by Ginny Hoover
Approaching the Six Traits Writing Model in the Classroom
The Use of Tactile/Kinesthetic Manipulatives
Making the Students Aware of all the Traits
Many times when I give inservices to teachers, the first question that I hear is "What traits should I be teaching at my grade level?" It's a hard question to answer because I don't believe you can teach "pieces" isolated from the others. It is possible to focus on a single trait but not exclusively as they are so interrelated. So, my first thought would be that all traits should be defined before focusing on one. The first task that I recommend is to allow the students a chance to recognize the traits in the writings of others (strongly suggest that work NOT be from students in the class). On my website there are links to samples of students' essays that have been scored by NWREL people and another link in Oregon that provides scored papers.
When working with my students, I found it hard to have a group discussion about the traits because only one student would be responding to my questions so I invented hookups- class response-tutorial cards. These cards assembled on a keyring describe the traits and the rubrics for 5, 3, and 1. They also included a generic 2 and 4 as they are not defined traits.
It is good to begin by working in groups (4th grade plus). These are suggested steps after creating small groups . . .
- Give all students a copy of a piece of writing.
- Give them class response cards (or plan a way that students can record and share their responses)
- Review the trait, discuss the bullets for the rubrics 5, 3, and 1.
- Students should read the writing piece and decide on a score.
- When asked, the groups should provide the score they selected.
- Have groups defend their selected scores using the bullets for 5, 3, and 1 (especially important when there are deviant scores).
- Do this for each trait. (Take the time to do this right for your students.)
- Now, as you might start to focus on Ideas and Content and Organization, work students in pairs following this same procedure.
- As you begin teaching each trait, use this procedure for review.
And yes, I teach both Ideas and Content and Organization first. There is no quality without good ideas. Good ideas cannot be appreciated without organization. I combine this with teaching the Five Step Writing Process.
I'll describe how I plan my year . . .
- Require students to learn how to brainstorm by using mind mapping
- Teach students how to make an "organized mind mapping" (can be easily changed to outline form)
- Explain how to write a rough draft using the organized mind mapping as a loose outline
- Teach MLA to provide a format
- Have students key in their rough draft, do spell check, and print draft
- Provide a plan for peer revision/editing process (checking for all of the Six Traits)
- Rewrites and making corrections on the computer
- Suggest, but don't require a second quick editing
- Print final copy
Require students to learn how to brainstorm by using mind mapping
Of course, I
take a sample writing from my students before I begin instruction, then I begin with brainstorming. One of the easiest ways to record brainstorming is to create a mind map. I like mind mapping so much better than listing because it provides loose organization for ideas. The first week of instruction I have students create three mind mappings over topics of their choice with 50-75 items on each. Oh, the whining is horrible! (Later, I ask for 40+ on their brainstorming, and they think I'm being easy on them!) I remind them that if they are having trouble, the problem might be that they have not chosen their topic wisely. We discuss how important it is to select a topic that they know and understand well. When done, I have them highlight their best ideas and remind them that some of the worst and best ideas are the last ones written-it stretches their mind to have to list so many ideas. (Remember, these are 8th graders and you'd want to adjust according to your grade.) By the time we have completed this step and the various discussions, students are understanding the need for quality Ideas and Content.
Teach students how to make an "organized mind mapping" (can be easily changed to outline form)
I teach students to draw the mind mapping-a circle in the middle with five smaller circles surrounding it. In the first circle to the right top is to be the introduction. The last circle to the left top is to be the conclusion. The introduction must have the lead and thesis statement completely written to the side (circle is named introduction). Conclusion is written in the top left circle and the concluding statement is recorded to the side of that circle. This is when I teach lead, thesis statement, and conclusion.
After teaching how to write good leads, I have students work in pairs. They take their 3 mind mappings-look at their highlighted items and write 5 different leads for the mind mapping effort of theirs they like best. They and their partners can help each other write and improve their efforts.
The next day we share their best leads. We discuss the quality and success of each lead. Then we begin thesis statement. They receive instruction on the best ways to write thesis statements and repeat the procedure of the day before. Working in pairs, they write five different kinds of thesis statements for their best mind mapping. They again can help each other to improve the quality. I always use the same sample thesis statement. When working throughout the year, I'll say something like your thesis statement is weak, they respond, "Oh, do you mean like that bungee jumping sentence?" They have the pattern right there in their minds . . .
- Who or what
- Active verb
- The overall information or feeling to be shared
I also teach that it is often appropriate to follow with a list the two-four ideas they plan to cover in their essays, but I don't require it. Sometimes not giving that information improves the suspense or helps build to a climax. I teach them how to include it and then leave the decision to them.
Following the above procedure, I hand out my third tutorial sheet that explains how to write strong conclusions. We discuss the different possibilities and students begin their efforts on the conclusions for their chosen essay. There are sites bookmarked on my webpages for Six Traits that give quality information on all three of these topics-but I've found that having handouts in their required 3 ring binder that they can refer to all year is quite helpful.
Next, they fill in the circles in between the lead and conclusion. They have already highlighted their best ideas. I explain that they should have 2-4 paragraphs that support their thesis statement. Each circle represents the paragraph and the extensions added to them are the details or ideas they wish to share in that paragraph.
Finally, they look at their list of leads, thesis statements, and conclusions and select their best. They may alter and improve these at any time, but they must have one of each before they write their essays. Now, I explain this by using a math example. I talk about a line being the shortest distance between point A and B, and that it is impossible to get there unless you know their positions of the points. They understand that, but some are really stubborn about the conclusion!
