Teach Your Students to Write (Research Based) & MORE Mentor Texts!

A QUICK FYI:  LETTER FORMATION IS IMPORTANT!  Students who form letters correctly and who have a firm grasp on spelling will have an easier time writing.  Poor handwriting, in combination with poor spelling, can contribute to disability in written expression (Graham, Harris, & Fink 2000, Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 276).  Failure to develop automatic and legible letter and word formation may interfere with content in writing (Jones & Christiansen, 1999, Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 276).  Students devoting too much time to letter formation or letter retrieval have less time for spelling, planning, and expressing themselves.

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Please view the following TRAITS to teach your students HOW TO WRITE.  Be sure your students have included evidence of all of the writing traits in his/her piece!   First, help your student make a graphic organizer of what he/she plans on including.  It’s best to zoom in on a small moment, rather than a “I woke up” through “I went to bed” story.

 THE TRAITS ARE HOW WE WRITE, and Consists of. . .

1.Ideas:  central message and details, the content  Find a topic.  Decide on a title that captures the theme in an enticing way.  Focus on the topic, making it narrow and manageable.  Develop the topic in a fresh way with insight and evidence, transcending the obvious and predictable.  Use NUMEROUS details to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.  The exact details make the writer credible, especially with the use of believable anecdotes.  Be memorable.

2. Organization:  internal structure, thread of logic and pattern of meaning Create the lead that entices the reader in..

Tips for Interesting Openers to Hook the Reader In!

  • State an interesting fact or thought!  Did you know that it is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open?  I learned this the hard way. . . .
  • Ask a question.  Did you ever wonder what it would be like if. . . ?
  • Make a bold or surprising statement, or a promise.  It is true; I  am a skiing master!  This was realized when. . . .
  • Give a definition.  Dictionary.com defines happiness as pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, and satisfaction.  I experienced all of this when. . . .
  • Start with 3 adjectives.  Spooky, creepy, and scary are three words that come to mind whenever I think about last Halloween.
  • A quote.  “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”  (Bill Cosby)  This rang true for me when. . . .
  • A flashback.   I will never forget that Christmas. . . .
  • Sound.   Chirp, chirp, chirp. . . .
  • Action.   The waves were crashing against the rocks. . . .
  • Dialogue.   “Happy birthday!”  Mom exclaimed as I . . . .
  • Setting or character description.   Be very descriptive telling time and place.  Use senses when describing settings and characters. 
  • State a problem.  Be very descriptive.  Use senses.

    Use sequence and transition words to show the reader how the ideas progress, relate, diverge.  Develop the body, fitting the details together logically, slowing down to highlight important parts, events, and speeding up to move reader along. End with a sense of resolution and closure.

    Tips For Ending Your Story

  • Circular ~ end it from the place you began!
  • Question ~ ask a thought provoking question at the end.
  • Cliffhanger ~ leave the ending suspenseful and up in the air.
  • Hopes/wishes ~ tell the reader your secret hopes and wishes.
  • Advice ~ offer the reader a piece of advice!
  • Moral ~ tell the lesson that you learned.
  • Quote ~ research a quote on the internet around the theme of your story, and end it. with the quote.  (Don’t forget to say who said the quote!)

 

3.Voice:  tone and tenor, personal stamp achieved through strong understanding of purpose and audience  Establish a tone, showing you care by being expressive and compelling, credible.  Convey the purpose to add interest in your overall message ~ is this a narrative piece, informational piece, persuasive piece? Create a connection to the audience.  As the writer, you need to consider what the reader needs to know, and what is the best way to share this.  Take risks to create voice.  Be original, fresh, and sound like yourself!  VOICE MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAIT, SUPPORTING AND EXTENDING WHAT THE WRITER SAYS!  VOICE SEPARATES GREAT WRITING FROM PROFICIENT PIECES (Culham, p. 46).  

Northern Nevada Writing Project recommends to show:

Your Personality ~ be honest, sincere, have passion and confidence

Your Emotions ~ energetic, heart-felt, your true feelings coming through, invite feelings from the reader, too

Your Style ~ be either a reporter or a storyteller, showcase your techniques, sound like you, take risks

Your Point of View ~ show an emotion, consider perspectives, be aware of your audience, be sensitive to them

Your Experience ~ know your voice, show insight, sound believable, own the topic

4.Word Choice:  vocabulary chosen CAREFULLY to convey meaning.  THINK OF THE 5 SENSES.  Mrs. Araujo suggests keeping AABH-SOAP in mind which stands for the following. . .!  Get a thesaurus or go to:  http://www.thesaurus.com/ 

A: Adjectives ~ describe nouns (beautiful, soft, crispy, delicate, rosy, etc.)  Be thoughtful and specific.  Use your 5 senses!

A:  Adverbs ~ describe verbs and usually end in ly (slowly, gently, happily, angrily, quickly) Use your 5 senses.  Be specific.

B: Better Words!  Instead of said say replied, whispered, responded, etc.  Instead of run say trotted, sprinted, dashed.  Think:  STRONGER VERBS!  Think:  STRONGER NOUNS!  Instead of car say Cadillac.  Instead of “The car drove by” try “The Cadillac rattled by.”  

H-SOAP is the Figurative Language you add to “clean up” your writing!

H:  Hyperboles ~ something that is greatly exaggerated (ate 1,000 pancakes, ran a one minute mile)

S:  Similes ~ compare using like or as (as bright as the sun, like a bull in a china shop)

O:  Onomatopoeias ~ sounds like the sound it makes (plop, drip, ring, crash)

A:  Alliteration ~ sentence or phrase with same letter sound (sweet smell of success or breezy, blustery day ~ just stick one or two in for effect)

P:  Personification ~ brings life to nonliving objects (the moon smiled and winked at me, or the chair welcomed me after the long day)

Use words that are specific and accurate.  Use language effectively to capture imagination and create meaning.  Teachers, check out this idea for a classroom Thesaurus wall: Thesaurus Wall

By picking the BEST words, you can SHOW, not just tell!

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show_don't_tell

5.Sentence Fluency:  the way words and sentences flow ~ the auditory trait because we “read” for it with the ear and eye  Capture smooth and rhythmic flow.  Read it out loud. How do the sentences sound?   Craft well-built sentences, and combine sentences using and, but, so and other transition words.  Vary sentence patterns and lengths.  Use a one word “sentence” for effect.  Use a mixture of simple sentences with more complex sentences. Have a few sentences answer WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WHY HOW.  For example:  The man fell.  Change this to:  The lonely old man fell slowly and softly on the staircase leading up to the doctor’s office yesterday. Break the “rules” to create fluency, especially with dialogue to make the writing more authentic.

6.Conventions:  guides reader through the text and makes it easy to follow ~ spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar and usage, paragraphing Check spelling. Use punctuation and indenting paragraphs.  Insert capitalization where needed.  Check published texts on how to use punctuation and capitalization for dialogue.  Apply grammar and usage, only breaking this for stylistic reasons. Otherwise, nouns/verbs should agree.  

