Category Archives: Craft of Writing

Topics for #ResearchPapers: #Artists List for #Teachers @ EnglishEmporium.WordPress.com

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Image of a scanned list of artists and painters in alphabetical order.

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When I was a brand-new English teacher, I used to wonder what topics to use for research papers. The first time I tried teaching research papers, I let the students choose their own topics. Ha ha ha! Sure, I got some great research papers on skateboarding and Minecraft, but I also got some real duds.

One kid even did a so-called research paper on cow manure, just so he had an excuse to use the “sh” word in class when quoting local dairymen he had interviewed!

Kids can be soooo creative that way.

To help anyone who’s struggling with research papers, I’m going to post lists of possible research topics over the next few months. Today I’m starting with artists. Next I’ll post a list of inventors. And at the end of this series of blog posts, I’ll make a list of medieval research topics available to you.

I should also point out that English Emporium already has a ton of stuff on research papers available for you to download and print, including:

Hopefully there’s something useful in that stack of stuff I’ve used over the 23 years that I worked as an English teacher. If you like my free, printable worksheets, lesson plans, and activities, please show your appreciation by pinning these on Pinterest, tweeting about them, and/or sharing them through other social media. Just be sure to mention where you found them!

How to #Teach the Basics of the #5ParagraphEssay With a #Thesis Graphic Organizer

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Handout for Teaching Introduction to Thesis Statements and the Five Paragraph Essay FormatIn our school district, students are first introduced to the fundamentals of a five paragraph essay in the sixth grade. It’s a brand new concept to them, so I teach them the most basic thesis, which uses three main points, before we embark on the writing of our first five-paragraph essay.

If you’re unfamiliar with this method of organizing an essay, it’s pretty simplistic. The writer chooses a topic like, say, pets for example. Then he/she writes a thesis that is designed to prove which of the three kinds of pets is the best. So I might have  a thesis that looks something like this:

If I had my choice between horses, cats, and dogs, I’d choose dogs as the ideal family pet.

Now the writer embarks on the creation of an essay that proves this thesis. He/she must include an introduction (which typically precedes the thesis), a paragraph about the first main point (horses), a follow-up paragraph on the second main point (cats), and a paragraph in which they praise the third main point (dogs). Finally, they re-state the thesis with a summary at the start of the final paragraph and wrap the whole thing up with a couple of sentences of conclusion.

This is, at its foundation, a persuasive essay. It’s a tough thing for concrete-operational learners to grasp–the fact that an essay, with a person’s opinion embedded in its body, can follow a specific structure. Yet this format is used for public speaking quite universally. So it’s an important skill to teach and to have students learn.

For today’s post, I’m sharing the Thesis Statement Graphic Organizer that I use whenever I’m starting my unit on persuasive five-paragraph essays. I hope you’ll find it as helpful as I have, for simplifying the essay for those concrete-operational learners.

Once they’ve finished filling out the organizer, you can even have them cut this graphic organizer into strips, lining up their pieces in this order:

  • on top: the thesis
  • next: topic one’s list of facts
  • next: topic two’s list of facts
  • next: topic three’s list of facts

Now have them write a re-stated thesis with a summary, cut it out, and stick it at the bottom. Each of these pieces will represent a single paragraph in their essay. This is a particularly helpful exercise for tactile learners.

 

(This is a re-post of an older post on thesis statements.) If you like my free printable worksheets, game ideas, and educational videos, please show your appreciation by liking, tweeting, and pinning! Thanks!

How to Help Students Set #Goals for #CreativeWriting Projects in the #English Classroom

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It’s tricky to judge creative projects. After more than 20 years in the English classroom, I’ve found it’s best to let students set their own goals sometimes. The template below is the second half of a Writing Log that I often use with the six traits of writing. Take a look at last week’s post for the first half of this template and a few more detailed guidelines about how you can use it in your English class.

Printable writing log with boxes for setting goals and reflecting on the six traits of writing.

For more free printable templates, classroom activities, and teacher tools, visit English Emporium.

 

If you like my free printable worksheets, game ideas, and educational videos, please show your appreciation by liking, tweeting, and pinning! Thanks!

#SixTraits Score Sheet for #LanguageArts / English #Teachers

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Printable score sheet which uses the six traits of good writing to score students and help them set goals for future writing projects.

For more free printable templates, classroom activities, and teacher tools, visit English Emporium.

This is the six traits scoring sheet I’ve used for many years. I’ve sort of perfected it over the years, including areas where the teacher writes a positive statement about what the student already does well and a constructive criticism area where the teacher writes a goal for the student to work on.

