If you're teaching kids to write, then you know how difficult it can be to get them to produce quality writing. Have you ever taught your best lessons and still received work riddled with mistakes and poor sentence construction? I've been there, and it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. I've spent more time marking papers and reteaching without any real results than I'm willing to admit.
I finally I decided it was time to change things up and acknowledge that despite being the superhero teacher I was (and that you are!) students would have to take responsibility for their work by using tools and references.
Teach Them to Use Tools
I don't know about you, but I use tools all the time when creating, writing blog posts, or completing tasks. I mean, what professional doesn't use resources to help them do their job? I can assure you I had the top three English teachers in the history of middle school - Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Horn, and Mrs. Bell - to whom I credit for giving me an excellent language arts background. They were sticklers for the basics and "believe you me..." you'd better not forget to capitalize that proper pronoun or misspell "occasion." Even so, I check my work for accuracy using any and all resources available to produce the best writing possible.
Set Up a Writer's Tools Section in Student Binders
One of the first things I do with a new group of students is have them set up a section in their binder labeled Writer's Tools. Here they keep all the tools and resources needed like the English Cheat Sheet, an easy-to-use reference for all things grammar, usage, and mechanics. I also give them lists of words and terms in a collection called The Ultimate Word List for Writers. It's filled with sensory words, words for tone and mood, adjectives of personality (character traits), words to use in place of said, walked, saw, and thought, idioms, transition words, ways to correct run-on sentences, and figurative language.
Going Digital with the Cheat Sheet
After years of using the cheat sheet successfully, virtual learning happened, and I wanted my students to have easier access to the tools they needed to be great writers. Instead of sharing links to multiple references, I put together a digital writer's tools notebook and shared it through my learning management system. It became an instant hit, and I found that students who were reluctant to use the paper cheat sheet, embraced the Digital Writer's Tools Notebook.
Using Tools with Bell Ringers
One vivid memory I have of teaching grammar comes from my early years in the classroom. I thought by incorporating Daily Oral Language (DOL) or some type of daily language review, my students would become expert writers and lovers of language. That is until one of my favorite students - brilliant and outspoken - asked me why I insisted on making them do "mindless DOL". What? Mindless? Yes, the mundane task of editing and proofreading sentences was more than even I could stand and did little to move the needle on student success, but what to do?
I changed up my bell ringer game by giving students mentor text and incorporating activities for reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary each day. I also allow them to use their writer's tools notebook. The results have been better than I could have imagined. Now students work with purpose using mentor text to analyze author's craft, make inferences, learn new vocabulary, and write. Take a look at the bell ringers I use and try them out in your own classroom.
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