In the words of Carol Aten Frow, WPWP Fellow 2016
A Favorite Lesson for Middle School Students
One of my favorite lessons is to take a picture book and turn it into a writing lesson. I chose the book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and my seventh graders have to do cause-and-effect writing. That’s the perfect book. If you give a mouse a cookie, then this is what is going to happen. I typed it up, as a document, and then we analyzed it as to how that structure is built into writing. What kind of transition words do you use? How do you punctuate that? Then they had to create a “If you give someone a something.”
While we were working on this project, we also read the sequels including, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” and “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” The students pulled off that authorcraft of the alliteration and mimicked the structure. Our students created great books: “If you give a dog a donut,” “If you give a penguin a popsicle,” and “If You Give a hamster a Jalapeno,” for instance.
When we look at the piece of literature, whatever it can be, we can look at it for what it says, its actual message as a reader. We can also learn grammar, writing craft, and we can mimic it in our own writing. That benefits us as writers in the long run.
This is a great way to make participles real to kids to show how different kinds of words can be descriptive in their writing. When we think about how grammar is traditionally taught, that is so not it. Research shows that no one learns through a textbook and a worksheet, but if you can see it in the writing you can use, the lessons will stick.
What Val showed us in our workshops involved using mentor texts as an example for our kids. They can then analyze that piece as a reader, but then they also learn to analyze it as a writer. There is a great reciprocity between a reader and a writer.
An Informational Writing Workshop
In our information writing workshops, Carol and I show various text structures, such as compare/contrast, pro/con, cause/effect, to reinforce the importance of teaching reading/writing together. We use a variety of mentor texts that model each of the text structures and demonstrate how to organize student writing across those text structures. In addition, I will model my own personal examples of writing that aligns with each of the text structures.
To introduce my students to informational writing, I modeled topics and facts on which I consider myself to be an expert. I personally enjoy long-distance running (currently training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon) and I use this as a topic with them a lot. I shared my knowledge of running and gave them tons of facts that I know about the topic.
Throughout the mini-lessons, I brainstormed, organized, and drafted my essay right in front of my kids. I showed them how easy it is to be considered an “expert” and inform the reader about facts. I guess this is her writing, but facts by definition are true! They loved it –after all, everybody knows a lot about someone or something! It was very relatable to them and really boosted their confidence. From there, I give them more standard writing prompts–structured toward PSSA preparations–for the next pieces of informational writing. They are excited and confident in their ability to write.
Many of the strategies presented are ideas that both Carol and I implemented into our classrooms the previous year. I have found the brainstorming and organization process of informational writing to flow more smoothly because of these strategies.
Individual student sharing with the whole class has been a big hit in my classroom during the informational writing. If anything, I have noticed that a lot of these strategies really build student confidence and help kids enjoy writing.
In the Words of Valerie Piccini, WPWP Fellow 2016
Fueling the Fire for Teachers
My strong love for and dedication to both reading and writing has cultivated my desire to develop lifelong readers and writers in my students. Including my colleagues on this journey makes my efforts that much more meaningful. In partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project and with the inexhaustible support of my administrator, Rob Buffone, and my dedicated colleagues at Heritage Elementary, I’m fully equipped to immerse my young writers in this important work. This work is realized in the Literacy Labs I am fortunate to facilitate. Globally, Writers of Westmoreland encapsulates a shared vision and that is simply to inspire both teachers of writing and student writers to explore multiple genres of writing in a supportive and stimulating community of thinkers and learners.
For anyone interested in building this kind of a community for writers, I would recommend they begin by having a sense of urgency to do all they can to build the effectiveness of teachers as writers and as leaders of writing -everywhere! This supports the philosophy of the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project which states, “The best teachers of writing are the teachers who write.” We are not blessed as educators to simply be blessed; we are blessed to be a blessing to others.