Tag Archives: Teaching Writing

Haiku: Teaching Japanese Aesthetics Through Its Poetry

An old pond:

A frog jumps in —

The sound of water.

by Matsuo Basho (translated by Harold G. Henderson and Geoffrey Bownas

Many students have been introduced to the poetic form of haiku in elementary school. It is a deceptively simple form which constructs an entire poem with only 17 syllables organized in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. Typically, if you ask students of any grade or ability level what they know about haiku, they will tell you about the 5-7-5 structure. Perhaps they will have some idea that many haiku are about nature. I like to start a haiku lesson or unit of study from that point from the students’ perceptions that haiku are mostly about their form, to the reality that haiku are perfectly distilled representations of several aspects of Japanese aesthetics: an appreciation of simplicity, of impermanence, of suggestion, and of nature.

Criteria for Haiku:

17 Syllables

3 Lines

5-7-5 Form (traditional Japanese haiku poets count “sounds,” not syllables. 

Doesn’t rhyme

Usually about nature (not required)

Shows change or contrast

Can go from the general to the specific or vice versa

Very Condensed form: suggests rather than tells

Seems simple, but makes you think or evoke feeling

Emphasizes impermanence, the quality of things which do not last. 

Almost all haiku contain a seasonal word or phrase which indicates the season, like “spring rain.” In Japanese, this seasonal word is called a “kigo.” Additionally, the poet usually introduces an image in the first line which he then illustrates or contrasts in lines two and three, or he develops an image in lines one and two which he then summarizes or contrasts in the final line. Haiku cluster the image at the beginning [5-7]-5 or the end 5[-7-5] of a haiku. This technique of “cutting” – the Japanese term for switching from the general to the specific, or from one image to another related one. Haiku are written in present tense. A haiku freezes one moment in time the way a snapshot does. There is no firm rule regarding capitalization and punctuation in English haiku nor as to whether haiku comprises a complete sentence. These things are decided by the poems themselves, on a poem to poem basis.

Haiku began in Japan during the 17th century. A haiku should share a moment of awareness with the reader. Peace, sadness, mystery – these are only a few of the emotions that evoke haiku and which we can feel when we read haiku. The key to our feelings about the things around us and to the feelings we have when we read a good haiku, is the things themselves. The things produce emotion. The words of the haiku should create in the reader the emotion felt by the poet, not describe the emotion.

Before trying to write haiku, it is a good idea to look over some examples. Think about each one. What makes the moment it talks about special? What word or phrase tells you the season? How does that affect the meaning of the haiku? Notice how many haiku create emotions by connecting two or more images together in a strange, new way.

Because haiku have an alive now quality, most haiku do not have any metaphors or similes. For the same reason, haiku poets do not use rhyme unless it happens accidentally and is hardly noticeable. In making haiku, try to present something in the more direct words possible. Haiku are about common, everyday experiences and avoid complicated words or grammar. As one expert on the Japanese haiku called it “a poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived in which nature is linked to human nature.”

between the pages

of a favorite book I find

squashed fruit crumbles

— Annie Wright

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Sentence Frames to Guide Student Writers

Helping students build their writing repertoire and vocabulary acquisition requires teachers to model what good writers do. When my students are working on a short response or extended response, I offer graphic organizers and sentence frames to help my students write and revise their writing to meet learning targets.

Particularly for my ENL students who might not have the words or academic language just yet, providing these scaffolded strategies can help to develop students’ writing muscles and vocabulary necessary for academic writing.

Depending on the writing task, the graphic organizers are adapted to help fit the prompt. For example, wrote a short response to meet CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.9 – 
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types.

The prompt stated: Choose a quote from Gandhi  that you feel best exemplifies the protagonist and his/her journey midway throughout the text.  Be sure to include two (2) or more textual details (direct quotes) to support your claim.

Students were given a bank with ten Gandhi quotes:

 “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

“An ounce of patience is worth more than a ton of preaching.”

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

“Without action, you aren’t going anywhere.”

“Continue to grow and evolve.”

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  
Providing students with a graphic organizer can help students tract their thinking, make connections, and outline their understanding. This graphic organizer helps direct students what to write about.

