Question: How can teachers help students develop the writing habit, recognize common grammatical problems and understand formal English?
Answer:Ten-Minuute Essays and Common Grammar Problems
I had five classes a day when I was teaching high school English. For three weeks, I had students write for ten minutes at the beginning of class on a topic of their own choosing that I called “ten-minute essays.” This ten-minute essay was just for one class for three weeks. At night I took the first class’s ten minute essays home and corrected—meaning truly corrected: if the spelling was wrong, I corrected it by writing the correct spelling for the word. If the sentence was a run-on, I rewrote the sentence so that the sentence was complete. If the student used poor parallel structure, I made the sentence parallel, etc.
The next day, students read over my corrections and, outside of class, they rewrote my corrected ten-minute essays. The reward was one point of extra credit for the quarter. Then, for the next three weeks I moved on to the second class and so on until every class had had the experience of writing for ten minutes a day for three weeks and I had the opportunity to write in the corrections for basic grammar problems. The value? Formation of the writing habit, correction of predictable grammar problems.
Ten-Minute Essays and Demonstrating Formal EnglishDuring the next set of three-week ten-minute essays, I corrected the writing to include formal, standard English, so that students understood what I meant by formal English. No use of “there” to begin sentences, no needless repetition of words, eliminating “get” and all its forms, providing clear references for the demonstrative pronouns, use of the active voice, etc.
Ten-minute JournalsDuring the time that the students were not involved in corrected ten-minute essays, I had students write in a journal for ten minutes at the beginning of class. The topics were up to them. I collected samples of the 10-minute journal essays periodically, simply read them, and noted the kinds of problems in writing that they were demonstrating for mini-lessons. Again, the value was developing the writing habit.
Comment: It’s always helpful to have students begin the class with an activity like the ten-minute essay. RayS.
Suggested by “What Sixth Graders Learn from the Journal of Bobby G.” GS Bernabei. English Journal (September 1992) 78-80.