Week 7: Chapters 3, 4, and 7 in Creating Writers

Posted: November 8, 2013 in Write on!



What is an idea? According to Spandel, ideas are the heart of the writer’s message. I agree with this definition, I think it is easily understood and relatable to students. I even thought, what if the teacher had an illustration with the outline of a head and chest, and the 6 traits were shown as being body parts?




Word Choice- eyes

Sentence Fluency-ears

Conventions and Presentation -encircled around the body

**I think I might need to draw this up**

I really appreciated the strategies for teaching ideas, and chose to include my memorable take-aways.

By modelling topic choice, we can give reasons for choosing these topics, such as “I chose these topics to write about because they are important to me.”

We also need to notice the little things. By having students focus on an object for ten minutes, looking, listening, touching, smelling, feeling this object, they notice small things that may otherwise go unrecognized. This is a great activity for teaching the importance of detailed writing.

Teach sensory writing. Writers who incorporate the senses have more detailed work. Read out examples and have students share their favourite parts.

Begin with what’s tangible: for struggling writers, it may be easiest to start with a picture and then let them write about their image.

These charts below could be great for writing workshops!



Spandel catches my attention with this lead: the best organization is quiet and unobtrusive. Without drawing attention to itself, it makes sure the writer’s ideas get center stage. Sometimes, we are so focused on making sure students are writing in a logical sequence, we forget to teach them how to do so in an unobtrusive manner: organization should be an undercurrent to electric writing.

On page 97, the reader is given 5 features of writing that shows good organization:

–        A captivating lead

–        Effective design or informational flow that is easy to follow

–        Originality-an unusual but effective way to order details

–        Good pacing

–        An effective ending that creates a sense of resolution or discovery.

Throughout the chapter, examples of student work are assessed based on organization. On page 105, Spandel marks a seemingly perfect paper as a 3 for organization (this even caused a heated discussion in class). After a re-read, I understand her argument: The paper is too predictable, and at times, hard to finish because the reader knows exactly what is coming next. This paper would be an excellent example to show to students who understand sequencing and are now working on creating interesting leads and originality.

Spandel also includes strategies for teaching organization, and I have included some of my favourites:

– Model good leads to your students. Read them beginning passages of several different books and ask them which passages made them wanting more. Or, read an entire book together to show the 5 features of good organization; stopping at appropriate times to ask questions and prompt thinking.

-List weak leads to avoid: This will be a report on…, In this paper…, Hi, my name is and I want to…

-Write badly on purpose! Have fun with writing, this lesson makes students think about what not to do!

-Order the details. Copy a piece of writing with sequenced order, cut it out into strips, and work as a class trying to put the work into the correct order (like a puzzle)

Explore transitions: transitions connect your ideas and help the reader picture your scene. Look for transitions in literature and highlight (as a class) whenever someone finds a juicy transition. It would also be helpful to create a classroom list of transitional phrases if a student is stuck for ideas. I wish my elementary classroom had a list like this, as I was always trying to find a good transition that wasn’t firstly, secondly, or finally!

So why is organization so important to writing? I think that without organization, a writer’s big idea is lost amid the jumble of thoughts on the page. Students need to be able to speak and write in an organized manner (concisely, logically, efficiently) in order to be heard. In this respect, a fun activity for younger students could consist of giving each student a jumbled paragraph to read aloud. After reading an illogical piece of writing aloud to hear how silly unorganized writing sounds, students would gain a deeper understanding of how organization is integral to good oral and written language.

Enhancing meaning and voice with sentence fluency

Fluency is the music of writing. It is all about finding the rhythm and listening for the beat of the words. Therefore, fluent writers always read their work aloud. By reading aloud we can listen for repetition, flow, and any choppiness in our writing.

Spandel reminds us to keep an open mind and look for context when looking for fluent examples (192). It is also important to show students a variety of samples of fluent writing; as fluency can support organization as well as meaning and voice. My favourite example from the textbook is Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The sentences are so enticing, that I often have to read several chapters in one sitting to the kids at my work!

When assessing for sentence fluency, readers should read aloud and listen for patterns, stops and starts, and the rise and fall of your voice (excellent transitions create seamless sentence fluency).

Strategies for teaching sentence fluency include:

-Write Poetry (YES!). Poetry does not follow normal conventions and can be inviting for writers who struggle with making proper sentences. It is also fluid and rhythmic, aiding the process of creating a fluent writer.

-Encourage students to read aloud. Teach fluent reading and writing together; incorporate sharing of beloved poems, books, passages, newspaper clippings, etc., into your daily classroom schedule, as well as involving the class in Readerès Theatre.

-Teach students what a sentence is and build a sentence. Make sure students know that a sentence must have a subject and a verb, and that sentences can vary in length (people rush vs. all of the people were in such a rush). Focus on describing the subject, telling how, where and why.

-MODEL. Model how to deal with choppy sentences and repetitive beginnings. Remember, SHOW, don’t TELL.

-Avoid weak beginnings. Read a weak beginning aloud for students, and ask if it has voice and how it sounds. Then ask students to suggest alternatives. Write these alternatives as a list (strong beginnings).

-Master Parallel Structure. Parallel structure (patterning) creates that flow to writing that makes you want more!

While reading this chapter, I found myself pausing quite a bit to think about my own book and poetry choices, and why I choose the reading material I do…what am I looking for? From this reflection, I realized that I really enjoy books that read like poetry. Authors such as Yann Martel and Micheal Ondaatje create novels that sound exquisite to both eye and ear.

“The rain comes through their thin cotton clothes against their muscles. Alice sweeps back her wet hair. A sudden flinging of sheet lighting and Clara sees Alice subliminal in movement almost rising up into the air, shirt removed, so her body can meet the rain, the rest of her ascent lost to darkness till the next brief flutter of light when they hold a birch tree in their clasped hands, lean back and swing within the rain.
They crawl delirious together in the blackness. There is no moon. There is the moon flower in its small power of accuracy, like a compass, pointing to where the moon is, so they can bay towards its absence.”
― Michael OndaatjeIn the Skin of a Lion




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