Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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You Don’t Have to Be an Adult to Write a Novel

notebook stack with coffeeWho says writing novels is just for the adults? November is National Novel Writing Month, when the nonprofit NaNoWriMo challenges adults and children around the world to channel their inner novelist to write that first draft by the end of the month. Students and educators may sign up through NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. Online resources allow students to keep track of their word count and provide prompts and tips to keep creative juices flowing.

Add the following Annenberg Learner programs to your list of novel-writing resources:

  • Where do novels come from? After watching workshop 4 of In Search of the Novel, you will be equipped to create a lesson plan that helps students develop their own stories by connecting imagination, experience, and reflection.
  • It’s easy to think that professional writers just sit down and write a perfect piece on their first attempt. So why does it feel so hard when we (and our students) try to get something, anything, down on paper? One writing strategy is imitation. In workshop 7 of Developing Writers, students read works by different professional writers and then write by imitating the voices of those authors. This imitation helps students develop their own voice by building their confidence.
  • Younger students learn about the crucial elements that make up a story using the fairytale Cinderella in an online interactive. Students explore the function of characters, conflict, and resolution as they break apart this well-known childhood story.

Image: bluelela / 123RF Stock Photo


Why Do We Write?

The 2015 theme for the National Council of Teachers of English’s National Day on Writing is #WhyIWrite. We all write for different reasons, whether journaling for personal reflection; researching topics of interest; gathering information to inform or persuade others; sharing personal perspectives through stories of our lives, families, and communities, and more. The following resources provide lesson plans and strategies you can use to inspire your students to become life-long writers.


Elementary School Resources

Teach students to identify writing modes that best fit their ideas, and allow them to choose topics, like their community, that have personal meaning. See Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, workshop 2, “Reasons for Writing.”

Teach young students how to respond meaningfully to their peers work and provide an authentic audience experience. See Inside Writing Communities, “Conversations Among Writing Peers.”

Middle and High School Resources

Middle school students are often focused on themselves, and the self can be a great starting point for motivating students to write. Teachers in Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 2, “Making Writing Meaningful,” start by encouraging students to share their personal stories in writing. Gradually, students expand their writing to reflect how forces in their communities impact them. See them in action here.

Have you wanted to try a multigenre project with your high school students but not sure how to start? After studying various examples (a list is included in the resource), allow students to create a multigenre piece around the theme of community. Go to Developing Writers, workshop 4, “Different Purposes.”

Hear famous authors like Leslie Marmon Silko, Ernest Gaines, and J. K. Rowling discuss where their inspiration comes from in In Search of the Novel, “Authors Notes: Part III.”

Share four videos from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines with students to show how professionals use writing in their specific fields. Hear from an epidemiologist, a biotech startup, a documentary filmmaker, and a sports journalist.

How are you helping students develop purpose in their writing?

Use CLIQUES To Make Quotations Click

quotation marks_123rf

Image Copyright : Mike Bullot

Grading student papers is no task for the weak. Teachers have to be pumped up to deal with the endless issues with conventions, argumentation, citing/formatting, voice, and many other things. If you’re like me, you can’t read a paper without taking a red pen to it. It’s exhausting! (I’m not going to lie – The red pen eventually turns into red wine!)

So, I finally got smarter. I decided to explicitly teach writing skills BEFORE assigning writing tasks. I discovered that my students produced better papers. (Imagine that!? Teaching improving practice – What a crazy notion!)

The key is to attack one writing problem at a time. In this blog, I will be sharing how I addressed the problem of quotations. I told my students that they were “dropping quotations like bombs.” Students would just insert quotations somewhere in the middle of their papers. It seems like students struggle with how to integrate quotations in their writing effectively.

