A shout out to my author-friend Barry Lane who started a new blog as his New Year's Resolution too.  Barry's Blog is called 1000 Things To Write About.

One of my workshop's Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson is giving students choice in two areas: in writing topics and in steps of the writing process.  As anyone who studies differentiated instruction knows, choice is a powerful motivator to get more buy-in, especially from those reluctant writers.

51 Wacky We-Search Reports: Face the Facts With Fun
It sounds like Barry's blog is going to feature many choices of interesting things to write about, and the great man Barry is providing a model of the writing he'd do with each topic idea he posts.

Barry Lane is a wise man.  I've always thought so.  My favorite title from this author is 51 Wacky We-Search Reports.  Do any of you have a favorite title?  Share it!


I'm probably biased, I'm sure; I really love my Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson.  It's a framework I use in all my trainings now.  It's designed to inspire writing teachers to think about what they're already doing well to help all learners become better writers, as well think about what they could be doing better.  We could all be doing things better.  Great writing instruction is a life-long learning topic for teachers, if ever there was one.

I've been working as one of the coordinators of the Northern Nevada Writing Project's next great print resource: Teaching Narrative Writing.  The guide will contain a great variety of mini-lesson-inspired resources as well as ten complete lessons on teaching narrative/descriptive writing in elementary school.

The guide, which comes out this March, is being marketed as a tool for collaborative teaching teams, and the ten lessons are included to inspire great conversation among like-minded teachers.  To help guide the conversation, we've decided my Seven Elements framework will be the basis of the discussion the guide is trying to promote.  Each of the ten lessons in the guide (like the one pictured above) will feature a discussion prompt (see the gray box) that asks teachers to think specifically about the seven elements.

Here is a draft just one of the ten lessons being featured in the guide.  Feel free to print it and apply the Seven Elements discussion prompt to the entire lesson.  I think you'll see the power of the Seven Elements as a discussion tool.

In particular, with this lesson, notice that its strength really lies with its three grahic organizers and the way we designed the student samples to serve as discussion tools!

This post is focused on three of the Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson from my Teacher Workshop: Teaching Authentic Revision Skills, Focusing on Writing Skills (more than focusing on the end product), and Discussing Writing Samples at the Analysis and Evaluation Level.

The new Post-its are up!  Here's one of them!

In 2005, we created our first set of response/revision Post-its for the WritingFix website.  These tiny notes, when given to students, had them analyze five different skills from one of the writing traits, and they could actually be printed on Post-it notes (an optional extra step), if you fed them through your feeder tray a second time.  Instructions for printing them on actual Post-it Notes.

During response group time, these Post-it notes can serve as miniature "scripts," containing language we wanted our students to use when they looked at their own and each other's writing.  We explicitly taught our students to rank the skills (not rate them), because we wanted to truly push them to the analyze and evaluate level of Blooms.  When ranking the five skills, a student has to decide which skill stood out the strongest (and give it a five), which was next strongest (and give it a four), next strongest (give it a three), etc.  To rate, a student could give all the skills the same score, which they often did to be lazy.  Ranking was harder to teach the students, but it proved such a worthwhile extra step because--to do it well--they had to re-read the draft several times and really focus on a specific trait's skills. 

With the skills ranked by each reader on a Post-it, student response groups then discuss their rankings with each other, especially in areas where the scores differed.  After a thorough group discussion, the writer of the draft usually has a pretty good sense of which skills stood out not quite as strong as others, and with that knowledge, a revision plan can be made for the paper. 

The original Post-it Notes at WritingFix have been tweaked over the years, and these new, revised Post-its reflect some of the best slight changes we have made and recorded.  In addition to revising the popular 6-trait Post-its, I have also added some new genre-specific Post-its, which I have been personally using (and loving) since October in my workshops.

I meet a lot of teachers who use the Post-its, but they allow their students to rate the skills, instead of rank them.  Here is a challenge to start forcing them to rank because it's a more sophisticated way to think about writing skills.  Students would prefer to rate, so I no longer allow them to do that!

And for those of you who've never used the Post-it Notes at all, here is a challenge to start.  Remember, you need to model their use, you need to supervise their use in the beginning, and you need to practice using them on writing they don't have a connection to. 

As far as tools that force your students to start using the academic language of writing, I've never come across anything better than these Post-its.  Click here to visit WritingFix's Post-it Resource Page and to access all the online versions.

This post is focused on one of The Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson from my workshop on that topic: Discussing Writing Samples at the Analysis and Evaluation Level

I worked with the whole staff at one of my focus schools yesterday.  Back in November, each grade level had chosen and collaboratively been adapting lessons from WritingFix.  They had arrived at a place where most of them had published student samples from that collaboration.

I designed a guided meeting for them to discuss some of my preferred techniques for prompting students to discuss other students' writing samples.  Here is the packet we used yesterday during this meeting.

Now my personal goal, when having students discuss a student model as part of the writing process, is to have the students attempt to use the higher verbs from Bloom's taxonomy; in particular, analyze and evaluate

When you read like a reader, you read to comprehend and to hopefully enjoy the text.  When you read like a writer, which is what I strive to help my students do, you are analyzing and evaluating the writing skills an author has used.  By thinking about writing skills at a deep level of Bloom's, you are helping students to understand those skills enough to try them in their own drafts or revisions.

