Disclaimer: you’re not going to find the miracle cure for getting students to use conventions in their writing within this post. I don’t have one. And I’ve read a lot, researched a lot, and tried a lot of things. That being said, you may come across some ideas that apply not only to conventions, but also to the writing process as a whole, and maybe even to life. (That might be a stretch…but maybe—)
Here are a few ideas for inspiring students to use–at the very least–the conventions they know in their writing.
- Make sure that you’re providing enough time for independent writing practice. For young students, that means 25-35 minutes a day and for older students that means 45 minutes. Those numbers do not include your instruction. Most students are over-taught and under-practiced. Those minutes mean writing time.Here’s the deal and how it relates to conventions: when students have more time to write, they are writing more. When they are writing more, they are producing more words and sentences which gives them greater opportunities to practice skills such as spacing, capital letters, end punctuation, commas–whatever they are working on within their developmental level.
Once they are producing written words, you can start saying to them things like, “You are writing SO much! Don’t forget that as you write you should be remembering capitals and periods.” (Tailor this comment to whatever you are emphasizing.) When comments like this one are just part of your daily repertoire insofar as reminders go, you are more likely to see results within the daily practice. But… your students need to be writing.
- Outside of writing workshop, provide and celebrate examples of conventions done correctly. With all the social media around, students get lots of opportunities to see incorrect conventions. You might consider setting up stations or assignments that challenge students to study correctly written examples and then create examples of their own. This process can be duplicated for any editing and revising skill that you know exists in your grade. Consider setting up stations with this system in mind: Notice, Note, and Create.Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:
Notice where the commas are:
Suddenly, a tall woman with black hair and brown eyes ran up to the children.
The children quickly headed toward their warm, dry house.
Note why the commas are used. Explain the rule.
Create sentences of your own that replicate the model sentence.
Notice the different tenses in the following sentences:
Mike drove quickly, so we arrived on time.
Mike drives quickly, so we arrive on time.
Mike will drive quickly, so we will arrive on time.
Note what the tenses are and why they are what they are:
Create your own set of sentences that are in the past, present, and future tenses.:
- If you don’t already have one, create a grade-level conventions chart. By now, you have probably worked your way through more than one writing unit, so you should have taught at least one lesson on conventions–probably more. Make sure that students know the expectations for conventions for their grade. Here are some conventions charts I’ve created for various grade levels. If you create your own, add pictures and/or examples. Mine are merely reflective of the CCSS Language Standards. You can also borrow/include skills from previous grades since most students need reminders!
- Teach the power of conventions and be excited about them! I recently did a small-group lesson for third-graders about how we can control readers with punctuation. I taught them the various choices they have asa far as punctuation is concerned, and I showed them examples of different ways I could use a dash in a sample piece of writing.
This sort of thinking creates awareness of punctuation, and that leads to increased usage.
Again, none of these are guarantees for seeing conventions show up in student writing, but maybe a combination or some ideas will spark increased awareness, appreciation, and attention to this tricky aspect of writing. Don’t ever forget that conventions and spelling are not the hallmarks of great writing and writers. Before we ever get to the point of correct punctuation, we have to think of ideas, understand purpose, make a plan, be brave, and write!