Entries from June 2010 ↓

In-correct punctuation mark’s, anyone?

Here is another gem for you!  Enjoy!

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Choosing correct ending punctuation

If your child struggles to choose the correct punctuation at the end of a sentence, do this fun exercise together to help him learn what each punctuation mark sounds like when spoken aloud.  

1.  Write the following words, phrases, and sentences on index cards or pieces of paper, one per card.

All done?      All done.     All done!
I did it.     I did it!
Ready?     Ready!
Turn left.      Turn left!
Yes.     Yes!     Yes?
Okay!      Okay?     Okay.
Tomorrow?      Tomorrow.     Tomorrow!
Be careful!     Be careful.
Grandma is here?     Grandma is here.     Grandma is here!
Right!     Right.     Right? 

2.  Sit side by side so your child can see the cards. Explain that different ending punctuation affects the way that a word or phrase can sound.

  • A period ends a calm or matter-of-fact statement. We use a normal speaking voice.
  • A question mark comes at the end of a question. When we ask a question aloud, we usually lift our voice at the end.
  • An exclamation point shows strong emotion. We use a louder or more excited speaking voice.

3.  Read each card aloud, dramatically using your voice to show how each punctuation mark sounds when it is used.

4.  When finished, invite your child to read the cards aloud by himself and practice using his own voice to show how each punctuation mark sounds.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Editing and evaluating writing: 4-6th grade

In this little series on Editing and Evaluating Writing, we began by looking at ways to evaluate your K-3rd graders’ writing efforts. Today, let’s take a look at how you can give helpful feedback to your older elementary kids’ writing as well.

You’ve probably already discovered that, as a rule, your child is perfectly happy to give her paper a quick once-over and declare that, yes, it’s perfect. Not only that, she expects you to gush over it and give it an A.

But as a parent, you have different expectations. When teaching writing, your goal is not to pave a smooth road for your child; rather, it’s to help her become a proficient writer who can communicate effectively on paper.

Teaching your student how to evaluate her own writing is a key to helping move her toward this goal. Sounds good on paper, right? But how do you get her to do this—especially since she wants you to accept her first attempt as a final draft?

The Importance of Self-Editing

You’ll be relieved to know that there are, in fact, a few ways to get your child to evaluate her own work—honestly and competently—using simple self-editing techniques.

Why Self-Edit?

  • Self-editing teaches your child to look for her own errors. After all, proofreading is an important lifelong skill.
  • No author ever turns in a first draft to the publisher! Self-editing lets your child make changes and revisions before submitting it to you. The more attention she gives to self-editing, the better the final draft. 

Introducing Self-Editing to Your Child

  • Children should begin using a checklist as a guide to help them identify errors in content, style, and mechanics. A checklist takes the subjectivity out of self-editing by offering specific expectations to meet.
  • Work closely with your child when she’s learning how to self-edit. When you work together, you can prompt her with questions or steer her in the right direction. For example, she may not readily spot repeated words at first, but you can gently point out that you notice she used the word “car” four times and encourage her to find a couple of synonyms.
  • Ask your child if her paper has a beginning, middle, and end (or introduction, body, and closing). Encourage her to add more details if needed.
  • As she compares her piece of writing to the checklist, she can make simple corrections and improvements to content and mechanics. 
  • Have your student use colored pencils, which will help her more easily identify particular errors.
  • Her revision—written or typed on fresh paper—should show definite changes from the rough draft.

Tips for Evaluating Elementary-Level Writing

You Don’t Need to Make Guesses

Parents often flounder when the time comes to evaluate their children’s writing. A rubric helps, but you’ll be relieved to know there are definitely some things you can look for when evaluating your elementary-age child’s writing assignment.

