Writing Lessons and
Activities for Every Grade
* W.R.I.T.E. =
Write, Revise, Inform, Think, and Edit
How do you help your students overcome their fear of the blank page? How can you make writing an exercise in personal expression, not drudgery? One key to better writing is better writing assignments -- and the Internet has them. Let's tour a few of the finest writing activities that the Web has to offer.
Ray Saitz, a teacher/librarian and facilitator of information technology at Clarke High School in Newcastle, Ontario, put his 15 years of English teaching experience to work in creating a haven of resources for educators like himself.
He is becoming a "wired librarian," and his Web site, Outta Ray's Head, is his niche and offering to the educational community at large.
"Essentially, I became frustrated at finding endless ideas on the Internet but no lessons with tips on evaluation and with original handouts for the class," Saitz told Education World. "Most of the sites that I came across were mainly elementary, and I wanted secondary school lessons."
Several terrific tried-and-true Writing Lessons are featured on the site. Saitz explained that two of his favorite and most successful activities are The Biography Assignment and Review of Anything.
In the biography activity, students work in groups of four to create six good interview questions. Each student conducts an interview with a partner and then the two exchange roles. Their grade is determined by their performance in creating interview questions, writing the biography of their partner, and designing a cover for a book or a magazine article based on the interview.
The review writing lesson involves studying and creating a review of any object, person, or thing other than a book or a film. Students combine the characteristics of the informal essay and the review to write and share an oral presentation that has a thesis and incorporates techniques presented during class.
Another activity that hasn't yet made it to the pages of Saitz's site has students writing the end to a short story. "The gist of the lesson is to take a murder/mystery/suspense short story of about two or three pages and copy it," he explained, "but omit the final important last paragraph. You can make up some story about how the story was discovered in an old trunk and the end was rotted off. Read the story with the lights out and make a big deal of acting it up to build suspense. Just when it nearly ends, stop and ask the students to complete the ending using the same style as the writer.
"The students all write pages and pages," added Saitz, "and then a few days later, you can come into the class with the original ending. I say it was found just that day and was in the newspaper. Then they compare their endings to the author's."
Saitz hopes that his site and its lessons provide a resource of ideas that will help teachers extend their repertoire. "I think that I learned the most when I was a student teacher and I saw other teachers teaching," he said. "When we graduate and start teaching, we can stop growing and learning. I hope that the lessons on the site help other teachers realize new possibilities or open new avenues of discovery."
These writing lessons and activities will allow the young authors in your classroom to shine!
Paragraph Writing. Many elementary teachers lose heart as they read short, choppy paragraphs from their students that contain little variation in sentence structure. Successful Paragraphs is a lesson plan with a unique approach to improving student writing. Students list three material things they wish for, three happenings that would make them happy, and three places they would like to visit. They follow a specific pattern to create a paragraph that tells what it would be like for them to enjoy all those things. Using the template helps them see how variation in structure makes for more interesting reading!
Terrific Topics. Often the most difficult part of writing is getting started, and this problem is frequently related to the quest for the perfect topic. A good topic is the well from which ideas flow, so it needs to be plenty deep! If you too are having difficulty coming up with assignments that will bring forth the wonderful stories your students have to tell, visit Writing Topics. This page, from the Write Source, suggests several topics for papers your students will love to write, and all grade levels are addressed. Be sure to bookmark or print this resource from The Write Source, a development house of educational materials.
Story Boxes. Creativity and language flourish in Story Boxes, an activity included on the Pizzaz Web site. You can collect objects for the story boxes, or you can have your students fill the boxes with objects and words written on pieces of paper or sticks. As the students draw objects from the box, a story unfolds. Use the plan as an oral storytelling activity or a written composition. This is not the only excellent lesson in the collection, so visit the homepage for more gems. Best of all, permission to print and copy the handouts is granted for classroom use!
Free Activities. Each month, Zaner-Bloser: Writing offers new, free activities on-line for use with students in grades 3 and up. The activities may be printed and shared with students to exercise their writing skills. A recent issue of activities addressed descriptive writing. Don't miss this opportunity to glean a few excellent handouts and ideas from these experts in the field.
More Free Activities.Scholastic.com: Writing also provides free activities to download and print. (To access these documents, you will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.) Some activities take a few minutes to load, but they are worth the wait. Sample activities include two types of stationery for student letters and a handout that encourages students to contemplate and write about their plans for the future.
Pop-Up Cards. There is an art to writing a good greeting card and an art to making it pleasing to the eye and unusual. Pop-up cards are definitely unique! Your students will be amazed when they follow the card-making directions at How to Make a Pop-Up from Joan Irvine: the Pop-Up Lady. When the work is complete, your students will have a lovely pop-up animal card that is ready for their own special sentimental touch -- the right verse!
Heroic Efforts. Have you noticed that in all epic tales -- Great Expectations, The Odyssey, Star Wars -- there seems to be a prevailing pattern in the story? This site explores the progression of the hero throughout these tales based on observations contained in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Visitors to The Hero's Journey can examine the steps in a hero's story and read examples from ancient stories or present-day movies that illustrate the concepts. As a final project, students can follow the guidelines of the site to create their own hero stories in this pattern.
