3 Easy Tips to Make Writing Instruction More Fun

Some kids love to write.  Some kids hate it.  How do you keep everyone engaged in the writing process?  Here are three quick ideas.

three easy tips writing fun1.  Editing Table:  Establish a table or area of the room that has at least two chairs.  During composition time, students who are ready to have their writing peer-edited may go and sit at the editing table.  As soon as another student is ready to peer edit, he or she will go over to the table to find a partner.  Each peer-editing pair leaves the editing table area once they are matched up.

With variations, I use this method in my classroom all the time.  If a lot of students are ready to peer-edit, I create the first pairs.  After that, students move to the editing table as they wrap up.  I usually ask that students peer-edit with at least three different people.

As soon as a pair approaches the editing table, the two students who are sitting there waiting to find a new partner MUST pair up and move away to begin work.  The editing table in not a work area and no more than two people should ever be there at any given time.jpg_Education-005-color2.  Peer-Editing Process:  Even reluctant writers enjoy reading their work aloud to a captive audience.  However, to make the most of peer-editing time it’s better for each partner to read the OTHER person’s writing aloud.  This gives the author a chance to hear how his or her words sound.

It can be very effective for a writer to see a classmate struggle over pronunciation due to the author’s spelling errors or awkward wording.  Also, children learn the language of writing during this process.  Nothing is more wonderful than hearing one student tell another, “You need a transition here.”   Also, student authors are less likely to be offended by a peer editor who asks “What do you mean here?”

If you require your students to use this shared reading process, remind them that the author has ultimate control over his or her words.  For example, if one student tells the other that a word doesn’t make sense, it’s the writer’s decision to change it or let it stand.  Partners suggest, but they are never to insist.  In the end, the writer earns the grade, not the peer editor.jpg_Education-001-color3.  Monitor Progress:  Provide a way for students to see how they are progressing.  When conferencing with students offer them two positive comments and one constructive criticism.  For example, a teacher might say, “Zack, you did a really good job with spelling and punctuation.  I also like the way you tied the topic sentence to the closing sentence.  Your personal challenge for next time is to avoid repeating any one word or phrase too often.  Did you notice that four of your sentences in this composition begin with, “He really likes…?”

Students also benefit from monitoring their own progress either along the writing process, or within a specific set of skills.  You can create a writing process monitoring chart and have students move move a clothespin up the chart from prewriting, to drafting, and so on, all the way to finishing the final draft.

Each student may also have his or her own goal chart with a list of three to five skills on which they will focus.  Students with introductory writing skills may focus on writing neatly, using complete sentences, and including a topic sentence.  Students with more sophisticated writing skills may focus on point of view, using specific language, and adding figurative language.  The key is setting small, reachable goals, and acknowledging each tiny improvement.  Click here, to download the assessment ladder of skills that could be used to develop student goals.  (See below.)

Asessment Ladder Glow edgesWriting can be fun for both teachers and students.  The best way to insure student success is to: (1) encourage students to write and rewrite until the meaning is clear, (2) provide ongoing opportunities for students to share their writing with their peers and interact, and (3) set clear, easy-to-meet goals for students still developing their skills.

What do you do in your class to make your writing lessons more interesting?  Please share your ideas below.  I’d love to hear from you!

Tackling Tattling

Tattling is a constant issue at the elementary level.  With our school’s focus on anti-bullying, it’s sometimes difficult to know how much attention to give to students’ complaints about their peers.  It helps to make sure that the children understand the difference between tattling and telling, and to set clear expectations about how each will be handled.jpg_whisper201

Children tattle for many different reasons.  Some want to test limits and figure out whether or not the teacher will enforce rules.  Sometimes students point out misbehavior so that the teacher will recognize the their own efforts to follow the rules.  Other students may not know how to handle a situation, so they turn to an adult for guidance.  Of course, there are also times when the concern is legitimate and there’s good reason for reporting an inappropriate behavior.

