November 20, 2007

Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary

Inside Words

Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary Grades 4-12

Janet Allen
Year: 2007
Media: 128 pp/paper + CD ROM
ISBN: 978-157110-399-4
Grade Range: 4-12

Full text online!

Instructional Strategies and the Tools That Support Them

Concept Circles
Concept Ladder
Concepts and Vocabulary: Categories and Labels
Contextual Redefinition
Focused Cloze
Frayer Model
Frequent Contact
"I'm Thinking of a Word..."
I Spy: A Word Scavenger Hunt
Possible Questions
Possible Sentences
Previewing Content Vocabulary
Semantic Feature Analysis
Semantic Mapping
Survival of the Fittest
Think-Pair-Share: Collaborate for Understanding
Word Sort
Word Walls

Methods of Teaching Sentence Fluency

Methods of Teaching Sentence Fluency Summary  (Ideas from the active classrooms of teachers from around the world!

  • Decide on a topic with the students. Roll a die. The number it lands on shows how many words must be in the opening sentence. Keep rolling the die to have students create sentences to match the number rolled - without using the same first word used to begin the initial sentence. Continue for 8 to 10 sentences.
  • "Lots of Color"

    Use a well-written paragraph from a favorite novel; type it on the computer, highlighting the first word of every sentence in a different color if the word is different. A great visual to demonstrate how many different ways an author begins a sentence. Then have students use crayon to do the same with their writing. ~ KA
  • N2SSA rule: No 2 Sentences Start Alike. The rule meant that no 2 sentences could start with the same phrases on the same page or paragraph, depending on the age.
  • I also LOVE reader's theater. I think the more children can read aloud, whether it is their own work or someone else’s is so beneficial.
  • Read into a tape recorder. That way he can practice, or even erase sections. He could play the tape for a small group or the class when he's ready. It may be an issue of shyness rather than confidence in his reading. You might even begin by having him just tell his story rather than read word for word. Those strategies helped by learning disabled students start to develop confidence in themselves. ~ Pat
  • Vicki Spandel offers the following suggestions:
    1. First, as teachers we must not be shy or hesitant ourselves but actively model reading aloud.
    2. Second, encourage students to read aloud as often as possible and appropriate.
    3. Third, have young writer's read aloud into a makeshift PVC pipe type telephone to amplify their unique individual voices
    4. Lastly, consider having them perform an age appropriate scene from a famous drama or read aloud from one of their favorite poems...(193). ~ TJ
  • Have your shy student read to another adult in your school. It my school it is not uncommon to see a student reading to the principal, nurse, secretary, custodian, etc. ~Jeanette
  • I wanted to let you all know that the PVC phones mentioned in CYW on p. 123 are fantastic!! The child just whispers into the phone and can easily hear the words said. We actually call them whisper phones. I'm definitely going to have the students use them as they write. ~ Karen A
  • The most important lesson I will take away from our module on Fluency is: READ ALOUD. Children need to hear their own work read aloud. They need to learn to identify places that make them say, "I have to fix that." or 'I like the way that sounds." ~Jeanette
  • Have students listen to audio recordings performed by authors that they are acquainted with and discussing their reactions.~ JA
  • The books by Chris Van Allsburg have several options on how to use this book to enhance writing fluency at www.writing.fix. Just scroll down until you see Sentence Fluency. ~ Nita
  • Spandel's quote from Mem Fox on p. 58 was interesting: "...vocabulary and a sense of rhythm are almost impossible to 'teach' in the narrow sense of the word. So they learn by being read to ... a lot!". Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky are my favorites. ~ Karen A
  • I really appreciated your post recalling Presidents John F. Kennedy's inauguration and Robert Frost reading one of his poems. I too watched the inauguration ceremonies on TV and heard one of America's preeminent poets voice and the powerful effect of his sentence fluency. Wasn't that a great way to be introduced to poetry! To see poetry have a place of honor at the table when the transfer of power was being celebrated by the worlds most powerful nation.; I Have a Dream speech  ~Tom
  • After reading the "extra readings" such as "Poetic Sense: Sound &; Imagery" and listening to the lecture where it states, "Poetry readings, choral reading and verbal performances of any kind are Sentence Fluency exercises," hearing the masters read their own work.
  • How wonderful that you remember Robert Frost reading Apple Picking Time! I love Robert Frost's poetry and remember my high school English teacher reciting The Road Not Taken. I don't think I would remember that poem if it was not for the rhythm and fluency. Poetry's fluency allows us to remember the verses as a song and I think that's important. Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Day is another favorite and a memorable verse: But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep. I'm sure we all remember this one. ~Diane
  • I find that imitation is one of the best ways to get anyone, of any age started in writing - period. Not many students will end up pirating someone else's style. ~Meg
  • The text states, "Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of language." It also states, "Skillful writers find ways to hook sentences together. They also read their own writing aloud to get the sound and rhythm. Fluency is readily measured by how easy it is to read text aloud and to weave in plenty of expression as you do so." (Spandel, pg 10)
  • I also have used song lyrics in my poetry units. This is a GREAT motivator for middle school students, especially 8th graders. I have found that this age (approximately 14 years old) is the beginning of self-discovery and that they are really getting into the "lyrics" of songs, not just the artist. Lyrics are poetry put to music, and even if you read the lyrics without the music, the fluency really comes through. There is a resource called "Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics ~ Meredith
  • Get your hands on some Reader's Theaters ~Meg
  • Having students read their own work aloud is a fine tactic. Combine this with reading anonymous strong and weak examples and you reinforce the lesson even more. This is a good way to help those who don't have the 'ear' to hear problems in their own writing! ~Den
Concerns about reading aloud:
  • Do other teachers find that imitation takes over for personal style when oral works are shared in the context of teaching style/voice/sentence fluency? How is this addressed? Some resources I have seen encourage teachers to have students model their work on a great writer...but can't students get stuck in doing this? ~Tiffany
  • Students might begin with imitation of authors because they are unsure of how to write fluent sentences. By giving our students many opportunities to hear and write fluent sentences as well as to identify sentences lacking fluency we can help them recognize that fluency comes in many forms. This also gives them a number of ways to create fluency in their own writing. Most kids are storytellers if we give them the tools and the space to make mistakes along the way. ~Pat
  • I think Spandel's title for sentence fluency, "Variety and Rhythm" is right on and it is exactly what I plan on emphasizing when I do teach this trait. So often, I see the predictable subject/predicate, subject/predicate sentence structure that I can clearly see how this is one trait that needs attention in my students' writing. We happen to be reading "The Monkey's Paw" right now and the climax of this story, when read aloud, provides a really powerful opportunity for teaching sentence fluency and how the pacing and placement of fragments add to the suspense of the plot. Reading aloud is a biggy with this one.

