How Did You Learn to Write?I always did well on essay tests. Just put everythingyou know on there, maybe you’ll hit it. And then youget the paper back from the teacher and she’s writtenjust one word across the top of the page, “vague.” Ithought “vague” was kind of vague. I’d writeunderneath it “unclear,” and send it back. She’dreturn it to me, “ambiguous.” I’d send it back to her,“cloudy.” We’re still corresponding to this day . . .“hazy” . . . “muddy” . . . ~Jerry Seinfeld, SeinLanguage
“Nothing frustrates a young writer – or anolder writer – more than looking at afinished piece and knowing it isn’t verygood, but not knowing what to do aboutit.” ~ Tommy Thomason
Questions to Consider How do we teach students—and how do students learn—to write well? What do we look for when grading students’ writing, and how do we explain those grades to students? How do we teach students to revise their own writing? How do we show them specific ways to improve?
What do we value in writing? Read “Redwoods” What do you notice about this student’s writing? Identify its major strengths and weaknesses. Share your observations with a partner. Discuss what advice you would give this writer. What grade level is this writer? What was the prompt? 11th grade Write about a memorable place.
What do we value in writing? Read “Mouse Alert” What do you notice about this student’s writing? Identify its major strengths and weaknesses. Share your observations with a partner. Discuss what advice you would give this writer. What grade level is this writer? What was the prompt? 7th grade Write about your summer vacation.
Objectives: In the next 60 minutes . . . Learn the language of the six traits Learn how focus lessons can be used to help students improve their writing trait by trait Understand how the six traits relate to the writing process Understand how the six traits create an important link between assessment and instruction
The Six Traits: A Brief History Originated in Oregon in the 1980s Vicki Spandel, NWREL researchers, and 17 teachers Purpose: to develop a consistent vocabulary for defining good writing/writing instruction; to create an assessment rubric to be used across all grade levels Evaluated thousands of papers (all grade levels) and identified “common characteristics of good writing” Those qualities became the “six traits”
The Six Traits of Good Writing Ideas Organization Voice Word Choice Sentence Fluency Conventions (+1) Presentation
Defining Ideas Ideas make up the content of the piece of writing—the heart of the message. (Culham) The ideas are the heart of the message, the content of the piece, the main theme, together with the details that enrich and develop that theme. (NWREL)
“When I was in school I thought detailswere just extra words to add in a story tomake it better. I thought detail wasdecoration or wallpaper . . . Details arenot wallpaper; they are walls.” ~Barry Lane
Teaching Ideas Forstudents to arrive at good content, we must help them: Select an idea (the topic) Narrow the idea (focus) Elaborate on the idea (development) Discover the best information to convey the idea (details)
Narrowing the Idea: R.A.F.T. R.A.F.T. stands for . . . Role of the writer Audience for the piece of writing Format of the material Topic or subject of the piece of writing Example: You are Jerry Spinelli, author of the delightful novel, Stargirl. Design a three-part advertising campaign that will assist you and your publisher to convince one of the major movie studios to buy the movie rights and make a feature film based on the book.
Elaborating on Ideas Ask Me a Question In groups of three, students take turns reading their writing aloud to the group. The listeners do not comment. Instead, they write down three questions they have (things they want to know more about) and give them to the writer. This helps the writer become more aware of details he or she might want to add during revision.
Defining Organization Organization is the internal structure of the piece, the thread of meaning, the logical pattern of the ideas. (Culham) Organization is the internal structure of a piece of writing, the thread of central meaning, the logical and sometimes intriguing pattern of the ideas. (NWREL)
“Good prose is architecture.” ~Ernest Hemingway
Teaching Organization Strategies for effective organization include: Beginning with an inviting and focusing introduction Providing thoughtful links between key points and ideas Employing a logical, purposeful, and effective sequence Controlling the pacing Closing with a satisfying conclusion
Sequencing: Mix It Up Choose a short piece of text—a poem, a magazine article, a short story, etc. Cut the text into pieces so students can move them around like a puzzle. Ask students, in groups, to put the parts in order. Which comes first, second, third, last? How do you know? If students disagree, discuss the different ways students have organized the parts. Are they logical and effective?
