Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Modeling the Six Traits of Writing (WORD CHOICE)

by S. Romero

As teachers, we know that it is essential that our students build a good vocabulary in order to enhance their speaking and writing skills. Many of us can attest to reviewing our students writing journals and come across what we would consider a “good writing paper” that contains good grammar, organization, ideas, and conventions. However, one thing that is missing that sets the paper apart from a good writing piece to a fantastic, descriptive and interesting one isWORD CHOICE!  Words are powerful! The words we choose to use when communicating, whether through speaking or writing can make a significant difference in how our audience perceives our message. Introducing new words daily in our student’s vocabulary will not only help them become better speakers but amazing writers!   

Modeling the trait “word choice” from the Six Traits of Writing is one of my favorite mini-lessons! I begin by writing a basic sentence describing a monster:

El monstruo es grande y feo.

I read the sentence aloud. My students seem disinterestedjust what I thought they would be.  I explain to them that the words we choose to use when speaking or writing makes a difference on how interesting our message is communicated. Therefore, we are going to turn to this sentence into a more INTERESTING sentence by choosing better words to describe the monster. I create a T-Chart titled on one side “Palabras Aburridas” (Drab Words) and “¡Palabras Fabulosas!” (Fabulous Words) on the other side. 

We then create a list of drab words that we ALWAYS use in our writingthe ones that are so drab. I exaggerate as I say this so that my students understand that the words that they are so accustomed to using might not be the best word choice. I begin by writing words such as the one below. You get the picture!

I discuss with them that we can turn these words from drab to fab by using the synonyms of these words and make them “Fabulous Words!”

NOTE: Discuss with students what the definition of the word synonym means. Write the word on chart paper with the meaning and example of words and its’ synonym.  Add to the chart throughout the year so that your students build their vocabulary. Soon enough, you will notice them using those “frase fabulosa” in both their speaking and writing.  It’s just fabulous! Once we create a list of words, we then are ready to rewrite the sentence using the new “fab words” (synonyms) we learned. 

Application: For practice, I give my students four basic sentences to rewrite and change from drab to fab! I remind my students that they cannot change the original message of the sentence. They are only replacing words for more fabulous words to make the sentence more interesting.

How do you keep your students from using palabras aburridas?  Share your favorite word choice activities that have helped enhance your students’ vocabulary!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Modeling the Six Traits of Writing (VOICE): One of the most challenging traits to teach students is “how to use their “voice” in their writing."

by S. Romero

Most of us teachers are thankful if we can get a few good complete sentences and well organized piece of writing from our students. Getting them to bring their writing to life by using their VOICE is a whole other level.  When modeling a voice mini-lesson, I begin by picking out a good mentor text that helps demonstrate the voice trait as a read aloud. As I am reading, I stop and ask my students questions about the author and the story. I ask “What do you think the story is going to be about?” “Do you think the story is interesting so far?” “What makes it interesting?” “How do you think the author feels about this story?” “What feeling or emotion do you get when you listen to this story?” I then tell my students that a good writer writes with emotion by using their voice and writes what they know which makes their writing more interesting! Then we all say our famous chant “If you write what you know, your writing will flow!”   I tell my students that in their writing the use of their VOICE is very powerful! They can use it to persuade, make their reader happy, sad, scared, or nervous.     

NOTE: It is a good idea to pull out several mentor text that demonstrate the different types of emotions such as a scary book or sad story. That way your students can get a better understanding of how voice is used in many texts.  I also create a “Voice Chart” that includes the definition of voice in writing and pictures of mentor text that demonstrates a particular emotion as a visual for my students to refer to. 

Application: Students think of an interesting topic or story they would like to write about that will demonstrate their use of voice. Before they begin their writing assignment, I have them fill a writing graphic organizer that will help guide them in their writing. I want them to think about their audience and purpose of writing their story.

"Writing Graphic Organizer"
 Writing Graphic Organizer

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Six Traits of Writing Introducing (IDEAS/THEME)

S. Romero

As teachers, we all know that modeling good writing is essential for students of all grade levels. Writing is a developmental process that should begin from kindergarten on up. In order for our students to become good writers, they must understand that a good piece of writing must include six important ingredients: Ideas (theme), organization, word choice, voice, accurate conventions, and sentence fluency.  One of the most difficult traits students struggle with is what to write about, how to stay on topic, add details to clarify their writing and keep it interesting. (IDEA/THEME). 

Before modeling this lesson, I remind my students that good writers write what they know! I tell them, “If you write what you know, your writing will flow!” I begin by drawing a large “Detail Flower” on chart paper. (See below)
In the middle of the flower, I write our school name, which will be our theme since we are all familiar with that topic. I remind my students that when writing about a particular topic/theme, they should include lots of details of that particular topic which helps demonstrate to the reader the central idea of their writing.  We then start adding our details to our “detail flower” and write those details on the flower’s petals. We emphasize that our details must be solely focused on the topic. This is a good way to model and remind students to stay on topic. If they start to get off topic, they can go back and look at their “detail flower” to keep them on track. We then take the information from our flower and create a writing piece about our school.

The detailed flower will help students gain the understanding of how to identify the central idea of a story during a read aloud or when reading independently. They will listen for the details or look for the details in the story and begin to narrow down the stories central idea/theme.  

After each mini-lesson, I give my students the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned. I hand them their own mini “detail flower” graphic organizer. They choose a topic of their choice and start filling in their own “detail flower”.  The completed flower will guide them in their writing. Below is an example of the information one of my students included in his flower. He wrote about his dog, Manchito.

Detail Flower                                                         Blackline Master

I also use this flower to model the trait: organization. This graphic organizer not only helps the student stay on topic, but they can number each petal to help organize their writing as they go! As we continue to visit each of the six traits of writing, I create an anchor chart with the information we learned for each trait as a resource my students can refer to. Here is an example of poster similar to what I hang in my classroom.