  • I think for me your description of fluency singing is just right. However, I have to remind myself that fluency or the type of flow in a piece of writing is different if the writing is a story or if it is expository. In my ear, they can both have wonderful fluency but the way that is achieved is definitely not the same. ~ Pat
Can you teach fluency with any other trait?
  • I had a hard time distinguishing between voice and fluency for a bit, so I thought maybe I could teach them together. Now, the more I read and the more I read aloud and notice good sentence fluency, I see the distinct differences and I think I need to make sure my students see them too. The voice of a piece reflect who the author is and fluency is more of a skillful art of writing good sentence that add a rhythm to the piece. ~ Meredith
  • I find interesting the idea of bundling word choice and voice into a trait called style, and I highly disagree with that concept. Why take the clearly defined, relatively easily identifiable traits of word choice and voice and combine them into an ambiguous, relatively meaningless category called style? In the business world, the concept of "style" is used to promote conformity to company or departmental standards. In some of the writing departments where I've worked, the motto has been "many writers, one voice," and that is achieved by strict adherence and strict editing to detailed standards of "style," which include predefined word choices, terminology, formatting, page layout, punctuation, capitalization, organization, etc. In short, "style" includes all the traits and is used to strip individual characteristics from writing.
  • I think that a writer's style evolves from application and evaluation of all the traits -- it is the end result, the high quality, holistic synthesis we hope our students will achieve. ~ Tricia
  • I agree with all of you - I wouldn't bundle this trait with anything else either. For my younger students, it's important for them to learn about and focus on one aspect at a time. I think that helps them better understand what to look for in good writing. It's also easier for them to understand as we conference and talk about voice or their organization, etc. I've seen that same blank look where Pat, It is so interesting how different "worlds" bring their own perspective and objective to the work place. ~KA
  • I am thinking that the sentence fluency trait, with its emphasis on reading aloud, is the cumulative trait in that reading aloud improves and reinforces all other writing (and reading) traits and skills.. ~Tom
  • I would not bundle sentence fluency with another trait either as Trisha stated. I think if the organization and punctuation are not correct then the story won't flow. Both Culham and Spandel state that sentence fluency is an auditory trait. ~Diane
  • I honestly would not bundle sentence fluency with any other trait. I think how sentences flow should be in a category all by itself. If it would go with any other trait, I would put it with conventions. I would only suggest this because if you are missing period, commas, or other mechanics, or if there are too many the sentences do not flow together properly. ~Trisha K
  • You raised precisely the important question, of how fluency is more than just varying sentences, using transitions, and varying sentence lengths. Fluency really is the music of the piece and we've got to examine the whole to hear it. The context, purpose, and audience all play some role in determining fluency.
  • I'm glad you raised the issue of different types of writing. In technical, "how to," or business writing, the characteristics of sentence fluency can be quite different than in creative writing. For example, starting each step in a procedure with an action verb is considered very good form in technical writing, as is consistent use of terminology, rather than the variety of word choice that might be more pleasing in fiction or poetry. Coming from a career in technical writing, I can definitely say that sentence fluency is a major issue -- I wouldn't call it singing, but cadence, consistency, and concision are probably the watchwords for procedural and business writing. ~Tricia
  • You pointed out precisely what makes strong technical writing. The action verbs at the beginning of sentences and the repetitive use of the same sentence structure can really emphasize a point when not overdone. I think we need to examine the effectiveness of the writing techniques our students use without condemning any one element for what is generally a weakness i.e. starting all sentences with the same word or using only short simple sentences can also be used to wonderful effect in the right hands.
Questions for further thought:
  • I would love some suggestions to help a child who struggles with the confidence to read out loud, but writes very well. He always wants someone else to read his original work. How do I help him come out of his shell? How long do I let him have others read his own writings? ~Kerry
  • Do other teachers find that imitation takes over for personal style when oral works are shared in the context of teaching style/voice/sentence fluency? How is this addressed?
  • As writing teachers, how can we create safe environments for our students to risk expressing those strong voices? All children have that sense of passionate voice but are often unwilling to let us see it for fear of criticism or rejection, the lessons of the editor's red pen. How can we encourage that joy of writing? ~Pat

November 16, 2007

Writing Craft Lessons: Full Text E-Book

Now available! The revised and expanded edition of the best-selling Craft Lessons by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi features 17 brand-new writing craft lessons, revisions to other lessons, expanded resources, and more—a total of 95 lessons grouped into sections for K-2, 3-4, and 5-8. Click here to browse the entire book online!

November 10, 2007

Ruth Culham's Writing Company

Workshop & training schedules with a comprehensive listing of books and other materials make this site worth a visit.

Also listed are recommended books to support the traits.

November 5, 2007

Word Choice Wrap Up: A Weekly Summary

A special thanks to my Co-Facilator Patricia Hutton for compiling this summary of ideas and questions from this week's online edition of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits.

Subject: discussion summary module 5

This week’s discussion highlighted quite a variety of strategies to try to teach word choice. Thanks to all of you who graciously shared resources including numerous books to read to kids across all levels that illustrate wonderfully creative word choices. The level and quality of your contributions remains high. Keep up your phenomenal work!

Main Ideas:

• A word bank is essential for students to have, especially kids that are learning impaired.
• Word choice and voice are the same.
• As teachers we are quick to write a negative comment if there is one to be made on the writing, but are a lot less verbal with our praise
• Praise the student's strengths, and encourage and praise their efforts where they are not as strong or confident and reinforce both messages with frequent writing practice.
• We need to teach students to pick just the right phrases to boost their main idea, not overwhelm it.