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For my ENL and ELL students who are developing academic language and vocabulary to  articulate their thinking about the text, offering sentence frames provides the necessary format and language needed to meet the learning target.

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What looks like Mad Libs can give students the confidence to show what they know and develop their written communication skills.

For more ideas for sentence frames and scaffolding student writing from other teachers, check out this blog post from Larry Ferlazzo.

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All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.

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Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

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Effective feedback improves student learning with Google Add-ons

Effective feedback improves student learning. 

In a 2012 article in Educational Leadership,  Grant Wiggins writes, “Helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.” As a middle school English teacher I spend many hours reading and evaluating student writing in order to help them improve as writers and articulate their thinking. I offer A LOT of feedback, both positive and constructive to help, support, guide, and meet learning targets for written communication. Wiggins goes on to say, “Effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information. Thus, “Good job!” and “You did that wrong” and B+ are not feedback at all.”

I have found two Google Add On tools to help provide more specific and effective feedback. As John Hattie states, “To make sure that feedback is effective, teachers must know where their students are going, how they are progressing toward the goal, and where they need to go next. Because all messages are filtered through the students’ perceptions, what works as good feedback for one might not work for another.”  With these thoughts about feedback fresh in my mind, I am using the Google Add On Read & Write for Google Chrome from Texthelp to offer verbal feedback in addition to written comments on student writing. Using the the “Voice Note” feature in Read & Write I am able to record spoken feedback up to a minute in the document up to one minute. And the students do not need the add on to access the voice comments, they are given a link in the comments section to access the feedback. Additionally, the Voice Notes can also be used to 

  • Read the directions aloud for students who may have difficulty reading.
  • Provide additional clarification beyond the written directions.
  • Add a personal touch to the document by adding your own voice.

When reading many class papers in one seating, often times students might be making similar errors and rather than typing the same comments over and over again, Checkmark by EdtechTeam is designed to offer common edit and usage comments for quick commenting. This add-on saves time for teachers by clicking the appropriate comment automatically when highlighting a word or phrase in a Google Doc.

If we want our students to succeed, teachers need to be clear of the learning goals, strategies and moves to help students meet those goals, and articulate in the feedback we offer.

How to get both these Google Add Ons and use them to work smarter when it comes to giving effective feedback to our students is presented in the slide deck below.

 

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NCTE#17 TakeAways

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I am in St. Louis, MI to attend NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and it is always empowering to be among thousands of English Teachers, Literacy Coaches, Researchers, and Authors. From 7:00 AM through the wee-hours of the night we are listening, learning, networking, collaborating, discussing, sharing, and inspiring each other. This annual convention is one of the best in-person professional development opportunities for someone in the English Language Arts and Literacy field.

Yesterday the kickoff included a meet up for Middle School Teachers with Ignite Keynotes from Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Chris Lehman, and author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich addressing the role of Middle School and literacy in shaping student identity. This morning the power of poetry was the theme with Jimmy Santiago Baca and youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.

The first session I attended was with Penny Kittle on “Creative Structures for Organizing Writing: Beyond the 5 Paragraph Essay.” She mentioned that the five paragraph essay is nothing that students have to complete in college so why are we using this limited writing structure to teach writing. Breaking free of the 5 Paragraph essay structure allows for more authentic writing like Op-Ed pieces, reviews, profiles and Public Service Announcements. Show students the models and mentors to help them succeed in writing these types of texts and build their writing repertoire. Her handouts are available on her website under NCTE.

Kelly Gallagher spoke about Fake News and helping our students develop world knowledge and being critical readers. Too many people accept information for what it is where a website, news story, or text and don’t ask questions about who is writing the story? What is their purpose? What is being left out? Who is the audience? Does it pass the CRAP Test – Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose? He argued that maybe we need to put literary analysis aside in order to bring to the forefront the value of the reading experience.

I was one of the presenter in the next session on Igniting Wonder in the Classroom along with Laura Robb, Kristen Ziemke, Carol Varsalona, Blanca Duarte, Laura Purdie Salas, and Wonderopolis. I presented on Quest Based Learning to spark wonder and play in the classroom. My slide deck is below.