7.Presentation:  physical appearance, should be visually appealing to invite reader in Apply handwriting skills, with consistent size, neatness, clearness, and spacing.  Use word processing with a clear and appropriate font, using color only to increase readability.  Use white spaces, including appropriate sized margins.  Incorporate text features that align with the content.  There should be no cross-outs or smudges.

9780689717383_smChoiceLiteracy.com (2006-2011) recommends Cynthia Rylant’s The Relatives Came to teach:

  • leads ~ gives a little information about the setting, and makes you wonder
  • endings ~ ease the reader into the conclusion
  • memoir writing ~ a small slice of life
  • internal thoughts ~ let’s us know what the characters are thinking
  • transition words ~ propels the reader through
  • visualizing ~ word choice, using the 5 senses, helps us
  • sentence variety ~ varied beginnings and lengths
  • voice ~ show ~ don’t tell, write like you talk
  • beginning, middle, end ~ clear, simple, story structure
  • circular story structure ~ this text is similar to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.   

As you read aloud to or with your students, notice what real authors do that your students can do, too!

This would be a great bulletin board for writing ~ a Thesaurus wall!

http://classroomdisplays.org.uk/literacy/classroom-displays-more-word-walls/

6TraitWritingPosters  Use these traits posters!

http://www.learner.org/resources/series205.html  Watch these videos!

Write to Learn!

Write to Demonstrate Learning!

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What is writing?

“Writing is thinking aloud on paper” (Culham, 2014).

“Reading is like breathing in and writing is like breathing out” (Allyn, 2013, Culham, p. 34).

“In reading, meaning is built from text and in composing meaning is built for text,” (Nelson, 1998).

“…writing is a powerful ally and aid to reading.  From the very beginning, students need to engage frequently in activities in which reading and writing are paired…” (Michael Graves, Connie Juel & Bonnie Graves, 2007). 

Writing is an active, complex process, and more than a skill or talent; you cannot be disengaged.  We write to learn and we write to demonstrate understanding.  We all are writers ~ whether it is a note to a friend, an email to a coworker, or a text to a child, writing is part of our everyday communication.  Writing formally for school is a bit different, and teachers have the job of teaching students to write for all of these varied purposes.  Reading and writing are connected and are mutually reinforcing. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) places equal weight on reading and on writing and advocates the use of writing in reading assessments.  Writing is a means of inquiry and expression for learning in all grades and disciplines. Writing instruction is key to building successful writers. Students learn to write by writing, as well as being taught different genres, processes, skills and techniques that will allow their writing to grow in much the same way as their reading expands and develops. While writing research has not been plentiful, it has been elevated to a higher status with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). There are many organizations that disseminate research findings around writing such as the National Writing Project, National Council of Teachers of English, and International Literacy Association.  (University of New England, Connecting Reading and Writing For Success, Spring 2016)

The goal of writing is to communicate, and for hundreds of years this has been so.  The power of stories and storytelling predates writing.  This video explains why writing matters:

(University of New England, Connecting Reading and Writing For Success, Spring 2016)

Remember:  Writers paint pictures with words!

Write with your heart ~ just for 15 minutes/day!  Lives are changed by storytelling.

 

The big message in Culham’s (2014) The Writing Thief, is to notice what authors do in the books students read, discuss what authors have done, and ask students how they might try such strategies in their writing.  Use mentor texts:  any text, print or digital, that you can read with a writer’s eye (Culham, p. 31).  Draw conclusions about how writing is structured (Culham, p. 16).  

“Texts are the glue that binds reading and writing processes together.  It seems logical, then, to turn to texts to understand writing more deeply rather than relying on worksheets” (Culham, p. 30). 

There are 3 Connections Between Reading and Writing 

(Lane Clark, University of New England) 

  1. Letter to Sound relationship.  Students interact more deeply with phonics when they are asked to apply it and write!
  2. Structural level.  Writing makes story structure more concrete; we slow down and think about the text differently.  Students connect the written word to communication when they write.
  3. Students are forced to think about language, purpose, and audience, the many purposes of text.

WEAVE THE TEACHING OF READING AND WRITING TOGETHER IN EVERY CONTENT AREA!  According to The Connecting Reading and Writing For Success class (2016) at the University of New England, reading and writing are connected and are mutually reinforcing. The Common Core State Standards places equal weight on reading and on writing and advocates the use of writing in reading assessments.

According to The Writing Thief, the following are sensible points for writing instruction (p. 15):

  • Practice new skills created by the student, NOT worksheets!
  • Develop spelling via high-frequency words, word families, phonics, sight words, spell check, NOT by formal weekly spelling tests!
  • Explore word meanings, NOT assigned vocabulary lists!
  • Allow ideas to determine organization, NOT prescribed formats such as the 5 paragraph essay!
  • Teach in the context of reading, skill by skill, moving towards a deeper understanding, NOT skills in isolation!
  • Provide choice in format, genre, mode, NOT assigned topics!
  • Evaluate based on performance, growth, effort, NOT compliance and following directions!
  • Use a spiraling scope and sequence that builds each year, NOT covering everything every year!
  • Create a happy working classroom NOT absolute silence!
  • Teach test format as a genre NOT dwelling on test prep!
  • Offer small, focused suggestions for revision and editing, NOT marking papers for everything!
  • Teach reading and writing together, NOT writing in isolation, focusing on grammar!

According to Culham (2014), the 4Ws of Writing are:

  • Writing Process ~ how writing is generated
  • Writing Traits ~ how writing works (see 7 traits above)
  • Writing Workshop ~ classroom organizational routines
  • Writing Modes ~ purpose for writing

The Writing Process consists of:

  • Prewriting:  get a topic and gather resources
  • Drafting:  commit a rough draft on paper or digital form
  • Feedback:  get feedback from a reader or listener
  • Revision:  reflect on feedback and implement changes for clarity, interest, authenticity.  “Revision begins with evaluation, and the primary reason that students have difficulty revising is that they don’t know how to evaluate their writing. . . It is important to teach students specific criteria for evaluation and how to revise based on those criteria” (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 235).**
  • Editing:  clean up for conventions:  spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar and usage, paragraphing
  • Finishing/Publishing:  create a public copy

**Revision Continued ** REVISING:  What are the writers’ goals and purposes for writing?  Teach students to self-evaluate their writing using specific criteria related to genre or text structure.  See:  Nonfiction Text Structures.  

To revise a persuasive essay, it might look like this (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 222).

  1.  Read the essay.
  2.  Find the sentence that tells what you believe.  Is it clear?
  3.  Add 2 reasons why you believe it.
  4.  Scan each sentence.  Do they make sense?  Are there errors? Can you add more?
  5.  Make changes.
  6.  Reread and make final changes.

There is also Reciprocal Peer Revising:  strategy instruction, peer interaction, instruction in specific evaluation criteria, and word processing.  Here are the steps (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 223). 

