If you're teaching kids to write, then you know how difficult it can be to get them to produce quality writing. Not every kid comes to us knowing how to put together complete sentences or generate ideas and organize those into paragraphs. Not every kid is a natural speller or grammar whiz. But, every kid can learn to use tools that will help them become better writers and independent learners. I remember working on lesson plans and wondering how I was going to squeeze everything I needed to teach in the time I had with my kiddos. I finally acknowledged the fact that despite being the superhero teacher I was (and that you are!) students would have to take responsibility for some of their own learning by using tools and references.
Teach Them to Use Resources
I don't know about you, but I use reference tools all the time when creating, writing blog posts, or completing tasks. I mean, what professional doesn't use tools to help them do their job? I can assure you I had the top three English teachers in middle school history - 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 I or misspell "occasion." What I do remember is that they gave us tools to use and expected us to use them to make our work the best it could be.
The tools I'm talking about were lists of words and rules for capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. We read classics and discussed how the author used language to affect the reader. I'm sure there was some sort of state skills test, but I don't remember them mentioning it once. We dug into literature, analyzed poems, and wrote every day in some form or fashion. And that is exactly how I taught my middle school kiddos. Good teaching never goes out of style.
Setting Up a Writer's Tools Section in Student Binders
One of the first things I did with a new group of students was have them set up a section of their binder called Writer's Tools. Here they kept all the tools and resources needed for the year. For this I created the English Cheat Sheet. The cheat sheet is an easy-to-use reference that students should have access to every day. It's a freebie from Straight Outta Class, by the way! I also gave them lists of words and terms to use which became The Ultimate Word List for Writers. In that resource, students had access to words for tone and mood, sensory words, 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.
Bell Ringers are Not Mindless DOL
One vivid memory I have of teaching grammar comes from my early years in the classroom. I thought by using Daily Oral Language (DOL), my students would become expert writers and lovers of language. That is until one of my favorite students - brilliant, outspoken, and a Facebook friend today - 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, but what to do?
Take Ten Bell Ringers Save the Day
Bell ringers became my go-to for keeping students challenged, engaged, and interested without losing the daily skills practice they needed to master standards based skills for ELA. The result was a resource called Take Ten Bell Ringers. My students used mentor texts to strengthen reading comprehension, improve writing, and master grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary. I've started the process of redesigning it so all teachers can use these bell ringers. Recently a teacher asked how I used the bell ringers when the students had not yet been taught some of the skills in the activities or that perhaps they didn't remember being taught the skills from previous years or grading periods. My answer - writer's tools! Students will learn to take responsibility and ownership for their learning when they are taught to use resources to accomplish tasks.
If you are looking for a program that provides daily practice for many of the Common Core ELA and Texas TEKS standards, consider my Take Ten Bell Ringers resource which includes both the English Cheat Sheet and The Ultimate Word List for Writers. It's the only bell ringers resource you'll need all year!
I'd love to hear your own stories about teaching language arts. Feel free to leave a comment.
Until next time,