Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Teaching Persuasive Writing

Friday, May 8th, 2009

When teaching writing it’s important to show students how to do it and show them good examples of that genre of writing.

Our fifth graders recently had to write a multi-paragraph essay on whether or not to support the Revolutionary War from the point of view of the colonists.

To write this prompt well one needs:

  • content knowlege of the American Revolution
  • knowledge of the genre of persuasion
  • writing vocabulary (e.g. drafting, revising, and conventions)

As this writing comes at the culmination of a unit on the revolution, the content knowledge can be built through the story selections.  However, even if students learn everything you want them to about the War and its causes, they will not learn how to write persuasively by osmosis.

Rather than focus on everything at once, we chose to focus on teaching students to write persuasively.

Here’s a list of examples of persuasive writing to examine with students (found via Twitter):

  • Ahlberg, Janet, and Allan Ahlberg. 1999. The Jolly Pocket Postman
  • Caseley, Judith. Dear Annie
  • Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
  • James, Simon. Dear Mr. Blueberry
  • Orloff, Karen Kaufman. I Wanna Iguana
  • Pak, Soyung. Dear Juno
  • Rylant, Cynthia. Gooseberry Park
  • Stewart, Sarah. The Gardener

Update:  Here are a few others…I Wanna Iguana, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Great Kapok Tree, My Brother Dave Is Delicious.

L.A. Youth (Teen Newspaper) Needs Help

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009


L.A. Youth is a teen newspaper that goes out for free to all the high schools and middle schools in the Los Angeles area.  It was founded to counteract censorship in high school newspapers and includes articles from teens all across L.A. including students in foster care and others who find a positive outlet for their creativity by writing for the paper.  With a circulation of approximately 500,000, it is the largest newspaper by and for teens.

It’s Personal

When I was in the ninth grade (17 years ago) I went to a free three day workshop at L.A. Youth to train you to write for their newspaper.  I got to visit the L.A. Times and experience what it was like to be a reporter.

I remember scoring an interview with a retired teacher who had been involved in the creation of an innovative high school newspaper that had been censored by the administration at the school and become the subject of lawsuits.  It was quite a coup when I called the school and they just gave me the retired guy’s home phone number.  It was a rare rainy night in L.A. when I my mom dropped me off to meet this old hippie at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax and record his thoughts on what had happened many years prior.  If you remember Hal Holbrook standing in shadows as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, this guy looked just like that.  I remember that he bought me my hot chocolate, that I was really nervous and soaking wet.

Even though that was just a practice article that never got published, I remember that experience vividly, fondly, and with a sense of adventure.

I went on to write two articles for the newspaper…one about how I was annoying my family by turning off lights and shutting off the water while they were washing their hands in the name of being an environmentalist called “I Was A Teenage Mutant Earth Nut” (long before An Inconvenient Truth) and another about how to apply for financial aid.  The first article got picked up for their ten year retrospective and was reprinted in a book that L.A. Youth published of some of their interesting articles from the first ten years of the paper.

My article was mildly amusing (at least I think so) but other articles dealt with serious issues like teen sexuality, violence, coming to grips with your own culture, and the general malaise that goes along with being a teenager.  From the letters written to the paper you can tell that it’s made a difference in the lives of both readers and newspaper writers.

My time with the teen newspaper was brief but important in my personal and professional development.  I went on to become the editor of my high school yearbook and then revived our high school newspaper from the dead.  I wouldn’t have had the courage without L.A. Youth.  But my favorite moment of involvement with L.A. Youth came over a decade after I had left when a current student at my former high school was told to contact me to ask for my advice on how I had made our high school paper more relevant.  The girl had heard about me from one of the adult editors at L.A. Youth.

I forwarded the teen copies of the school paper I had created which included articles on the most reliable condoms to use and marijuana use (subjects I knew nothing about but figured were of interest to the rest of the student body) and pictures of Beavis and Butthead debating our school mascot.  I had become the Canter’s Deli hippie.

And now I write this blog.

My friend who drew the picture of me as an earth nut for the newspaper went on to design movie posters.  Working at the paper was a memorable and important part of my growth and development.  I can’t say it changed my life but I can say that my involvement was one of those experiences that played an important part in shaping who I am today.