  1.  Listen to the author read the paper.
  2.  Tell what you liked best.
  3.  Read the paper and apply evaluation questions.
  4.  Discuss suggestions.
  5.  Author makes changes.

 

The Writing Workshop:  Writers need (Lane Clark, University of New England): 

  • a regular chunk of time
  • their own topics
  • to be given responses
  • to learn mechanics from context
  • adult role models
  • to be readers 

Emphasizing the social and collaborative nature of writing, the workshop is the structure, series of routines, organizing of time, resources, and interaction, encouraging active student-centered writing, in which students can make decisions about what is written.  It is combined with reading instruction, and could be referred to as the Literacy Workshop.  The Writing Workshop is based on the writing process model.  The teacher starts with a mini-lesson, and then circulates around the room, meeting with students individually or in small groups, monitoring progress and giving nudges.  Students have choice, and they work at their own pace, receiving specific and targeted feedback.

The Writing Modes:  THE MODES ARE WHAT WE WRITE!  Different purposes for writing ~ narrative, expository, persuasive.  Purpose drives the reasons student write and is key to helping students understand what they are writing.

Writing can (Lane Clark, University of New England):

  • Cause knowledge to become organized and coherent
  • Reinforce and extend learning
  • Facilitate learning to read
  • Slow down our thinking
  • Practice an important life long communication skill

According to the Common Core, writing should always be PURPOSE DRIVEN and well crafted.  Traits and mode work hand in hand (Culham, 2014, p. 26):

Narrative:  to write real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well structured event sequences  (to tell a story)

Informational/Explanatory:  to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content (to explain, describe, inform)  Traditionally labeled expository.

Argument (opinion):  to write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence (to convince using logic and reason)

PEER EDITING ~ always stay positive!  Peer editing is FUN!

  1. Compliment ~ start with positive words!
  2. Suggestions ~ maybe suggest specific word choices, discuss what wasn’t clear or any confusing parts, talk about leads, clinchers, sentence structure (lengths, vary sentence beginnings. . .)
  3. Corrections ~ spelling, grammar, punctuation, complete sentences

TIPS

HAVE SPECIFIC, CONCRETE TEACHING OBJECTIVES:  Do not say, “I am teaching the ideas trait” but rather, “I am teaching students to focus and narrow their topics within the ideas trait” (Culham, p, 49).  Jeremy Sherman said, “To name it is to tame it” meaning that if we can name what isn’t working in children’s writing, we can tame the same quality in our work with students, and conversely, name what is GOOD about their writing to encourage more of it (Culham, p. 44).  We all need to use the same writing language for consistency.

MENTOR TEXTS:  Mentor texts do not need to be picture books.  Consider short passages from chapter books, menus, advertisements. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF POETRY:  Author, Nicola Davies, said most poetry is observational nonfiction, delivering a sensory and emotional experience about the world in a narrative package (Culham, p. 48).  “Poetry has a memorable shape and feel, a kind of manageable carrier for the information it contains” (Culham, p. 48).

QUICK WRITES ARE BENEFICIAL!  

PLANNING THE WRITING ~ differentiate instruction by teaching choices in planning.

There are 2 broad approaches to planning ~ top-down, in which the student uses concept maps, outlining. . . and bottom-up, in which the student writes freely with extensive revision.   Chapter 8 in Best Practices in Writing Instruction, 2nd Edition (2013) outlined the best practices in planning writing: 

1.  Contemplate the task and the writing ~ Is there a text structure to follow (for ex. cause/effect)?  Is there a rubric? Is there a specific length?  Audience?  Purpose? 

2.  Activate prior knowledge ~ How do your feelings influence the topic?  What do you know?  What do you need to research?

3.  Consider vocabulary and language use ~ Vocabulary choices reveal knowledge about the topic.

4.  Organize ideas ~ Think about how the reader will understand. 

5.  Continue to plan ~ writers are constantly revising and filling in the gaps ~ this is STILL planning.

PLANNING STRATEGIES

These strategies need to be taught so students have options, and can pick what planning strategy works best for them!  Planning can be fun and EXCITING! 

Simply Think ~ Model thinking aloud, jotting down ideas

Inquiry ~ Students start by writing questions that they have about the topic, serving as a writing plan (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 207). 

Sketch Journals ~ Sketching can help spark descriptive vocabulary when the writer draws the character and setting as a planning strategy (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208). 

Graphic Organizers ~ “Drawing slows us down and helps us notice ~ important skills for writers” (Ernst daSilva, 2001, (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208).  Students should revise their content maps/graphic organizers as their thinking changes.

Free Writing/Quick Writes ~ Students write for a chunk of time without worrying about spelling or punctuation.  Students must have a lot of background knowledge to do this.

Talking into a Tape Recorder ~ Tell your story aloud on tape, then transcribe it.  ELLs can record their story in their native language (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208). 

3×5 Note Cards ~ Place information on separate index cards, then group the cards by related information, which is helpful for kinesthetic learners (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 209). 

Outline ~ Good for linear thinkers (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 209). 

Technology ~ Students can write on Word and revise/plan as they go.  There is an outline feature on Word that helps students plan their writing before and after drafting (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 209). 

    

TEACH SENTENCE COMBINING!  Sentence combining is an effective technique to increase students’ ability to manipulate syntax (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 254). It is best taught in a well rounded writing program that includes ample time for writing, conferencing between peers and teachers, mini-lessons to increase skills, ample teacher modeling, and choice in writing assignments (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 255).  

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CHECK OUT THESE MENTOR TEXTS FOR WRITING:

MENTOR TEXTS FOR WRITING

     MORE SPECIFICS ON INFORMATIONAL WRITING

Informational writing is what we do most often in life.  Informational writing is EVERYWHERE!  Good informational text is credible, clear, captivating!  When we write about things that matter to us it gives us the courage and momentum to keep going.  (Culham, p. 53)  Informational writing includes essays, books, journals, blogs, brochures, how-to manuals, signs, and lists.  One of the most important traits in informational writing is text organization.  Informational writing requires lots of research; reading and writing are 2 sides of the same coin (Culham, p. 57).

Ideas trait ~ weave facts into a running account, offering an inside perspective and the writer’s commitment on the topic.  It is hard to have ownership of a topic if you are using someone else’s ideas (Culham, p. 57). Anticipate and answer the reader’s questions. Teach your content.  Fascinate and intrigue, knowing your audience.  Suggested mentor texts: Written Anything Good Lately? by Allen and Lindaman (2006).  This text helps students understand the variety of text types (Culham, p. 58).

