December 28, 2014

Color Coordinated Traits! by LaRae Kendrick

Color Connections with Revising & Editing

"At what point in the writing process do you work on correcting & editing?"

After a student has written their rough draft on a big assignment, I ask them to use the first five traits to revise (less than 5 traits for smaller assignments).

My characters, "Our Six Writing Friends," are color-coded and organized by the colors of the rainbow, ROYGBV. To begin the revising process, I ask students to use crayons, pens or digital highlighting and read through their work 5 times.

Ideas-Red: Circle sentences that go off topic.

Organization-Orange: Draw an arrow that moves a sentence to a better place.

Voice-Yellow: Highlight a sentence that shows good voice or the author's personality.

Word Choice-Green: Draw a box around words that are used repeatedly.

Sentence Fluency-Blue: Read to a partner and have them mark a sentence that flowed well.

Once they have gone through the revision steps then they can start editing. Conventions-Purple.

Conventions is always checked in 4 separate steps.

  1. Capitalization
  2. Punctuation
  3. Spelling
  4. Grammar

Now they are ready to take the colorful draft and create a clean and polished final draft. "Polished, not Perfect!"

This step-by-step revising is best for assignments that the students have spent a fair amount of time on, usually the types of writing required by the grade-level standards.

For example, my 3rd grade class was required write research reports. When they had already spent up to two weeks researching and writing their first drafts, it made sense to spend extra time revising and editing.

When they were done with their rough draft, they would start with the first color, ideas/red, and read through their paper looking for details that didn't fit. When they were done, they would move on to the next trait/color. Sometimes a student might take one writing period just to check their ideas and organization.

At the beginning of our writing time together, we would review each color and what the students should be looking for. They knew that their peers may be ahead or behind them. Some may even still be writing! No one seemed to mind reading their stories more than once, because they knew they were looking for something new each time.


The sample displayed is the appearance paragraph of a rough draft from a report about chameleons. Notice how the student sees that he repeated chameleon, green/word choice, so he changes the second occurrence to "lizard." (This is all resulting from a mini-lesson that was taught before one of the writing periods.)

He also used orange/organization to draw an arrow moving the first sentence about the lizard's skin next to the other sentences about its skin. Again, this is not something that he naturally knew, but that he learned from a mini-lesson.

Because "Our Six Writing Friends" visual aids are color-coded on the bottom, students are quickly able to refer to which color to use.

Whichever visuals you use, I suggest color-coding them for quick reference. It could be as simple as attaching pieces of construction paper to the back.
LaRae Kendrick, M. Ed., is a native of San Jose, CA who now lives in Gilbert, AZ. She is an experienced writer and educator specializing in language arts education. She was the director of curriculum development for A Plus Educators and has presented teacher workshops on a variety of topics nationwide. LaRae has served as a leader for numerous state and district writing committees and as a former classroom teacher, she understands the need to master state standards while being realistic about life in the classroom. As the author and creator of Our Six Writing Friends™, she is dedicated to the goal of helping all students become better writers. Her areas of expertise are Six Traits Writing, writing assessment, utilizing interactive whiteboards and the writing/technology connection.

LaRae is a teacher’s teacher who energizes and inspires her fellow educators. A participant in one of her professional development sessions recently stated, "Your workshop was so motivating for me… I couldn't even sleep last night because I could not wait to get back in the classroom and start teaching writing. You have inspired me."

Visit LaRae at to find out more!

December 21, 2014

Turning Criticisms to 'I" Comments

I am using Spandel's Creating Writers 6 Traits, Process, Workshop, and Literature 6th Edition in my upcoming online class: Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6th Traits.  This is a graduate course offered by the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Part of our time is spent assessing sample papers and writing feedback. I'll use this chart to emphasize the need to convert criticism to "I" comments.

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December 19, 2014

6-Traits and the Common Core

How the Traits relate to Common Core Language.

page 26

Creating Writers 6th Edition, Creating Writers

Clearly students who are taught to assess their own writing using the 6-traits approach will be be doing the kind of thinking, reading and writing promoted by the Common Core Writing Standards.

December 14, 2014

Modes of Writing

"Modes of writing, forms of writing, types of writing, domains of writing. Whatever you want to call them, there are different categories for writing. Each mode has a specific purpose. There are four basic modes, descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive. For the intent of this page, I have added a fifth mode for creative writing. These basic modes can then be broken down into subcategories. I have tried to list subcategories here as well, but I am still in the process of collecting them. If you have some ideas or suggestions, please send me an email message." ~ Kim's Korner

December 12, 2014

A Reflective Journal Margaret McKanna

Margaret McKanna
Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6 Traits
Reflective Journal Summary
August 9, 2013

At the heart of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6 Traits, is a vision of students as assessors of their own writing. This approach is designed to maintain student control at every stage of the writing process. Teachers champion clarity of thought and celebrate the individuality of voice. This approach keeps the writing process whole while also enriching student writing with attention to the 6 Traits.

