The Eclectic Teacher|
by Ginny Hoover
Talking about the Six Traits and Quality Writing
The one thing I could do for my students that would really change the quality of their writing was helping them to select their topics wisely. Two factors are very important:
- Having in depth knowledge regarding the topic (that is why personal narratives work so well)
- Selecting a new idea or an old idea with a new twist (humdrum "What We Did for Thanksgiving," ---new twist "How Mom Solved the Problem of the Exploding Turkey")
If you are scoring a paper to learn about the skills of the writer, then the prompt needs to be general enough that the writer really has many choices. If you are scoring a paper to combine knowledge obtained and writing skills, expect a lower quality of writing. Why? The student no longer has a wide range of choices and depth of knowledge becomes a factor.
How and when do we teach Ideas and Content? I think it needs to be taught within the writing process---brainstorming. It is here, before the pencil hits the paper for the rough draft that students need to consider their choices wisely. To consider the quality of an essay topic after the essay is written is a bit late. If the topic didn't work, think of all of the wasted time. No, the time to consider the wise choice of topics is at the beginning…during brainstorming, when starting over again it if the topic wasn't working would mean very little time lost.
Mind mapping for brainstorming--here's a plan that might help--toss out, modify, or start over to fit your teaching style---whatever. I posted this information on the Six Traits board, but it will soon scroll off, so I'm including it now. May I say also that some people would rather brainstorm in a list format? I see nothing wrong with that, and the only disadvantage is the mind-mapping format provides a loose organization that listing does not provide.
Begin by having students get out paper & pencil. Teacher uses transparency.
- Draw a circle in the middle of the paper. Have student copy what you put on the transparency. (You model--they copy.) Choose a topic that all will have a similar frame of reference. I suggest . . . Getting Ready for the First Day of School.
- Now we decide on circles that will extend from the middle circle. Here are some ideas . . . new clothes, school supplies, enrolling and getting schedules, changes in schedule at home, how to get to school.
- Next I would go back to the main idea circles and start adding ideas. I might add under school supplies "ball point pen" --from that I might have "red ink" and "black or blue ink." I would keep to similar ideas that would fit most of the class.
- Then I would ask students to personalize their mind mapping. I would allow them to work in pairs...they could help each other think of ideas. The goal: fill in the page with as many ideas as possible.
- When students have their paper on overload--soooooo many ideas, talk to them about quality. Hand them a highlighter and ask them to highlight their best ideas. (Remind them that their worst and best ideas may very well be their last ones...that by stretching their brainstorming to the maximum, they are giving themselves a chance to move beyond the ho-hum writing.)
- Do you have a place where students file their ideas? I suggest it, as my next suggestion would be to put this mind mapping in that folder.
- The next day, I would do the same thing. Think of a topic where students have a very similar frame of reference. I'd keep this to personal narrative for instructional purposes. (Students have fewer problems writing when they write about themselves.)
- Begin by putting the title in the middle circle. Decide on some main ideas to write about and put them in the circles extended from center. Brainstorm with the class for ideas, but quit sooner. Go into partnerships and ask students to complete the mind mapping.
- Finish by highlighting and put the mind mapping in their files.
- Finally, I'd do a third day. Put the title in the main circle, brainstorm some main ideas.
- Have student go into partnerships but tell them they can only continue in partnerships for 5 minutes. After that time they will complete the brainstorming mind mapping on their own. Then have them highlight and file.
- On the 4th day I'd have the students look at their mind mappings and select the one they like best and that would be the one they would work with for the next few days. I would continue this process by teaching lead, thesis statement, and conclusion. I would then teach organized mind mapping.
Quality brainstorming will lead to better essays. It gives the student a method of exploring their level of understanding. If they start brainstorming and can't think of anything, it is a good indicator that the topic is not acceptable for their writing piece.
I have handouts that I give students with a graphic for each type of writing. When we study compare/contrast for example I have students use mind mapping but instead of drawing circles from the center, I have student draw an extension in a Venn diagram. There is a graphic for cause/effect I use--when students see they have a cause/effect situation, they use that graphic extended from the center circle. The following is an organized mind mapping for an essay that I hand my students to use as a guide for their rough drafts. You'll notice they must write a lead, thesis statement, and a concluding statement BEFORE they start their rough drafts. (How can you get from point A to Point B if you don't know where they are? It's the same in writing---the beginning and end!)
I have students use their brainstorming mind mapping and to look for clusters of good ideas. Next, I have them find the ones that seem to naturally fit together. Those are the ideas that will be included on the organized mind mapping. I provide 3 circles below for supporting paragraphs. One of the first things I explain is that they can mark out one if they don't need it or they can add others. Each of these circles becomes paragraphs, so my students rarely have trouble paragraphing.
Click the image for a larger view.
I model, model, model for them. I use partnerships for support. They also get lengthy lessons in how to write leads, thesis statements, and concluding statements. There is quite a bit of information on my site on the modes and how to develop paragraphs. At http://www.geocities.com/ginnyks
/communicationse.html you will find definitions and explanations of the modes, prompts for each of the modes, and writing samples.
Once the organized mind mapping is complete, students write a rough draft, key it into the computer using MLA format, use spell check and thesaurus, edit & revise, and publish. I take students through the these steps the first time we do them. It allows students to learn the writing process. I have them follow this process all year and they must hand in proof of each step on every essay we complete. (I allow them to personalize these steps once they understand the writing process.) Every once in awhile--like when we start a new mode of writing, we will mind map a few days to have ideas to put into the file and to give the student choices.
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