Friday, December 23, 2011

Errors in Writing

Question: What can we do about common errors in writing, the ones we see time and time again?

Answer: Isolate them. If it’s a run-on sentence, isolate it and let the students play with it. If it’s a comma splice, isolate it and let students play with it. If it’s a sentence fragment, isolate it and let the students play with it—and learn how to correct it in several different ways.

Comment: And if it’s a problem with parallel structure, isolate it and let students play with it. If it’s a problem in active/passive voice, isolate it and let students play with it. If it’s a problem with a dangling modifier, isolate it and let the students play with it—sort of like sentence combining. RayS.

Title: “Amplify Errors to Minimize Them.” MS Stewart. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2009), 291-193.

Note: Taking a week or so off. Will rejoin you on Monday, January 2, 2012, with more “oldies but goodies,” ideas in the teaching of English from past journal articles. RayS.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Editors' Pet Peeves

Question: What do editors dislike about articles submitted to their journals?

Quote: “ ... outlines about a half dozen of her frustrations as an editor, ranging from manuscripts that display an unfamiliarity with the journal to poorly proofread documents.” But the item that caught my attention was her fifth point: ‘My own pet peeve is writers who submit manuscripts that fail to cite articles previously published in the [editor’s] journal on the topic.’ ” p. 233,

Comment: FYI. RayS.

Title: “My Pet Fave.” Jeff Sommers, Ed. Teaching English in the Two-Year College.(March 2009), 233.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thinking About Learning

Question: How can students reflect on what they have learned?

Answer/Quote: “Thomas V. Chan of River Elm Elementary School in Winnipeg, Canada, improves his 6th grade students’ retention of new material with what he calls Lessonthink. Each of his students has a notebook set aside for Lessonthink. Each Lessonthink begins on a fresh page with the date of the pertinent lesson in the top right corner. A Lessonthink always pertains to the lesson immediately preceding it and consists of a think and writing exercise.”

“Following a lesson, students are asked to think about what they just experienced and to write 3 short paragraphs on What did I learn?..... What did I not understand?.... and How do I feel about the lesson?..... “ p. 125.

Title: “Children Think about What They Learned.” From “Teaching Children to Think,” by Thomas V. Chan, Manitoba Teacher, December 1985, pp. 4-5. Reading Teacher (October 1987), 125.

Comment: You might not provide this opportunity to think about what has been learned with every lesson, but for significant lessons, it could be well worth while. RayS.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Story Structure

Question: What is the structure of most stories?

Answer/Quote: “Most children’s stories have certain key elements in common: (1): major characters, (2) a setting (including both place and time, if time is important to the story), (3) a problem (most stories represent characters’ attempts to solve problems), (4), the main characters’ goal (usually to alleviate the problem), (5) attempts to achieve the goal (usually the story’s major events), and (6), a resolution (usually achieving the goal and solving the problem).”

Quote: “Identifying a story’s key elements and using them as a guide to asking comprehension questions about the story accomplishes four good things:…helps children develop a general framework for stories…. …gives them practice in identifying the main idea of a story, since the problem and its solution are usually the main idea…. Helps children focus on and remember a story’s sequence of events…. helps in identifying cause and effect. Events do not happen in random order, but one leads to or causes the next.” P. 113, 114.

Comment: Key to this framework is the problem. Identify the problem and you identify the main idea of the story. I don’t remember much emphasis on the problem in discussing stories in my teachers’ classes. They seemed to concentrate on the characters, setting and plot. I never thought of the plot as the problem. For what it’s worth. RayS.

Title: “Map a Story’s Framework.” EF Searls. Reading Teacher (October 1987), 113-116.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing and Wordless Books

Question: What’s another good exercise to help young students learn the structure of stories?

Answer: Have students turn wordless picture books in to written narratives.

 Title: “Wordless Books and Writing.” Christine Porter. Reading Teacher (October 1987), 113.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Story Frames

Question: How can story frames help young children learn the structure of stories and therefore improve comprehension?

Answer: Examples of story frames:
 Title: ________

In this story the problem starts when _____

After that ______

Next _____

Then _____

The problem is finally solved when _____

The story ends when _____

Title: ________

The problem in this story was ______

This was a problem because ______

The problem is finally solved when _____

In the end, _____

Title: _____

In this story a _____ had a problem. His problem was _____

This was a problem because ______

Then one day a _____ had a good idea. She _____

This solved the problem because ______. In the end, _____.

Title: _____

A little boy made a _____ out of a box.