So...back to my packet from yesterday; it has four pages, and below I'll explain what we did with each page:

  1. First, we read Jack and Megan's first grade samples from WritingFix's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs lesson.  I asked the grade level teachers make lists, in student-friendly terms, of organization and word choice skills that students could refer to so that they could determine which trait skills the writers did their best work with (as the discussion prompt at the top of the page asks them to do.) 
  2. Next, we read fourth-grader Beau's narrative practice prompt, "The Hike."  This particular sample is one of the sparkling examples of on-demand prompt writing we feature at WritingFix's Nevada Writing Test Homepage.  Each of our posted "Sparklers" comes with an interactive task (at the bottom) that requires the students to analyze the writer's skills and think how they might apply that skill to their own practice prompt writing.  With Beau's example, I particularly like how the students are asked to compare one part of Beau's writing to another part.  In order to analyze or evaluate, it's often necessary to have two samples; in this case, one sample will do if you have the students make a comparison inside a single essay or piece of writing.  Pretty smart, right?
  3. After Beau's sample, we looked over Justin and Joshua's short pieces of finalized writing; both are inspired by WritingFix's Caves lesson, which is one of my own original lessons!  I observed a teacher do a whole-class Venn diagram when having her students analyze two student samples a while back, and I thought it was a brilliant strategy.  I replicated her idea in the middle of the Justin/Joshua handout, and I had the teachers actually go through the process with their grade levels yesterday.  The discussions I overhear while they complete the Venn are always full of trait language and completely at the analysis level.  Comparing & contrasting is a marvelous way to strengthen your intended Bloom's verb.
  4. Finally, we looked at three high school samples, which are also based on the Caves lesson.  When you have three quality samples to discuss, you can create a discussion prompt using one of my own inventions: The Olympic Committee Task. It's explained in detail at the bottom of my handout's fourth page, so I won't rehash what it says here in the post.  After Olympic Committee-ing the three high schoolers, we returned to Jack and Megan's samples on the first page, and I asked, "How might you adapt the Olympic Committee Task to work with these two much younger writers?"
Our guided meeting ended with me asking the teachers to save enough student samples to create interesting discussion prompts to use in the future.


I received this e-mail this week, and although I have my personal answer to this parent's question, I thought I would post it to see if any of my blog users had a different answer.  Please feel free to offer your advice.

Dear  Corbett,
Happy  New  Year  to you!  I appreciate  your blog and   writing  on the 
WritingFix website.   My  son is in 4th grade. He is a  reluctant  writer.  He does like to read.  What is the best way I can help him  as  a reluctant  writer?  How  can I  best guide him   from  coming up  with what to write  since  he is often a blank slate?  I have  been reading  to him and having him write  summaries.   Thanks  for your time. 

I was a reluctant writer myself in fourth grade.  Luckily I ended up with a teacher -- Mike Borilla -- who gave us lots of fun options for in-class writing and then let us choose which one we wanted to actually write about in detail.  The power of student choice is amazing.  I've seen it do wonders for my reluctant student writers.  Now, I'm not always a proponent of completely free choice because I've had students who take advantage of that; I like to give many options and then--within those options--allow students to make a personal choice.  I jokingly call this strategy "The Illusion of Choice" during my teacher workshops on the Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson.

Now we didn't just do fun writing in Mr. Borilla's class.  He balanced the fun, creative story-writing prompts with other useful (though less fun to write to) writing assignments.  We wrote plenty of book reports, expository papers, summaries, hamburger paragraphs too; but there was a balance in that class.  The fun happened some days; the un-fun happened on others. 

As a result, I became a kid who didn't always think writing was fun, but because of the fun ones, I felt pretty confident about my skills as a writer.  I lost my reluctance.

You say you're having your son write summaries of what he reads.  That's not fun; I've have yet to meet a student who just can't wait to write another summary for me. 

Keep doing those summaries, but make sure you have a balance of writing that your son would consider fun.  As a reader, he should very much enjoy creative assignments like the following from WritingFix, which are all based on books that fourth graders (and others) love to read:

These are just three (of dozens and dozens) of the fun kind of lessons at WritingFix.

Now, let's come back to student choice.  If you choose one of these lessons and strong-arm your 4th grader to write to it, well, that's one way of doing it.  I more about discussing all three, then asking the writer to make a good choice.  "Which would be more fun for you to write?  How would your story be different from the mentor text or from the student samples posted at the website?"

I have felt the frustration of dealing with reluctant writers too.  My best solution for those types is to find a way to give them some choices about writing, and help them to really enjoy the writing they do in those instances.  Student choice...I truly believe it's missing from too many learning opportunities.


This post is focused one one of the Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson Workshop: graphic organizers.  I am sitting here at Suburu, enjoying their new WiFi, while I await a new battery for my car.

