Tag Archives: writing curriculum

Grammar Book Give-Away

I saw some interest in my post a week ago on Maupin House’s Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School. Seems a lot of teachers have been struggling with the “how to teach grammar” and even the “should I teach grammar?” issues.

Maupin House just announced that they’ll give a copy of Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School to one lucky winner. Just visit their site to see how to enter (so many ways to win!).

But Keith, I already bought the book! You said to! Well, in that case, Maupin House has generously agreed to let the winner choose any other book from their wide array of original titles for teachers. I’m thinking of grabbing a copy of Amazing Hands-on Literature Projects for Secondary Students and Razzle Dazzle Writing for myself .

All entries must be entered by Thursday, February 25th at 11:59 pm EST.

Good luck, folks!


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Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing

From the Dartmouth Writing Program at Dartmouth College, some great thoughts on Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing.

By no means is this is a stylish, high tech site, but if you look further into some of the links at the top, you’ll find even more great advice on assessing student writing.

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What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

What makes a good children’s book? I’d suppose that’s a tough question to answer, otherwise Microsoft would have already written Newbery Notebook 1.0 and Caldecott Creator for Windows. A good children’s book is far from formulaic.

It seems, however, that Little, Brown Books has done a pretty good job of nailing some of the more prominently recurring traits of good children’s books (both novels and picture books). See the whole list at the Upstart Crow Literary blog (a cool place to peek behind the curtain of the writing and publishing biz).

What use is this list to the average classroom teacher?

  • It may help you understand why some books win with children while others fail. The list explains, for example, why a common literary motif of many children’s novels (Harry Potter, Lord of the Flies, Narnia, Holes) is the removal of the protagonist (and other main characters) from adult supervision and control.
  • The individual attributes may help you create some connections between otherwise unrelated texts. One successful exercise with every novel, for example, is looking at how a character grows or changes over time. I’ve used this approach with Number the Stars, Because of Winn Dixie, Crash, Flipped, and Island of the Blue Dolphins to name just a few. Check out this sample recording sheet.
  • The list can be used a fairly accurate indicator of a book’s overall value when teachers must choose just two or three titles for study. Many teachers, for example, complain that their boys just don’t “get into” books which feature strong female protagonists. A book like Poppy, however, which features a female animal protagonist, is somehow more readily embraced.
  • Teachers can use the list as a reference for writing minilessons. If these are the traits that make good children’s books work, and if these are the attributes with which children have the most first-hand experience, then perhaps many of them could inform student writing as well.

How else do you see putting this list to work for you? Email me or leave a comment below!

(This same post also appears at my Teach with Picture Books site).

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Novels as Mentor Texts

The Northern Nevada Writing Project’s Writing Fix site contains a terrific section of lesson plans on Using Chapter Book Excerpts as Mentor Texts. What does that mean? It means the terrific writing we admire in our favorite novels can be used to guide our own young writers. The format, however, also means that your students don’t need to have read the entire novel being referenced; each lesson provides teachers with the specific chapters, which can be read independently by students or as a read-aloud by the teacher. If any of the twenty some books featured are the same novel you’re studying in class, added bonus!

So what you’ll find here is a fabulous collection of middle school and YA novels (you’ll recognize all the titles) categorized by the six traits: Idea Development, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions. Each lesson plan is preceded by a Three Sentence Overview (boom! there’s your lesson objective).

For example, Maniac Magee is used as a mentor text focusing on voice (with a supporting focus on word choice). The Three Sentence Overview reads:

The writer will analyze and discuss the tall tale format after reading Jerry Spinelli’s tale of Cobble’s Knot, told in Chapter 20 of Maniac Magee.  Then writers will need to create an interesting character in a special situation which would allow them to stretch the truth in an imaginative tale.  The interactive button game will provide writers with possible options from which to create their “whoppers.” 

The lesson plan contains a step-by-step approach, and all needed hand-outs, and additional optional site links (if required). Many lessons also contain samples of student writing submitted by teachers who have used that lesson plan in their classrooms.

While at Writing Fix, also be sure to check out the ipod Lessons which use lyrics to popular songs as mentor texts. Great way to connect with the young folk!


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What Student Writing Teaches Us

I’m pleased to participate in the Blog Tour for Mark Overmeyer and his Stenhouse publication What Student Writing Teaches Us. This extremely practical yet highly informed book answers many of the questions I’veasked myself over the past 20 years, or heard from my colleagues in teacher workshops. For more information on this book (which you can read in full online at the Stenhouse site), visit my Teaching that Sticks blog.

Prior to Mark’s visit on June 29th at Teaching that Sticks, I encourage you to check out the full book online at the Stenhouse site. As you read, jot down your thoughts and questions for the author and then send them my way. We’ll pose these questions to Mark when he visits on June 29th. Don’t hold back! Don’t be shy! This is your chance to pick the brain of a guru who has spent countless hours in classroom, observing and interacting with teachers and students passionately engaged in the writing process.

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Tools for Teaching

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

mosaic-toolsTeachers often email me asking for ways they can help their students organize thoughts during the reading process. Yeah, that’s about as specific as the requests get. But not a problem; I wrestle with the same challenge in my fourth grade class and when working one-on-one with older students in tutoring situations.

My advice? Check out the resources at the Mosaic Email Group’s Teaching Tools. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for, or if you’re simply interested in investigating what has worked successfully in other teachers’ classrooms, this is a great place to start. You’ll find dozens of assessments, lists, organizers, prompts, posters, and more in both Word and pdf format. While there, visit the main page to learn about the origins of the site and to join their email group. This is an excellent way to collaborate with like-minded professionals who are seeking to bring their professional practice to the next level.

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