When students struggle with vocabulary, note taking, or other straightforward skill, teachers have a full toolbox of suggestions, but when the skill is more nuanced like composition, it gets a little trickier. So often I have parents ask me in emails, meetings, and phone calls what their students can do to get the ball rolling on an upcoming essay. I also constantly counsel students in office hours who look at me with lost confusion the week before a literature analysis is due. It is so hard not to get frustrated when I have painstakingly set up the prompt and systematically gone through the pre-writing and writing steps with students. However, in my experience, some students actually have the requisite skills to write well, but they need a little tip to take the edge off their writing anxiety. For these students, I offer some of the following little tricks as confidence boosters:
When research paper season comes around, I struggle with more than the paper load and the process (which I wrote about here). I also struggle with finding fresh topics. I am a fan of letting students pick topics within boundaries, but I am decidedly not a fan of reading the same trite selections over and over. Last week, while I was listening to This American Life in my car, I was struck with how perfect this NPR show is as a farming ground for engaging research topics.
No matter which standards you are currently in alignment with, argument writing is an incredibly important mainstay of English curricula. Arguments can take many forms, and sometimes it is fun to mix up the writing assignments to inspire students to use their creativity and have a little fun (especially during fourth quarter)! Today I want to share a writing assignment that fell into my lap recently and turned out to be a great experience for my secondary students. Last week, I was reading the New Yorker and I came across this article that described a couple's first dinner in the form of a recipe. I thought that it was an interesting social commentary that teenagers could easily relate to (even though the article is geared toward young adults). So, I decided to mix up the argument writing for the week to include an assignment modeled after this article. We read the article together and discussed the elements of style, content, and convention that were employed as well as the arguments, both explicit and implicit. A couple of the reasons I liked this assignment were:
Essay writing is such a powerful, necessary skill for students and such a arduous and draining requirement for teachers. A while ago, I shared a post with tips for getting through the essay stacksand today I want to share another process for peer editing that I use with students during the early part of the school year. I find it helps improve student writing and saves me time not writing the same comments over and over again!
I've recently had an ah-ha moment about teaching writing at all levels using anchor papers. Anchor papers are basically a set of papers that each represent the characteristics of a particular grade range. For example, given a writing prompt about Native American mythology, I could have a set of anchor papers in which 1-2 papers are solid As, 1-2 papers are solid Bs, 1-2 papers are solid Cs, 1-2 papers are solid Ds, and 1-2 papers are Fs. When we are finished with our literature unit on Native American mythology, I can have students write on the prompt with a clear rubric. When the papers are complete, I can give students the unmarked anchor papers to categorize and grade based on the rubric. After we have discussed which papers received which grades and for what reasons, students can self-assess their own papers with clarity. Then I could use a similar rubric with the next paper on Puritan literature, allowing students to self-assess without anchor papers before they turn it in for my grading.
The kind folks over at Grammarly recently let me try out their service with my high school English classes. The service offers to help students continue to develop writing skills through automated instructional feedback in grammar and word choice, as well as plagiarism tracking. I tried out the teacher/student version, which you can learn more about at Grammarly.com/edu. Check out the video tutorial below and the pros and cons list. Please let me know if you have questions or comments and remember to check back weekly for more teacher tips, tutorials, and tirades. ;)
At my school, 3rd quarter in the English department means one thing: research paper time. We do our best to build on the process every year so that seniors graduate with confidence and a working knowledge of writing research papers and I do think that in this case departmental support is important to effective teaching. Whether you are just starting the daunting task of planning the paper or are looking for a fresh take, I highly recommend the research paper resource product from Simply Novel, which can be purchased as part of the Essay Architect Essay Writing System or separately from TeachersPayTeachers. This Common Core Standards Based (ELA: Writing) product on teaching research papers is full of everything you need to help students grasp the concept of completing research, plagiarism, organizing their sources, using source information, MLA format, deciphering credible Internet sources, and more! In addition to the notes, handouts, and activities included in that resource, I would like to share a couple of my tips for teaching the research paper.
For me, grading essays is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching high school English (see my top 10 here). I don't have a problem with deciphering handwriting or subjectively evaluating a written piece. I have a problem with the incredibly long hours I dedicate to the (sometimes thankless) sport of essay grading. I teach 1 advanced placement and 4 college prep English classes, which average 30 students per class. I know that many teachers have it far worse than I do, but I have to work very hard to keep my head above the essay-filled water! While we're talking essays, you should totally check out Simply Novel's Essay Architect Writing System. Here are some of the tips I have gathered along the way to make the essay grading a little more manageable:
Two important revolutions have come together to make online source credibility testing an important skill to teach our students:
- The Common Core emphasizes research and informational texts.
- Our students have incredible access to online sources.
Even though most of my students walk around all day with the internet in their pockets, they do not know innately how to determine the credibility of a source for my research paper, infographics, and other assignments. More alarmingly, they consistently report bad habits including the use of fast information sources that they know are not reliable and the use of copy/paste functions to get homework done in a hurry. In order to send students into college and into the world with valid research habits, I consciously teach students a checklist to determine the credibility of a source. I go through the list with them a few times and make them use it regularly in the hope that they will internalize the information for future use. Here is my credibility check list:
An Informative/Explanatory essay teaches or informs your reader about a subject. This type of essay can explain how something works, how to perform a task, the steps in a procedure, or why something is the way it is. Ultimately, the reader should have a better understanding of the subject after reading your paper.