Since there are so many amazing authors at NCTE, I could not forego seeing a few outstanding YA authors including A.S. King, Somon Chainani, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Andrew Smith, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. Let’s just say, these are a few of the badass authors who write great YA fiction. They addressed social justice, humor, and tackling tough topics with their readers.  For all of them writing has been “freedom, power, and voice.”

Dropping into the exhibit hall, a few ARC copies of soon to be released books were shared and cannot wait to start reading. New titles that tackle historical fiction and zombies, dystopia, and poetry.

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John F. Kennedy as a Writing Mentor & Model: Writing & Social Action

This week I took a trip to The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA. The museum is “dedicated to preserving and providing access to the legacy of the 35th President of the United States.”

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Among all the artifacts, photographs, and videos, JFK’s writings were at the forefront. The museum and library present the depth of John F. Kennedy’s writing from his schooling days, his honors thesis that was turned into a book, his writing Portraits of Courage, and the countless speeches he wrote (along with his aide, Ted Sorenson) and presented during the time he was in office. It is intriguing that the Museum begins with information about JFK as a young person and highlights his lack of focus and academic rigor in high school. In fact, it is clear based on his high school grades that school was not JFK’s priority. His French teacher wrote, “Jack’s work varies from excellent to extremely poor. . . he has to make the decision between mediocrity and worthwhile work, – and Jack should never be content with the former.” As one progresses throughout the museum, it is clear that JFK’s work moving forward was more than worthwhile.

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Looking at Kennedy’s writings it is clear that he borrowed from many models and mentors himself to produce one of the greatest speeches in American history. Kennedy’s inaugural address taps into key themes Kennedy wanted to convey to the American people at the beginning of an era:  peace, freedom, service to others, and personal accountability. The speech itself contains contributions or borrowings from, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and president Lincoln. It has been said that the line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do from your country” was adapted from Kennedy’s headmaster at Choate.

As a writer, Kennedy was always revising his speeches and looking at the original scripts, one can see the revisions he made in his own handwriting to get the words out just right. His words are meticulous and thoughtful. He used his words to present ideas about war and peace, the possibility of the space program, to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, when facing a moral crisis and efforts to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation, and to celebrate great writers and artists.

As a teacher, I am always looking for models and mentors for my students to understand the writing process, the craft of writing, and how words are powerful to move masses of people to change thoughts and actions.

Author and teacher, Kelly Gallagher writes in In The Best Interest of Students (Stenhouse, 2015), “students benefit when they pay close attention to models before they begin drafting, they benefit when they pay close attention to models while they are drafting, and they benefit when they pay close attention to models as they begin moving their drafts into revision. Mentor texts achieve maximum effectiveness when students frequently revisit them throughout the writing process.” Kennedy’s writing can be used to study history and the craft of writing. So many of his speeches are mentor texts for our students.

As JFK wrote in the speech for Dallas before his assassination (and was never able to present), “The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence.” Throughout his 1,036 days in office, John F. Kennedy’s words were clear and full of conviction, precise and provoking. Aren’t these the same characteristics we want to see in our students’ writing and thinking?

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Writing Revolution Part 2: The Power of An Outline

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on building better sentences based on the Hochman Method of writing. The writing strategies require continuous practice starting with sentences so that students build their expository writing skills, clarify their thoughts, and express themselves with precision, accuracy, and clarity. The two primary goals of the program are  “to raise linguistic complexity of students’ sentences and to improve the organization of their compositions” (2014).

When it comes to paragraphs and compositions, a quick outline can help students structure their ideas and understanding for larger essays. Outlines enable students to develop their writing as a cohesive whole and visualize a beginning, middle, and end in their writing. Outlines can also help students distinguish essential versus nonessential material and sequencing information.

An outline has the following benefits:

  1. Provides Structure
  2. Eliminates Repetition
  3. Improves Adherence to Topic
  4. Aids in sequencing

Teachers should model a quick outline for the class before requiring students to complete outlines on their own.