Teachers trained in 6 Traits writing have a genuine appreciation of student writing at all levels of development. They can clearly identify the qualities of strong writing as they emerge and move toward proficiency. Teachers use the language of the 6 Traits to explore and discuss authentic student writing with students and their parents. This language is used to establish a system of self- monitoring and personal goal setting that strengthen the quality of each trait in student writing. Teachers use the touchstones of the 6 Traits to create their own assessments that will determine what students already know, what they want them to learn and how they will know when students have learned.

Teaching the criteria and language of the 6 Traits to students creates opportunities for young authors to deepen their understanding of what gives writing its clarity and strength. Although the 6 Traits support a unified message, each trait is introduced in a separate lesson. Teachers build an understanding by relating the concepts of a trait in a way that is meaningful and age appropriate. The use of authentic writing samples gives students practice in hearing, identifying and discussing the strength of each trait in context. Mini lessons and strategies help students to identify each trait within their own writing. Teachers model ways to strengthen a specific trait in student writing. Reading aloud helps students to hear each trait in a variety of mentor text.

The practice of students reading their own writing aloud supports the integrity of the writer and ultimately the internal strength of the writing. Students hear their message the way other readers will hear it. They can determine for themselves if the message was accurately delivered. When students read their work aloud to their peers, they invite feedback to determine how the message was received. This focus on the clarity of the message, the way it was delivered and received, lends purpose to the effort of revision.

When teachers listen to students read their writing aloud, they share honest reactions that re-enforce the strengths in the writing while also making suggestions that will move the writing forward. Teachers can help students to hear the way one trait supports another. Sharing the tools of good writing in this context, contributes to writing growth in a way that following the revisions made by teachers does not. Students and teachers work together to define personal writing goals using the language of the 6 Traits.

6 Traits writing is not a formula to follow. It is an approach to writing that demands the full engagement of teachers within the writing process. Teachers must be writers themselves in order to fully appreciate and communicate the essential qualities of each trait. The most effective teachers of 6 Traits writing are seen as writers by their students. They demonstrate the safety of the space by sharing their honest efforts and by inviting student feedback. Teachers make the work of writing visible when they share their ideas aloud and model the thinking behind the decisions they make to support those ideas in their writing. When teachers model revisions of their own work based on student feedback, students realize that all authors must work to improve the organization, sentence fluency and word choices of their writing.   Teachers as writers model self-editing of conventions with regard to clarity of the ideas and integrity of voice or offer their writing to students as a sample for editing practice.

A strong writing program based on the writing process and including the criteria and language of the 6 Traits is the best preparation for success on standardized writing assessments. Students learn to write by writing. When teachers at every grade level build an appreciation of the 6 traits based on the common language of the traits, students deepen their understanding and develop their writing potential at every grade level. The support of student control of the writing process, honors individual voice, develops writer confidence and independence. Students see themselves as writers capable of making choices about their writing based on self-assessment. When teachers promote the integrity of the author, and the strength of written expression, they raise the human capital of their classrooms and prepare students to meet the challenges of outside assessments.

Erik Erickson used the term “generativity” to describe the mid-life choices we make to move forward in new direction, to connect in new ways; the opposite is stagnation. Generativity is a form of renewal based on “creativity in service to the young”. Generativity is a way elders serve not only the young, but also their own well being. As a member of this class, I have learned the importance of listening to the voices of children in their writing and honoring the thoughts they share on paper. I have also learned to trust young authors to control their own writing.  Guidance from that place of integrity will support writing growth at every stage of development. Eight weeks ago, Dennis suggested that I would find this class to be the right place at the right time. This class has generated waves of fresh ideas. More importantly, it has caused me to make meaningful connections to those ideas in a refreshing and invigorating way. I have grown as a writer and teacher as well.

December 10, 2014

Synesthesia, Painting, Poetry, Sentence Fluency, Rhythm with Toby Lurie

Poetry - Painting - Song 

Later in my teaching practice I started writing grants to bring writers and illustrators to my school district. This helped me build a relationship with painter, musician and poet, Toby Lurie:

Toby is an amazing, creative, and unpredictable guy. (The link to his site will introduce you to his work. He shares many QuickTime audio clips of his work that trigger creativity.) It is fun to find him on the Internet after all these years.

I recall meeting him for the first time. Toby was wild white bearded poet with a dangerous gleam in his eye. One look at him and I realized that he was going to draw some lightening.  I was the language arts coordinator for a conservative Nevada school district. I knew Toby was going to make waves and I was glad to aide and abet in a little artistic subversion.  We were at the district's biggest high school.  I'd planned a full school assembly, but an uptight vice principal sand bagged me and side tracked us to a remote spot in the school where they kept the 'tough' kids.

As I was about to introduce Toby to a huge high school class of alternative ed kids.  I didn't have a clue what he was going to do. The rowdy with the bored vibe of caged cats.  I was sure this crowd of edgy and angry high schoolers would tear him apart. 

Just as I introduced Toby, he whispered in my ear, "Tell them I don't speak any English."  I followed his lead and got out of the way.

Toby proceed to emote with sounds and facial gestures and within seconds he captured everyone's attention. He spoke gibberish but it didn't matter. This guy knew how to communicate with sound alone, words were an afterthought. The kids were riveted by the odd man capering and grunting in front of them.

