Writing Lessons

For the most part, our teachers teach from the lessons that are suggested in the units of study we’ve been using for the past few years.  The lessons are well-designed, build beautifully on each other (as well as on the work that has come the year before and will come the year after).  Lessons are clearly aligned with standards, the work is rigorous, offers plenty of access for all learners, is engaging, and has been very effective.

But sometimes it can be powerful (for both teachers and students) to go off course a bit and create some lessons to meet the needs and interests of students. This month, I’ve been working with teachers in upper elementary grades to tackle some revision work. Students are asked to write conclusions to an opinion piece,  the introduction to a narrative, or even craft some dialogue in the middle of a story. Yes, this is a task on our state test that has given the children some difficulty.  Because of this, we asked one of our staff developers to help us with this work.  She showed us how to have children revise their own work and the work of others.  Then it was up to me to do some follow up.

I decided to try something different.  I wanted to start off by creating some high levels of engagement.  I decided to use television advertisements as my demonstration text. (Our kids really do love the visuals, and it was hard to resist the adorable puppy in the Bounty ad!) We studied the ads and talked about how they are an example of persuasive writing.  In the first lesson, I asked students to imagine they were hired by an ad agency to write the ending to some new ads.  I asked them to watch the ad, consider the claim, find reasons and evidence, and then write the conclusion.  They loved it!  They loved thinking about the ad as a piece of writing, and the conclusions they wrote not only included the claim, reasons, evidence, and a call to action, but they were also really clever!  One student wrote, “Buy Bounty today.  Use the code QUICKERPICKERUPPER25 at checkout to get an extra 25% off!” Another wrote, “Buy Ziploc Bags.  No mess. No stress!”

Today I did another lesson using the same ad.  This time we studied the author’s craft.  We looked for techniques and goals.  The kids were so engaged.  As they watched the ad, they noticed how the author told a personal story, gave reasons, used a quote from an expert, and even provided a comparison.  They thought about the author’s goals.  Was he trying to hook the reader, create a claim, or support his claim with evidence?  The way the students talked about this piece of “text” was so sophisticated and so impressive.

As I wrapped up the lesson, took down my chart, and picked up my bin of supplies, one student stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for this lesson.  It was SO interesting.  I really had fun, and I feel like I learned so much.”

I want teachers to know that they have the flexibility within the units of study to create lessons that meet the needs and interests of their students.  The process can be so powerful for both teachers and kids.

7 thoughts on “Writing Lessons”

  1. I read this idea twice committing it to memory. I’m going to share this around. In test season I think teachers and students need learning wrapped in a candy wrapper of something new.

    1. I would love to see teachers creating some lessons throughout the year, pulling from what kids are interested in and what they need. I had so much fun working on these ideas and putting it all together, and then to see kids respond the way they did was so exciting.

  2. I love how you connected the standards to visual images that are probably already in kids’ worlds. I can definitely see how they would engage and connect to this!

  3. I don’t teach chocolate milk, and I am SO sick of it. I don’t know how teachers don’t see that there are ideas all over the place that could be used, but they really do feel bound to the script. Cheers to you for stepping away and still having kids learn the skills— as well as really enjoy learning the skills!

    1. I hope that the teachers saw exactly that – they shouldn’t be bound by the script. Just think of all the topics kids are interested in and how we can use their interests to drive our instruction (while still getting at what is essential). I am not advocating that teachers go completely rogue, but I would love to see them creating and bringing some new and interesting ideas to the table.

  4. They sound like really fun and meaningful lessons, what a combination! How wonderful to have a student spontaneously tell you she enjoyed the lessons so much! I think advertisements are a great tool for writing practice.

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