Before beginning outlines one might give students a Topic Sense and Supporting Detail and have students identify which is the TS and which detail is SD. For example:

__________ Mitosis is a process of cell division.

__________ In the cell nucleus, chromosomes are separated into two identical sets.

This might be a do now for a science class posted on the board. Once students can identify the topic sentence, the class might follow up with a conversation to articulate their reasoning.

Another activity would be to give students four (4) sentences and have students sequence the sentences for a paragraph. For example:

_______ Harriet Tubman helped slaves to freedom.

_______ John Brown led a small rebellion against slavery.

_______ The anti slavery movement began to grow in the 1850s.

_______ Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election.

A third strategy that can be used as quick do now or exit ticket is to have students identify the topic sentence and eliminate irrelevant details by listing different information or giving students an entire paragraph of information.

All of these activities help students to think about the elements of paragraph writing and building stamina and critical thinking for essay writing.

The Hochman Method’s Quick Outline includes a Topic Sentence, Four details from the text and a Concluding Sentence. A teacher might give students a topic sentence and then ask students to find four textual details based on the course material before having students draft a concluding sentence that synthesizing the information learned as a way to scaffold the outlining process.

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Note the dotted lines for the textual details. The dotted lines suggest to students that the do not have to write in complete sentences, rather include key words and phrases. The TS and CS are solid lines that require a complete, specific, and detailed sentence.

The Quick Outline template above is for a single paragraph.

Additional lessons for outlining include:

Students are given details and must generate a topic sentence.

Generate concluding sentence from a given topic sentence and details.

Given a paragraph, convert it into a quick outline.

Given a topic, generate a Quick Outline independently.

I will be embedding some of these practices into my lessons to help students develop their writing and make connections with the material we are studying. These strategies work across the content area as well. For the next essay assignment my students will write at the end of the month I am considering have them outline their thinking and grade the outline rather than write out the entire essay. Again, my intentions are to help my students become better communicators and write with clarity and precision while effectively articulating their thinking about reading.

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Is All Evidence Equal: Weighing Textual Evidence

This week I gave my students a short response prompt based on the propaganda presented in their dystopian texts. Students are reading Animal Farm, The Giver and Unwind. The prompt was as follows:

A variety of propaganda techniques are used throughout the fable in small and incremental measures to confuse, influence, and keep the other animals on the farm under control, as well as to make outsiders think that Animal Farm was successful.

There are six types of propaganda that are commonly recognized: 1) Bandwagon, 2) Scapegoating, 3) Unapproved Assertions, 4) Slogans, and 5) Fear.

Which type of propaganda did those in control use to their advantage most effectively?

Why did that type of propaganda work so well on the members of the community?

In your short response be sure to identify the type of propaganda used effectively with two or more examples textual support. Also include why this type of propaganda worked so well on the others.

Whereas my students know to include direct textual evidence in their writing, the question remains: Is the evidence students are selecting the strongest evidence to support their claim? 

This year I am requiring students to organize textual evidence using graphic organizers I create to use in tandem with the foldables that go in their Interactive English Notebooks. But is not just about students mastering the ability to pull any evidence from the text, it is necessary  students also weigh and debate the evidence selected so that it is the strongest in supporting their claims.

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen address this same topic in their book Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (Heinemann, 2014).

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Based on the ideas presented in their text, I have created a foldable for my students to remember that not all evidence is equal. To reiterate this idea about evidence, I have taken various quotes about fear from each of the three dystopian texts for students to work in small groups and rank the evidence for use in the short response prompt above: Which is the strongest evidence? Why? Which is the weakest evidence? Why? What makes the strongest evidence the strongest? What makes the weakest evidence the weakest? Which evidence tells? Which evidence shows?

 

 

 

 

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Metaphors and Analogies for Teaching Writing

Writing is an abstract idea for many students in middle school. Particularly, essay writing. In an attempt to make writing more accessible to my students, I have been using metaphors and analogies to help my students understand the elements of writing an essay.