• Depending on the grade level, what do you think about short "observation walks", with the goal to just walk slowly, observe their surroundings and come up with similes/metaphors on their own?
• A skit-The librarian was the queen who loved new words. The teacher did not want her students to use any new words. So they had a "battle" in which the queen won and killed the blah words (they focused on said, big, and small). The dead words were buried; they made a tombstone for each. After the skit, the students used a thesaurus to find synonyms for the words, then wrote them on die cut flowers. Throughout the year, more dead words were added to the graveyard and new flowers were grown with the powerful words written on them.
• Try the PPC format for comments -- pluses, potential, and concerns.
• Listen to audio novels rather than always requiring reading.
• O'Henry short stories are full of descriptive words that leave you wanting more.
• Try a writing activity called "Spring Day" using a sensory web - something that can be created in Inspiration or freehand. Each branch off the web is a sense. The students had to sit outside on a spring day and write what they heard, saw etc. Then, they had to transfer that into a paragraph. the key here was to NOT use "I hear...I see”
• Create a bulletin board of vivid verbs and alive adjectives. As a class, we brainstorm "Instead of walk, use _______"
• 100 Trait-Specific Comments: A Quick Guide for Giving Constructive Feedback on Student Writing by Ruth Culham. On one side of a page is the rubric for each trait and across from that are several examples of comment for a 5, 3, or 1 paper.
• With the bulletin board,create a list of "banished words" such as good, nice, beautiful etc. They can not use these "boring" words but must come up with something more specific or colorful.
• Here is an assignment called "The Cut." The idea is that almost every student has an incident as a child when they received a bad cut or scrape, and that the sensory impressions remain vividly in their minds. Ask students to write a couple of paragraphs using vivid imagery and word choice to describe the situation.
• Bury dead words.
• Since we couldn't always write in our library books or borrowed books, we would use highlighter tape to highlight the word/section we wanted to remember or add to our inspiration journal.
• Each student brings an apple from home. First brainstorm words that could be used to describe apples using our senses and students write these on a chart. Next they wrote a description of the apple (had to be very detailed). Then collect the apples, read the papers, and the each student picks out his/her apple. After that, the class writes a paragraph from the apple's point of view, trying to convince a person to eat it. As they wrote this part, they were eating their apples to savor the taste and be better able to describe it in the paragraph.


• Is having the kids copy similes and metaphors out of literature and using them in their writing plagiarism? Any suggestions?
Yes, the right words are used to convey a voice, but how can you separate them?
• Is Spandel just breaking down voice into another piece?
• What do we do when we disagree with how other teachers are teaching (or not teaching) the 6 traits?
When students start using better word choices and more descriptive words, how do you get them to not overdo it?
• Would these books, Harry Potter, be so popular if she had used ordinary words for the characters and their actions?
• Will a child just start adding adjectives or 'vivid' verbs that really don't make sense because he/she thinks that what we want?
• So, how can I teach them when enough is enough?

November 2, 2007

Full Text Online Books about Writing

When teachers write books about writing they have a lot of time tested wisdom to share. Stenhouse publishers provide a fine selection of professional books you may want to consider. If you find any of the following books useful, buy it! (Or at least ask your school librarian to purchase a copy.)

Talking, Drawing, Writing
Lessons for Our Youngest Writers

Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe
Year: 2007
Media: 276pp/paper
ISBN: 978-157110-456-4
Grade Range: K-3

"This is a book about responding to children. A book about listening and noticing children. The first move is not the teacher's. Rather, the starting place is the child's practice through language, drawing, and storytelling. This requires great patience, and I was struck by the time markers that breathed through the text. How long does a teacher wait? It could be ten seconds, twenty, thirty—long enough to tell the child you have all the time in the world to listen. This is a book that teachers have been waiting for but didn't know they needed."
—Donald Graves

Boy Writers
Reclaiming Their Voices

Ralph Fletcher
Year: 2006
Media: 176 pp/paper
ISBN: 978-157110-425-0
Grade Range: K-12

Writing test scores indicate that boys have fallen far behind girls across the grades. In general, boys don't enjoy writing as much as girls. What's wrong? How can we do a better of job of creating “boy-friendly” classrooms so their voices can be heard?

Inside Words
Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, Grades 4-12

Janet Allen
Year: 2007
Media: 128 pp/paper + CD ROM
ISBN: 978-157110-399-4
Grade Range: 4-12

We've learned a lot in recent years about the important role vocabulary plays in making meaning, yet many teachers still struggle with vocabulary instruction that goes beyond weekly word lists. Effective vocabulary instruction is particularly vital in the content areas, where the specialized language used by “insiders” often creates a barrier to understanding for those new to the subjects. In Inside Words, Janet Allen merges recent research and key content-area teaching strategies to show teachers how to help students understand the academic vocabulary found in textbooks, tests, articles, and other informational texts.

Everyday Editing
Inviting Students to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer's Workshop

Jeff Anderson
Year: 2007
Media: 176 pp/paper
ISBN: 978-157110-709-1
Grade Range: 4-8

Editing is often seen as one item on a list of steps in the writing process—usually put somewhere near the end, and often completely crowded out of writer's workshop. Too many times daily editing lessons happen in a vacuum, with no relationship to what students are writing.

October 28, 2007

Recommended books for Organization

During the Organization Module in the Fall 07 online 6-Traits class, we discussed the importance of leads, titles. One of the best ways to build traits concepts is with examples from great books.

Jeanette, a primary teacher from Alaska posted the following.

On page 8 of Creating Young Writers (Spandel, 2004) it states "A good lead (beginning) is vital." On page 9, Spandel goes on to say, "Skilled writers know that the way you wrap up a piece of writing determines the final impression you make on a reader and often determines whether the piece as a whole has believability." I decided to look at the recommended books for organization on 180 and see how the authors decided to begin and end their stories. If you haven't read some of the recommended books I really suggest you do. They are great. After reading some of them I understood better what makes a great beginning and end. And middle, too.

Brown, Margaret Wise. 1949. The important book. New York: Harper Trophy.

Every year in the halls of the school I taught at there would be "The Most Important Thing" poem display. I always read the poems written by the students, but I never read the book until yesterday. The book is a collection of poems that begin and end with the same statement, "The important thing about a _________ is _________________."

