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.