If you like my free printable worksheets, game ideas, and educational videos, please show your appreciation by liking, tweeting, and pinning! Thanks!

Advanced Outline Template for #Students and #Teachers of #English FREE @ EnglishEmporium.WordPress.com

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Template showing how to do an outline for a five paragraph essay, using six quotations within the body paragraphs.

Visit EnglishEmporium.WordPress.com for more free printable worksheets and activity guides.

My sophomores have been working on a fairly complex research paper lately, and I wanted them to incorporate at least six different quotes from three different sources in their final drafts. However one of the big problems students have, is avoiding the quote-on-top-of-quote-on-top-of-quote pileup. So I’ve implemented this outline template, to help my students “sandwich” their quotes between comments of their own.

I hope other English teachers and students will find it helpful.

Top 7 #Manuscript Pitfalls With #BookDoctor @p2p_editor Jason Black at #PNWA60

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Image of stick figure standing at the bottom of a pit looking up at two other people

Image: iClipart

I’ve recently returned from the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association‘s summer writers’ conference 2015, and I’m sharing my class notes via English Emporium, for any writers who wish they could have attended but were unable to. This class, Revision: Top Seven Manuscript Pitfalls was taught by Seattle book doctor and author, Jason Black, whose website, Plot to Punctuation, has a ton of great tips for writers.

Jason has written and published a really charming “horse book” for girls, called Pebblehoof. I recommend this book for girls ages 8 to 12 who really love horses and seek stories like Brighty of the Grand CanyonMisty of Chincoteague, and Black Beauty. I had the honor of reading his book last year, and I’ve since recommended it to my oldest daughter, who collects Breyer horses and enjoys team roping.

I’m sharing my class notes here, in the hope that I can pass Jason Black’s writerly wisdom on to those who follow this blog:

 

Pitfall #1: Excessive Use of Conjunctions

It’s not that you should never use and in any of your writing, but variety can be a good thing. And is the “vanilla” of conjunctions, so it’s a good idea to try different flavors now and then.

Try replacing an “and” with a gerund instead. For example: Mad Jack took the heater out of its holster,  and opened opening the cylinder…

It’s also possible to use an infinitive verb instead of a conjunction:

And sipped => to sip

Or try a preposition:

And felt => until he felt

 

Pitfall #2: Disregarding Assumed Motion

Any motion that readers can reasonably assume happened in the story, is something you should leave out of your description. So instead of “raised his flask to his lips to sip” you should just write sipped. People can assume your character lifted the flask to his lips.

It’s easy to describe the character going through the motions because when you get in the “zone” as a writer, you want to just get the story typed onto the page. But how important is a character’s motion? If your character sets a book down, then that book needs to come into the story line later. Or perhaps it’s important that she puts a book down to free her hands for action that follows in the story line.

 

Pitfall #3: Inner Monologue Problems

Inner monologue is the prose which offers the reader a character’s thoughts. In writing groups, it can be referred to as IM. The problem with IM is this: it breaks the POV (point of view). It changes the flow of narrative from 3rd to 1st person personal POV, and this can leave the reader feeling jarred.

Treat inner monologue like a spotlight. Pick the juiciest spots in your story to use it.

A new style of italics for IM has evolved with the invention of the word processor. Back in the days of typewriters, all IM had to be in quotation marks. Today some published works use italics instead, but be aware that not all publishing houses will use italics. Also, if you find your entire page is filled with italics, it might be better to go back and convert that to narrative gloss.

A narrative gloss is the narrator telling us what a character thinks.

Narrative gloss: John was sure Susie was sleeping with his best friend, Michael.

IM: I bet she’s sleeping with Mike.

Here’s something a lot of writers wonder about as well: when you use italics for IM, it isn’t necessary to end it with the words he thought.

 

Pitfall #4: Using Overly-Complex Sentences

An overly-complex sentence is one which is just too darn long. But you don’t want a bunch of simple sentences in a row either. Vary sentence lengths and sentence structures. Develop an ear for the music of your writing.

Read it out loud. This trick really works! It will help you understand where your sentence structures need to be broken up and/or varied.

 

Pitfall #5: The Use of Sensory Modalities

We learn about the world around us through our five senses. Avoid using wording like “he saw” or “she smelled” or “they heard” because this is too telly. Just make it happen. Readers can infer which sense was used (unless the sense is ambiguous).

