Friday, September 29, 2006

My Writing Class--So Far

This post was originally written as my entry in the "Share Your Favorite Lesson Plan" Contest sponsored by Sprittibee and Academic Superstore.

I have wanted to teach a writing class for several years and I'm so thankful that finally the timing was right. The Lord helped bring together 4 families who are all doing Sonlight's American history this year. (We're all in the same theater program too, so we can carpool to rehearsals right after writing class. What a help!)

I have four 5th graders, one 6th grader and two 8th graders in my class, none of whom have ever taken a writing class before, except my own 8th grade daughter. So we've been covering the basics so far.

We began by discussing the difference between formal and informal writing. This generation needs to be clear that you can't put smileys or "LOL" in the middle of an essay! Next, I read them parts of an essay by Andy Rooney on blue jeans, and a blog post on shopping for school supplies. Both took mundane subjects and made them fascinating by their word choices and specific details--not just "a notebook," for example, but a "pink, shiny Trapper-Keeper."

I explained that this year, they will be writing non-fiction essays about ordinary things. It may not sound as fun as story-writing, but their job, I emphasized, will be to make those ordinary topics as interesting and fun to read as possible. We discussed several more examples, noticing how adjectives, adverbs, descriptive verbs, strong introductions and conclusions, and specific details enlivened each topic.

That challenge seemed to strike a chord. The next week, they were eager to read their assignments aloud to each other. We praised word choices, introductions, conclusions and descriptive details. I was impressed and so pleased with their first efforts!

We focused next on writing paragraphs that stick to a main idea, which is introduced in the opening sentence, followed by a few more sentences that expand it, and a concluding sentence that wraps up and restates the main idea. I told my friend and fellow blogger Anette about this goal when she visited me last weekend. She's a professor at Augustana--a college that's pretty high up on the academic food chain, I understand--and she said, "You're teaching that to fourth graders--and they're able to do it? I have college students who can't do that! Your kids will be so well-prepared!"

The third week, I unveiled the piece de resistance--a website for the class! We named it Right Writers. (It's a Blogger site, but we're calling it a website, not a blog--shhhhh!) I taught them how to sign in, post and edit their work, and leave comments for each other. We also discussed how to make a kind suggestion, balanced with positive statements. I post the week's assignments there as well. If you go visit, please remember it's a work in progress! They post their rough drafts as well as their completed work.

You'll notice that each week, I make two assignments. One is on a topic of their choice, and the other is the same assignment, but related to their Sonlight reading. I want the kids to be as comfortable writing about literature as they are writing about their favorite subjects. In my own school days, I don't remember interacting with literature, in writing, before I got to high school, and then it seemed like such a different thing than any kind of writing I'd ever done.

So there you have my favorite lesson plans so far this year. My assignments will be available there at Right Writers--feel free to borrow them for your "class" too!


maria said...

I *love* how you incorporate technology into your lessons! Your comment (from the other school blog post) on how your kids want to go "work on their blog" even though it is school work is awesome, especially in an age and country where being computer literate is becoming nearly as important as literacy itself. I hadn't thought about how what follows is an increased need to explain where smileys and LOL do and don't belong. :) So cool! I hope you win that camera!

PS. It's snowing!!!

Sprittibee said...

I'm so glad you entered the contest and shared this lesson plan. I for one, plan to STEAL it. ;) Maybe not this year, but maybe next year. I have a third and fourth grader. Both of them are learning to type and write paragraphs and reports right now... and hopefully will love it like their mama does!

Anonymous said...

I actually found this site a few days ago & read some of the writing! It's a great idea for the kids to post their writings for others to comment on & see. I'd like to comment, but don't want to open a blogger account. Help?... Pianomum

rightwriters said...


I changed it to allow anonymous comments--didn't realize it was set so that it would not. So you can comment the same way that you do on mine.

Did you guess which ones are your grandchildren?

Martha said...

I just popped over from Spunky's carnival and I love, love, love this idea. I'm going to "steal" it too. I also took a quick peek at the kids "website" and was so impressed with pickle13'a entry. As I felt I may be intruding into their private thoughts I'm back out, and very excited to start something for my kids.