  • Ideas – Are her ideas clear, focused, and well supported? Or are they confusing?
  • Organization – Is there a smooth flow of ideas from beginning to end, or is it hard to follow your child’s train of thought?
  • Voice – Is the writing flat and uninteresting, or lively and engaging?
  • Word choice – Are the words precise, interesting, accurate, and colorful; or dull, incorrect, or overused?
  • Sentences – Are sentences complete, smooth, and varied? Or are they choppy, fragmented, or never-ending?
  • Mechanics and Grammar – Do multiple errors muddle meaning and understanding? Or did your child use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

Keep It Positive

Include positive comments and praise along with helpful suggestions. Upbeat, encouraging feedback goes a long way in helping your children improve their writing.

  • Even when a piece of writing looks rather hopeless, search out the positive. There is always something worthwhile to say about the paper.
  • Bless your child’s efforts, creativity, word choice, or sentence structure.
  • Offer gentle suggestions that encourage growth without squishing her spirit.
  • Never make hurtful statements like: “Not very interesting” or “Aren’t you learning ANYTHING?”

If you find the need to sit side by side with your fourth, fifth, or sixth grader during editing, that’s okay. View it as training and preparation for those junior high and high school years where independent work habits will be much more important. For now, your time together can be a warm, nurturing, encouraging time in which your child learns that self-correction can yield rewarding results.

How Twitter makes you a better writer

This little article is a gem. Who knew Twitter could help you improve your writing skills?

Using questions, prompts, and dialogues

When my children were young, I participated actively with them during writing time. I found that asking questions was a wonderful way to help them come up with ideas and choose stronger vocabulary words. 

Try it with your own kiddos. This exercise works with both reluctant and articulate writers of all skill levels—it’s a great way for them to develop the ability to learn, think, and explain.

1.  Ask specific questions about your child’s writing.

  • How did that happen?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Can you tell me more about…?
  • What are some other words you could use to describe…?
  • Where were you?
  • Who else came to the picnic?

2.  Draw out responses.

Take advantage of dialoguing with your child to draw out information and story details. This time of questions and answers is especially helpful when he can’t think of what to say. 

As he responds to your initial questions, you can then rephrase and extend your child’s words, ask a clarifying question, or model more complex vocabulary or sentence structure.

3.  Ask open-ended questions.

Try not to ask questions that require a one-word answer or a yes or no response. If you ask your child, “Was he wearing a hat?” the conversational exchange is over and done with when he says yes or no. Instead, try asking an open-ended question: “What was he wearing? What else can you tell me about that?”

Here’s a sample dialogue* to give you an idea of how to encourage more response:

You:     I like your idea about Sabrina Sea Bass and the kelp beds. How could we start the story?
Child:   Sabrina Sea Bass went to the kelp beds.
You:     Yes, she did. But before she got there, she had a problem. What was the problem?
Child:   She got lost trying to find the kelp beds.
You:     Why did she get lost?
Child:   Because it was her first time going by herself and she went the wrong way.
You:     That IS a problem! How could we use that information to start the story?
Child:   It was Sabrina Sea Bass’s first time to go to the kelp beds all by herself.
You:     Let’s write down that sentence.
You:     Now you can start to tell about the problem. What went wrong?
Child:   Well, instead of turning left at the coral reef, she turned right.
You:     Good way to introduce the problem! Let’s write down that sentence.
You:     Then what happened?
Child:   Soon she swam into a dark, dark cave.
You:     Ooh, that’s good! Let’s write that down. Soon she swam into a dark, dark cave.
You:     How did she get out?
Child:   She asked a friendly octopus which way is out.
You:     That’s a good question, but maybe it would be better if she told him where exactly she wanted to go. She asked a friendly octopus . . . what?
Child:   She asked a friendly octopus, “Which way are the kelp beds?”

Keep your questions and dialogue going like this until your child has organized or written his story. Eventually, he will learn to ask himself similar questions on his own.

. . . . .