  • FINDING A TOPIC ~ clear, central theme with a memorable story line.  Suggested mentor texts:  Manfish:  A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Berne (2008). Models how our interests drive us (Culham, p. 59).
  • FOCUS THE TOPIC ~ narrow the theme or story line into a tight piece. Suggested mentor texts:  Not Just Any Gum Tree (a sign written by the Zoological Society of San Diego, CA).  This sign, found in the back of The Writing Thief, is a good example of narrowing down one fact ~ why koalas are picky eaters despite the abundance of eucalyptus leaves (Culham, p. 60).
  • DEVELOP THE TOPICS ~ show enough evidence to support the theme, with an unpredictable, original plot.  Suggested mentor texts:  Moonbird:  A Year on the Wind With the Great Survivor B95  by Hoose (2012).  Examine parts of the book for quality of writing, specifically the preface and Table of Contents.  To develop an idea, students need specific information an planning.  Students will see chapters are broken down into subsections, developing the main idea (Culham, p. 61).
  • USING DETAILS ~ choose credible, accurate details that create visuals in the reader’s mind.  Suggested mentor text:  Poop:  A Natural History of the Unmentionable by Davies (2004).  Davies tells details in an interesting way (Culham p. 62).

Organization trait ~ the internal structure of the piece.  Show order, connections, hierarchy and importance of ideas.  A strong lead needs to entice the reader in.  The body may be point-by-point analysis, deductive logic, cause and effect, compare and contrast, problem and solution, order of importance/complexity, chronological order.  Think of the nonfiction text structures.  The end of an informational piece should wrap up thinking, draw conclusions.  Use logic ~ what makes sense for organizing your topic?  Don’t stick to a strict formula; writing is an art.

  • CREATING A LEAD ~ provide a tantalizing glimpse as to what is to come. Suggested mentor text:  Noah Webster and His Words by Ferris (2012). This book has an interesting lead that describes Noah while giving the definition of confidence.  Compare this lead with other biographies and categorize these leads by:  a biographical item, setting, a little known fact, clever way to say why the person is famous.  Discuss which is most effective and why (Culham, p. 64).
  • USE SEQUENCE AND TRANSITION WORDS ~ these are placed to guide the reader through the piece by showing how ideas progress, relate, and/or diverge. Suggested mentor text:  “Here Kitty Kitty:  Monopoly Rolls Out Its New Token” an online article my Morris (2013). This article uses a lot of transition words. Examine the difference between sequence words and transition words.  Keep an ongoing list of these in this mentor text as well as others.  Discuss the variety of ways these transition words are placed (Culham, p. 65).
  • DEVELOPING THE BODY ~ the piece is easy to follow and logical, slowing down to spotlight important parts.  Suggested mentor text:  Locomotive by Floca (2013). Have students make a route map as the text is read.  Students can write about favorite places and locate them on a U.S. map.  Create a class book using the U.S. map to sequence the book correctly (Culham, p. 66).
  • ENDING WITH A SENSE OF RESOLUTION ~ provide a strong sense of closure by answering any questions the reader may have.  Suggested mentor text:  On a Beam of Light:  A Story of Albert Einstein by Berne (2013).  Examine the ending of this text among other favorite texts.  Have students go on an ending scavenger hunt.  They can discuss what the writer did that worked well.  Have students read the ending aloud and have the class guess what book it came from and/or what the book is about (Culham, p. 67).

Voice trait ~ Voice connects the reader and writer.  Writing is thinking.  Voice is a primary trait that shows up when all of the other traits are working well.

  • ESTABLISHING A TONE ~ expressive and compelling writing, showing that the writer cares.  It uses conviction, authority, integrity.  Suggested mentor text: The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away from Home LaRue Huget (2013).  This book is good for tone and format.  Students should be asked to identify words that set the tone in the book (Culham, p. 69).
  • CONVEYING THE PURPOSE ~ the reason for writing is clear.  The point of view is appropriate.  Suggested mentor text:  Clemente! by Perdomo (2010).  A mixture of Spanish and English is used ~ this adds voice (Culham, p. 70).
  • CREATING A CONNECTION TO THE AUDIENCE ~ through the writer’s fascination of the topic, making the reader want to listen.  Suggested mentor text:  Please Be Safe (sign ~ can be found in the back of The Writing Thief). This sign has lots of voice, stating not to fall or an animal might eat you which would make them sick.  Compare this voice to other signs.  How can other signs be revised (Culham, p. 71)?
  • TAKING RISKS TO CREATE VOICE ~ make the piece interesting and original. Suggested mentor text:  Bugs in my Hair! by Shannon (2013).  Perhaps students could rewrite the book, taking on the point of view of the lice.  Research lice life cycle first (Culham, p. 71).

Word Choice Trait ~ the vocabulary used to convey meaning.  Using accurate words is critical in informational writing for credibility.  Use figurative language to capture imagination.  Verbs are critical and add power to the sentences.  A quote from Hazlitt (1993) speaks to scant vocabulary means a weak thinker.  Strong vocabulary helps to build distinctions between subtle nuances of meaning.

  • USE STRONG VERBS ~ use lively verbs to add energy!  Suggested mentor text:  Older Than the Stars by Fox (2010).  This is an excellent choice to demonstrate strong verbs.  Go through and locate and record verbs with students.  Circle the most powerful (Culham, p. 73).
  • SELECTING STRIKING WORDS AND PHRASES ~ use of alliteration, similes, metaphors make for a delightful read.  Suggested mentor text:  Ocean Sunlight:  How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas by Bang and Chisholm (2012).  Read aloud, pointing out how the words create vivid imagery.  Students may create their own illustrations of this visual writing (Culham, p. 74).
  • USING WORDS THAT ARE SPECIFIC AND ACCURATE ~ all words bring clarity. Suggested mentor text:  “Dr. Marla R. Emery, Geographer” ~ a card written by the USDA Forest Service.  It can be found at the back of The Writing Thief. This is like a trading card; there are several.  Students can design similar cards for other figures.  Students must choose specific and accurate words (Culham, p. 75).
  • USING LANGUAGE EFFECTIVELY ~ deliberate choosing of the BEST words. Suggested mentor text:  Eight Days Gone by McReynolds (2012).  This is a great example of packing a lot of punch with carefully selected words.  Have students pick a topic and describe it factually and poetically (Culham, p. 75).

Sentence Fluency Trait ~ the words and phrases need to flow.  Sentence flow is both visual and auditory.  Two different sets of skills are needed ~ how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences as well as listening to read alouds ~ how has the author flowed his sentences together?

  • CAPTURING SMOOTH AND RHYTHMIC FLOW ~ when read aloud, the piece is easy on the ear.  Suggested mentor text:  Team Moon:  How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Thimmesh (2006).  This text includes quotes, stories, fact boxes, pictures, lists. . . .  Contrast this with Eight Days Gone by McReynolds.  Same topic, but 2 different styles (Culham, p. 77).
  • CRAFTING WELL BUILT SENTENCES ~ with maximum impact!  Use conjunctions to join sentences.  Suggested mentor text:  Cave Detectives:  Unraveling the Mystery of an Ice Age Cave by Harrison (2007).  Use this book to locate different types of sentences (Culham, p. 78).
  • VARYING SENTENCE PATTERNS ~ mix long and complex sentences with short simple ones.  Suggested mentor text:  Angry Birds Go!  Jenga Pirate Pig Attack Game by Hasbro.  In the product description there is strong voice with different sentences types, even fragments.  Students can write their own product descriptions (Culham, p. 79)! 
  • BREAKING THE RULES TO CREATE FLUENCY ~ accent a moment or action by fragments or one word sentences.  Make dialogue sound authentic.  Suggested mentor text:  Lifetime:  The Amazing Numbers in Animals Lives by Schaefer, (2013).  Have students add a page to this book using one word and fragments as the author did.  Follow it up, as the author did, with beautifully crafted additional facts (Culham, p. 80).

