Watch a how-to video on YouTube. We like "How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich" on the eHow channel or "How to Ride a Bicycle" on the Expert Village channel. Pause the video to share elements that apply to writing, such as the explanation of what you'll need, the outlining of steps, and the use of the imperative voice.
Invite each child to choose a crayon — even jaded middle schoolers love crayons — and name an emotion they associate with that color. Ask them why they made that association and write their responses on chart paper. Let them use it as a reference in writing poetry and prose.
Find a lengthy block of text on the Internet or in an e-mail that isn't but should be broken into paragraphs. Blog commenters are some of the worst offenders, but check The Stacks on Scholastic.com for kid-friendly examples. As a class, look for the natural paragraph breaks in the text and discuss how the breaks make the passage easier to read and understand.
Pass out fortune cookie-size slips of paper. Challenge students to brainstorm what they want the reader to take away from a current piece of writing, record it on a slip, and place it in a take-out box labeled "Cookie Conclusions." Discuss that, like a fortune cookie, conclusions often leave the reader with a question, opinion, or newfound knowledge.
Invite small groups to come up with a slogan for a particular punctuation mark and share it with the class. Some examples: "The exclamation point-for when you need a little excitement in your life." "Pause. Stop. Breathe. Enjoy this moment brought to you by the period."
Write touch, taste, smell, hear, and feel on the fingers of cheap, stretchy gloves. Give each student one glove and play "Sensory Detail Twister" by having children try to place all five fingers on corresponding details on a page of writing. If a particular type of detail isn't included, challenge students to revise their work to include the missing sense.
Hand out train car die-cuts or a train reproducible. Each student should have an engine, at least one car, and a caboose. Have students write their beginning, middle, and end of a piece of writing on their respective train cars. Discuss that plot makes stories go.
Parts of a Sentence
Divide students into groups of four. Explain that in each group one person is the subject, one is the verb, one is the object, and one can either be an article, adjective, or helping word. Give students a few minutes to come up with a sentence, then have members stand in order to say their sentences to the class.
Make an outlandish claim you know will grab students' attention, such as "Justin Bieber is the best recording artist of all time." Have students who agree with you stand on one side of the room, and students who disagree stand on the other. Each group must then come up with three reasons why they agree or disagree. Incorporate the reasons into paragraphs as a class.
Point of View
Invite students to bring in old swim or ski goggles. Have children decorate the goggles with glitter, sequins, stickers, or paint. Explain that the goggles are now "magic" and will allow students to see things from a different point of view. Model the goggles by putting them on and pretending to see the world from the perspective of an ant or a giant, writing down what is different. Periodically allow students to put on their goggles in order to brainstorm writing from a different point of view.
Encourage peer reviewers to spend a few minutes answering each of these questions: What do I know? What do I think I know? What do I want to know? The first question reveals what the writer has succeeded in conveying, the second question shows what isn't as clear-sometimes purposefully, sometimes not-and the third suggests what the writer can do to improve the work.
Listen to a song that tells a story, such as "John Henry," Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle," or James Taylor's "Frozen Man." Give small groups a few minutes to write a summary of the story, then compare the summaries as a class. Did students include all crucial information, and tell the story in their own words?
Read aloud a passage from a book students know well, but without any of the narrator's internal reactions, emotions, or feelings. Ask students if they know what is missing. How does eliminating the character's reactions to situations change the piece? What part does reaction play in the character's voice? Record students' thoughts on chart paper to use as a reference.
Write a variety of "pumped-up" words on slips of paper (think magenta, flicker, zigzag). Invite students to choose a word and look up the definition. Then challenge kids to find a sentence in a book or elsewhere in which they can replace one of the words with their pumped-up word. Have children read the new and old sentences to the class.
Give partners a situation like "One of you is getting your tonsils out" or "One of you is moving away." Give students five minutes to rehearse a short scene to perform for the class, with the catch that they can't mention the situation directly in the scene. Have partners perform their scenes, and see if the other students can guess what is happening. Discuss that most dialogue is indirect.
Divide students into groups of four. Invite each student to write an opinion, such as "I think chocolate ice cream is the best." Then, have students pass their sentence to the group member on their right, who eliminates any unnecessary words. The next person looks for words that could be stronger, and the last checks spelling and grammar. Voila! Powerful, persuasive sentences.
Write a variety of roles on note cards (e.g., mom, teacher, sibling, friend). Invite one student to draw a card and pretend to convince that person to give him a pony (or Miley Cyrus tickets, a good grade on a test, etc.). If another child can guess who is being convinced, he or she becomes the new convincer. Discuss how we speak to different people and how that relates to writing.
Listen to a speech that incorporates quotations, such as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," which quotes two songs. Discuss how the quotations work to serve the speaker's purpose and how they are integrated into the text. What is the percentage of the speaker's words to someone else's? How and why does the speaker attribute the quote(s)?
Discuss that characters in stories usually have problems they are trying to solve or questions they are trying to answer. Then, invite students to write a letter to their main character. The letters should have this framework: "Sorry you're having trouble [with the character's problem]. Here's what I would do." Students may be surprised by what they learn about their protagonists.
4 Books for Teaching Writing
These new resources get a thumbs-up from our editors at Teacher magazine.
Quick Start to Writing Workshop Success
By Janiel Wagstaff
We love Wagstaff's easy-to-implement tips for launching and sustaining writing workshop in your classroom.
The Write Start
By Jennifer Hallissy
This book is aimed at parents who want to encourage their children's writing from a young age, but there are plenty of helpful teacher tips, too.
First Lessons for Beginning Writers
By Lola Schaefer
Forty mini-lessons for students in kindergarten and first grade, perfect for last-minute ideas and preparation.
Using Mentor Texts to Teach Writing With The Traits
By Ruth Culham, James Blasingame, and Raymond Coutu
A guide for middle school teachers that uses books tweens adore as examples.