Introductions: Share Examples Use mentor texts to show students a variety of ways to begin, and post a list on the wall. A thought-provoking question A hint of the conclusion An anecdote An indication of main points A dramatic or eye-opening statement A quotation Encourage students to add to the list as they discover additional models in their independent reading. Variations: Sorting Leads, Matching Openers and Closers
Defining Voice Voice is the soul of the piece. It’s what makes the writer’s style singular, as his or her feelings and convictions come out through the words. (Culham) The voice is the heart and soul, the magic, the wit, along with the feeling and conviction of the individual writer coming out through the words. (NWREL)
“We must teach ourselves to recognize our ownvoice. We want to write in a way that is natural forus, that grows out of the way we think, the way wesee, the way we care. But to make that voiceeffective we must develop it, extending our naturalvoice through the experience of writing on differentsubjects for different audiences, of using our voice aswe perform many writing tasks.” ~Donald Murray, Write to Learn
Teaching Voice Voice emerges when the writer: Allows the writing to sound like him/herself Shows that he/she really cares about the idea Writes with energy and enthusiasm Writes with the reader in mind Takes risks to make the writing memorable Matches the writing to its audience and purpose
Learning to Hear Voice in Literature Collect short passages that exemplify strong or distinctive voice, put them on overheads, and read them aloud. Have students discuss what they think they know about the writer (or narrator): Is the writer young or old? male or female? What feeling does the writer want to communicate? Does the writer care about this piece of writing? What kind of audience is the writer addressing? How do you know these things? What aspects of the text led you to these conclusions?
More Ideas for Teaching Voice Greeting Cards: Collect a variety of birthday cards, and have students sort them: romantic, sarcastic, sincere, cute, sentimental, etc. Voice In, Voice Out: Give students a piece of text that lacks voice (instruction manual, textbook, memo, etc.) and invite them to add as much voice as possible. Read the two versions aloud and discuss the differences. Try it the other way, too— have students remove the voice from a strong piece of writing. New Voices, New Choices: Have students write the first sentence of a letter (on the same topic) for five different audiences.
Defining Word Choice Word choice is at its best when it includes the use of rich, colorful, precise language that moves and enlightens the reader. (Culham) Word choice is the use of rich, colorful, precise language that moves and enlightens the reader. (NWREL)
“The difference between the almost-right wordand the right word is really a large matter—it’sthe difference between the lightning bug andthe lightning.”“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring heron and let her scream!” ~Mark Twain
Teaching Word Choice Teaching word choice involves: Striking Language: Sharpening students’ descriptive powers Exact Language: Using lively verbs, precise nouns, and accurate modifiers Natural Language: Making it sound authentic Beautiful Language: Choosing colorful words and phrases ~Ruth Culham, 6+1 Traits of Writing
Descriptive Limits Put this prompt on the board: “Write about a moment when you were unbelievably scared.” As a class, discuss possible ways to approach the topic. When everyone seems ready to begin writing, tell them that the words scare, frighten, fright, fear, fearful, afraid, spook, startle, terror, terrorize, terrify, panic, cold sweat, shock, surprise, dread, turn pale, hair stand on end, blood run cold, and teeth chatter are all off limits. After students have time to write, debrief the experience. What did they discover? How did this activity make them more (or less) creative in their word choice?
The Game of Connotations I am selective. I am confident. You are choosy. Your are self-assured. She is fussy. He is conceited. I am energetic. Challenge students to come You are jumpy. up with their own examples. He is unable to sit still.
Expanding Small Phrases into Bigger Ones “You can’t support an elephant on a step ladder.” Notice the difference between these two sentences: The wind was strong. The wind fumed and shrieked about the house, yanking at the loose shingles. Have students use vivid verbs, colorful adjectives, and precise nouns to rewrite sentences such as: The dog was hungry. The house was empty. My sister got mad. The rain came down. My shoes were tight.
Words, Words, Words Everywhere Use “Word Walls” and more to create a “print- rich” classroom environment: Keep strips of colored paper handy so students can record “cool” words they discover during reading and writing activities. Color code them according to parts of speech: precise nouns, descriptive adjectives, energetic verbs. Post them on the walls, windows, ceiling, etc.
Defining Sentence Fluency Sentence fluency is the flow of the language, the sound of word patterns—the way the writing plays to the ear, not just to the eye. (Culham) Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of the language, the sound of word patterns, the way in which the writing plays to the ear—not just to the eye. (NWREL) Fluent writing is graceful, varied, rhythmic, and powerful.
“Writing is hard work. A clear sentenceis no accident. Very few sentences comeout right the first time, or even the thirdtime.” ~William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Teaching Sentence Fluency Helpingstudents improve their sentence fluency means teaching them to: Use a variety of sentence lengths Use a variety of sentence beginnings Use a variety of sentence structures Use repetition of sounds, words, and phrases to create patterns Create writing that can be read aloud with ease
Sentence Stretching Ask each student to write a simple sentence of 4-5 words at the top of a sheet of paper. (Example: Matthew ate a pizza.) Students pass the paper to the next student who must add or change one element to make the sentence more specific and interesting. After the paper has been passed to 10-12 people, it is returned to the original owner. Students write their revised sentences on the board for all to see.