Conventions Trait ~ the editing trait.  Have grade level expectations that are consistently reinforced.     

  • CHECKING SPELLING ~ sight words, high frequency words, and less familiar words are spelled correctly.  Suggested mentor text:  Dear Deer:  A Book of Homophones by Barretta (2007).  Have children write sentences using homophones and illustrate them (Culham, p. 81).
  • USING PUNCTUATION AND INDENTING PARAGRAPHS ~ the piece is ready for a general audienceSuggested mentor text:  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves:  Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference!  by Truss, 2006.  This is a hilarious book. Have students write their own sentences omitting punctuation for different meaning (Culham, p. 82). 
  • INSERTING CAPITALIZATION ~ uses capitals consistently and accurately, including dialogue, abbreviations, proper names, titles.  Suggested mentor text:  M.O.M. (Mom Operating Manual) by Cronin, 2011.  This book teaches acronyms, and sets good examples of capitalization.  Students can come up with their own acronyms (Culham, p. 83).
  • APPLYING GRAMMAR AND USAGE ~ grammatically correct phrases and sentences, only breaking grammatical rules for stylistic purposesSuggested mentor text: “School Kids Correct Celebrity Grammar Mistakes on Twitter” ~ blog post by O’Neil, 2013.  Find incorrect tweets and have students fix them.  Students can compile a list of grammar rules (Culham, p. 83).

Presentation Trait ~ the physical appearance of the piece.  This is a fine motor and visual skill.  Make it inviting to read.  Include nonfiction text features.  

  • APPLYING HANDWRITING SKILLS ~ clear and legible, consistent size letters, consistent slantSuggested mentor text:  Dr. Amelia’s Boredom Survival Guide:  First Aid for Rainy Days, Boring Errands, Waiting Rooms, Whatever!  by Moss, 2006.  This book uses a handwriting font.  Make a list of what is attractive about this book.  Students can add pages to this survival guide (Culham, p. 85).
  • USING WORD PROCESSING ~ font style and size are easy to read and appropriate for purposeSuggested mentor text:  Girls Think of Everything:  Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Thimmesh, 2000.  Different color fonts are used.  Talk about different fonts and sizes and readability (Culham, p. 86).
  • USING WHITE SPACE ~ appropriately sized margins with neat printing.  No smudges or cross outsSuggested mentor text:  Oh My Gods!  A Look-It-Up Guide to the Gods of Mythology by Bryant, 2010.  This is a graphic novel.  It has an interesting busy layout (Culham, p. 87).
  • INCORPORATING TEXT FEATURES ~ nonfiction text features are aligned to text it supports. Suggested mentor text:  Kid-Friendly Fun, Rain or Shine (brochure) ~ can be found in the back of The Writing Thief.  Creative text features are used such as shaping words to what they describe.  Students can design their own brochures (Culham, p. 87).

Pencil_Dummy-01 MORE SPECIFICS ON NARRATIVE WRITING

Narrative writing teaches us about love, loss, and humanity, offering glimpses into people’s lives, entertaining us, making us feel. Stories are powerful ways to communicate ideas (Culham, p. 88).  The Common Core is pushing for more nonfiction reading, but fiction reading poses questions of ethics, responsibility, moral dilemmas, integrity, and honor (Culham, p, 91).  Fiction lets us explore the complexity of life.  Good fiction teaches life lessons.  

Narratives develop by using time as the key organizational feature.  Narratives use flashback, flash forward, and circular patterns to explain and entertain (Culham, p. 93).

Narrative tells a story and informational explains and describes, but good writing can do both.  Good writers mix modes to create the text they want (Culham, p. 93).  In Harry Potter, the Sorcerer’s Stone, all 3 modes can be seen on page 169 and 225.

From Culham (pages 89-90):

Narrative:  the structure of fiction or nonfiction events ~ the open ended design

Story:  sequence of events including characters, setting, plot, problem, resolution

Fiction Narratives:  comes from imagination ~ realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, tall tales, and dystopia (an imaginative unpleasant place or state)

Nonfiction Narratives:  based on facts such as memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, and diaries

An interesting concept is truth and fact are not the same thing.  Truth does not contradict or deny facts but it goes through and beyond facts (Rosenberg, 2006, Culham, p. 90).  Truth is revealed in narrative writing.

Introduce narrative writing by reading:  Rocket Writes a Story by Hills (2012).  Create a word tree, or consider the story from the owl’s view point and Little Red Wing by Holub (2013).  This text also teaches how to write.  Students can create their own rules that are found on the pages.  

Ideas trait ~ the central message and details that support the content.  Write a new story, or put a new twist on a familiar one.  There are no new story ideas ~ only new takes on old ones (Culham, p. 99).  

  • FINDING A TOPIC ~ clear, central theme with a memorable story line. Suggested mentor texts:  Grandpa Green by Smith (2011). This is a memoir. Have students write their own using art to represent themselves (Culham, p. 100). 
  • FOCUS THE TOPIC ~ narrow the theme or story line into a tight piece. Suggested mentor texts:  Jangles:  A Big Fish Story by Shannon (2012).  This text illustrates how to focus on the topic.  Have students take a broad topic like sports, and narrow down the focus to one specific moment (Culham, p. 100).
  • DEVELOP THE TOPICS ~ show enough evidence to support the theme, with an unpredictable, original plot.  Suggested mentor texts:  The Black Bear Story ~ webpage.  This is nonfiction narrative about the start to a restaurant.  Students can interview local business people to get the story behind their start. Be prepared with questions to ask (Culham, p. 101). 
  • USING DETAILS ~ choose credible, accurate details that create visuals in the reader’s mind.  Suggested mentor text:  Inside Out and Back Again by Lai (2011). Read aloud pg. 142 with the great visual language that paints images in your mind (Culham, p. 102).

Organization trait ~ the internal structure of the piece.  Narrative uses a chronological sequence.  It has a daring lead and a symbolic end.  Time and place work in harmony. Pacing is key.  Slow down to highlight key events, speed up at other places.  Use sequencing and transition words that are natural and effortless (Culham, p. 103).

