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?

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