Fleming, Denise. (1997). Time to sleep. New York. Henry Holt and Company.

The story begins with "Bear sniffed once. She sniffed twice. "I smell winter in the air," said bear." What a great statement. I can't wait to ask my students what winter smells like. I'm sure the answers I get from my students in Alaska will be way different than the answers from students in Florida. The ending reminded my of the old tv series The Waltons with all the animals saying "good night" to each other.

French, Vivian. (2003) Growing Frogs. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

What a lovely book! The first sentence is definitely an eye catcher, "Once, when I was little, my mom read me a story about a frog that grew bigger, and bigger and bigger. The story ends with a similar sentence, "I like having frogs jumping around getting bigger, and bigger and bigger!"

St. George, Judith. (2002). So you want to be an inventor? New York: Philomel Books.

This story begins with a question. The story goes on to tell about different people and what they invented. The story is both entertaining and educational.

Wallace, Karen. (1993) Think of an eel. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

The story begins with "Think of an eel. He swims like a fish. He slides like a snake." I like the way the author engages the reader with the first sentence.

After reading these books I decided I am definitely going to use them in my classroom. The suggested writing activities are very good.

I am now very aware of the beginning and ending of a story. I know organization is all about the middle too. But what really struck was how you can engage a reader with just one or two lines. Here are a few more books that I particularly liked the opening sentence.

Knowlton, Laurie. (2006). A young man's dance. Pennsylvania: Boyd Mills Press.

This book begins with "Grandma Ronnie isn't home anymore." That is the only sentence on the page. The next page goes on to say, "There's no smell of baked cookies, no music jitterbugging through the rooms. " The story is about a young boy that is having a difficult time adjusting to his grandmother living in a nursing home. My eyes were watering by the time I finished this book – guess that's a sign of good Voice.

Brown, Margaret Wise. (1938). On Christmas Eve. Harper Collins.

How someone would be able to put down a book and not finish it when it begins, " It was the middle of the night. And night of all nights it was Christmas." is beyond me.

Sendak, Marice. (1970) In the night kitchen. USA: Harper and Row.

Okay. This was one of my favorite books when I was little. It begins, "Did you ever her of Mickey, how he heard a racket in the night and shouted QUIET DOWN THERE!"

September 27, 2007

National Writing Project Rolls out New Website

If you haven't signed up for the free resources and online access to National Writing Project Resources .... DO IT! This is THE COMMUNITY for writing teachers. You won't be sorry you joined.

Here's an announcement I just got in their newsletter that I want to pass along:

NWP Launches New Website

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new website, The new site beautifully showcases the depth and breadth of the work of the writing project, including resources that writing project colleagues have written and developed over many years.

Among the changes you’ll notice are

  • a new NWP Sites section devoted to site development
  • a Results section featuring research on NWP's effectiveness
  • an expanded Resources section showcasing hundreds of articles
  • a new Calendar with an assortment of views according to types of events
  • an improved Search function that delivers more extensive results.

Use the online form at “Contact Us” to comment on the new website.

September 25, 2007

Top 20 6-Trait Resources

These resources come from my social bookmarks. (Network name wiredinstructor)
  1. Fifty (50!) Tools which can help you in Writing -

    tips from on writing

  2. Techlearning > > Poetry Out Loud > September 7, 2007

    Hear British poets read 21 of their own poems, including, incredibly, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 1890 reading of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," as recorded by agents of Thomas Alva Edison

    to writing 6-traits poetry ... on sept 11
  3. :: Teaching Resources

    Posters for the six traits in word document form

  4. 6+1 Traits for Revison |

    Ruth Culham provides overview of traits. Links to other support materials.

  5. Essay Punch: An Interactive Writing Tutorial

    The web site provides questions that help to guide users step by step through pre-writing, writing, organizing, editing, rewriting, and publishing.

  6. - writing prompts for fiction writers

    web 2.0 oriented writing prompts

  7. Journalists Writing Style guide

    English (UK) Detailed style guide from the other side of the pond.

    to 6-traits ... saved by 289 other people ... on aug 08
  8. Research on the 6+1 Trait Writing Model for Improving Student Writing

    65 page pdf of research on effectiveness of 6 traits in writing achievement. also ppt slides from ASCD presentation

    to 6-traits ... on aug 08
  9. Hartman Reader Page

    Web 1.0 page dedicated to words, their meanings, and various bits of literate trivia.

  10. The Write Weblog: Six Traits of Writing Brainstorming

    Classroom blogging project, good example of how to use a blog in a writing class.

    to 6-traits blog ... on july 29
  11. Quotable Quotes on Writers and Writing

  12. Advice to writers by Vonnegut

    How to Write With Style by Kurt Vonnegut

  13. UWC @ TAMU - Writing Process

    webliography of writing process resources

    to writing 6-traits e-learning ... on may 11
  14. In digital age, more t's are crossed poorly - The Boston Globe

    impact of technology and nclb on handwriting.

  15. ESL 6-Traits

    Forms for scoring 6-traits elements with an ESL orientation

    to 6-traits esl ... on may 05
  16. Six Trait Writing Ideas

    Fun page of links to various 6-traits links!

    to 6-traits writing ... on may 05
  17. Lesson Plan:"All About Me" Paragraph - Grade 5 Writing

    This is an introductory lesson for students in the beginning of the school year, based on a collection of ideas from "The 6-Traits in Writing" (rubrics adapted to be kid-friendly), and also the "10-Point Writing Checklist." This collection of organizers i

  18. 6+1 Trait Writing @Web English Teacher

    Web English Teacher presents the best of K-12 English / Language Arts teaching resources: lesson plans, WebQuests, videos, biography, e-texts, criticism, jokes, puzzles, and classroom activities. Permission to link is granted to any educational site.

  19. The Neverending Tale

    The Neverending Tale is for kids and kids-at-heart. It is a choose-your-own-path adventure story- like you might read in a book. But you can add to the tale where ever you like. Whatever you add will become part of the tale, anything you can think of.