By the end of the assembly everyone was up moving and chanting,  found poetry echoed off the walls and we were all swimming in Toby's unique tone patterns.  Sometimes it's good to be in alternative ed!

To really appreciate Toby's work you need to hear and see him. This new video Synesthesia Part 1 will give you a taste. 

Synesthesia part 1 from Terrence Vaughn on Vimeo.

Choral Reading, Toby Style

Several years later on one of his return visits, Toby taught me a great method that ties perfectly into the concepts of rhythm and sentence fluency. After a writing session, Toby had each student pick a single line from their work. Then he called 6-8 volunteers to come to the front of the room. They lined up shoulder to shoulder and started to read their lines in order from left to right. The first boy read. Then the second. Suddenly Toby would point back to the first and have him repeat the line. Toby would  would mug and gesture and flail his arms all to draw more emotion and voice from the reader.

We soon understood that Toby was conducting a word orchestra.

They began reading their lines louder or lower, deadpan or angry, happy or weeping. Once the whole line had read once, Toby layered together a sound poem based on the melodies of repeated lines and varied voice.

Sometimes Toby had the same student read two or three times in a row or come back to one particularly powerful line repeatedly. No one in the chorus knew when they'd be called on and everyone was amazed at the nuances and lunacies that spilled out of it all.

Toby created a wild reader's theater display of word choice, sentence fluency, voice, organization, and ideas all wrapped in a spontaneously generated poem. It was hilarious, energizing and fun. Everyone loved it.

All of this points to the powerful mix of music, performance, and poetry that supports sentence fluency (and all the other traits as well).

I  used this method myself two or three times a year for the rest of my classroom teaching career. I got so I could conduct a pretty good sound/word poem, but I could never top the Maestro!

Synesthesia part 2 from Terrence Vaughn on Vimeo.

December 7, 2014

Nora Carpon's writing prompt suggestion

Nora Capron, a graduate student in the summer 2012 session of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six-Traits posted the following.

With regard to this week's readings, I really liked Donald Murray’s questions to help uncover possible topics on page 172:

What surprised me lately? What’s bugging me? What is changing? What did I expect to happen that didn’t? Why did something make me so mad? What do I keep remembering? What have I learned?

These would be fabulous to use in my Creative Writing class! Sometimes it’s tough for kids to “get the wheels greased” with their basic ideas. I agree with the point Dennis made in his lecture when he said people write best when they write what they know, and I think Murray’s prompts would serve as a very comfortable starting point to get the pens moving. I plan to use these prompts next year in the first few classes when we are generating ideas for our writing.

One idea I have to share is a free writing exercise I recently did as a student in a creative writing course I am taking this summer. The professor passed out a bunch of books to the class. Once each student had a book on his/her desk, the professor instructed us to open our book to a random page, close our eyes, point to a random line of text, read the line, write it at the top of our page and use this as our writing prompt. The sentence at the top of my page was “How embarrassing for him, some stoner overhearing.” Needless to say, this got the creative juices flowing very quickly!

I went from feeling overwhelmed with the pressure of generating a new idea to writing something original that flowed really easily. All I needed was a little inspiration, and it came from a source that I had all around me all the time—books! This exercise was a lot of fun and very useful. I will definitely use this exercise in my own Creative Writing class this year. Has anyone done a similar activity with their students? How would you describe this experience? What variations of this activity could also be done?

December 5, 2014

Reading aloud to model voice by Margaret McKanna

Making great children's literature come alive through highly charged read alouds is a wonderful way to model voice. Read alouds are a gift that broadens language experiences in sentence structure, vocabulary, sense of story and character development, and deepens meaningful connections to literature.

Vicki Spandel is a great advocate for the voices of emergent writers. Drawings are full of voice: the size, color, juxtaposition of people and objects tell the "reader" how students feel about a topic. I also think that story telling and story dictating is a wonderful way to capture voice. Spandel also suggests celebrating the collective voice of a class by writing a whole group story, each student adding a new detail and illustrating a page of the book. These books are placed on classroom shelves with other picture books.

Occasionally, I have the privilege of working 1:1 with students who struggle with print. We have a lot of fun rereading passages with different voices, pretending to be a baby or an old man, someone who is very sleepy, a kid who can't stop laughing or can't stop crying, a very serious adult, or the all-time favorite pretending to be someone from Texas or a country western star.

I know a now retired 2nd grade teacher who did dozens of short plays throughout the year. Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock comes to mind. There are so many great trickster tales with surprise twists, fables that teach lessons and really come alive in a student play.These plays were more Readers Theater than staged play. Students practiced the voices of different characters; they also experienced reading fluency and connections with text.

These literary engagements are a great way to build a sense of voice and the emotions and personalities behind a variety of voices. ~ Margaret

(Based on a discussion reply by Margaret McKanna Summer 2013.)

December 2, 2014

OWLs Online Writing Labs

College and high school writing teachers might want to Online Writing Labs: bookmark these sources! 
owl online writing lab   Purdue's online writing lab is one of the best.

These writing resources carry some extra clout with students since the come from main line colleges.