Monday, February 16, 2015

Using Anchor Charts and Interactive Student Notebooks to Improve Student Writing

Interactive Anchor Charts for the Win!

  In my first year of teaching middle school I hated grading essays.  It was so frustrating going to the next student's essay and reading "I'm going to tell you about..." over and over again despite my lessons on writing engaging leads.  When I gave the next writing prompt, following a reading of "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros I was dreading the possibility of 60 more essays that start with "I'm going to tell you about..."   So I put up an anchor chart to remind them of some other ways that they could begin their essays, but still I got mixed results. 
Anchor Chart
 I was beyond disappointed that my anchor chart was not as successful as I had thought it would be.
Mini Anchor Chart in Notebook with Revisions of the Lead
    I copied a mini version of the anchor chart and had them put it in their Interactive Student Notebooks.  I told them all to rewrite their lead six different ways on the left side, using a different strategy from the chart each time. 
   I had taught mini-lessons on the different types of leads before the anchor chart, and again after the anchor chart-this is key.  An anchor chart alone isn't going to fix this problem.  Students have to be taught how to ask the right kind of question in their lead, otherwise they will all ask an opinion based question that the reader can answer on their own.  Instead of I'm going to tell you about my eleventh birthday you will get What do you like about birthdays?  Not much of an improvement.  After rewriting their lead six ways, I had them pair up and read each other's leads so that they could get advice on which lead made someone want to continue reading the rest of the essay.  My favorite lead was:
How can a raggedy old sweater make you feel like you are two years old again?
  Click on the link to download the writing prompt and full lesson for "Eleven" from Achieve the Core.
   We recently wrote research-based arguments on the theories surrounding the cause of Edgar Allan Poe's untimely death.  This strategy works for research papers as well as narratives. 

"I hope you liked my blog post about ..." 
   There needs to be a sequel to this post to deal with that conclusion.

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