to me, that I am deeply invested in crafting.

I revise phrases to create parallel structure, demonstrate how a semicolon clarifies the relationship between parts, and show students how I vary the length of sentences to help readers pay attention. My students watch me choose punctuation to ease reading. I allow my students to watch me struggle. Passion is contagious.

One Writer

At the center of teaching writing craft is what is at the center of all good instruction: the student. We don't teach semicolons; we teach students how to use them well. This is a subtle, but essential difference.

In class one morning, Sam, a 10th grader, heard a classmate say, "I don't know how you can be out there killing," and he wanted to show her what it is like to shoot a deer. He wrote one blast of thinking in his writing notebook. (You can view his handwritten first draft.)

The beauty of his language—which included such phrases as "you can't undo that bullet" … "not moving or blinking, nothing" … "they cling to the roots of life" … "something different, different than a love connection, far deeper"—was no accident. It was built on the volume of his independent reading and the poetry he had heard daily in class. It was also built on the writing process. All writers need a gathering place for thinking that allows for the mess of the first draft. In my class, Sam could freely write his thinking and then decide whether he wanted to continue to revise the piece to produce a best draft.

The topic that students are writing about—and their investment in a reader understanding it—has everything to do with their attention to conventions. Imagine if I had given Sam a list of errors and penalties before he had even begun to explore this idea. He wouldn't write with intention, he'd creep across a minefield of errors. Mistakes have to be OK as we struggle to get ideas on the page. We can create a place for ungraded practice where mistakes are not carelessness, but rather evidence of the messiness of our first thinking.

Sam eventually wrote three drafts of this glimpse of hunting, not only adding some additional reflections, but also honing his sentence structure (see his final draft). I remember well the day he called me over in class. "Mrs. Kittle, I need punctuation that is bigger than a comma. What are my options?" He wanted the reader to be held in the moment when a deer struggles, then falls. Together we read the sentence, listening to how punctuation could extend that pause. Sam will forever remember the sound of a terminal ellipsis because he used it to slow down the reading of his story at that key moment.

As I talked through the options with Sam, all of the students nearby could benefit from our conference. When students hear this kind of problem solving routinely in class, they see beyond rules to a writer's intention. They see punctuation as a tool they use, not just something they can name. They become the independent writers we desire.

A Lifelong Relationship

Busy students and teachers often truncate the writing process. We push composing into homework, which students avoid. They procrastinate; we nag. They turn in a rushed draft, run it through spell check, and await a grade.

The best teaching and learning are not rushed; they are thorough. Imagine a whole-school effort to greatly increase the volume of reading at every grade level and to teach students to hear the rhythm of language in what they read. Imagine teachers modeling the decisions we make as writers, inviting all students into a lifelong relationship with the power of language.

Imagine the power of that.


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