Now the bad news

Surprise!  Newspapers are in trouble.  L.A. Youth which has been heavily subsidized by the L.A. Times for the past twenty years is being cut off by the larger paper and needs help to continue.  This part of the story has been written about more thoroughly in the LA Observed blog.

While all newspapers are figuring out how to keep themselves relevant and stay alive, L.A. Youth in particular needs support.  I was thinking that the paper could perhaps transition from a print copy to a blog but that would put the many disadvantage teenagers who read the paper and the majority of Americans who still don’t know what a blog is at a disadvantage.  That day isn’t here yet and it’s important that the print copy stays alive. L.A. Youth reaches out to those teens who need help and it gets teens those teens in the habit of reading the newspaper.

I’m going to make a small donation.  If you are able, please do the same and feel free to pass this along on your own blog.

10 Myths of Writer's Workshop: Part 4 of 4

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Here are all the myths with visuals from my presentation at Western Avenue Elementary…

10 Myths of Writer's Workshop: Part 3 of 4

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Myth #7: Where’s the beef?

I’ve written about this before as well. Focusing on structure before starting to write can lead to bland, generic paragraphs and reduce writing to formula instead of communication. Instead, I recommend just writing and then molding that writing into a structure through revising. By frontloading too much information in the beginning, some students will be overwhelmed and shut down. Let them get their ideas out first.

Myth #8: Revising and Proofreading are the same thing…and students can’t do either.

Many teachers are students are still confused about this. Revising is about ideas and not about mistakes. If there’s an error that impedes meaning then by all means take care of it in the revising but proofreading is the stage that is about conventions and making the writing correct. Students can do both independently with your guidance as long as you are modeling how to do it and not just lecturing about it (see Myth #1).

Myth #9: Students can’t follow prompts.

Students don’t need prompts but sometimes they will have to write to them. They can learn to follow directions if you teach them how to read them and figure out what’s being asked. However, following a prompt is almost a separate skill from writing. The good news is that if you teach students how to write well then learning to write to a prompt is easy. If you do too much at one time then it’s harder for students to learn anything.

Myth #10 We write because the teacher tells us to.

We sometimes do a good job of teaching students that we read for pleasure but we rarely teach students that writing is about authentic communication and that it is sometimes done because someone wants to do it. This is why some students (some of whom eventually become teachers) hate writing. Students need real reasons to write. Let them write a presentation, a letter, a blog and write something that they care to write about.

10 Myths of Writer's Workshop: Part 2 of 4

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Myth #4: Drawing is for babies.

I wrote about this already. Drawing is a valid form of prewriting and writing (see cave paintings). By allowing students to transition from drawings to labels and then sentences, you make writing relevant. Bringing visuals into the writing process also sparks imagination and allows non-writers and English Language Learners to participate in the process

Myth #5 Good writers don’t change their minds.

I have several blog entries that have never seen the light of day. I have a box of unfinished scripts. And most of my finished pieces have gone through tons of different iterations before being published. However, in many classrooms, whatever students start writing on Monday, they must take through the entire writing process. By having a publishing deadlines and not requiring students to move at the same pace within that structure, changing your mind is part of the process. Students can go back to their brainstorming list at any time and choose another idea (again, as long as they publish by the deadline).

Myth #6 Stories need a (traditional) beginning, middle, and end.

We were all taught that stories need a beginning, middle, and end but teaching that students often leads to a laundry list type of writing. Take for example, a story about visiting Raging Waters.

I went to Raging Waters with my mom. We parked the car. We bought tickets. We ate a hot dog. We rode many rides. We had fun. We were tired. We went home. I played video games with my cousin. He slept over. The next day he went home.

What is this story about? There are several possible stories in this piece of writing and few details. How about focusing on a small moment instead. How about focusing on just one ride and really noticing sensory details of the experience.

I could smell sunscreen all around me and heard the sound of ladies screaming as they rode down the slide. There were butterflies in my stomach as I climbed the steps of The Terror waiting my turn to slide down the one thousand foot drop…

Sometimes you have to just start writing and find the structure within what you’re writing. As per Lucy Calkins, it’s easier to revise a smaller, focused piece of writing then a long string of ideas.