First, he ______

Next, he _____

Then, he _____

Finally, he _____

In the end, he ______

 Title: “Using Story Frames to Develop Reading Comprehension in a 1st Grade Classroom.” JT Cudd and LL Roberts. Reading Teacher (October 1987), 74-70.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Question: How should handwriting be taught?

Answer/Quote: “Although there is a school of thought in the U.K. which advocates cursive writing from the beginning, there is no doubt that the great majority of teachers teach print first and then, with students of about 7 or 8 years, progress to cursive writing.”

Quote: “I align myself with those who prefer the two stage policy for the [following] reasons….Print is more legible and corresponds and relates to print in books.” P. 28.

Comment: Should handwriting be taught at all today in the era of keyboards and voice-activated software?

 First, legibility is important I would like to have a penny for every time I have victimized myself by my own illegible handwriting. The amount of time I have spent going back to sources because I can’t read my own handwriting infuriates me. Wasted energy and time.

Second: Writing tests and tests with open-ended questions that do not use computers require handwriting—legible handwriting.

Third: voice activation, like Dictaphones, will never replace excellent writing in standard English. Too much like informal English with repetition, poor word choice, verbosity, etc.

Fourth, if you can’t write legibly in cursive, use print. You can write as quickly in print as you can in cursive. The key is legibility. RayS.

Title: “Handwriting in the United Kingdom.” Peter Smith. Reading Teacher (October 1987), 27-31.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Unit on Storytelling for Young Children

Question: How can teachers initiate a story-telling project with young children?

Answer/Quote: “The week began when a local story-teller visited the school and spent half-hour periods with different grades. In addition to entertaining the children with her stories, the story teller gave tips on how to tell stories (enjoy your story, use facial expressions, use props, use movement, and be able to improvise).” P. 250. 

“During the next several days, reading classes were transformed into storytelling workshops. To find stories they wanted to tell, the children had several options: look through familiar and unfamiliar books for stories, write original tales, or practice known favorite stories, such as family legends or folktales. After the students had chosen their stories, they spent time practicing their storytelling techniques….” 250.

Comment: Sounds like a worthwhile project. RayS.

Title: “Children as Storytellers.” SA West. Reading Teacher (November 1987), 249-250.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Short Vowels

Question: What are some key words for remembering short vowels?

Answer: Short a: “Half an apple.” “I served red ‘Jell-o’ “ for short e.  “An inch of licorice.” For short i.  “Lollipop” for short o. And nuts or bubble gum for short u.

Comment: Could be helpful for remembering the short vowels. RayS.

Title: “Eat That Apple for the Short a Sound.” B Snyder. Reading Teacher (November 1987), 249.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Alternative to the Spelling Test

Question: How can teachers make spelling tests more interesting?

Answer: Teachers use sentences containing a spelling word, a spelling word in each sentence. The sentences make up a story.

Comment: Could be a lot of fun for the teacher, and a challenge to the teacher too. RayS.

Title: “Spelling Out Stories.” DV Listoe. Reading Teacher (November 1987), 241.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Story Frames

Question: How help young students re-construct a story they have read?

Answer/Quote: “The story frame is a skeletal outline of the test…. The skeleton contains just enough information to improve the child’s recall of the story.” 239.

 Quote: “The story frame…is not designed to test memory of text. Rather, its aim is to help readers construct a coherent understanding of a text. One of the difficulties that some readers face is not being able to organize the information they took in from reading the text; they may remember only isolated segments. This framing technique helps them to construct a coherent representation of the text.” 241.

Example of a story frame of Where the Wild Things Are.

Max gets himself into trouble when he…..

His mother….

That night in Max’s room….

So Max sailed away to …..

And met….

Max tamed them and they made him….

But Max became lonely and wanted….

So he left the Land of the Wild Things and when he reached home….

 Comment: This is a good start to help students organize the re-telling of a story. What would be the next step? [And I would suggest that not “some” but many readers, including many adults can not re-tell stories or events effectively.] RayS.

Title: “Story Frames—Story Cloze.” Trevor H. Cairney. Reading Teacher (November 1987), pp. 239-241.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Organization of Expository Prose

Question: How can teachers of elementary school children help them to understand the structure of expository prose?

Answer: Put expository articles from children’s magazines on poster board, Cut the articles apart, paragraph by paragraph, then have the children put them in order and discuss their reasons for doing so.

Comment: It’s never too young to learn how to write exposition. RayS.

