After reading my students' personal narratives, I realized that they were able to describe to some extent, but the verbs and adjectives they chose were really lacking. They used helping verbs galore along with overused, tired verbs that didn't really convey the message. Their adjectives were bland and too vague.
Even though I knew this was an issue, I wanted to show growth and use this as one of my learning cycles, so I decided to take a quick assessment on my students' writing.
I asked them to write a paragraph with 5 to 10 sentences telling me about something that happened to them. It could be anything! Some students started right away, and others needed me to give them suggestions. I wanted to keep the prompt really open ended in hopes that students would write about something that was important and that they could easily describe in the future.
I gave them about 10 minutes to write so that they would not over analyze what they were doing. I wanted an authentic sample of writing that didn't involve pre-writing or revising. The real deal.
Before I looked at the writing for strong verbs and adjectives, I wanted the students to make some observations about their own writing. I started off with the word "it". We have noticed that our sixth graders are huge fans of "it". They use "it" to talk about everything and anything! IT is driving us bonkers! I had the students read through their writing, and put a box around each "it" that was in the paragraph. Underneath the paragraph they started a tally list. I had each person write "IT" and then how many times it was used. Some students were shocked at their use of "it"! They had no idea how much they loved "it!"
We repeated the process with the words "the", "I", and "and." Students boxed the words then counted them up and recorded them on the bottom of the page. As they did this, I circulated and skimmed their work. If we had time, I had them box other words that were used 3 or more times. This varied from person to person but some frequent offenders included "go/going/went", "my", and "so".
Next, I gave each person a list of helping verbs. I had them go through and circle each and every helping verb, even those that were part of contractions. The helping verb totals were sky high!
Once we were finished, I asked students to tell me what their "take away" was from this activity. They had quite a bit to say about their over use of words. Students shared how many times they had used certain words without even realizing it. Many students said the activity made them realize that they need to be aware of their tendency to repeat words as they were writing. I think that their reflections will set the stage perfectly for learning about strong verbs and adjectives next week!
After students analyzed their own writing, I read though it and tracked how many strong verbs and adjectives they used. I know this is a really subjective form of assessment since I am basing the strength of the verbs and adjectives off of my personal opinion, but I have been around sixth grade writing for ten years....so, I figured I was as qualified to choose as anyone!
I looked for verbs that really showed meaning and intent. For example, many students told me that they went somewhere. I looked for the student who told me that she hurried somewhere. I looked for adjectives that were specific and descriptive. I decided that mastery of this skill would consist of using 3 strong verbs and 3 strong adjectives. I had one student out of 83 who was able to do this.
Many students could do one or the other relatively well, and several students used 2 strong verbs and adjectives. My goal is that by the end of this unit, everyone will be able to use 3 strong verbs and 3 strong adjectives when writing a paragraph!