We've arrived at the final part of our Lil' Writers Series! The focus of this blog will be for those writers who have established a solid foundation of basic writing skills.
Writing can be broken down into traits. Teaching these traits initially as individual elements of writing can help children see the "science" behind good writing. Each of the elements work together to form a great piece of writing and if each one is done well, it does form a recipe for success in writing. However, if you attempt to teach all of the traits at once, it is likely to have a child feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to apply the skills.
To do this, you can use a formal framework such as the 6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham. The books provide ideas and templates for introducing and perfecting the traits, as well as assessing them! There is a book and/or a kit for each grade available for purchase. Having used the kits for two grades, I will say that I don't love every activity or every mentor text provided. However, the teacher guide books do provide a great place to start with your writing program. There are also tons of resources available that teachers have created that are available for download at little or no cost!
The thing that rocks about this program is that writing can be broken into 6+1 Traits (I'll explain the +1 in a moment), and that no matter which grade you are in, the language of the traits stays the same. Perhaps the work you are doing with the trait is more complex, but that means that a child in grade 1 and a child in grade 8 both understand that writing involves these 7 traits.
The traits are as follows:
1. IDEAS - developing strong ideas to write about; the main idea of the writing
2. ORGANIZATION - organizing the ideas in a way that makes sense; the writing's structure
3. VOICE - finding your personal writer's voice and tone
4. WORD CHOICE - descriptive writing and vocabulary
5. SENTENCE FLUENCY - varied sentence structure and type; the flow of the writing
6. CONVENTIONS - the writing basics: spelling, grammar, punctuation
(+1) PRESENTATION - the final look and formatting of the piece on paper
For a deeper dive into the traits, I like this site for an explanation!
See how the Presentation puzzle piece is still a part of the puzzle but isn't quite connected? It's seen as a +1! Presentation is a +1 simply because it is how you make the writing look at the end, and is not one of the key elements in putting the writing piece together.
Teaching the Traits
You can teach the traits in whichever order you choose, but this is the suggested order. What I will say is that I typically teach conventions alongside the other traits (as conventions covers the writing basics and should always continuously be practiced and assessed). Teach a trait, practice the skill, assess! Then introduce a new trait, and add it on to the previously learned knowledge and skills set.
Typically, you use mentor texts, or books that can help demonstrate a solid example of the trait you are teaching. WritingFix is re-adapting their website and reformatting all of their lessons weekly, so keep checking back with them! They have great ideas for mentor texts and ways to use them to teach the traits. Here is a link to a great slideshow for grade school age students that you can use a jumping off point for teaching the 6 traits!
The biggest take away for me is that as you introduce or teach a new trait, you scaffold the assessment as well. For example, perhaps your first writing piece is focused on ideas and conventions, and your rubric reflects that. It wouldn't be fair to assess on a trait or skill you haven't taught or practiced yet. Your second formal writing piece will be after you have introduced organization, so your rubric will assess ideas, organization and conventions. You add in a new assessment element as you teach more of the traits! Here are some great downloadable rubrics!
The other great thing is that as the kids get older, they become more familiar with the language being used and less formal trait instruction needs to be done. Instead, it's teaching how to enhance or level up their writing using the traits as a familiar framework.
This can be applied to paragraph writing, narrative writing, opinion/persuasive writing, informative writing, essays, etc. You name it!
Planning and Graphic Organizers
In terms of structure and planning - I love to use graphic organizers. Kids need help structuring their thoughts to a) ensure they have enough and b) to teach the organization of their writing. It's visual, simple and effective. If a box is empty, that means they are missing something! If the box is overflowing, they've written way too much on one idea. It's great for all kids, but those kids with executive functioning challenges will really benefit from these.
Here are some of my favourite FREE paragraph and essay writing organizers. They are all from Teachers Pay Teachers. You can find so many more if they aren't quite what you are looking for, and many more that are at a low cost!
Guided Persuasive Essay Organizer (great for struggling writers!)
Editing and Revising
As any other skill, editing is a skill that needs to be learned. Please note that editing is mechanical, like proofreading for punctuation and spelling. Revising is more structural (moving ideas to different places or re-organizing the writing).
One of my favourite things that I've learned as a teacher is how to help kids learn to edit their own work. Teachers are known for spending countless hours proofreading, underlining, circling, and fixing the work of their students. However, by us spending all that time making the fixes, they never actually learn the skill of editing their own work! In fact, in that scenario, the only one working on their editing skills ends up being the teacher!