Explain how to write a rough draft using the organized mind mapping as a loose outline
Next, they are to write their rough draft. They start with the circle top right that holds their lead and thesis statement and move around to the conclusion. (Remember, they may at anytime make improvements on their mind mapping.) Each circle constitutes one paragraph, so that helps teach a child how to paragraph.
I have them skip every other line when writing and ask that they reread their essays aloud-read to the wall (quietly saying the words aloud helps to spot errors). The rough draft moves quickly if they have done a good job with their organized mind mapping.
Teach MLA to Provide a Format
You want your students to take writing seriously? Something so simple as teaching a format such as MLA helps. My partner, a science/math teacher, saw drastic improvement in the quality of written work when she also required MLA format. It seems to up the level of concern. She even required they use my plan for the five step writing method. We had posters around the rooms to remind them exactly how to setup for MLA. They had a handout for their notebooks with the same poster. (One I designed and if I can find it after moving, I'll post it where teachers can download it.) Once taught, they had to use the format for all essays.
Have students key in their rough draft, do spell check, and print draft
Students must then key in their rough drafts into the computer. We only had six computers in each room, but we always found free computers with other teachers down the hall as needed. Not all students needed the computers at the same time. So I didn't need twenty-five computers at once.
Once the papers were typed using MLA format, then I had students use spell check. As we progressed, this was also the time I required students to seek help with the computer thesaurus (Word Choice). They then printed their essays, and they were ready for the revision/editing process.
Provide a plan for peer revision/editing process (checking for all of the Six Traits)
Each student must select two students to complete their revision/editing process. There are two sets of cards I have the editors use. The first is a set of hookups that gives a step-by-step guide based on the Six Traits. One of the first steps states, "Read the essay. If it does not make sense give it back to the writer, explaining what problems were encountered. Do not continue editing until the writer makes major corrections."
The second set of hookups is a rating checklist for the traits. Students use the hookups with dry erase markers or transparency markers. They return the hookups to the writer, and the writer records the weaknesses found on the checklists. (The hookups are printed on card stock and laminated, making them reusable-simply clean off the marks with alcohol pads, baby wipes, etc.!)
You can make your own steps for your students, but having a definite pattern helps them learn to revise and edit. It also tremendously improves self editing skills. When students can see errors in the writing of others, they can find more flaws in their own writing.
If the students choose people who cannot find errors, they must select someone else. I explain to them that they have selected an editor who cannot spot their errors-find someone who is a better writer. They soon locate people who can help them.
Rewrites and Making Corrections on the Computer
Once they have feedback from their editors, students then revise and edit appropriately. I also explain to them that they need not take all of the suggestions-only the ones they feel are right. If they have questions regarding the editing information, they may ask the editors. If they are still uncertain about the correctness of the suggestions, they may ask me. That really doesn't happen all too often, but the option is there. They key their corrections into the computer file. They can then print.
Suggest, but don't Require a Second Quick Editing
If time, students can ask others for a quick editing from another student. This is up to the student. They can ask for a quick Six Traits rating again from the hookups, too.
Print Final Copy
When they have completed the process, they are ready for a final printing. Once that is done, I have the students hand in ALL of the work from the brainstorming mind mapping to the final copy, with the final copy on top. This also includes proof of revision and editing steps. By making this requirement, students are not tempted to skip any of the steps.
Teaching the Rest of the Traits
As I teach the rest of the traits, I also explain where they fit into the editing/revising process. For instance, I'll explain the importance of Word Choice and show them that they should review their Word Choice as they key in their rough draft making use of the computer thesaurus. I also have available a first thesaurus. Many companies have this type of thesaurus. It provides everyday words for replacing everyday words. The problem with incorrect thesaurus use is that words stand out saying, "I used the thesaurus on this word." Remember Word Choice should sound like the person. There are times to take chances, but when testing students should be careful how they make selections.
For Sentence Fluency, I'll teach transitions and complex sentences. I provide a list of transitions and require that at least three transitions be used in every essay (hey, it just makes them look to see if they are there). I also have a quick and easy way to teach complex sentences using a different set of hookups. They are required to check for both of these when using the revision/editing hookups I provide.
Now Voice can be taught at any time, but goes well with Word Choice. Why? Words express our feelings. The most important way to improve Voice is to have STRONG verbs, followed by adjectives, exact nouns, and then adverbs.
All that is left is Conventions. I do most of that with computer-assisted instructions. Skills can be learned easily with repetition and there are many quality programs that will help. I used PLATO.
I also looked for common errors and had mini lessons. For instance, the "could of" could have error often times requires only one or two mini lessons before it disappears from students' writing.
Once I taught
the above method, it was USED for the remainder of the year. It was not a "hit and miss" lesson. The procedure is taught and followed. I continued to add instructions as the year progresses-to up my expectations and refine Six Traits. Hey, feel free to modify my plans to fit your classroom! My hookups are available at Teacher TimeSavers. NWREL has given permission to use the "Six Traits" name in my published work. You can find more information on the Six Traits at my site, Ginny's Educational WebPages and my hookup can be purchased at Teacher TimeSavers (I provide this as on this one page there are direct links to each of my units so they can be easily found in the online catalog.)
Visit Ginny's Eclectic Middle School pages!