*This sample dialogue comes from WriteShop Primary Book B, Lesson 8 (Problem and Solution). All WriteShop Primary books contain loads of practical, age-appropriate prompts and dialogue samples that will help you promote stronger writing skills in your younger children.

Write bravely

“Whether or not you write well, write bravely.”

—Bill Stout

WriteShop and the 6 Traits of Effective Writing

From time to time, parents ask us whether WriteShop aligns with the Six Traits of Effective Writing.

6 + 1® Trait Writing is a model for teaching and assessing writing. Originally, it was intended less as a teaching tool and more as an evaluation tool to help teachers identify student strengths and weaknesses.

Although WriteShop wasn’t developed according to the Six Traits model, our products do offer comparable tools to teach, edit, and evaluate your children’s writing. After all, our goal is to help you become a more effective teacher, and these skills and tools just make sense—no matter what name they go by!

Creating Good Writers

Students become good writers through modeling, discussion, and plenty of practice. But most parents—even those who are intuitive writers—need specific guidelines and rubrics to help them teach writing systematically and effectively, including:

  • Explicit instruction for how to teach the writing process (along with specific writing skills).
  • Guided writing (modeling) and discussion. 
  • Step-by-step student directions.
  • Practical application of grammar and spelling to writing.
  • Checklists, rubrics, and other tools to help edit and evaluate writing.

WriteShop and the Six Traits

Though our products may not fully align with the Six Traits model, both WriteShop I & II and WriteShop Primary give you the instruction and guidance you need to teach writing with confidence!

However, two favorite WriteShop tools—the Writing Skills Checklists and the Composition Evaluation forms—do meet many criteria of the Six Traits model.

The elements of the Writing Skills Checklist allow you to give your junior high or high school student valuable suggestions and a chance to improve his or her paper. And the Composition Evaluation form provides a rubric for effective, accurate grading.

Each of the Six Traits (listed below) is followed by specific elements WriteShop I and II look for in a composition.

Ideas

The main focus or purpose for writing

  • Did the student follow directions for the assignment?
  • Did he include lesson-specific content?
  • Did he support his ideas with details?

Organization

The internal structure of the writing

  • Did the student use appropriate topic and closing sentences?
  • Did he use transition words when necessary?
  • Did he communicate clearly?

Voice

The sense that the writer is speaking directly to the reader

  • Did he write in the correct narrative voice for the assignment?

Word Choice

The use of concrete, colorful, precise vocabulary to communicate meaning

  • Did the student use vivid, active, colorful words?
  • Did he avoid vague, repeated, or overused words?
  • Did the student limit use of passive voice (“to be” words)?

Sentence Fluency

The flow and readability of the text; effective use of sentence variations

  • Did the student communicate clearly and avoid awkwardness?
  • Did he use a number of interesting sentence variations?
  • Did he use his tenses properly?

Conventions

The mechanical correctness, including spelling, punctuation, and grammar

  • Did the student adhere to conventions of form?
  • Did he correctly use punctuation, capitalization, and grammar?
  • Did he spell correctly?
  • Did he use correct sentence structure?

WriteShop Primary materials for kindergarten to third grade also align well with the Six Traits model, both for teaching and evaluating. For more information about WriteShop products, visit www.writeshop.com.

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

College Prep 101: Key writing skills help high schoolers earn higher test scores, write quality college application essays, and become a better communicators

STRONG WRITING SKILLS will help your student earn higher test scores, write quality college application essays, and become a better communicator. That’s the good news.

But as I shared recently, there’s bad news too: many college students possess dismal writing skills and are not adequately prepared for rigorous coursework.

I know this is pretty disheartening. It can be easy to give in to gloom and discouragement. Instead, let’s look at positive, practical ways to equip our teens for college-level writing.

Cover the Basics

The requirements are pretty simple, really: focus on basic but key writing skills throughout junior high and high school to adequately prepare your students.

