Wednesday, February 24, 2010

March Madness-The Writing Prompt Demystified!

I see that look on your face, Spot! Cranky dog, go away! You think I like these CMTs? My version of the CMTs would happen in one fact, one morning would be just fine. But...the writing prompt? Now that's a whole 'nother story as they say. The CMTs are our Olympic challenge, and when it comes to writing, we're headed straight for the gold!

For the past two weeks, we've been in Spring Training..."Suit up, show up, and get 'er done!" Well, not so fast. Teachers out there? Listen up! Writing? I've got a whole new gig. My friend, Sara, has a boot camp. She wears Army fatigues and the whole nine yards. being me, I have to spin it my own way. We have our own version of spring training...which happens (thanks Universe!) right at the same time the pitchers and catchers are taking the mound.

We begin every session with a little calisthenics, jumping jacks, pencil lifts, and even butt lifts too (not as bad as it sounds, honest!)...which go right into crab walks. You have to have a PLAN to get yourself back to your seat, and that for sure is true of writing too! Kids have to be ready to plan, execute and then work that writing muscle, pushing themselves to show off their stamina. And most importantly of all, they have to stay loose! Laughter is the best medicine in this case. You can't take it all so seriously, for crying out loud.

Getting Organized: It's All About the Plan!

I've shown the kids four different plans and they know them well in this short period. The "dog-nut," which is nothing more than a drawing of a doughnut, with three lines dividing it. The "block-head," is a blocked out version of the same thing, an outline, which sets up three ideas and finally the all purpose web. Kids have to be careful to manage that one well, so it doesn't get too leggy and out of hand. Webbed essays can sometimes turn out to be listy and have little or no fluent idea development at all.

What do you do when you're stuck? Being stuck is not allowed in this sport! Honestly, I tell kids to start with the list in that case. Settle on two or three words in the prompt that set up the main idea and play the suggestion "When I think of 'heroes,' I think of..." Write down every idea that comes to your mind, and as soon as you've got three strong ones, roll right into one of the four G.O.s (graphic organizers) listed above.

One other thing...I showed them my secret recipe today! (Don't tell!) When coming up with ideas? Well...topic 1) Define it and make it personal. "A hero is someone who...My dad fits that definition to a tee...(What do I personally know and can teach about this/connect. 2) Just the facts! Factual information. What can I teach within this topic? 3) Anecdote with a quote. Tell a small story/memoirish and include a quote. Dad says, "A bad day fishing is always better than any day spent at work."

More tomorrow: Writing Down the Details--the Almight Specifics!

My kids this year have a problem writing down the very clear specifics that must be peppered throughout their paragraphs in order to do well. And really, they have to have specifics in everything they write, otherwise none of us will really get too attached to their writing. A twenty-first century student will have writing in everything they do! They MUST be good at communicating their thoughts and ideas. Stay tuned for more tomorrow...the nitty gritty details are really where it's at. Not just any old piece of chocolate, it's the FROZEN MILKYWAYS that matter!

Suggestions, ideas...survival techniques? Teachers...we've got to stick together! Be sure to pass them on! And Spot? can get up and move that butt! No crankin'! Move it!! We've got AYP to demonstrate here! If my salary ever gets tied to this, I may have to get out the wet noodle too! ;)

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