Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Better Way to Correct Essays


I offer significant points for turning in rough drafts because revision is the most important part of the writing process. I have had much success in getting the students to do this part of the assignment, but one issue lies in how effective my feedback is regarding punctuation and grammar errors, and whether students can, or are motivated to, successfully translate my comments into improved writing and learning.

What not to do: proofread and edit. Not only is this time consuming, it is ineffective. Case in point: On one student's essay, I did comprehensive line editing, pointing out every grammar and punctuation error and providing the correction. Not only was the paper almost unreadable when I was finished, cluttered with the highlights and dialogue boxes, but it had no effect on learning. The paper had the simple errors corrected on the final draft which seemed like a success at first. Then I got to the end of the essay, where the writer had made a great point in the last sentence. I responded, "Indeed!"  Guess what the new last sentence of revised essay was? Indeed.

Insert wah-wah-wah fail music here. Transcribing is not learning. It is difficult for me to turn off my compulsion to correct all errors, but what I do now is use a code for each type of error, say a comma splice, and I do not correct it. The student matches the error code to a provided key, and logs a revision. I might give an example of a correction, but more often, I list the page number in their reference books that explains the concept if I think the student might not know how to correct the error.

They don't always get the corrections right, but they learn far more than mindlessly transcribing my corrections. First, they have to look up what the errors are, and figure out how to correct it on their own. They earn points for correctly revising one example of each type of error they make. Although I see fewer perfectly corrected papers, I see fewer recurrences of problem areas in subsequent drafts, and that's really what it's all about.

To see examples of my codes and logs, or if you want to buy mine instead of making your own, click here.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Point of View in Academic Writing - the Ubiquitous "You"

When reviewing student drafts of academic essays, I find myself constantly marking the use of second person. With no direction, I find most students use second person. With direction, I find most students still slip into second person.

There are many reasons why second person is the go-to point of view for first drafts. It is the most informal and conversational. Students tend to write like they talk, so second person is natural. They also read a lot of second person online; advice articles, how-to, and informal blogs tend to use second person.

Second person, however, is the point of view that should be almost never used in academic writing. Besides the informality, which is inappropriate in a research paper and other academic essays, the main reason second person is not preferable is because it excludes or alienates part of the audience.

I use a few humorous examples to show this, and that is when it usually clicks with students. For example, I first ask the students, "Who is the audience for this paper?" The typical answer is me, the teacher, but we also discuss that it is anyone who is interested in the topic. Then I read the following passage from a student paper about preventing teen pregnancy:

"You should discuss your sexual activity with your parents or another adult because studies show that if you do this, your chances of pregnancy go down significantly."

I ask the students if I should discuss my sexual activity with my parents or another adult. I also ask a male student if this advice will help reduce his chance of pregnancy. Of course they immediately understand my point, and we don't need to elaborate on how second person excludes part of your audience.

We also review how the tone of this passage is more like a self-help article than academic research. Then I show a simple rewrite:

"Teen girls who discuss their sexual activity with their parents or another adult have a significantly reduced rate of pregnancy" (Smith 21).

There will always be the ubiquitous "you" in student papers, but a simple example requiring students to think about their audience will help them revise correctly.

If you are looking for resources to teach point of view, here is the Power Point and rewriting exercises I use with my classes: 


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Idiom Posters and Matching Game


According to the common core standards, students learn idioms in second through fifth grade. I created these two products with those grades in mind, but I used more mature artwork and added some more sophisticated idioms into the mix so that teachers can use them for older, or even adult, ESL students. Idioms are hard to master for ESL students because they don't make literal sense, and are often cultural references. These posters and matching cards will hopefully help a broad range of students, and make learning fun.

Artwork by Image Boutique

Friday, December 5, 2014

Winter Holiday Freebies and Tips

Just posted! The 2014 Winter Holiday Tips and Freebies ebook. Specifically for Language Arts and Humanities, grades 6-12, you'll find tons of great free curriculum for your classrooms and tips to survive the days before the holidays. My page is included, and I have a link to a fun game you might want to keep in your playbook for a classroom full of squiggly students. Click here to download.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tips for Teaching Grammar When You're not Supposed to be Teaching Grammar

The composition class I have been teaching for years is supposed to be all about research, critical thinking, and honing argumentative writing techniques. The students, allegedly, have already mastered basic grammar and writing skills. After the diagnostic essays on the first day, however, the same story emerges: the grammar mastery is shaky at best, and non-existent at worst. Over time, the topics that need the most review have held steady, and my teaching has evolved to meet this need.

Most of my students have gaps in their early education, or are returning to school after many years, so I am not so concerned that every student knows what a dangling whoseewhatsit is, but they need to review or be taught some basics in order to begin to present a coherent argument. The rest of it can be taken care of through critiques on their rough drafts.  Through trial and error, and ultimately modest success, here are my best tips for teaching grammar when the class is supposed to be at the next level:

1. Couch everything as a "review" since you will have students for whom it is, indeed, review.

2. Even though it's a "review," start with the basic rules and don't assume previous knowledge.

3. Keep the terminology as basic as possible.

4. Start with a review of the parts of speech. I use a cooperative game for this one, and call it an "English Class Ice-Breaker," rather than a formal lesson.

5. Teach sentence fragments and clauses first, then move on to run-on sentences. These two items are the crux of most of the issues, and writing improves significantly with these two errors corrected.

6. Keep the lessons short and to the point. I use a short power point, handouts with the explanations they can study at home, and self-check practice quizzes.

7. Check for understanding with a self-check quiz. Offer to meet with the students who need more help or provide more resources. I often send students to interactive websites for practice.  My current favorite is chompchomp.com.

8. Have students keep an "error journal" where they keep track of where they are making mistakes on their rough drafts. This will help them be self-aware and hopefully, self-correcting.

9. Do short writing exercises to practice the skills your class is really about, but each time, give special emphasis to one point of grammar and grade accordingly.

I would love some feedback on how you teach grammar in the classroom under similar circumstances.

If you'd like to use my resources, which include power points, worksheets, handouts, games, quizzes, and two comprehensive assessments, I've put them altogether in a money-saving bundle. These are what I use each quarter in my class. I hope you find them useful.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Free Resources for Secondary Teachers

I am happy to say that my free Thesis Worksheet resource is now available. Brain Waves Instruction, Literary Sherri, and Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy have compiled three free ebooks full of ready-to-print resources for secondary sellers. There are three ebooks, one for ELA, one for math and science, and one for humanities. My resource is included in the  ELA book, plus there is a link to it in my store at the bottom of this post. Each book contains 25 resources, plus a little bit about each seller and the kinds of resources he or she offers. Check them out here:


Here is a link to my resource that you can download for free in my store:


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Peer Reviews - More ideas

 I've recently come across some great blog posts with more ideas for peer reviews and editing. I wrote a blog with tips for peer reviews here, but there are many methods out there. I intend to try all three of these.

From The Doc Is In comes this fast-paced, focused, round-robin-style editing. The time allowed seems a little short to me, but that can be easily remedied:


From Teaching the Teacher is this method using Google drive:


Finally, the High School Bits blogs offers one teacher's method of using class discussions and having the whole class review the same few pieces at the same time: