Posts for October 2016

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Debunking Myths About Student Writers

We feel strongly that certain myths about writing must be dispelled to allow genuine learning to take place. This post identifies and counters eight of the most common myths about writing in middle school. In truth, the myths extend to writing in elementary school, high school, and beyond.

Myth 1: Students need a textbook.

Textbooks by their very nature are prescriptive. That is, they are designed so that a language arts curriculum is essentially built around them. As you know, textbook series are accompanied by volumes of supplementary materials that essentially tie teachers and students into the “system” more than they help students develop as independent thinkers and writers.

We believe that students must have a chance to develop their own ideas, to think and write for themselves. Teachers and students—with the aid of a few references (see below)—should help each other develop and refine their ideas in writing. This makes for meaningful learning.

Essential writing references: Internet access, a collection of writing models, a library of reading materials, and a writing handbook.

Myth 2: Students dislike writing.

Students don’t necessarily dislike writing; they just dislike writing about subjects that have little meaning to them. Students learn to enjoy writing when they develop their own ideas. This doesn’t mean that teachers should forgo assigning compositions. It simply means that writing assignments should have enough breadth and scope to allow students to select specific topics that interest them

In addition, students will learn to enjoy writing if they are encouraged to write freely about their own experience. Young learners love to write about themselves in journals, social posts, blogs, narratives, and personal essays. And of course, many students enjoy creative forms of writing—stories, plays, poems—as well.

Persuasive Writing Prompts
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Whether you are working on a persuasive unit or preparing your students for assessment, these writing prompts can serve as a starting point for building persuasive (argument) essays. Encourage students to use the PAST strategy to analyze the prompts.

Beginning Persuasive Prompts (Grades 4–5)

Share these prompts with students who are beginning to write essays.

1. What Season Is Best?

Some people love hot summers at the beach or pool. Others love cold winters with sleds and snowmen. Maybe you like crackling fall leaves or tender spring flowers. Write an essay that names your favorite season and gives reasons why it is best.

2. My Pet of Choice

If you could have any pet, what pet would you choose? Dog? Cat? Snake? Tarantula? Write a letter to your parent or guardian naming the pet you would most like to have and giving reasons why you should get to have this pet.

3. Time for a Vacation

What vacation would you like most? Hiking in a state park? Visiting Grandma? Going to an amusement park? Write an essay to your parent or guardian naming what would be a perfect vacation and giving reasons you would like to take it.

Explanatory Writing Prompts
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When you want your students to practice explanatory writing, present them with one or more of the following prompts, grouped by difficulty. You can also introduce students to the PAST strategy to help them understand what each explanatory prompt is asking them to do.

Beginning Explanatory Prompts (Grades 4–5)

The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who are moving from paragraph writing to essay writing. 

1. Defining Friendship

Everyone needs friends. What qualities make someone a good friend? How can you be a friend for someone who needs one? Write an essay that explains ways to be a good friend.

2. A Job for Me

People do all kinds of jobs. Some people build. Others serve. Some teach. Others sell. Some people work on ships at sea, and others in skyscrapers in cities. What kind of job would you like to do? As a future worker, write an essay that names a job you would like, describes the work, and tells why you would like it.

3. An Admirable Person

We all have people we admire. They might be family members or friends. They might be singers, dancers, or actors. They might even be fictional characters. Whom do you admire most? Write an essay that names a person you admire and describes the qualities that make you like the person.