There are a lot of books being sold to teachers that feature a variety of black-lined masters of generic graphic organizers.  I used to own books like these, but I gave them all away as I became a more seasoned teacher of writing.  Pictured, at left, is one of them.

A one-size-fits-all, generic graphic organizer is a good tool, but it's not a great tool.  I have come to believe that graphic organizers need to be very specific to the lesson at hand.  At WritingFix, with all new lessons that are posted, we ask the submitting teacher to provide a lesson-specific graphic organizer, and they have been getting better at designing them with all the examples now posted at the various lessons.  I actually teach a pretty fun 90-minute workshop that shows teachers how to use the table-making tools in Microsoft Word to design great graphic organizers like this one.  Now that's lesson specific!

This year, we opened up the invitation to WritingFix users to take note of the graphic organizers we've provided for the lessons, but to adapt them before actually teaching the lesson.  After all, how do we become great writing teachers?  By recklessly borrowing big ideas from others' lessons and adapting them with our own ideas--the ones we know will work better with our current group of learners.

Those books they sell us with generic graphic organizers don't encourage this type of adaptation.  I wish they did.  I know for a fact that I learned to make really good graphic organizers by adapting ones from lessons I borrowed from colleagues.

So...the reason for this post is actually this: I am very excited to announce that another teacher has adapted a graphic organizer from WritingFix, and then she has shared her adaptation with us, which is totally cool in my opinion.  Someday, I envision WritingFix being a storehouse of original lessons with lots of other teachers' original adaptations included at those lessons.

Here is the graphic organizer adaptation that got shared and posted this weekend.  Thanks, Kerry!

Here is the original lesson that inspired the adapted graphic organizer!

I hope more teacher-users of WritingFix start sharing their adaptations.  Yes, that was an invitation from me to get out there and continuing to "borrow recklessly" while giving back at the same time.


This post is fueled by two of my Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson:  1) Mentor Texts and 2) Helping Students Discuss Writing at the Ananysis & Evaluation Level
I am on a quest this year!  I want to create a library of amazing mentor texts to use when teaching expository writing.  They're proving hard to find.

A mentor text--as you probably already know--is a published piece of writing whose idea, whose structure, or whose written craft can be analyzed during a lesson to inspire your own students to write.

Narrative and persuasive mentor texts are no problem to find.  Why is it so difficult to find a published piece of expository writing that I can use to inspire my own students' expository assignments?

I've begun my search.  Before Winter Break, I crafted a new demonstration lesson that focused on revision skills for this expository prompt: explain how to play a game to someone who doesn't know how to play it.  I was thrilled to find The Dangerous Book for Boys gathering dust on my bookshelf.  It had voice-y explanations for playing games that ended up working really well when I taught the lesson to eighth graders.

My lesson based on this mentor text has been posted at WritingFix.  Click here to access it. 

One of my lesson's strengths, I believe, is the student discussion tool I created to go with it.  It has student writers analyze the mentor text's voice skills for practice, then analyze the same voice skills in their own rough drafts.

I honestly believe when you have a good mentor text top start with, it's fairly easy to foster a discussion about the writing skills the author has used.  Having students "rank" a mentor text's skills against themselves as a comparative thinking task immediately pushes students to a deeper level of Bloom's taxonomy.  Take a good look at my lesson to see how I have the students "rank" and discuss writing skills as part of the lesson.



Fellow teachers, I welcome you to the year 2011.

As many of you already know, I do extensive online webpage work for the Northern Nevada Writing Project, the Northwest Regional Professional Development Program, and the WritingFix website. I have meant to create a professional and personal blog about the work I do and the wonderful teachers I work with for many years now, but I've had little luck making it happen...until now.

Let it be known that my New Years Resolution for 2011 will be the creation and weekly maintenance of this blog: Teach Writing Right. I hope you will follow me here, where I pledge to share new learning about good writing instruction that's been gained by me, my students, and the teachers I work with during inservice and site-based training. By following me, you will inspire me to keep me true to my 2011 resolution.

And, don't think I'm not going to ask you to participate too! Borrowing from my own Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson Training, I will challenge you to stick to your own Writing Teacher Resolutions. I believe every teacher should set realistic and manageable goals every year for bettering their own writing instruction. Which of these seven lessons elements might you commit to during 2011?
  • Bettering your use of MENTOR TEXTS to strengthen your writing lessons?
  • Designing better GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS and helping students use them during pre-writing more effectively?
  • Showcasing MORE MODELING of your own writing process when assigning writing to your students?
  • Using more STUDENT MODELS to generate deeper thinking about skills of writing?
  • Focusing students more on learning WRITING SKILLS than learning formulaic final products?
  • Designing more opportunities for students to TALK ABOUT THEIR WRITING?
  • Making time to truly TEACH REVISION to your students?
When I train teachers, I ask them to evaluate their current abilities of these seven lesson elements. Then, I challenge them to choose one, two, or three to focus on for the year as a professional goal. I challenge anyone looking over this blog to do the same...set a resolution that can be started in January or March or July or September or whenever you're inspired to become an even better writing teacher.

This blog will specifically be addressing these seven elements all year long so that you may be inspired to stay true to your resolution.