  • CREATING A LEAD ~ provide a tantalizing glimpse as to what is to come.  Suggested mentor text:  Tuck Everlasting by Babbit (1975). Read aloud p. 3.  Go line by line and pull out sensory images ~ sensory images enhance the lead (Culham, p. 104).
  • USE SEQUENCE AND TRANSITION WORDS ~ these are places to guide the reader through the piece by showing how ideas progress, relate, and/or diverge.  Suggested mentor text:  Over and Under the Snow by Messner (2011). The repetition of words is poetic.  The transition words show location and direction.  Have students write their own stories using lots of prepositions ~ Google a list  (Culham, p. 105)!
  • DEVELOPING THE BODY ~ the piece is easy to follow and logical, slowing down to spotlight important parts.  Suggested mentor text: Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird by Spinner (2012). Short chapters help for easy navigation.  Have the students ask questions to write and develop the body of the book even further  (Culham, p. 106). 
  • ENDING WITH A SENSE OF RESOLUTION ~ provide a strong sense of closure by answering any questions the reader may have.  Suggested mentor text:  “The Lion King” and “The Lion King: Alternate Ending”  wiki posts by Disney found in the back of The Writing Thief.  Discuss the pros and cons of both endings.  Have students write a different ending for another famous story (Culham, p. 107).

Voice trait ~ Voice connects the reader and writer.  Writing is thinking.  Voice is a primary trait that shows up when all of the other traits are working well.  Students must write about what they care about using distinctive words and phrases.  Think about authors you know ~ like Dr. Seuss.  You know his voice instantly.  This should become true of your student writers. Voice is the writer’s unique way of interpreting the world  (Culham, p. 108).

  • ESTABLISHING A TONE ~ expressive and compelling writing, showing that the writer cares.  It uses conviction, authority, integrity.  Suggested mentor text: “Some Dude’s Fry Sauce” product description found in the back of The Writing Thief.  Have students write their own ads hitting the right voice for the product.  Mail these ads to the company (Culham, p. 108)!
  • CONVEYING THE PURPOSE ~ the reason for writing is clear.  The point of view is appropriate.  Suggested mentor text:  Marshfield Dreams:  When I Was a Kid by Fletcher (2005).  A great book to introduce memoir writing.  Fletcher portrays a different purpose for each chapter.  Have the students share a time in their lives using voice with a purpose (Culham, p. 109).
  • CREATING A CONNECTION TO THE AUDIENCE ~ through the writer’s fascination of the topic, making the reader want to listen.  Suggested mentor text:  Creepy Carrots by Reynolds, (2012).  Have children act the book out as you read aloud.  Ask about voice connections that the children found, and examine what the author did to make it work (Culham, p. 110).
  • TAKING RISKS TO CREATE VOICE ~ make the piece interesting and original.  Suggested mentor text:  Dragons Love Tacos by Rubin (2012). Talk about the surprises in this book and where the author took risks (Culham, p. 111).

Word Choice Trait ~ the vocabulary used to convey meaning.  Think about energy and liveliness of your words, using figurative language.  The words must show pizzazz and be specific and correct.  Writers must make us visual, feel, make a connection.  

  • USE STRONG VERBS ~ use lively verbs to add energy!  Suggested mentor text:  The One and Only Ivan  by Applegate (2012).  Many strong verbs are used throughout, such as on p. 154.  Have students replace the verbs with forms of “to be” (is, am, are, were. . .).  Discuss the differences between the 2 texts and which is preferable.  Revising verbs on their drafts can be powerful (Culham, p. 112)!
  • SELECTING STRIKING WORDS AND PHRASES ~ use of alliteration, similes, metaphors make for a delightful read.  Suggested mentor text:  The Word Collector by Wimmer (2011).  Beautiful phrases weave through illustrations so this is good for the presentation trait, too.  Have students match their words to art or find an exemplar sentence in any text with strong words and create art for it  (Culham, p. 113).
  • USING WORDS THAT ARE SPECIFIC AND ACCURATE ~ all words bring clarity.  Suggested mentor text: The Scarlet Stockings Spy by Noble (2004).  Read aloud p. 10 and have students draw what is described to show them the importance of accurate words and imagery (Culham, p. 114).
  • USING LANGUAGE EFFECTIVELY ~ deliberate choosing of the BEST words.  Suggested mentor text:  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 movie review by Rotten Tomatoes (2013).  Have students add 3 more characters to the cast and add descriptions of each using strong word choices and made up words (Culham, p. 115).

Sentence Fluency Trait ~ the words and phrases need to flow.  Sentence flow is both visual and auditory.  Two different sets of skills are needed ~ how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences as well as listening to read alouds ~ how has the author flowed his sentences together?  Dialogue lives largely in narratives.  Students must read their writing aloud to check for fluency.  

  • CAPTURING SMOOTH AND RHYTHMIC FLOW ~ when read aloud, the piece is easy on the ear.  Suggested mentor text:  Brady Bunch Theme Song lyrics.  Song lyrics can have a smooth, rhythmic flow.  This one also tells a story.  Have the children write an additional stanza that fits the beat (Culham, p. 116).
  • CRAFTING WELL BUILT SENTENCES ~ with maximum impact!  Use conjunctions to join sentences.  Suggested mentor text:  Three Hens and a Peacock by Laminack (2011).  This text has creative sentence structures.  Have children continue this text using well built sentences and dialogue (Culham, p. 117).
  • VARYING SENTENCE PATTERNS ~ mix long and complex sentences with short simple ones.  Suggested mentor text:  Wonder by Palacio (2012).  Read aloud p. 62 as an example of internal dialogue the way the main character, Auggie, is thinking them.  Have students write an internal dialogue of a person meeting Auggie for the first time (Culham, p. 118).
  • BREAKING THE RULES TO CREATE FLUENCY ~ accent a moment or action by fragments or one word sentences.  Make dialogue sound authentic.  Suggested mentor text: Mirror Mirror:  A Book of Reversible Verse by Singer (2010). Culham suggests checking out the YouTube “Lost Generation.”  This is tricky to do, but have students practice (Culham, p. 119).

Conventions Trait ~ the editing trait.  Have grade level expectations that are consistently reinforced.  Students may try dialogue and dialect with having concern for a reader’s ability to understand the text.   

  • CHECKING SPELLING ~ sight words, high frequency words, and less familiar words are spelled correctly.  Suggested mentor text:  Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote:  A Migrant’s Tale by Tonatiuh (2013).  Have children pull out Spanish words and maybe translate them online into other languages (Culham, p. 121).
  • USING PUNCTUATION AND INDENTING PARAGRAPHS ~ the piece is ready for a general audienceSuggested mentor text:  Exclamation Mark by Rosenthal (2013).  Have students write their own stories from the point of view of period or question mark (Culham, p. 122).
  • INSERTING CAPITALIZATION ~ uses capitals consistently and accurately, including dialogue, abbreviations, proper names, titles.  Suggested mentor text: “10 Accidental Inventions You Won’t Believe” blog post by English.  It is from the How Stuff Works website (Culham, p. 122).
  • APPLYING GRAMMAR AND USAGE ~ grammatically correct phrases and sentences, only breaking grammatical rules for stylistic purposesSuggested mentor text: Pirates Vs. Cowboys by Reynolds (2013).  Discuss the role of grammar in development of character.  Have students write additional dialogue as to what pirates or cowboys might say (Culham, p. 123).

Presentation Trait ~ the physical appearance of the piece.  This is a fine motor and visual skill.  Make it inviting to read.  Too much on a page is off putting.

