Today will be our third writer's mini-workshop, where my students will be volunteering to share their two paragraphs about something in their homes or in their neighborhoods that symbolizes them, an assignment inspired by the vignette "Four Skinny Trees" in The House On Mango Street.
This marks the final workshop before my students begin their essays for The House On Mango Street, which I will be assigning next week. My hope is that through smaller narrative assignments and low-stakes writer's workshops, my students have grown as writers from their first ungraded writing sample that they wrote the first week of school.
In a workshop on student writing I once attended as a high-school English teacher, I remember the facilitator pleading with her audience, on behalf of college professors throughout the CSU system, to fix two things in incoming freshmen: run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
As a result of the writer's mini-workshops, I have noticed a trend for comma splices and misuse of the semi-colon in my students' writing. Thus, the workshop today is followed by a very basic lesson on the comma splice.
I ask my students to copy down the lesson from the powerpoint on the next consecutive page in their classroom spiral notebooks (following their symbol paragraphs). I try to make it as simple as possible. Very few of my students have had extensive work with sentence diagramming or with labeling the parts of sentences, so I find it more helpful to them at this age to break concepts down into manageable ideas rather than to insist on proper terms.
The brief practice activity at the end of the powerpoint, where students correct three comma splices, are sentences I have created using student names in my class. Over the years I have learned that my students stay far more engaged in grammar lessons if they find themselves in the practice sentences (this is akin to my own 8th-grade son begging me to slip our dog's name--Rocco--into any science or social studies reading I may be helping him with when he prepares for tests). Because teaching grammar can border on the dry, I believe it is essential to spruce it up however possible.
As my students rewrite and correct the three sentences, I walk the room and spot check each student's work. This is in lieu of orally sharing, giving me the opportunity to check each student's progress and quickly correct any continued misuse of the comma.
The two paragraphs about a symbol and the follow-up lesson on commas splices mark the tenth entry in my students' classroom spiral notebooks since the school year began. Thus, it is time for them to turn their notebooks in for grading. I generally collect and grade classroom notebooks after every ten assignments.
The last 15 minutes of class is time for my students to organize and clean up their notebooks before turning them in. I remind them that I will not rummage through a disorganized notebook, looking for the assignments, but tell them that it is their job to make it as easy as possible for me to grade. I ask them to highlight the title and number of each entry at the top of their pages, so that I can easily spot them.
In the front of the room, I keep a large poster where I replicate the table of contents my students must maintain on the first page(s) in their spiral notebooks.
Additionally, I use this time to scroll through a powerpoint review of the first 50 vocabulary words that my students will be tested on this Friday. The powerpoint lists only the words; my students have their vocabulary lists, activities, and returned quizzes from which to study.