  20. The Opportunity of Voice (Techlearning blog)

    David Jakes on Digital Story Telling. Meat for thought here. How does medium is the message reality of web 2.0 tech interact with traditional ways of teaching writing (6-traits)? Hint: It's all about audience, and to find an audience you have to underst

September 18, 2007

6-Traits PowerPoint Resources

This is worth looking at! There are many power point projects on this site that you can download and use for class or parent presentations. Take a look!

August 30, 2007

6-Traits Writing Online: Enroll Now!

Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6 Traits: Classes are are Filling Fast!


EDUC 744 909F Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits - Middle/High School (Gr. 5-12) 3 gr. cr. begins October 1, 2007

Learn to teach and assess writing with the 6-Traits of writing (voice, ideas, word choice, organization, sentence fluency and conventions). Learn to use the 6-Traits with the writing process to teach revision strategies. Help learners meet higher standards and improve test scores.

Please forward this announcement to teachers in your district.

Earn graduate credits via online courses that support your professional development goals for licensure renewal, salary advancement and advanced certification.

Sign up soon to reserve your spot! Registration closes ten days before the class begins

to allow time for assigning user names, passwords and ordering/shipping the textbook.

Classes are TOTALLY ONLINE. You may participate from your home or school computer. Registration is limited to 20 participants per section.

Syllabus and other details:

Fax: (715) 232-3385

August 2, 2007

Text Messaging & Conventions

ttyl, y? bcuz pos
Lost on my subject line?
Allow me to translate...

Talk to you later.
Because, parent over shoulder

(which means: my mom is staring at the computer screen so don't type anything that will get either of us in trouble)

My daughter doesn't realize I speak "text" (or txt, rather) - I like it that way...I keep tabs and she doesn't realize it. But that's not for this post. This post is about the idea of discussing "conventions" (and presentation, really) with your secondary students. Txt is a language of the young. It is a written language. It is shorthand and electronic. They live, eat, and breathe this language by cell, IM, and email 24/7. It is their native language - we will not break them of it - we must accept that. Obviously not all conventions or presentation problems are texting-based, but it does creep in - the lack of capitalization and punctuation is an acceptable convention of instant messaging and texting as the message box only allows 160 characters total. And capitalization requires several convoluted cell phone key punches. In addition, spelling is phonetic to eliminate excess letter characters and the time it takes to formulate a response. When a teen has 14 friends in a chat room - time of response is highly vital.

I don't write this to excuse the poor conventions of the Gen Wi-Fi writers, but I do want teachers to understand where their students live. Remember when you were listening to "your" music as a teenager and your parents told you it was awful and to turn it down? You simply rolled your eyes and thought they just had no idea what current life was really about...welcome to current life.

Rather than simply stating that it is unacceptable to turn in work with poor conventions - and editing away the texting habits of a generation - open up a discussion (especially with high school students) - about appropriate time and place for different kinds of writing. In the same way that we use a comma after the greeting in a friendly letter and a colon after the greeting in a business letter, the conventions for punctuation, spelling, etc., change for the digital environment one is in as well. See if students can arrive at examples like: An email to your teacher or boss *should* be clean of "txt", but an email or IM to your friend can be filled with it. Also, you might steer the discussion toward judgments potential employers, college admissions officers, etc., might make (first impressions) of the student, if all they had to go on was a piece of writing with misspellings, no capitalization, and no punctuation. If students can understand the authentic reasons for proofreading, editing, and revising, they will be more inclined to voluntarily do it themselves.

Your thoughts?

(Lisa Chamberlin, was taught about the traits by Vicki Spandel. She recently co-facilitated Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits)

July 15, 2007

Organization: Where do you find the best leads?

Michael LaCerra: If you think about it, whenever a student read a novel, s/he has probably read a half-way decent lead about it---where? The back cover.

So, in helping students lead the reader into the body of their writing, I actually focus on reading. For part of the school year, students write their own leads for the independent reading they have finished. They put presentation touches on them, too, and then they go in a big 3-ring binder in my room where others can reference when looking for a book to read.

By using this process at the beginning of the year (with reading), I am usually able to quickly transfer these concepts over to writing instruction during Q2. Ongoing, students reinforce these skills by turning their leads into podcasts. Our school's server is being updated at the moment, so I cannot share an example--sorry.

In the end, students are learning effective writing strategies almost without even realizing it until we focus on it--kind of funny.

In teaching 8th graders, the far more challenging aspect is helping students improve their endings. So many of the strategies are the same as leads, but I have never been happy with my instruction or the students products. Any ideas? Thanks.

And lastly, I primarily focus on having my students use sophisticated transitions as opposed to "first, second, last". I have used this in the past for: VOICE, transitions, dialogue, and word choice.

Start at the 35 sec mark...or have students re-inact it...just a thought.--mL

July 9, 2007

Ideas & Voice

Let me share Audrey's response to the following question: --"Wouldn't a piece that has well developed ideas usually contain voice?"

She helps us see the interactions and differences clearly:

I started wondering about this very same question as I was scoring "The Note".

My first thinking was that a piece with voice = 4 or 5 would also have a high score for ideas. Topic focus and selection of relevant, compelling, personal (experiential) details are shared by both voice and ideas.

But #1: Would it be possible to have a piece of writing where the author is very engaging and personal (Voice 4 or 5) but the ideas are just a string of wonderings grouped together, a broad range of topics (Ideas 3 or 2)?

But #2: Would it be possible to have a piece of writing where the the topic is narrow; the writer speaks from experience, giving quality details; and the reader's questions are anticipated and answered, (Ideas 4 or 5) yet the writing is sincere but impersonal and lacking risk (Voice 3)?

Perhaps a high score for Voice or Ideas would mean at least a 3 or 4 for the other trait of this pair?

What do you think?

Are there any examples you can think of?

June 30, 2007

I May Have Found My Voice

Maria reports from Summer School:

One thing I learned from the class readings, which was reinforced oddly enough in my summer school Kindergarten job today, is that the best way to engage students is to share your own writing with them. Show them your own struggles/process/evolution as a writer. Invite their input.

I tried it with Kindergarteners today, with phenomenal success.