  • APPLYING HANDWRITING SKILLS ~ clear and legible, consistent size letters, consistent slantSuggested mentor text:  Year of the Jungle:  Memories of the Home Front by Collins (2013).  Talk about the effect of the handwriting font   (Culham, p. 125).
  • USING WORD PROCESSING ~ font style and size are easy to read and appropriate for purposeSuggested mentor text:  The Plot Chickens  by Auch (2009).  This text uses many different fonts.  Have students go through books looking at various fonts and styles.  How can word processing improve their pieces?  10 different fonts on 1 piece is too many (Culham, p. 125).
  • USING WHITE SPACE ~ appropriately sized margins with neat printing.  No smudges or cross outsSuggested mentor text: Think (sign can be found at the back of The Writing Thief).  Show students a paragraph without margins and white space as an example of how difficult this is to read (Culham, p. 126).
  • INCORPORATING TEXT FEATURES ~ nonfiction text features are aligned to text it supports. Suggested mentor text:  Goodnight iPad:  A Parody for the Next Generation by Droyd (2011).  You can see this book on YouTube, too!  Compare this text with Goodnight Moon and compare the features (Culham, p. 127).

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MORE SPECIFICS ON ARGUMENT/ PERSUASIVE/OPINION WRITING

Persuasive writing’s purpose is to convince the reader by constructing an argument based on opinion, personal experience, data. . . .  It should include counterarguments.  Argument writing is a form of persuasive writing.  Argument writing is to change the reader’s point of view, bring some action on the reader’s part, or ask the reader to accept what the writer has written.  Persuasive writing constructs an argument but it also includes advertisements and propaganda, relying on emotion and lacking in objectivity  (Culham pg. 129-130).  Every argument should be grounded in facts, data, and evidence.  Have children gather enough information to firmly state their opinion, not beginning with “I think. . .” or “I believe. . . .”  Students should do opinion writing in all subjects in all grade levels.  Logic is the key to opinion writing.  Conducting surveys and researching are ways to gather information.  (Culham, p. 112)  Visit:  https://bookofbadarguments.com for a great online book.

Always have students consider both sides of the argument.  Hot topics to start with:    

  • Solution to bullying and why bullies bully.
  • Are you getting too much homework and the good in homework.

Examples of opinion writing can be found in Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie when Opal convinces the grocery store owner that Winn-Dixie is hers.  Have I Got A Book for You by West (2009) is a comical book of why people should buy the book.  Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Brown (2013) ~ students can copy the idea by discussing a chore they are tired of, they go wild, and other’s reactions.  End the story respectfully (Culham, p. 142).

Ideas trait ~ the central message and details that support the content.  Solid, credible information is needed, with facts, data, examples.  

  • FINDING A TOPIC ~ clear, central theme with a memorable story line.  Suggested mentor texts: Steep Hill Ahead (sign) can be found in the back of The Writing Thief.  Have students prepare a speech about why the sign is important   (Culham, p. 143).
  • FOCUS THE TOPIC ~ narrow the theme or story line into a tight piece. Suggested mentor texts:  Just Like My Papa by Buzzeo (2013).  Have students write their own versions by picking one animal and explaining how the animal wants to be like his papa (Culham, p. 144).
  • DEVELOP THE TOPICS ~ show enough evidence to support the theme, with an unpredictable, original plot.  Suggested mentor texts:  George Bellow:  Painter With a Punch! by Burleigh (2012).  Create templates such as, “Some people think ____, but actually ____”  (Culham, p. 145).
  • USING DETAILS ~ choose credible, accurate details that create visuals in the reader’s mind.  Suggested mentor text:  The Day the Crayons Quit by Daywalt (2013).  The crayons argue why each is the best.  Record details of the arguments on a chart, or pick a color not in the book and add a new page  (Culham, p. 145).

Organization trait ~ the internal structure of the piece.  Do not give students a script to follow; there is no script or formula for thinking and writing clearly (Culham, p. 146).  Pacing is key.  Provide the counterargument. 

  • CREATING A LEAD ~ provide a tantalizing glimpse as to what is to come.  Suggested mentor text:  The Perfect Pet by Palatini (2003).  The main character comes up with creative arguments.  Have students create pros and cons for more pets, and take on the character’s and her parents’ views (Culham, p. 147).
  • USE SEQUENCE AND TRANSITION WORDS ~ these are places to guide the reader through the piece by showing how ideas progress, relate, and/or diverge.  Suggested mentor text: That is Not a Good Idea! by Willems (2013).  Have students rewrite the book with an additional character (Culham, p. 146).
  • DEVELOPING THE BODY ~ the piece is easy to follow and logical, slowing down to spotlight important parts.  Suggested mentor text:  “Scribble Hero” by Morris.  This is an app review.  Have students review something of interest to them (Culham, p. 149). 
  • ENDING WITH A SENSE OF RESOLUTION ~ provide a strong sense of closure by answering any questions the reader may have.  Suggested mentor text:  Old Henry by Blos (1987).  Discuss both points of view in the text.  Have students write opinion pieces about Old Henry returning to the neighborhood (Culham, p. 150).

Voice trait ~ Voice connects the reader and writer.  Voice is conviction, authority, credibility, insight, integrity, and honesty (Culham p. 151).  These are needed for persuasive and informational writing.  In opinion writing, one must write with confidence.

  • ESTABLISHING A TONE ~ expressive and compelling writing, showing that the writer cares.  It uses conviction, authority, integrity.  Suggested mentor text: I Wanna New Room by Orloff (2010).  Make a list of the moods portrayed throughout this book.  Have students add to the book using the same tone  (Culham, p. 151).
  • CONVEYING THE PURPOSE ~ the reason for writing is clear.  The point of view is appropriate.  Suggested mentor text:  Hey Little Ant by Hoose (1998).  Describe the voices of each character.  Have students write an ending true to either to voice of the ant or the boy (Culham, p. 152).
  • CREATING A CONNECTION TO THE AUDIENCE ~ through the writer’s fascination of the topic, making the reader want to listen.  Suggested mentor text: Warp Speed by Levine (2011).  This book connects the reader and writer through a sad story about being bullied.  It is the voice that makes this connection.  Have students locate other books with similar voice (Culham, p. 153).
  • TAKING RISKS TO CREATE VOICE ~ make the piece interesting and original.  Suggested mentor text:  “Driving While Distracted” political cartoon by Parker (2009).  Have students take a side on this issue and prepare their opinions (Culham, p. 154).

Word Choice Trait ~ the vocabulary used to convey meaning and enlighten.  Choose the “just right” word to express your opinion.  Think of your classroom as a word choice laboratory.  Different words make us feel.  Writers should never feel finished with word choice.

