Recently I attended the All Write!!! Conference in Warsaw, IN. I have gone for several years now and always walk away drenched with new ideas.
Linda Hoyt was doing a lunch session called, Mastering the Mechanics: Recasting Conventions as Craft Elements. As a teacher, I tend to struggle embedding grammar and conventions into my daily routine. I have successfully and unsuccessfully been able to make it a part of my mini-lesson or a check-in point. I find it works occasionally to confer with students individually when it comes to these skills as well. Like anything, however, I find it is hard to always find ways to mesh it all together. Linda had some great suggestions and I hope to try these out. Here are my big takeaways from her session:
Robert Burleigh, author of books like Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh, The Adventures of Mark Twain, by Huckleberry Finn and many others uses sentences that are full of internal punctuation. Linda mentioned that she realized she wasn’t taking full advantage of exposing students to trying this as well. Changing the rate of the reading can bring great interest and craft elements alive when using internal punctuation. I think I am going to be digging out some books with this element soon to highlight this for students.
Linda reminds her students that their job is to make writing rich and not just correct. We should never ask students to do something for the first time if they haven’t seen us do it. Mentors + modeling is key to breaking open students and encouraging them to take a risk when we make attempts right in front of them.
Teaching children different sentence beginnings can be tricky. Typically in nonfiction writing, students tend to begin sentences with the subject. Showing them how they can begin with an introduction can often bring about more imagery. Below is a nice example of how students could focus on “place.” She also talked about teaching students to focus on “action” or “when.” She suggests creating a simple chart of “starters” for students to play around with orally before beginning to craft new sentences.
She also talked about the power of two word sentences. Finding examples of effective two word sentences can help students see how breaking up the rate and flow of the reading keeps your audience interested. Combining long and lovely sentences with a punchy two word sentence can really bring life to a piece of writing. She suggested creating a chart with two sides, one for verbs and the other side for subjects. Having students play around with verb/subject combinations gives them lots of examples and keeps everyone involved.
Authors, Nicola Davies and Seymour Simon have several books that show great examples of compound descriptors (a word connected to a noun with a hyphen). Within the session, we played around with compound descriptors. She suggested we write a short poem about ourselves using the tool. Here is mine:
Compound descriptors can make nonfiction writing more powerful and add sensory details to the writing.
Example of Micro-Workshop Structure
Linda finds time to do these micro-workshops in ten minutes a day. She chooses a focus (ie., compound descriptors) and breaks it into five pieces. The first day is designated solely to the mentor text and mentor sentences. On day two she models her own use of the chosen convention or grammar element. Day three, she uses student models as mentors from writing workshop and students celebrate when they find it or find ways to incorporate the focus of the week. On the fourth day, students dig into their own writing in this ten-minute workshop to share and talk about places they used or could use the focus. Finally, on day five, Linda has prepared a sentence and broken it up onto separate sheets of paper both words and punctuation. Students hold the pages up in front of the class and together they unscramble the sentence. Chorally they read it together speaking the punctuation as well as the words.
Linda keeps a chart up in the classroom to add these focus elements once the week is complete as a running list of what they have learned.
I’m looking forward to finding a progression of convention/grammar focus elements and digging for texts to support the work. I think this structure is completely doable and would encourage me and my students to put a lens on the littlest pieces of our writing making them big pieces of work.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.