As I relayed a description of my backyard, using simple drawings on a whiteboard and labeling the pictures, the students enthusiastically chimed in with suggestions of what to add ("How about a cat who wants to eat the goldfish in your pond?"); comments about their own backyards ("My dad built a waterfall in ours."); and helpful hints on spelling ("Sun" is spelled s-u-n.). Then, when I had the students develop their own stories in their journals, I found myself absorbed in the details of their lives. In the past, I have insisted that they write something first, then illustrate it. I learned today how unnatural that is for young writers. I also learned how much fun it is to hear other people's stories, even 6-year-olds!

Tomorrow, I am going to revisit the description of my backyard with my young charges. I am going to muse out loud about whether there is anything I could add to my story, either in the form of more pictures, or more words. Perhaps I will even venture to write a sentence about it. I will teach them, subtly, that you can go back to a piece anytime you want, planting the seeds of "revision". I will ask them to revisit their stories from yesterday, and decide if there is anything they wish to add.

(You may or may not recognize that I got the Kindergarten ideas from author Lucy Caulkins and her books on writer's workshop. Her work reinforces my conviction that sharing my writing with students is a sure way to prime their creative pump.)

June 8, 2007

Online Discussion: Vocabulary Lists & Word Choice

1 - Question - Terese
I am curious about how educators feel about vocabulary lists. Are they a necessary evil? I know I have introduced vocabulary lists to my first graders from their reading stories. We have learned to use dictionaries and thesauruses this way. The children are writing the definitions weekly and are tested. Of course, we do other activities with the words, but does defining them help retention? Are the tried and true vocab. lists and word choice activities such as we have read about best when combined to help students retain meaning and build vocabulary?

2 - Re: Question - Eryn
I think that vocabulary lists can be helpful. I also think its great that you are introducing them to dictionary's and the thesaurus. What a great skill to develop when you are young. Many kids get to the upper elementary grades and above and don't have any idea about using a dictionary. I also think its helpful for students to understand the meaning behind the words they are reading in their stories. It helps not only with reading comprehension but with writing too. Great question!~Eryn

3 - Re: Question - Terese
Thanks for your encouragement. My kids actually love doing it. I let them think they are doing third grade work and it makes them feel great.

4 - Re: Question - Shirley
My only question would be can the first graders understand the words in the dictionaries and thesauruses? If so, then you are teaching them to use these books instead of fear them!Shirley

5 - Re: Question - Terese
Yes, they can understand them. They are dictionaries and thesauruses made for young children, not the ones older children would be using. They definitely regard it as work that should be for much older children. I try to make them think that they are so smart that they can do it anyway. It works!

6 - Re: Question - Shirley
I love having the children think they are doing work that should be for older children too. Just yesterday I was teaching art and did a project with 1st graders that was designed for older children. I made sure they knew they were "extra talented!"

7 - Re: Question - Terese
That's one of the glories of teaching young children. It is so easy to make them feel special. I love it!

8 - Re: Question - Kathy
I personally have never in first grade used a vocabulary list. We stop and explore the meaning of words in our shared and guided stories by looking at synonyms and antonyms and definitions. I like the idea in the book about keeping a list of these new words that they learn so that they don't forget to use them. I don't know if we need to have them writing the definitions and being tested on them. Is that part of your curriculum?just a friendly opinion:)

9 - Re: Question - Terese
Yes, it is in our curriculum. My students actually love doing it and it is building their confidence.

10 - Re: Question - Jennifer
I think vocabulary lists and isolated word lists can be beneficial when our purpose is to open our students' eyes to word possibilities. However, we have got to make sure that we make explicit connections back to real-life, meaningful writing experiences.In my classroom, my first graders circle words that they think they will need to change the spelling of or use a different word or words during the act of writing. Then after they have done the really hard work of recording their message, they go back and fix those words. Jennifer

11 - Re: Question - Terese
I agree. I know my students remember their vocabulary words because they are connected to a reading story. I hear them saying things such as, "Oh, that was a vocabulary word" and they go searching through their vocabulary notebook. They use this as one more resource for both word choice and for spelling.

12 - Re: Question - Elizabeth
Here is my two cents from an ESL stand point : research has shown that a child needs to hear a word in context 50+ times before it is added to their internal vocabulary. Lists are not bad things - remember we all have different learning styles!

13 - Re: Question - Terese
Thanks for that reminder. You are so right.

14 - Re: Question - Mary Catherine Bolton ( Mar 1, 2007 5:28 PM )
Well, speaking for the OLDER kids (2nd grade:), we intro vocabulary before we begin reading their weekly story in their anthology. We orally define this vocab, read a "getting ready to start" page that introduces this same vocab, listen to the story, then the students have to use each vocab word in a sentence for homework that night. We review these words again when we read the story the next day, and the day after that they take home their anthologies to read the story to their parents. Kind of a traditional approach, but it seems to work in helping them get a feel for the words for reading comprehension. In addition to this, we have a word wall and individual word lists which we use when we come across interesting words.

15 - Re: Question - Mark
I have done extensive research into the area of spelling and vocabulary use. For my entire life I have struggled with spelling and word usage. And I was raised on word lists. I did this research to help me improve my own spelling, after all I teach English and spelling is somewhat important. Well, Based on this research I completely redesigned the focus of spelling and word use in my classroom.

Essentially, what I found was that in normal circumstances we all use a set amount of words, but we do not All use the same words in our writing. Variety in our message is achieved by rearranging these words. Because of this we all have words in our individual schema that overlap…it is these overlapped words that appear on lists of most commonly misspelled words along with other word groups such as modifiers and conjunctions.

This is so oversimplified but the long and the short of it was is that people will only use words they are comfortable with, unless they have to go out of that comfort zone. The further they go out of that zone, the more errors they will make. So, in my mind, the road to improved word use and spelling was to create a place where my kids would feel safe so that they could experiment with unfamiliar words.

Ahhh… You may say, didn't you say that if they leave this zone their misspellings increase?…Yes in fact I did. And that's what I want. I want them to increase their personal vocabulary and their accuracy in that set of words.

So instead of using lists, I find their vocabulary and spelling in their writing. For a number of reasons I find it easier, and more authentic for them. As part of their editing they need to identify misspellings in their papers, and most of the time it is the same words. Once identified, they choose ten words to work on. And working on them is simple. They write the word ten times in a system called old way – new way. Essentially, they spell the word incorrectly, then correctly next to it – close their eyes and spell it out loud and then write it into a sentence. They do that five times per word, and then their done. Until the next time they misspell another word.