How do you teach the traits of writing? Share some ideas! I’d love to hear what you are doing that works!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Using Mentor Texts as a Guide to Help Teach the Six Traits of Writing

by S. Romero

As teachers, we all know how important it is for our students to learn to develop proper writing skills. Learning the six traits of writing is vital for our students to become good writers. Using mentor texts is also a great and fun way to teach and model these traits of writing!

When teaching the six traits, I select a picture book or mentor text in English or Spanish (depending on the language of the day) that my students will enjoy as a read aloud. We analyze the book together and review its ideas (theme), organization (story structure), word choice (descriptive words used and word phrases), voice (writer’s mood or personality), sentence fluency (review how sentences flow with good syntax and free of fragments), and conventions (correct use of punctuation, spelling, and capitalization). This allows us to use the author’s craft as a writing model.

When modeling the six traits, I focus on one trait at a time through a mini-lesson. For example, when I focused on organization, I read the book The Napping House by Audrey Wood, we analyzed and discussed the sequence of events in the story and how those events were structured.

I also created a story map as a visual for my students to see how the sequence of events take place in the correct order. We discussed why it’s important for our writing to be well organized and should have good flow.

After our mini-lesson, my students created a three-way foldable. In each square my students wrote the events that took place in each order and drew a picture to demonstrate each event. This activity allow for my students to break apart each major event from the beginning, middle and end. This activity also helped pave the way to demonstrate an understanding on how to identify a stories plot, since it usually takes place in the middle of a story.

I also modeled the other five traits through the use of this one mentor text! There are a plethora of mentor text in our libraries and bookstores that can be used to teach these traits and make your writing time fun and engaging!

Mentor texts have always been part of my writing instruction. This is why I was giving the opportunity to be part of the development of Blooming Writers/El Escritor Floriciente, which is a wonderful resource to use for teaching the Six Traits of Writing. It is filled with Spanish and English writing lessons that include mentor texts and examples of how to model each trait through the use of that text. What mentor text can you think of that would be great to model one of the Six Traits of Writing?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Engage Your Students Through the Use of Mentor Texts

by S. Romero

As a teacher, creating engaging lessons is vital in keeping your students engaged and excited about learning. Using mentor texts that your students can connect to and are familiar with during reading, writing and other subject does exactly that! They engage students!

Our standards are organized by genres so this made it easy to plan my author study unit. Since I had to teach through historical, cultural, traditional, and realistic fiction genres, I selected Patricia Polacco because her books were a “good fit” for these genres plus, she is an amazing children’s author! 

For the historical genre, we read Pink ‘n’ Say and for traditional and cultural genre, we read The Keeping Quilt and Thunder Cake. We created anchor charts with the characteristics of each of the genres. Students learned about the Civil War and family traditions and cultures.  Both topics interested my students. The mentor texts engaged the students in the process of making predictions, talking about problems and solutions, making inferences, and learning about the Civil War and family traditions and culture, which created an interest in writing ideas. 


We didn’t just read books to cover our author study; we put those books to use that made our reading and learning more meaningful and purposeful! Before you knew it, our classroom was covered with anchor charts labeled with genre specific information and text they could refer to for those genres. The author study was a great success!

How do you use mentor texts?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Using Rubrics for Language Proficiency Progress and Academic Learning

by S. Romero

One of the biggest questions that teachers find themselves asking, especially when teaching ELLs is, "Did my students get the "gist" of what I want them to learn?" "Is their second language proficiency improving, and if so, in what area?"

Although our ELLs’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills are assessed annually, I need to keep track of their progress throughout the year. Anecdotal notes are great, however, as their teacher, I need something more concrete that measures growth which can be shared with my students and their parents. That’s when I thought about creating a rubric.

Before creating a rubric I needed to decide which area to monitor. I decided to start with writing since it can be more subjective to assess. I identified writing expectations that I wanted to target for a particular writing assignment. I made sure they were aligned to language proficiency standards of the state, in this case the ELPS. After identifying the standards, I created a rubric/checklist and included the expectations and proficiency language levels with descriptors.  See below.

I shared this rubric with my students so that there would be no surprises. We reviewed it and made sure everyone understood how it was going to be used. We took a sample writing and together we rated it. This helped clarify questions they had.

Here is a rubric that I completed for Ruben.

After reviewing Ruben’s strengths and weaknesses in the specific expectations, I know that Ruben knows how to write a persuasive letter, capitalizes proper nouns, and understands the use of punctuation marks in a sentence. What I will need to focus on during the next lesson is his use of proper nouns, use of subject and verb agreement, and any other expectations I may add.  

As far as the linguistic portion of the writing, I reviewed the language standards and the proficiency level descriptors for writing using the ELPS at a Glance.  I looked at the specific descriptions and identified the proficiency level that aligned with the skills of the student. Using the ELPS at a Glance  made it easy for me to review the descriptors for all levels: beginning, intermediate, advanced, and advanced high.  You can view all the standards and levels at a glance. 

Documenting the proficiency level for each assignment helps me monitor students' language proficiency progress. It also makes rating at the end of the year a lot easier since I am very familiar with my students linguistic performance and the proficiency level descriptions.

Using this rubric, and others, allowed me to evaluate students' writing as well as their speaking. As you all know, a students' writing mirrors the way they speak. This tool helped me tremendously! It helped me track my student's progress, my grading was less subjective and it gave more accountability for both my students' learning and my teaching. I later created a more formal rubric that I used for other subject areas, which made grading a whole lot easier!

How do you monitor your ELLs’ language proficiency progress? Do you use checklists/rubrics? Share your ideas!