Essay Writing. What could be easier than writing a simple essay? Writing one with assistance from the Guide to Writing a Basic Essay! This site takes students through choosing a topic, organizing ideas, composing a thesis, writing the body of the paper, creating an introduction and a conclusion, and adding the finishing touches. With this on-line guide, there is no excuse for a poorly constructed essay.
Writing Worksheets. High-school English teachers have been waiting for a source like this! At OWL Handouts, the Purdue University Online Writing Lab has collected and published handouts for students that address everything from writing research papers to spelling and punctuation. Choose from an extensive group of straightforward guides to complement writing assignments in your classroom. Your students will thank you!
Teach your students to create great friendly letters and give them a reason to learn how! First, introduce the topic of the friendly letter and compare it to the business letter with the examples at Letter Formats. Next, have your students make their own stationery or print one of the cute selections at Friendly Stationery from Jan Brett.
You might have your students write to famous authors, political figures, or even celebrities. You'll find addresses for many well-known actors, actresses, and musical performers online. (Do a Google search for "celebrity addresses." You'll want to supervise student selections if you allow them to use this site.) Add an element of fun by calling the assignment "Dear John Letters" and having the students write to famous people who have John as a part of their names. Don't forget Elton John, Olivia Newton-John, and Pope John Paul II!
Is a business letter more what you had in mind? Then Parts of a Business Letter will help you prepare your students for the business world. Give your students some pointers in writing business communications, and then have them write letters to organizations. They could write to support the efforts of a charity or to complain about a problem with a product or a service. You might even have them write to an address in the book Free Stuff for Kids (published by Meadowbrook Press) and request free materials.
Anyone who writes knows how daunting the empty page can be! Graphic organizers help students overcome the blank sheet and help them put their thoughts in a logical order.
Kathy Baxter and David Leahy of Greenway Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon, created graphic organizers and placed them on the school Web site for all to see. Setting and Events are designed to be used in writing personal narratives, and Persuasive helps students create persuasive pieces by forcing them to state an opinion, support it with three points, give examples, and summarize their belief in a conclusion.
Writing Plans from The Teacher's Desk
Put one of these great writing activities to good use in your classroom. Choices include a list of assignments for fifth- and sixth-grade students to write a paragraph a week for two years!
A+ Research and Writing for High School and College Students
Designed for upper-level students, this guide helps kids write research papers without going nuts! The site explains how to write a research paper, tells how to locate information on the Internet, and advises students about what material is best found in the library, not on the Web.
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Last updated 08/04/2011
Teaching would be the easiest job in the world if following mandated curriculum and reading from your latest teacher’s edition meant all of your students would listen and learn. But we know that teaching involves lighting a spark in students that motivates, inspires, and makes them want to learn and achieve. We also know that what ignites a student’s passion for learning varies from student to student — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Over the years, I’ve discovered that one way to engage almost every student, even those who are reluctant readers and writers, is through song. This week I’ll share with you some of the ways I use music to inspire, motivate, and teach reading and writing (along with life skills!) in my classroom.
Music in Reader’s Workshop
In reader’s workshop I frequently use mentor text to help with mini-lessons. Song lyrics make great mentor text to use to teach theme, author’s message, character traits, visualization, inferring, and more. Students who may not connect with a book or article in class just may connect with a popular song they are familiar with when you make it part of instruction.
I’ll admit the trickiest part to using music lyrics as part of your instruction is finding popular, relevant songs that are school- and age-appropriate. I’ve begun relying on the site, Common Sense Media to find songs with kid-friendly lyrics. Once I find a song I think may work, I use the site AZLyrics to search the title of the song so I can read all the lyrics in their entirety. Once I’ve chosen my song, I’m ready to start teaching with it!
Close Reading (and Listening!)
Last year I shared how I got my feet wet with close reading in my post, "Investigating Nonfiction Part 2: Digging Deeper with Close Reading." At that time, I was only using nonfiction text for digging deeper and gaining meaning. Since then, I’ve expanded my repertoire to include narratives, along with poems and familiar songs. While I apply many of the same principles I used with nonfiction text to look closely at lyrics, there are a few differences, especially when I get the lesson started. My favorite part of doing close readings with songs is when my boys and girls realize for the first time that their favorite head-bopping song actually has a story behind it.
Normally, I’ll begin by reminding students that text is found all around them and they are practicing their reading and thinking skills nearly every moment, even when they don’t realize it — like when they’re driving in the car listening to the radio or have their headphones on and their iPod going. The songs they are listening to are really just stories, and the songwriters are authors.
Next, I’ll tell my students, you are going to listen to a song you may already know from the radio or a movie (this statement alone gets my kids excited!) and I want you to think about the song while you’re listening. After this introduction, my students are hooked and that's when we get going.
The next step is to listen to the song. If you own the song, you could play it off your phone or a CD; I frequently play it off of YouTube, letting my kids hear the sound only.