I have been amazed at how much their spelling has improved within the context of their writing. I know this works because of the improvement I have seen in my own nemesis.

Uh… is this what you were talking about?

16 - Re: Question - Terese
I think your idea is great. I think I will try it or something similar. Thanks.

17 - Re: Question - Kathy
I agree with you. Our spelling instruction is built in to our writing curriculum. It is hard for teachers to pull away from lists. However, research shows that students tend to memorize the list for a test and not retain the information. I look for words in my students writing and then common misspelled words are added to our word wall. Individual words that are misspelled are added to personal dictionaries. I think this is so meaningful for students.

18 - Re: Question - Mark
Yes, we do personal dictionaries as well. I forgot to mention that in my first post. For me, the coolest thing is to see them go for the personal dictionary before going for the Webster which, my class has nick named the Onion. Long story...

19 - The Onion - Shirley
In this class we are talking about writing, so when you feel that need to practice your writing . . . we would love to read the long story about the "Onion"!Shirley

May 10, 2007

How to introduce the 6-Traits?

Peter, a thoughtful Middle School reflects...

As I dig into the course, I keep asking myself how I can efficiently and smoothly introduce the six trait framework to my students in a meaningful and engaging manner?

  • One trait at a time?
  • Teachable moments?
  • Gradually introduce the lingo and zoom in through lessons and activities over time?

I suppose that I have more questions than answers! Currently, I frame my writing instruction in terms of genres more than traits, although I'm being strategic about introducing traits now that I'm in this course. So far, I'm having a blast and it's gratifying having new material and instructional practices to bring to class.

Relating what I do (or have done) to the ideas trait that we explored in module 3, I began the year by using Nancie Atwell's "writing territories" activity. The students attach the list to their writing folders and add to it once every couple of weeks. Clearly, recording the ideas is critical because they are so easy to lose! In class, we write about three days a week minimally, using quick-writes: question prompts, integrating weekly vocab. terms into a story or response, etc. Students also work building the genre pieces that I mentioned above (this is driven by the Vermont Writing Portfolio requirement).

Generally, we create a finished piece every six weeks or so with breaks here and there. The instruction is very process oriented and gives ample time to each stage, idea generating, research, prewriting, organization, writing, revision, editing, yada yada yada....

In addition to Atwell's idea generating process, I also picked up a couple of tricks from visiting author, Jack Gantos, who generates his content by making the memory maps as described this week's reading. These materials also go in student folders. The only addition or modification would be to make them as visual as possible, using small icons/sketches to truly illustrate the event and/or main characters. It's a fun, personally meaningful way to brainstorm and the kids discovered how many ideas they actually had at their disposal (this is, of course, after they complained painfully that they had nothing to put on their idea maps!).

The trick with the maps is to make them as focused or specific as possible. Jack Gantos, for example, showed us one that he created for his childhood years in Barbados, and one for his house. Each map could contain at least 20 stories! I also had the kids create a "life line" where they brainstormed and plotted a 20 events--highs and lows--over the course of their lives (that they could remember).

This activity also provided food for thought and stimulated the development of several very creative writing topics.The main reason that I like beginning with these types of activities is that they are conducive to sharing, they are visual, and the kids' ideas tend to build upon one other.

A last thought on ideas: throughout the writing process, I use a variety of graphic organizers to help students collect and select relevant details that support focus statements. This is one area, however that i'm looking to enhance. I have a couple of good resources on writing by Jim Burke (who seems to be making quite a name for himself recently). He's published through Heinemann Press--an excellent publisher.

Ultimately, my goal is to develop a growing resource of lessons and activities to help students practice idea development to in a variety of ways that they find engaging and fun, rather than tedious and arduous. Rather than make them groan and develop a rash when we discuss writing, my goal is to foster genuine enthusiasm and interest. Can pigs truly fly? Ideas?

May 7, 2007

NCLB & High Stakes Testing: Tell your stories

The request comes from Kathy Champeau
Wisconsin State Reading Association NCLB Co-Chair . . .

Please help us document the impact of high stakes tests on students' and others' lives.

We are looking for teachers, parents, guidance counselors, school nurses, or anyone else who has firsthand experiences that can help us document as richly as possible the experience of high stakes testing in schools.

If you have stories you can share with us, we ask you to participate in a very short and completely anonymous survey. It should take about fifteen minutes - perhaps more if you have a lot to say.

Interested school personnel please go to:

Interested parents please go to:

If you know of anyone else who may have pertinent experience to contribute please direct them to these websites.

Thank you for your help,

Peter Johnston (Professor, State University of New York at Albany)
Kathy Champeau (Reading Specialist, Wisconsin State Reading Association)

May 5, 2007

Writing Strategies Web Site

I'd like to recommend the Writing Strategies Web Site. Jim Collins of the University at Buffalo has created a website worth your attention. This is a rich resource for information about 6-traits, the writing process, and writing across the curriculum. If you need classroom poster materials, teaching ideas, or advice on how to teach the traits as part of the writing process, this site will be a treasure chest of goodies for you.

You'll be able to download a series of fourteen traits specific PDF files. These files are richly illustrated and would make a great writing center display, or presentation set for an in-service.

Here's a clever presentation of the traits and the writing process:

This diagram shows how you might roll out a traits based writing process in your classroom:

Take the time to visit this site! You'll be glad you did.

May 4, 2007

6-Traits Online (University of Wisconsin-Stout)

Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6 Traits: Classes are are Filling Fast!


EDUC 744 909F Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits - Middle/High School (Gr. 5-12) 3 gr. cr. begins June 18, 2007

Learn to teach and assess writing with the 6-Traits of writing (voice, ideas, word choice, organization, sentence fluency and conventions). Learn to use the 6-Traits with the writing process to teach revision strategies. Help learners meet higher standards and improve test scores.

Please forward this announcement to teachers in your district.

Earn graduate credits via online courses that support your professional development goals for licensure renewal, salary advancement and advanced certification.

University of Wisconsin-Stout School of Education online courses begin in a few weeks.