Lindsey Richland, professor at University of Chicago, has written many research articles on the use of analogies in mathematics classroom. She lists six cognitive supports for the use of analogies in the mathematics classroom. These supports include:

  1. The teacher uses a familiar source analog to compare to the target analog being taught
  2. The teacher presents the source analog visually
  3. The teacher keeps the source visible to learners during comparison with the target.
  4. The teacher uses spatial cues to highlight the alignment between corresponding elements of the source and target (e.g., diagramming)
  5. The teacher uses hand or arm gestures that signaled an intended comparison (e.g., pointing back and forth between a scale and an equation)
  6. The teacher uses mental imagery or visualizations

Richland’s work is also relevant across content areas. I have found that using metaphors and analogies with my students helps them to visualize and make connections with the content being taught. For example, while working on revising our summer reading essays, I made the following analogies:

Introductory Paragraphs are like Birthday Invitations – The first paragraph of your essay is extremely important.  You will need to get the reader’s attention, build interest, preview the topic and offer necessary background information, and most importantly state your claim clearly and concisely. Similarly, when you send out a birthday invitation to your friends you need to get your friend’s attention, build interest, preview what is going to happen at the party and include any necessary background information, and most importantly, state where and when the party is is going to happen clearly and concisely.

When teaching the claim, I borrowed an analogy from author,  Katherine Bomer, “Essays, like a music composition,  circle around a central idea, riffing on it with stories, questions, and observations, but ultimately cohering around the CORE IDEA.”

I also talked about writer’s having to navigate their thinking on a page the way Google Maps and Waze helps to navigate us home. Unfortunately, there is no app to help teachers and students navigate through an essay. Thus, writers need to always be explaining or clarifying the relationship they are creating between evidence and ideas. Writers need to be sure and clarify or explain each piece of evidence from the text so that readers don’t get lost, confused, or the wrong idea.

What are the metaphors and analogies that you use to teach writing with your students to help them visualize the task at hand? Share your ideas in the Comments below.

 

 

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Revision as a Scaffold Tool for Learning & Understanding

So, you taught a lesson, students completed many activities to apply this new knowledge – discussions, interactive notebooks, graphic organizers, collaborative assignments – and now they are ready for a quiz or assessment to show their level of understanding.

Then, more than a dozen fail the quiz.

What happened? Where was the disconnect? These students clearly need additional information, support, and possibly reteaching before moving on.

In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. (edglossary.org)

Scaffolding does just happen during a lesson. It also need to happen after an assessment, especially for those who have yet to grasp the concept or standard being assessed. It is important to NOT just move on to the next unit of study when it is clear that some students need more practice and attention.

Revision is key for my students who fail a quiz or short answer assessment. But I do not just allow students to go home, revise their work and then resubmit it for a better grade. Rather, I require these students stay after school with me working on the revision by completing a graphic organizer and questionnaire to help revise their work.

For example, students were asked the following two short answer questions in regards to our reading of Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai:

I. How does Malala/Melba appeal to ethos and pathos in the text? Use two or more examples from the text to support your claim. CCLS RL.8.1

II. Where in the text do you see evidence that Melba/Malala is consciously crafting her memoir to present a particular point of view? Use two or more examples from the text to support your claim. CCLS RL.8.4

The revision documents were the following:

Allowing for this revision work along with conferences with the teacher helps students to gain a better understanding of the topic. With the graphic organizer I chunk the concepts of craft, ethos, and pathos. The graphic organizer includes definitions and examples so that students add text connections and details. Next, students show me their graphic organizers before moving to rewriting. This allows for  an opportunity for both the teacher and the student to ask/answer questions to check for understanding.

Scaffolding doesn’t just have to happen during a lesson. Our goal as teachers is to enhance learning and aid in the mastery of tasks.

Additional scaffolding techniques include:

Visuals like Anchor Charts, Interactive Foldables, and Graphic Organizers allow students to visualize and organize their thinking.

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Models and Mentors can help students see what “Exceeds Standards” or “A” work looks like. I am always collecting student exemplars to read and discuss with my students what the writer did well and why it exceeds/meets the standards.

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Words that Introduce Quotes Sentence Stems

Sentence Stems or Paragraph Frames can help students who need a task broken down into small parts. I always offer outlines for writing and graphic organizers to help my students break down the larger or longer projects and writing assignments.

Checklists and simplify task directions help students self-monitor their progress

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