After listening to the song, my students write down the name of the song in the first column, what they think the song is about in the middle column and what they are wondering or curious about in the last column. They discuss what they’ve written down with their turn-and-talk partners.
Before listening to the song a second time, I tell my students, “This time your goal is to listen for . . . ” and I’ll share the objective such as the song’s theme, purpose, lesson, how the characters are acting or feeling, etc.
After listening a second time, students complete the next row of the I Hear, Think, Wonder sheet, then talk over their findings with their partner once again. If time allows, they listen a third time. Normally, when the song is played multiple times, my students start listening more carefully, and for the first time, many begin to realize there is more to the song than a catchy beat.
The next day, we revisit the song, except this time students are passed out a sheet of the lyrics that I’ve copied for them. I ask my students what they notice about the lyrics. The “aha moment” comes when they realize the song looks like a poem when it’s written down.
Using the Close Reading sheet below, my students read through the songs with their reading partners three times. They share what they have learned on the I Read, Think, Understand sheet which I’ve copied onto the back of the I Hear, Think, Wonder sheet, all of which can be downloaded and printed by clicking on the image below.
Music, especially music your students are familiar with, makes great text for close reading. My students come to understand listening to a song and even reading through it once does not always equate comprehension, and they quickly realize the value of close reading with their favorite songs so they can appreciate the story behind the song.
Songs to Use With Close Reading
For young students like my third graders, I’ve been successful using songs from movies that they are familiar with, such as:
Students in the upper elementary and middle grades would enjoy using songs from artists like Taylor Swift, One Direction, Imagine Dragons, Lorde, etc. Actually, with older students, you can just ask them for a list of songs they like, and you are sure to get plenty from which you can choose! Remember to always preview for appropriateness!
Using Songs to Improve Fluency
One of the first things preschoolers can read is environmental print — the signs from fast food restaurants they pass on the road, stores they shop in, and the names of cereal in their pantry. For older students, songs can work in a way similar to environmental print to practice fluency. Your students already know the words and reading, or singing along can quickly become a favorite part of your day.
Top Teaching blogger, Shari Edwards, inspired me to try music for reading instruction after reading how she used song lyrics to practice fluency skills with her second graders. Read her post, "Using Music to Improve Reading Fluency" to find out how you can do this in your own classroom.
Compare and Contrast Songs
You can either listen to these songs, or print out the lyrics to do compare/contrast activities during reader’s workshop.
Inspire Writers With Music
Music is the shorthand of emotions. ~Leo Tolstoy
Motivating reluctant writers to write is one of the toughest things there is to do. Music, however, has a way of evoking memories and emotions much better than any teacher who tells an 8-year-old to write a story from your life. Consider using music to help your students feel inspired to write.
Using Songs to Inspire Personal Narratives
For example, when it comes time to draft a personal narrative, instead of telling your students to write about a happy moment from their life, play "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors, and have students write about the best day of their life. Other songs that could inspire your students to write narratives:
Using Songs to Inspire Poetry
While doing close reading, my students realize that songs are set up exactly like poems, with verses that are read with rhythm. Print out the lyrics to a few different songs and have students write poems based on real life events or experiences. Consider using Scholastic's Writing With Writers: Poetry Writing with your students to help guide them through the poetry writing process.
Other Ways to Integrate Music Into Your Day
"Mr. Vasicek's Classroom Music Playlist" offers a wide variety of songs that work well in different classroom situations from kicking off your morning to end of day.
In the blog post, "Classroom Songs: It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like December!" Alycia Zimmerman shares her strategies for getting her kids singing all year long.
Introduce Your Students to an Inspiring Writer: Taylor Swift
Many of my students are huge fans of singer Taylor Swift, and I enjoy sharing a bit of her biography to help inspire them as readers and writers. My kids are definitely impressed that she has won seven Grammys and she set the record for youngest person to win the coveted Album of the Year award. What I really use to hook them, however, is the fact that she writes all of her own songs — many of which are actually stories from her life. Then I tell them that she has sold more than 76 million songs to people who enjoy her music and they are more than impressed. While I may do my best to inspire my readers and writers, for some students, learning that someone they look up to as a celebrity is also a renowned author provides the just the inspiration they need to put their pencil to paper.
Lately we have been using Swift’s songs, "Mean" and "Shake It Off" to discuss bullying behaviors. Because of this, I was very excited to learn that Scholastic would be doing a video interview with Taylor Swift on October 29 at 1p.m. ET. Girls and boys alike can learn from her inspiring message. If you watch the video with your class, you may want to use some of the great materials Scholastic has developed. A few of my favorites that you can download and print are shown below.
My Heart Map and Personal Narrative Graphic Organizer
My Favorite Book and Writing a Reflective Essay
Creating a Memory Map and My Most Influential Book
With as many songs out there as there are books, I hope I've given you a few ideas for integrating music into your reading and writing workshops. I would love to hear ways that you use music in your classroom. Please share your ideas in the comment section below! For more ideas and tips, follow me on Twitter and Pinterest.
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