Editing is more than just asking the child to look over their work and see if there are any mistakes. Quite often, they never realized they made the mistake in the first place! They likely won't catch it simply by reviewing their work again without any specific direction. When the work is being typed, I ALWAYS make students print it out double spaced (see the formatting requirements below) and edit by hand using coloured pencils or pens. I do not allow them to edit on the computers because not only do I like to see their own tracking of their errors, but I like them to see their proofreads in hard copy, too! There are standard proofreading marks that you can teach using this Proofreading Marks List. However, if they don't know how to look for their mistakes, knowing the marks is irrelevant!
When writing an essay, my students are to go through a major editing review before submission. I provide extensive and explicit editing instructions. For example, in Grade 5, we teach and provide an editing slideshow that gives a step-by-step guide on how to go through your work to make edits. Students have the distinct nature of wanting to be done things as quickly as possible. If it were up to them, they would finish their work and never look at it again before submitting. I, however, force them to look at their work multiple times. For each step of the proofreading process, they have to re-read their work again and again. They hate me for it - but it works. We do the first paragraph together as a group. and then they are off to do it on their own! They have access to the slideshow so they can refer to it as needed and move at their own pace. Here are some examples of the slides:
1) Capitalization. Using a red pencil crayon or pen, read through your work and look at every word that should have a capital (the first word in a new sentence, names, dates, places or other proper nouns). Stop at each one and determine if the capital is there or not. Check for capitals in the wrong places as well. If the proper words have a capital, great. If not, correct it using the red pencil crayon.
2) Punctuation. Using a green pencil crayon, find the end of each sentence or question and ensure that there is proper punctuation (ie. Does the question end in a question mark? Is there a period missing?). If not, add it in or fix it with the green pencil crayon.
This continues on to go through all of the key components of editing such as spelling, structure, fluency, etc. By the end of the slideshow, they should have read their work 10+ times. They apply their edits and submit their final version to me.
This is where the real learning happens. This is the golden ticket as an educator of writing. The key is NOT to circle, underline and correct all of the errors, and return it back to the student hoping they will remember it for next time. This is what I do:
I use two highlighters - yellow and green. You can do this if you have an iPad Pro with a pen as well if you are marking digitally during COVID. Yellow signifies proofreading error, green signifies revision error. We provide a slideshow with explanations about the types of errors that could exist within each colour group.
I go through 2/3 of the essay (introduction and 2 body paragraphs) and use ONLY highlighters to signify errors.
I DO NOT write what the error is and I DO NOT correct it. I simply bring attention to the fact that there is an error, and which kind.
I hand back the essay, with a mark as it currently stands and we conference about the things they did well and the things they could improve on. We go through the rubric together (which I've also highlighted in one colour) and then the students tell me the areas they intend on going back to improve.
Students need to do three things:
a. Go through the highlights and determine the errors, and of course, fix them.
b. It's likely that they have similar errors in the third body paragraph and conclusion, so they have to go through the last 2 paragraphs searching for any more errors they may have missed.
c. Fix/review/change/add/remove anything that we spoke about in our conference to improve the essay.
6. I take the resubmitted essay and most often improve the mark using a different colour highlighter on the same rubric (as long as the changes merited an increase, of course). Students love to see how that extra bit of effort helped their mark improve, sometimes quite significantly.
This process helps the kids be so much more involved in the editing and revising of their written work, and it is one of my favourite parts about teaching an introduction to essay writing in Grade 5.
Editing is a skill that takes a ton of practice and guidance. There are lots of proofreading practice activities out there! You can include a weekly proofreading practice in as bell work or part of a homework routine to keep the skills fresh. This can be as simple as a COPS checklist (Capitals, Organization, Punctuation and Spelling) or as complex as a list that asks you to check through the tenses of all your verbs. It's up to you! Teachers Pay Teachers has TONS of resources for proofreading checklists. I highly recommend searching the many resources for one that works for you!
Here are just a few of the many options:
I am a stickler for formatting. I always have been! It drives me nuts when a student hands in a typed piece of writing that has inconsistencies in sizing/spacing/font, elements missing, lack of proper indentation or centering when needed, etc. In fact, I will make it a part of the marking rubric and force them to go back and correct the errors. To me, the final look of a piece of writing is almost equally as important as the content itself. Some elements I focus on:
- size and font (simple font, size 12)
- title (centered, bolded, underlined and 1-2 sizes larger than the text)
- name (either centered and underneath the title or as a header on the top right)
- paragraph indentation (I teach them to use the tab key one time to do this)
- line spacing (double spacing on a rough draft for edits, single spacing for finished product)
- spacing before/after punctuation
- spacing between paragraphs (up to you, but be consistent!)
Checklists are so helpful for kids to be independent in learning and applying these skills. If you don't want to make your own checklist, here are a couple of great tools that can help build these skills:
This was our fourth and final part of the Lil' Writers Series! I hope you learned some practical tips and tricks for helping your kids become stellar writers at home or in the classroom.
If you ever want to chat, please feel free to reach out.