  • USING STRONG VERBS ~ many action words are used.  Lively verbs energize the piece.  Suggested mentor text:  “Please Do Not. . .” sign written by the Zoological Society of San Diego ~ it can be found in the back of The Writing Thief.  The sign is all precise verbs other than 3 words.  What could the verbs be on a “stay off the plants” sign or “do not litter” sign (Culham, p. 155)?
  • SELECTING STRIKING WORDS AND PHRASES ~ literary techniques are used (alliteration, simile, metaphor).  Suggested mentor text:  All the Water in the World by Lyon (2011).  Check this book out for phrasing, word choice, and sentence fluency techniques. Lyon gives information, but in the end, turns the piece into an opinion.  GOOD OPINION WRITING IS ALSO INFORMATIONAL WITH AN ATTITUDE (Culham, p. 156)!
  • USING WORDS THAT ARE SPECIFIC AND ACCURATE ~ the writer uses words with precision.  The nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs help reader to fully understand the message.  Suggested mentor text:  The Promise by Davies (2013).  The words in this book are sparse, but powerful, teaching students that more words isn’t always better.  Have students write one sentence of the author’s opinion of this text, forcing them to use each word wisely.
  • USING LANGUAGE EFFECTIVELY ~ writer uses words to capture the reader’s imagination to enhance meaning.  Don’t just choose the 1st word that comes to mind.  Suggested mentor text:  Charlotte’s Web by White (1952).  This text demonstrates Fern’s vs. her dad’s opinion.  Have students discuss word choice, and points made by each character.

Sentence Fluency Trait ~ the ways words and phrases flow through the piece.  Tighten up sentences, trim unnecessary words, less is more.  “Artful use of sentences in argument writing can shine a spotlight on key points in the text” ( Culham, p. 159).  Don’t forget to always choose the BEST words.  Move words around in sentences.  Important pieces of information should go in short, declarative sentences.  Make a table and have students record:  sentence #, # of words in the sentence, first 2 words, last 2 words.  There should be a variety of sentence lengths.  

  • CAPTURING SMOOTH AND RHYTHMIC FLOW ~ think about how the sentences sound, with musical phrasing, easy on the ear.  Suggested mentor text:  Each Kindness by Woodson (2012). A suggestion is to give students a very long, flowing sentence from the book, and have them condense it into 5 words or less. Read the book with the newly revised sentence.  Sounds humdrum, doesn’t it?  Have students revise their work for such fluency (Culham, p. 161).
  • CRAFTING WELL BUILT SENTENCES ~ for maximum impact, with use of and, or, but, nor.  Suggested mentor text:  The Elephant Road by Davies (2013).  Read aloud p. 77.  Chart the sentence construction from pg. 77 (Culham, p. 162).
  • VARYING SENTENCE PATTERNS ~ simple, compound, and complex sentences are used.  Suggested mentor text:  “Blogging Barrier #1:  The Problem of Perfectionism” blog post by Juju.  Count the simple, compound, and complex sentences, and examine the use of punctuation.  Express their opinions similarly in a blog (Culham, p. 163).
  • BREAKING THE RULES TO CREATE FLUENCY ~ accent a moment or action by fragments or one word sentences.  Make dialogue sound authentic.  The writer may begin with informal words, such as Well, And, But.  Suggested mentor text: Outfoxed by Twohy. Make a list of all the ways duck tried to convince Fox.  Have them add 2-3 more examples to support Duck’s case.  Have them read their new fragment sentences aloud (Culham, p. 164).

Conventions Trait ~ the mechanical correctness of the piece. Teachers should correct the thinking, not the error.  What was the writer thinking?  Check what the writer is doing that works.  Have the student circle all of the correctly spelled words ~ this is very affirming.  Notice the error patterns,

  • CHECKING SPELLING ~ spelling is correct.  “Can You Raed Tihs?” ~ the words are intentionally misspelled.  This can be found in the back of The Writing Thief.  A study revealed that we read the first and last letter of words ~ not the whole word.  Have students take a pro or con stance in the importance of correct spelling (Culham, p. 166).
  • USING PUNCTUATION AND INDENTING PARAGRAPHS ~ writer handles punctuation skillfully to enhance clarity and meaning.  Piece is ready for a general audience.  Suggested mentor text:  Mockingbird by Erskine (2010). This sad text has a lot of internal dialogue.  Words are italicized instead of quotation marks.  Have children try adding dialogue to this book either using italics or quotation marks (Culham, p. 167). 
  • INSERTING CAPITALIZATION ~ uses capitals consistently and accurately, including dialogue, abbreviations, proper names, titles.  Suggested mentor text: Let’s Do Nothing!  by Fucile (2009).  The unique capitalization convention adds voice (Culham, p. 168).
  • APPLYING GRAMMAR AND USAGE ~ grammatically correct phrases and sentences, only breaking grammatical rules for stylistic purposesSuggested mentor text: It’s Hard to a Be a Verb!  by Cook (2008).  The title is an opinion.  The book has strong sentences due to the verbs.  List all the verbs to use in future pieces.  Write a sequel ~ “It’s Hard to Be a Noun.”  (Culham, p. 169)

Presentation Trait ~ the physical appearance of the piece.  The writing and art is easy to read.  Features are clear and easy to understand.

  • APPLYING HANDWRITING SKILLS ~ clear and legible, consistent size letters, consistent slantSuggested mentor text:  How to Tell What Someone is Like From Their Handwriting by Collins (2013) ~ a wiki post.  Students identify their personality based on the chart it matches with.  Students write an opinion piece on whether or not they agree (Culham, p. 170).
  • USING WORD PROCESSING ~ font style and size are easy to read and appropriate for purposeSuggested mentor text:  Hello!  Hello! by Cordell (2012)  This story is written in 2 fonts ~ an old font and a handwriting font.  The choices of fonts add understanding to the author’s message (p. 171).
  • USING WHITE SPACE ~ appropriately sized margins with neat printing.  No smudges or cross outsSuggested mentor text: Duck!  Rabbit!  by Rosenthal (2009).  This book is a visual puzzle that helps capture the importance of white space.  Have students create a paragraph about one of the images and defend which stands out more and why, but also add one sentence acknowledging the other point of view (Culham, p. 172).
  • INCORPORATING TEXT FEATURES ~ nonfiction text features are aligned to the text it supports. Suggested mentor text:  Duke by Larson (2013).  Letters are italicized and formatted to stand out.  Students can add to the book by writing another letter from either main character’s point of view (Culham, p. 173).

To quote Graham and Perin (2007), “Writing well is not just an option for young people – it is a necessity.  Along with reading comprehension, writing skill is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life in the global economy” (Culham, p. 10).  In The Writing Thief, Culham points to lack of consistency and continuity in the teaching of writing in the past (p. 12).  We also need not to test so much ~ texts, not test! (Culham, p. 12).  There needs to be much immersion in literature, combined with a writing program that is based on essential writing skills that deepens over time, becoming more complex and integrated throughout the years (Culham, p.13).

 

 

Culham, Ruth. The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing. Newark: International Reading Association, DE. Print.   

Graham, Steve, Charles A. MacArthur, and Jill Fitzgerald. Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Second Edition. New York:  Guilford, 2007. Print.

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