Title: “Cut Apart Prose.” C Porter. Reading Teacher (November 1987), 229.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing to Learn

Question: What are the implications of writing to learn for content area teachers, as in social studies?

Answer/Quote: “The emphasis of writing to learn is on learning content, not the writing skills themselves…. Teachers need not dwell on the technical or mechanical problems of writing; if they do not interfere with clarity of meaning, ignore them. Students’ writing skills are likely to improve with this added practice.” P. 216.

“The Guided Writing Procedure (GWP) described by Smith and Bean…is one simple method for integrating writing into learning social studies and other content areas. This 2 step paragraph writing activity facilitates the ‘synthesis and retention of content area material.’ During the first step, initiated as a pre-reading exercise, students discuss what they already know…about a unit topic, then write 2 paragraphs using information from class brainstorming. In the second step, students revise their drafts after having read the assigned passages, then discuss both good and poor examples of the revised versions.” 216-217,

Comment: I think this rationale for NOT correcting every error is a good one. The emphasis is on learning the content, not on the mechanics of writing. If content teachers are bothered by not correcting every mistake, simply keep in mind the most prominent mistakes and do mini-lessons on them. RayS.

Title: “Writing to Learn in the Social Studies.” HT Holbrook. Reading Teacher (November 1987), 216-218.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Research Credibility

Question: Can teachers trust research findings used to support practices?

Answer/Quote: “The research on effective teaching practices has singled out and emphasized particular techniques as being effective means of improving test results. The boosterism surrounding direct instructional methods such as teaching the whole class at one time, teacher directed activities, and continual monitoring of student work, presses teachers toward these practices. What the literature has done is to certify direct instruction as the single best way of teaching. But uncritical cheerleading for this brand of teaching stamps whole group instruction, lecturing, recitation, and seatwork as effective, going far beyond what the research findings promise or even suggest.” 

Comment: I think the best reason to use research findings in multiple studies that suggest similar findings. For example, the use of audience in producing effective writing is supported in frequent studies and the idea of considering audience in writing provides confidence in using the practice. RayS.

Title: “Unanticipated Consequences of Applying Research to Practice.” From Larry Cuban, Harvard Educational Review, 1984, 54:2, 1488-149. Reading Teacher (November 1987), 205.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Every Word Has a Vowel

Question: How help students to realize the every word has a vowel?

Answer: Children are asked to make words without vowels from the 26 letters of the alphabet. They can’t. Teacher writes a short sentence on the board: “Th- c-t -s f-t.”Students name the vowels that are missing. Finally, students copy a page from their reader and black out the vowels. Then the other students try to supply the needed vowels.

Comment: Sounds like a simple step in learning to read, yet important. RayS.

Title: “Where There’s a Word, There’s a Vowel.” JJ DeGenaro. Reading Teacher (December 1987), 377.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Question: How introduce the DRTA (Directed Reading Thinking Activity), one of the best approaches to foster active purposeful reading?

Answer/Quote: “The DRTA is a three-step process. Teacher selects a portion of the text: (1) Predict—the teacher elicits predictions prior to reading; (2) read—the students read a predetermined portion of the story, and (3) prove—the students prove or disprove their predictions based on what they have just read.” 372.

Comment: Choose a portion of text. Read the title, subtitle, and first sentence—the topic sentence—of  the text and have children predict what will be said in the text. Finally, the students decide whether their prediction was accurate.

Predicting the ideas covered in the text becomes a habit for students, leading to SQ—survey and question when they become older and they predict the contents of chapters and articles. Survey means reading the title, subtitle, first paragraph, first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and last paragraph. Now students predict what the article or chapter will say and they read to determine if their predictions are accurate. RayS.

Title: “Add SQ to the DRTA—Write.” T Smyers. Reading Teacher (December 1987), 372-374.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

First Graders Write in Journals

Question: Will first-graders write in journals, choose their own topics and enjoy writing?

Answer: “In summary, when given the opportunity, 1st graders can and will write in journals. They enjoy journal writing and gain more confidence in their ability to use written language during the year.” 314.

Children’s topics included “About Me,” family, other people, pets, feelings for people, feelings for things, feelings for toys.

Comment: The key word in this summary of the article is “confidence” in writing. Just as with reading, the more young students write, the more confident they will be with writing. Journal writing helps form the habit of writing. RayS.

Title: “Journals in 1st grade: What Children Write.” M Manning, G Manning and J Hughes. Reading Teacher (December 1987), 311-315.