If it’s not clear that a cop heard a gunshot when there’s a lot of other noise in a sprawling metropolis, then yes, it’s okay to use the phrase “he heard the taxi racing down the street”. But it’s even better if you use an active verb, like “the taxi barreled down the street…”

 

Pitfall #6: The Use of Weak Verbs

Think of all the words we use when cooking: braise, sear, saute, barbecue, etc… English offers a plethora of words, having pirated so many from other languages. Therefore, don’t just say your character cooked dinner. Did he roast it? Did he fry it?

A strong verb offers the reader a clearer, more detailed image in her mind, and it may even give the reader a glimpse of the character’s emotions. Strong verbs are words that literally mean more.

But how do you determine if a verb is weak?

Adverbial phrases that modify your verbs are a red flag. Instead of using the adverb, try to find the verb you originally intended.

In addition to generic verbs, new writers use too many helping verbs. You almost never need these. Quite often, they’re not “helping” verbs; they’re “hurting” verbs. So when you see a helping verb, consider revising it so it uses a more descriptive verb.

Examples:

  • was opening the cylinder => flicked open the cylinder
  • was showing inside => glinted up at him
  • had come quickly => galloped

 

Pitfall #7 Not Taking Advantage of Wording for World-building

Let’s begin with a couple of definitions that will help you understand the types of words we’re talking about:

  • denotation = dictionary definition
  • connotation = the meaning beyond the dictionary definition (what people imply, culturally, when they use that word)

When a person has learned to speak English as a second language, it’s common for them to use a word that doesn’t quite suit the occasion. For example, a foreign person might use the word “village” in a sentence about Seattle, when he/she might have been better served to use the words “city” or “population center.” They all mean the same thing, in terms of dictionary definitions, but “population center” has a scientific nuance to it. “Village” reminds us more of fairy tale lands and places in Europe. “City” is a sprawling metropolis.

All of these have the same denotation, but they each have very unique and different connotations. When world-building, it’s important to find words that have the right connotation. If you’re writing a fantasy novel, don’t use the words “small town” just because you’re too lazy to think up the right word. Find the right word for the village, berg, or hamlet you’re trying to create.

Q and A: The audience was given an opportunity to ask questions.

Q: Why is passive voice a bad thing?

A: Passive voice hides the characters. Example:

The present was opened by Susan. => Susan opened the present.

It’s not that the first sentence is grammatically incorrect. It’s fine, in terms of sentence structure. But the character of Susan is not in the center of the stage in that first sentence. The second sentence puts the character in the spotlight.

Q: When would you want to use the weak word instead of the strong word?

A: Sometimes we can burden the reader with redundancies. We want to avoid repetition and if we’ve already said that the character was slinking in the dark, then you don’t want to keep using slinking every time he moves through the compound. It’s okay to use those moved kinds of words to avoid repetition of the more complex verb that has already been established.

Works Cited Page MLA (Part 2)

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#Education #WorksCited

Last week I gave you the first page of my Works Cited handout. This week I’m offering a couple of great things… first, I’ll show you my MLA-style Works Cited handout (page 2); then I’ll give you a great PowerPoint presentation you can use with your students to help them learn how best to edit their peers.

Why believe me? How can you be sure I know anything about writing, editing, and citing literary works? I’m Chelly Wood, and although I’ve taught English/language arts for 20+ years, I also moonlight as a YA novelist. My tale of a Latina teen who finds herself pregnant and married to a total stranger will be released in July of 2016 by Reputation Books. It’s called Sunkissed Sodas, and you can see the book trailer on my YouTube channel.

So now that you know a little about the lady who rambles in English Emporium, without further ado, here’s my second half of the Works Cited page I posted yesterday:

Image connecting the Works Cited page to footnotes used within a written essay.

Want to see Page 1? Go to my Pinterest page. The link is found below.

Now that your research paper is complete, including the works cited page, you’ll need to have your students do some peer editing. But you know the routine…

You tell them to swap.

They read each other’s papers.

They’re done.

Nobody found any mistakes.

How do you avoid the “Crappy Editor” syndrome that’s common among middle school and high school kids? I have the kid swap multiple times, and with each swap, they edit for a different category within the six traits of good writing. And here’s the PowerPoint presentation I use when guiding my students through these steps:

5 Para Essay Edit

Now if you’re lovin’ all this great stuff I give you for free–videos, handouts, and a grammar guide to name just a few–please show your appreciation by liking my stuff on Facebook, pinning it to your Pinterest page, and/or tweeting about it to your little heart’s content!