Early in the year, it's important to gauge what students view as effective writing. This will help not only to figure out what needs to be addressed in terms of the quality of writing, but also to see students perception of writing. For this part of the lesson, we will be looking at various writing pieces to classify the authors in terms of their abilities as readers and writers. In doing so, I can figure out what my students' perception about writing is beyond their own writing.
I pass out various examples of notebook writing that I've collected over the years. Some of the examples are my own and others are from a book called Inside The Writer's Readers Notebook by Linda Rief. A great resource to help set-up notebook writing in class. Here are some examples: Notebook Examples
I usually pass out around ten or 11 pieces. If you do use additional examples, you will want to find ones that are slightly informal. A quick Google search of notebook samples should bring up some more. This number is enough for students to see a variety of writing, but also not to daunting when they will feel overwhelmed during this.
I instruct students to read each piece and as they are reading the pieces to think of the following questions:
Every year I change how I work with these questions. Sometimes I have students work together in groups to answer them after they read each piece. This helps to stay focuses and bounce ideas off each other so they can work toward a deeper understanding. Other times, I have students write the answers on their own then share with a partner. Occasionally, depending on the class, we go through each piece as a whole class. It will all depend on the class. This shows lists created from different class periods: Characteristics Notebook Writing Class Lists.
The important question to look at is the last one. Are students able to come up with clear answers as to why certain pieces are good? If they are not, then there will need to be some clear direct instruction on the qualities of writing throughout the year. An optional extension for that question, is to create a list as a class and then have students think what areas they need to work on throughout the year and explain why.
Once students have shown their thoughts on writing, we then move on to more specifics. For the rest of the lesson, and this can be broken up into two days depending on students discussion and motivation, focuses on writing qualities. Writing qualities have been emphasized throughout the years as students have worked on various writing pieces. Even though this is a review, my goal is to see how well they can analyze other pieces of writing and if they can put these qualities into words. The qualities of writing that I want to see how well students understand are the ones that make up an effective writing piece: organization, description, word choice, sentence structure, and details.
I begin the lesson by passing out the Effective Writing Directions Worksheet. This gives the students the directions for what they will be doing for the rest of the class. They will read various pieces of writing on their own. After they read each piece they will give it a score of 1, 2, 3, or 4 in terms of effectiveness. I do not have give them a definition of effective writer but I want to see what they can come up with as they start comparing different pieces. Once students have read all the pieces and scored them accordingly, they need to create a list of four qualities of effective writing. This Effective Writing Examples shows a few of the examples I use. Most of the pieces I use were given to me by a graduate professor but this activity can work with any type of writing piece available.
We then move on to a class discussion regarding the pieces. I tell them where the pieces came from as a few have won awards. We then create a list of qualities of effective writing that they need to copy down in their notebooks. This file shows the class notes from different classes: Effective Writing Qualities Class Notes. This video discusses those notes: Effective Writing Notes Explanation.
This lesson is important at this time of the year as it gives me a chance to really see how well students are able to discuss writing. Since my class emphasizes writing more than they may have been used to, my goal is to make sure they understand what makes up a good writing piece and this type of informal assessment shows me that.