Make sure your teens regularly write quality compositions and papers. Specifically, they should know how to write a:

  • Professional email
  • Business letter
  • Résumé
  • Clear, well-organized essay (both persuasive and expository)
  • Research paper

Minimally, by the time your teens graduates from high school, they should at least know how to:

Plan Ahead

If you teach these foundational writing skills early, you’ll still have time to introduce advanced writing and longer, more specific essays in 11th and 12th grade, including:

  • Literary analysis
  • Different types of essays (cause/effect, compare/contrast, reflection, argument, definition, etc.)
  • Research papers of various lengths

So make a plan. Keep working on your teen’s grammar and writing skills, and give purposeful writing assignments on a regular basis. Otherwise, writing will keep dropping to the bottom of the stack—and your teen will be in for a rude awakening when his college years begin.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

Photo: ccarlstead, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Translation error

Perhaps the Google translator is not the best source for public sign translations. Work in progress, execution in progress… it’s all the same, right?

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Editing and evaluating writing: K-3rd grade

Editing does not need to be a negative or intimidating experience for your K-3rd grader. When children learn at a young age the value of gentle correction and self-improvement, they will come to see editing as a natural part of the writing process.

Determining Your Goal

Your main goal is to help your child learn to look for ways to improve her story or short report. The amount of editing will increase as writing skills progress and the child matures.

Don’t overwhelm your first grader with too many expectations. But by the time she’s in third grade, she should learn to self-edit for story details, organization, and simple mechanics, and should be able to use tools to help edit spelling as well.

Helping Your Young Child Edit and Revise

At this age and stage, keep editing and revising as simple and non-threatening as possible. Sit together with your child and read her story together. Then help her take the first steps to learn how to self-edit her own work.

Just remember: Start small! If your child is still in kindergarten, you’ll only want her to revise the simplest and smallest of errors (Did we begin each sentence with a capital letter? Is there a period at the end of every sentence? Does our story have a beginning, a middle, and an end?) As she grows in both age and skill, you can begin adding more editing elements to your short list.

Most second- and third-graders can begin including any or all of the following as you edit and revise together.

1. Search for the good.

  • Give your child a highlighter pen. Encourage her to look over the story by herself and highlight a difficult word she spelled correctly.
  • Next, ask her to look over the story by herself and highlight a sentence she wrote correctly by starting it with a capital letter and using the correct punctuation. Praise her for a job well done.

2. Discuss the details of the story together.

  • Identify the main character and setting.
  • Ask your child if she would like to add more details about each one.
  • Discuss ideas for improvement.

3. Talk about the story.

  • If the story includes a problem, does your child write the beginning, middle, and end in such a way that the problem is solved?
  • If so, does the problem get solved with a satisfactory solution?
  • If not, discuss ideas for improvement.

4. Circle any misspelled words together, but only if the child is at least in first grade.

  • Look up each word in a children’s dictionary; or
  • Create a spelling word wall containing her most frequently misspelled words. She can refer to it as she writes and edits.

5. Help your child revise her writing.

  • Write the corrections in between the lines on the paper.
  • Your child may rewrite her corrections on a new paper if she chooses.

What If She Resists?

Do the editing on a different day. This removes the child from the freshness of her writing and she will feel a little less emotionally attached to the story and its flaws.

Make a photocopy of the child’s story. She’ll be more willing to mark her paper if she knows she the original will remain untouched.

Type her story. Another way to help a reluctant editor is to type her story for her (always double-spaced), leaving all mistakes intact. Again, the more removed the marked-up version is from the child’s original, the less emotion she’ll attach to it, which means the more willing she’ll be to make corrections.

Try a checklist. You can do these editing exercises orally, of course, but if your child balks, she may need to use a typed checklist and work by herself.

Once your editing time is over and the child has made simple changes to her story, have her “publish” it in a fun way, such as attaching it to a paper kite, turning it into a scroll, or making a giant comic strip—knowing that she’s publishing her very best work to proudly share with others.

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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