The Common Core State Standards pushes students to support their thinking with evidence from the text. Teachers are placing great importance on textual evidence in writing and discussions. Textual evidence includes but is not limited to facts, statistics, examples, and quotations. I developed the CLIQUES strategy to help students contextualize quotations when writing expository texts. The following table provides an overview of the strategy:

CL Claim State your claim. This is the topic sentence. It’s the main idea of your paragraph. It’s the argument or the explanation.
I Introduction of Quotation Prepare to present your evidence. Provide a reason that supports your claim. Build readers up to your quotation by providing some context. If applicable, describe who, to whom, when, and where the quotation takes place.
QU Quotation State your quotation. Use signal phrases such as For example…, According to…, ___ states,…,
E Explanation of Quotation Explain how your quotation supports your claim. Explain why you chose this quotation.
S So What? Explain your point again. Analyze your position in light of the evidence you produced.

Students can use the CLIQUES strategy to learn how to make quotations a substantial part of their logical reasoning process.

Several tips for successful implementation of the CLIQUE strategy:

  • This strategy supports students in writing a supporting body paragraph. If writing a complete paper, students will need additional scaffolds to write introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Consider accessing Annenberg Learner’s Write in the Middle workshops, which provide a more comprehensive model for teaching writing.
  • This strategy would be a great follow-up to the Double-Journal Entry strategy explained in Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 8, “Social Justice and Action.”
  • Before introducing the strategy, spend some time discussing quotations and how they’re used in writing. In News Writing: Interviews, news writers actually share their writing experiences. Many of them discuss the use of quotations.

Teach Your Students to Argue Effectively

TML_7_3Have you ever met anyone with uninformed opinions? Didn’t it make you want to explode (or at the very least, lament the decline of mankind by eating pie)? Reasoning is one of our most powerful assets. As teachers, we have the opportunity to prepare students for a good old-fashioned banter. We need to teach students how to effectively argue so that they can engage in productive thinking and be active citizens of their communities. Otherwise, we are at risk for producing students who limit their own learning potential by focusing on regurgitation versus critical thinking.

First, take a minute to read the CCSS Anchor Standards for Writing as it pertains to argument:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

When we argue, we are assuming a position with the purpose of persuading readers or rather, convincing them of our opinion; this is active work, work that requires agency on the part of the writer. This agency is what 21st century literacies demand of its citizens; for example, Franklin and van Harmelan (2007) write, “In Web 1.0 a few content authors provided content for a wide audience of relatively passive readers. However, in Web 2.0 everyday users of the web use the web as a platform to generate, re-purpose, and consume shared content” (3). Argument writing is a tool that enables and empowers students to participate in and contribute to various discourses.

Argument writing pushes students to go beyond just knowing content; it forces them to actually do something with the content. Arguing requires students to ground their thinking in evidence from the text; in fact, this evidence-grounding is one of the main instructional shifts in English Language Arts. Teachers need to spend more instructional time teaching argument writing, which encompasses teaching students how to opine and how to write persuasive texts.

Let’s consider the discipline of history: We want students to go beyond just reciting facts and dates; we want them to make historical arguments and interpretations. We also want them to become adept at using textual evidence to support their claims. Historians and social scientists actively study and inquire – they do not just regurgitate facts; they examine the evidence and create claims based on the evidence. We need to help students understand that data is a live entity and that it requires our careful and critical reading and crafting. (Questions like, “Whose history is being represented here?” and “Why is this history being told in this way?” help build students’ inquiry skills which promotes their argumentation skills.)

This semester, I asked my pre-service teachers (graduate students) to write a historical argument paper. Because of the CCSS’s emphasis on argument writing, I wanted to make sure that my graduate students knew how to create arguments since they would be required to teach their students how to do the same. The process for this task is outlined below: 

Steps and Tasks: Prompts and Instructions

1. Pick a topic: What do you want to study?

2. Design your inquiry question: Narrow your topic. This question should guide your research and examine your topic deeply. Consider specific perspectives and lenses.

3. Conduct research: Guided by your inquiry question, conduct research. Critically read primary and secondary sources.

4. Craft a claim or argument: The claim is essentially the answer to your inquiry question as a result of your research. It is important to craft your claim/argument after conducting research so that your thinking is driven by the data. This claim needs to be arguable, meaning someone can deny your claim and argue an opposite point.

5. Provide examples: Use research data to support your claim/argument. Craft examples so that they prove your point. Use linking words and phrases and be explicit about how your example connects to your claim/argument.