Sign up soon to reserve your spot! Registration closes ten days before the class begins

to allow time for assigning user names, passwords and ordering/shipping the textbook.

Classes are TOTALLY ONLINE. You may participate from your home or school computer. Registration is limited to 20 participants per section.

Syllabus and other details:


Fax: (715) 232-3385

Tuition is the same fee for in-state and international participants. You may pay via credit card, school purchase order or invoice.


Dennis O'Connor
Instructor & Course Author
Department of Education
Online Professional Development
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University
530-318-1145 or 760-471-5262

Traits Resources!

  • The Neverending Tale is for kids and kids-at-heart. It is a choose-your-own-path adventure story- like you might read in a book. But you can add to the tale where ever you like. Whatever you add will become part of the tale, anything you can think of.

  • Web English Teacher presents the best of K-12 English / Language Arts teaching resources: lesson plans, WebQuests, videos, biography, e-texts, criticism, jokes, puzzles, and classroom activities. Permission to link is granted to any educational site. Here you'll find all their 6-traits resources in one place.

April 25, 2007

How to Introduce the 6-Traits to your students.

One recurring question about teaching with the 6 traits is: “How do I go about introducing traits to my class?” This is a first draft of a lecture I'm developing for my online class: Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits.

Establishing the writing process as the basis for instruction. It’s always (IMHO) Writing Process first, then the traits. You will find this assertion in Spandel & Culham’s works as well.

It does make sense to teach the traits in conjunction with the writing process. The pre-writing phase of the traits is the perfect place to hammer home the importance of Ideas in writing. Pre-writing is when a writer finds the ideas that light them up. For this reason, voice is another important concept to teach as part of pre-writing. We know that voice flows when writers are passionate about their topics. A good topic springs from sound pre-writing activities mated with the understanding of the trait of voice.

Yeah, but what do I do on Monday Morning?

When starting at the beginning of the year I introduced traits to my middle-schoolers sequentially: ideas, voice, word choice, organization, sentence fluency I gave about 3 weeks to a trait.

We'd practice each new trait's core concepts in many small chunks. Writing examples, working with contrasting examples, all of the methods I discuss in the 6-traits online class, plus all of the methods shared by the world wide group of dedicated teachers in the class.

After introduction and practice of a trait, we move on to the next trait.

Seize Teachable Moments

If a chance to talk about another trait presents itself while you are ‘in deep’ with the current trait, go ahead: do it. Don't be afraid to quickly introduce another trait. If you’re introducing ideas, it’s a good idea to talk about voice etc. You don’t have to do a mini lesson or go into depth, but say enough to be appropriate for the moment. This creates a foundation for the concepts to come.

Use 6-Traits Posters

I had traits concepts up around the room in poster format to refer to as needed. Sometimes just walking over to the poster and touching it as you talk is enough to set the pattern for kids. You'll notice kids glancing at the posters and explanations. They know where to look to get the bullet points of the concept. Constant coaching on the concepts is the way to go.

Teach & Re-Teach
Like we do in our online class, each time I started teaching the concepts of a new trait, I would refer back to the previous traits, while foreshadowing those to come. It's recursive practice, teach and reteach throughout the year.

Traits and the Writing Process Work Together

This recursive loop of presenting the traits is similar to the way the writing process works. Pre-writing leads to drafting; drafting reveals the first rush of ideas and voice.

It's at this point that revision should enter the process, working a first draft up to a second draft is more than fixing the spelling and making things neat, yet it's often at this point that the writing process breaks down.

  • Kids don't know what to do.
  • Teachers lack the vocabulary to provide specific and focused feedback.
Understanding how to spot and improve traits in writing provides a way to revise the writing and keep the process evolving. Understanding the traits powers up the writing process by providing entry points for revision.


So often, kids (and teachers) think revision is just fix the spelling and punctuation and write it over neatly.

Save intense focus on conventions and presentation to the publishing stage of the writing process and dive into the meat of the process by learning to revise using word choice, organization, and sentence fluency. This will blow the embers of first draft ideas and voice into full flame.

Waiting for Eureka Moments

When you first start teaching with the traits you wonder if all this work is really worth it. You have to go at it (initially at first) on pure faith. Over the course of the first year it will come together. It will take faith and patience.

I'll admit it felt miraculous when I could see that my kids really were understanding things at a depth! This ability to apply traits concepts to their writing usually showed up around Christmas!

I recall a true eureka moment as I listened to previously inarticulate kids from my toughest class (you know the class that won’t jell and you have before or after lunch) speak eloquently about the ideas and voice they heard in the stories being read aloud. Their comments were on point, supportive, and insightful. They were writers helping each other.

At that moment I felt like crying.

At that moment I knew why I’d hung in all these years as a teacher.

It is moments like that I hope I can help you all find!


April 1, 2007

Annenburg Media: National Poetry Month!

Annenburg Media's offers Voices and Visions... great online video of poets, poetry, and word smithing in general:

National Poetry Month

> This April, immerse yourself and your students in the hour-long
documentaries of "Voices & Visions"
<>. Featured poets include
Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and William Carlos
Williams. Several programs are scheduled to air on the Channel in April;
click on "Broadcast Dates" for details.

> Our literary analysis series "Literary Visions"
<> includes seven programs
about different aspects of poetry.

> Consider the historical relevance of American poetry in "American
Passages: A Literary Survey"
<> Program 10, "Rhythms in
Poetry," and Program 15, "Poetry of Liberation."

> Get upper elementary students started with poetry with this lesson
plan <> on our Web site
for "Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5." The page
includes a link to a list of poems suggested for teaching the use of
line breaks, repetition, and other devices.

> Try out different teaching strategies presented in "Teaching
Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades"
<>. Draw inspiration from
the work of Nikki Grimes, whose characters in the novel "Bronx
Masquerade" perform at an "open mike" poetry event at school. Grimes's
poems appear on pages 17-20 of this PDF document

> "The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High
School" offers lessons plans for teaching poetry, like this one
<> for teaching the work
of Lawson Fusao Inada. Hear and read an excerpt of Inada's poem "Drawing
the Line" at <>.

Visit our Web site <> for
information about our FREE Video on Demand and other viewing options.