End With a Noun Experiment with one of your sentences. Try ending it with different parts of speech. Decide which is the most effective. A rolling stone gathers no moss. (noun) If a stone rolls, hardly any moss with be gathered. (verb) If you are concerned about moss gathering on a stone, roll it. (pronoun) When trying to rid yourself of moss, roll the stone quickly. (adverb) If you roll the stone, the moss will become smooth. (adjective)
Defining Conventions Conventions represent the piece’s level of correctness—the extent to which the writer uses grammar and mechanics with precision. (Culham) Conventions are the mechanical correctness of the piece— spelling, grammar and usage, paragraphing, use of capitals, and punctuation. (NWREL) Conventions include anything a copy editor might deal with. The whole purpose of this trait is to enhance readability—to make the writing enticing and accessible to the reader.
“Editing is easy, all you have to do iscross out the wrong words.” ~Mark Twain
Teaching Conventions Teachingstudents the correct use of conventions includes lessons that focus on: Spelling correctly when publishing work Applying basic capitalization rules with consistency Using appropriate punctuation marks to guide the reader Using appropriate grammatical structures to communicate ideas clearly and convincingly
Tips for Teaching Conventions Get a good sense of what students know and what they still need to learn. Teach the skills that are developmentally appropriate for students to add to their repertoire of conventions. Allow for plenty of practice, time to experiment, and opportunities to apply the new skills in their writing. Hold students accountable for the specific skills for which they have an understanding. Use wall charts and mentor texts.
Presentation (the + 1) Presentation zeros in on the form and layout— how pleasing the piece is to the eye. (Culham) Presentation makes the piece easy to read: Margins are even; layout is effective. Handwriting or font is legible and clear. Illustrations are appropriate and well-placed. Everything contributes to the effectiveness of the writing.
Why Use the Six Traits? It provides a common language for teachers and students to use in teaching and learning about the craft of writing. It provides consistency in writing assessment and a shared vocabulary for giving feedback to students. It provides a guiding focus for writing instruction and the tools students need to revise their own writing.
Why is the 6+1Trait Model an Effective Teaching Tool for Writing Instruction? Defines good writing in a specific way for the teacher and the student Provides a way to delineate areas of individual strengths and areas of challenge Allows for greater consistency and accuracy in assessment Provides a common vocabulary for vertical and horizontal alignment of instruction Develops all of the traits evaluated in state assessment Provides a clear link between reading and writing Enables students to become self-assessors
“The writing process is a means to an endand not an end in itself.” ~Ruth Culham
The Traits and the Writing Process Prewriting Ideas, Organization, Voice Drafting Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency Revising All traits except conventions Editing Conventions Publishing Presentation
Two Groups of Traits Revision Traits: Individual, creative, complex, and messy Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency Editing Traits: Predetermined, correct, and exacting Conventions, Presentation Coach students to keep conscious editing out of the prewriting and drafting process; most editing should occur after revision of ideas occurs.
“Good assessment always begins with avision of success.” ~Richard Stiggins, Student-Centered Classroom Assessment
“We must constantly remind ourselvesthat the ultimate purpose of evaluation isto enable students to evaluatethemselves.” ~Arthur Costa
The Traits and Assessment The 6-Trait rubrics can be used by: Self, peer, teacher To assess: A single trait, a group of traits, all the traits The 6-Trait rubrics can also be used as: A tool for vertical and horizontal curriculum alignment An instrument for grade-level, school, or district measurement Assessment is not the end of the writing process. It is the bridge to revision. 6-Trait Writing is all about revision!
“Assessment is not the private property ofteachers. Kids can learn to evaluate their ownwriting. They must take part in this . . . it iscentral to the growth of writing. Even beforethey write, they need to know about whatmakes writing strong or effective. And theyneed to know the criteria by which their ownwriting will be judged.” ~ Marjorie Frank
Where do I begin? Establish a writing community in your classroom based on the whole writing process. Focus your mini-lessons, assessment, and revision on the traits, preferably one at a time. Use the vocabulary of the traits when reading and discussing texts. “We’re teaching our students to write, not to trait.” (Ruth Culham, 6+1 Traits of Writing)
The Traits and Instruction Introduce the concept of the writing traits Immerse students in writers’ language Teach students to be assessors of their own and others’ work: guide them through analysis of anonymous sample papers; use self-assessment in revising and goal setting Share strong and weak examples from many different sources (including literature and student writing) to illustrate each trait Use focused lessons that target each trait; include hands-on activities to help students develop skills and deepen their understanding Provide numerous opportunities for students to practice focused revision and editing of their own work as well as the work of others; model writing and let students coach you
“Think of how many teachers you hadwho actually helped you with yourwriting. Most people can name one ortwo. I say to teachers, ‘Be that oneteacher for a child.’” ~Donald Graves
Resources Culham, Ruth. 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide. New York: Scholastic, 2003. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.nwrel.org/assessment/ Spandel, Vicki. Creating Writers Through 6-Trait Writing Assessment and Instruction. 3rd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001. Spandel, Vicki. “Write Traits: 6-Trait Instruction and Assessment.” San Antonio. 24-26 Oct. 2005.