6. Craft a conclusion: Answer the question, “So what?” Your conclusion should not be a regurgitation or restatement of your points. This is your closing argument like in a court case. Connect to a bigger issue. Address implications.


Need more ideas? Find several resources to help teach argument writing on the Annenberg Learner website:


Franklin, T. & Harmelan, M. van (2007). Web 2.0 for content for learning and teaching in higher education. York, UK: Franklin Consulting.

CCSS website: www.corestandards.org

Cultivating Young Poets

Write in the Middle_3A 7th grader recently gave me a wonderful gift. She invited me to read an anthology of poems she wrote in 6th grade. Zoe’s poems were sensitive, wistful, beautiful, and silly. As I read them silently, she was drawn back to them and read each one aloud as a critical reader of her own work. I saw a frisson of pleasure when a poem hit its intended mark. Some, from her more mature 7th grade perspective, she pronounced “childish.”

In Zoe’s poems, I could also see her 6th grade teacher’s approach to teaching the art of writing poetry. The anthology included cinquains, haiku, clerihews, and acrostics. In other words, Zoe’s teacher had given her students accessible models of poetic forms and content, laying a safe foundation on which young writers could express their own emotions and observations.

Whether your students are eager to read and write poetry or are resistant to the craft, they will benefit from this approach. Two learner.org video workshops demonstrate techniques that you can use to cultivate your young poets.

In “Gaining Insight Through Poetry” in Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ high school teacher Chris Mazzino uses “copy change” to help students thoughtfully empathize with the children portrayed in the holocaust memoir they read as part of a citywide reading program. Copy change involves using another writer’s structure as the scaffold for your own work.  Here, Mr. Mazzino and his creative writing students are exploring what it feels like to be an outsider. He uses the student-written poem “Will They Ever Learn?” (page three of PDF) to instigate a discussion of “otherness.” Afterwards, students copy change the poem to express their own experiences and emotions. In this instance, the copy change technique provided an accessible model and a safety net for encouraging teens to share emotions they might otherwise keep to themselves.

In Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 3, “Teaching Poetry,” two master teachers—Vivian Johnson and Jack Wilde—share how they help their students develop as readers and writers of poetry. Both teachers emphasize the importance of immersing their students in poetry throughout the school year to ready them for formal writing units. Mr. Wilde breaks down resistance by providing his students with accessible poems than can be understood on the first reading. Ms. Johnson makes the writing process non-threatening to her 8th graders by presenting forms such as found poetry and list poems.

These teachers agree that close reading of model poems is essential, but they don’t dwell on interpretation of abstractions. They do hone in on structure, word choice, rhythm, and line breaks. They examine techniques students can transfer to their own writing and use with power and purpose. Mr. Wilde uses Mekeel McBride’s poem “The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes,” a fun five-stanza poem that views the potato from five perspectives, to help students discover how ideas can be handled in poetic form and what poems can do that prose can’t. He asks, “What can you learn from Mekeel about writing a poem?” One student responds, “You don’t have to say a potato is a potato, but what else could it be.” At this point, his students are ready and eager to write their own poems based on McBride’s model.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning to write.” And, as you’ll see in these videos, imitation can put students on the road to profound and beautiful invention. What a gift!

Writing Activity: Travel the Globe with Latitude Shoes

JN_latitude_shoesCheck out this writing project that’s a fun way to learn about latitude. Kathy Corn recently participated with her students at Mills River, Sugarloaf, and Hillandale Elementary schools in North Carolina.





“People everywhere are invited to put on a pair of Latitude Shoes and go for a ride. What would you see if you traveled around the world at your latitude? Write a story about your 24-hour adventure.

  • How fast and how far will you go?
  • Who lives at your latitude?
  • What countries will you visit?
  • What languages will you hear?
  • What seasons do you experience and what clothes do you need?
  • Everyone has the same photoperiod at your latitude, how does the climate compare?”

On the Journey North Web site, the page for this activity includes materials for the full activity; the science, reading and writing, and geography standards connections; a link to share your students’ stories; and a gallery of students’ illustrations and writing. This assignment could be used to assess what students have learned during Journey North’s Mystery Class.

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