The best way to eliminate tattling is through classroom discussion.  Students can work together to create a list of specific situations they encounter at school such as name calling, non-participation in group activities, incorrect completion of an assigned activity, taking another child’s belonging, using inappropriate language, cutting in front of someone in line, and so forth.  Once the list is made, students can decide which should be reported, which should be handled on their own, and which they should simple ignore.

Reporting Vs TattlingA good way to reinforce the whole-class lesson, is by displaying this FREE poster by edgalaxy.com.  Students who continue to tattle can be directed to this poster to review the difference between reporting and tattling.

This FREE 2:10 minute You Tube video, Tattling vs.Telling is a clear, straight-forward way to initiate another lesson followed by whole-class discussion.  It explains the difference between reporting a serious concern and trying to get a classmate in trouble.

For teachers who want to implement a more formal plan, this FREE 8:47 minute You Tube video, Tattle Ender by Charity Preston outlines a paper-and-pencil classroom management program.   Using this approach, students who bring any issue to the teacher that is not of immediate concern are directed to record the issue using a special procedure.  At week’s end these notes are reviewed by the teacher who determines which, if any, require additional attention.

With these resources and little patience, there should be less tattling and more time for teaching!


Zero Budget Resources for Building Your Classroom Library

Few teachers can afford to purchase books for their classroom libraries.  Over the years I’ve found several ways to overcome this issue.  jpg_1681-African-American-Girl-With-Books-In-Their-Hands

1.  At the beginning of the year, create a birthday book club to encourage parents to donate a copy of their child’s favorite book.  Allow the child to inscribe the year and their name on the inside cover.  Before placing the book on the shelf, encourage the student to share what they most like about the book.  Most students love the attention and it will perpetuate more donations.

2.  If your school has book fairs, create a wish list and get it out there before the sale.  Not sure what titles to request?  Ask your librarian for help or check out this list of the Top 100 Children’s Books of All-Time.  Write short thank you notes for each donated book.

3.  Allow students to order books through tried-and-true book clubs such as Scholastic.  Those free points really add up, especially if you wait and use them during slow months when publishers offer special discounts.  After saving points for two years, I once scored 90 free books!jpg_package700

4.  A few organizations will actually send you free books just for asking.  Free class sets of Ayn Rand books are available through  a special program at Ayn Rand Education.  For teachers working with students from low-income families, check out the free book program at First Book

5.  If you have some money to spend, try Half Price Books, or a similar discount, new/used bookstore in your area.  Your dollars will go further and you’ll probably have fun browsing.  One store in Texas offers teachers free books, so it might be worth a phone call to see if there’s a similar program in your area.  Check here to find a store near you.

6.  If you’re in a building where students sometimes bring teachers holiday gifts, do book talks on titles you’ve gotten from students in years prior.  Gently mention that these were among the best holiday gifts any teacher could ever get.jpg_2037-Laptop-Cartoon-Character-Displays-Pile-Of-Books

7.  Are your students reading ebooks?  There are several free resources for a wide range of titles. Search “free books for teachers” to get started, or check out eBooks@adelaide and Amazon.com for an idea of what’s out there.

8.  Check with the librarians at both your school and public libraries.  Ask that they contact you before getting rid of any books.  Each year I comb through the books that have been purged from the library shelves and take any titles that fit my students’ reading levels.  Sometimes the covers are a little out-of-date, but I put a colorful label on the spine and that seems to be enough to attract students’ attention.jpg_FREE01

9.  If you recently started teaching a different grade, you might want to try trading your books for different ones.  Check out Paperback Swap to learn more about this free program.

10.  Finally, put a notice in your school’s newsletter asking for any books that children have “outgrown.”  Those students you had two years ago may be ready to let go of books that are perfect for your current students. One generous parent donated over 10 books that were perfect for my students. If you can establish this “green” approach to “recycling” children’s books, you may not need to do anything else!

Have any other free or low-cost ideas?  Please leave a post and share your favorite!

Check out this low-cost teaching unit for one of my favorite books, Little House in the Big Woods!

Little House in the Big Woods Novel Unit

Books available here!