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Showing posts from February, 2009

They're Writing -What Now?

One of the great challenges we face as teachers of writing is learning to observe student writing with a view that encompasses instruction. The trick is to look closely at the writing of an individual to notice what that writer needs and at the same time consider other students who may also be faced with the same direct need in the development of their writing. Patterns of need frequently emerge as you confer with your students. When this happens you may find that you need to develop a teaching focus for the whole class, or a small group. It will not surprise you to learn that this is the perpetual challenge of the Writer’s workshop.

Once your students are writing regularly and displaying some stamina for the task, you may find yourself asking the questions –

What happens now?
What should I do to most effectively move their writing forward?
What do I say to them when I join them for a writing conference?


It is easy to look at a student’s writing and immediately jump on the mechanical aspec…

Writing Challenge -Using Random Text Phrases

Ask your students to choose up to five random phrases from a book they are currently reading or from a series of favourite books, should these be available. The criteria for choosing a particular phrase would be its appeal as an example of good word use, or it may be that the words chosen assist them to make a connection to an experience in their own lives. This would assist them greatly when writing a personal narrative.

Ask them to then choose one phrase that appeals above the others and use the chosen words somewhere in a writing piece. –at the beginning, within the body of the text, or at the end. Before asking your students to try this, I suggest you try it yourself. Here is my attempt:


My chosen phrases from three sources:

She leaned forward earnestly searching out my face (In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje)
The gears crunched and the truck wheeled onto the main road (Heart Songs, Annie Proulx)
Dragonflies hovered above the pool. (Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko )

EXAMPLE ONE -Dis…

Memoir Piece - Decisions, Decisions

Decision making is such a difficult undertaking for some people. I recall a scene in an Indian restaurant in Phuket, Thailand in May 2008 where a fellow traveller experienced great difficulty arriving at a dining decision.

I was at that time enjoying a meal and engaging in what we writers call, - people watching. Studying human behaviour is both fascinating and instructive. It provides great fodder for the writer within.

A German woman entered the restaurant and was immediately seated at the next table. She then spent almost fifteen minutes ordering from the menu in an attempt to avoid ‘spicy food.’ I wondered if she had merely stumbled into the restaurant, without noticing that it served Indian cuisine? She laboriously worked her way through the extensive menu, exhausting the efforts of two waiters, before finally settling on her order.

Displaying admirable patience and understanding the waiting staff had guided the hesitant diner towards some sort of decision making. They were a tag…

Pre-Writing Ideas- Helping Writers To Get Started

The writer sits down to face the blank page, only to be greeted by the dazzling whiteness of the paper. The pen is tightly gripped as the writer stares at the empty page. There is hope that time will deliver the wondrous words desperately sought. The empty lines beckon. How to begin?

If you have experienced this feeling, you will have greater empathy for your students and the feelings that sometimes overwhelm them as beginning writers. They often have a broad idea regarding their writing but have little idea where, or how to begin. They want to produce something that effectively conveys a message, but remain unsure of how to begin the process.

We need to recognize that it is at this point we can provide meaningful support to allay their writing anxieties.

Teaching students how to think of something to write, provides a way forward. This prewriting stage is the time for students to think and develop ideas- to find the words they need to move forward. It is a time for each writer to identi…

Harvesting Writing Ideas

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The most challenging part of writing for developing writers is often finding something to write about. This occurs because they are not practiced at harvesting ideas. They under value their thoughts, experiences and observations as potential writing fodder.

It is therefore critical to show them how to think and act like writers. In this way they will develop behaviours that will help them to be more watchful and aware of their world and the writing that can spring from their interactions.

Connect With The World - Look, Listen, Learn!

Essentially, writers need to keep their eyes open. They need to look, listen and be ready to learn. Sometimes a subject finds you. You may just happen to be walking down the street when something quite extraordinary takes place. – like the time I was travelling on the New York subway and a guy entered the carriage wearing full medieval knight’s regalia. My mind immediately began to speculate –Where did he come from? Why was he dressed in this fashion, Where …

Writers Make Observations

Every now and then I witness something that is just a little outside the norm. To someone else it may not register in this way, but for me it strikes a chord that says Hey, you don’t see that all the time. Whilst having a coffee in my hometown Mornington (A regular holiday treat ) and indulging in a healthy slice of people watching, I noticed a middle aged women at a nearby table who at first glance appeared to be a sporty type, dressed as she was in sports shoes, lycra cycling shorts and wearing a weather proof dayglo jacket. I thought she was either a walker, or a gym junkie. Then I noticed that she was working her way through an enormous slab of cheesecake, which seemed a little incongruous, given my initial appraisal.

Then to add to my confusion I noticed she was reading a comic. Not something you see all that often. But, it wasn’t just an ordinary comic, oh no. This cheesecake eating, athletic looking, middle aged female was reading a Phantom comic. She was a fan of the ghost wh…

Igniting Writing

As the start of another school year dawns the question arises –How do I most effectively engage my students in authentic literacy experiences?

How do I encourage them to become life long readers and writers?
It is important to remember that during the summer, many of them have not consistently engaged in reading and writing. For some, virtually no time has been spent on such pursuits.
How do we rebuild their literacy muscles? How do we build their stamina for these critical literacy experiences?

In these early days and weeks when students re enter school, building personal relationships should be priority one, -finding out what defines them as literate beings. Students need an opportunity to talk and think about their reading and writing intentions. Some may need to draw, sketch create maps etc to further stimulate their thinking about potential writing ideas.

It would make sense to have them create lists of their individual writing ideas and then discuss why they included certain items on…