Week 8: Chapters 5, 6, and 10 in Creating Writers

Posted: November 8, 2013 in Uncategorized, Write on!


Voice is power. It calls to us from the page, and says, Listen, Listen to me. I have something to say” (128). I have shared this quote from the textbook with countless friends. It is a perfect example to show to students when defining voice. Spandel further personifies voice as the “heartbeat” to one’s writing. When explaining to students how to tell if a piece of writing has voice, model your favourite piece of writing that has clear voice. Tell students that voice:

-makes you want to reread a passage over and over again

– it may trigger an emotional response,

-makes you tune in, pay attention, and want more

-consists of words you cannot get out of your head

Spandel also shares great writing samples brimming with juicy voice. I appreciated that many of them were geared toward older grades; kudos to Spandel for including a plethora of examples devoted to middle school grade levels. It was very interesting to read the variations of voice in the student examples; but I found the grade 9 example on page 137 didn’t quite fit with the other examples. It was poorly written, had many convention errors, and received a low score for voice. It was obviously written by a struggling writer, while the other examples seemed to be examples from good writers. I had trouble assessing this example and accepting Spandel’s scoring method due to my inclination that this teenager was a struggling writer, and their writing level was on par with a fourth grader. This aside, the rest of the section had wonderful tips on voice, ranging from humorous to heartfelt.

Throughout the chapter, Spandel continually brings up “writing honestly” in order to create voice. I agree with her; sometimes when I am reading an informational text I just want to shout “just say what you mean, I cannot take another long-winded and roundabout explanation!” As such, I think that the concept of “writing honestly” is very important to teach to students; it will allow them to become concise, efficient writers who write from the heart.

The section on teaching strategies provides 19 tips for teachers when teaching voice. I especially liked “reward risk,” “make sure writers know their audience,” “role playing,” “improv,” and “take the voice out.” I chose to highlight these sections because I feel that as a teacher, I may not remember all 19 of Spandel’s tips, but the ones I did remember cover the breadth of voice. By rewarding risk, we are acknowledging a young writer going outside of their comfort zone and committing to a piece of work. It is also important to know one’s audience; although voice is crucial to good writing, too much personal opinion can actually turn the reader off of a piece. By incorporating Reader’s Theatre into the classroom, students have the opportunity to role play and improvise by reading and acting out written works with strong voice. Finally, by taking the voice out of a piece, students can immediately notice the effects of writing without voice.

Reading this chapter made me think about the book Life of Pi, and of the author, Yann Martel. Although the book is geared toward young adults and older, I believe that Martel’s exceptional detail and imaginative storyline would be a hit with younger students. The voice in this book haunts me, and I reread Life of Pi at least once a year because of Martel’s brilliant use of voice (among other traits) in his novel.


Word Choice

            “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, writers will go to stupefying lengths to get the infernal roar of words out of their skulls and onto paper” -Barbara Kingsolver

For me, word choice separates functional from memorable language. The words we choose are an extension of ourselves; it is how we think.

How do we teach students about word choice? Spandel suggests making a list of what students look for in strong word choice, and what word problems frustrate them. From there, collect phrases and sentences for students to read aloud, some with good choice, and others to be revised with class input. Model books and chapters within books that display exemplary word choice. You can also ask your students to bring in their favourite books-you may discover they are favourite due to word choice.

How do we assess word choice?

-Ask yourself, does this piece create a picture in my head? Is the author using new words or tired words? is the writer using sensory writing? Spandel’s examples show that sensory writing is full of excellent word choice.

Strategies for Teaching Word Choice:

-Spandel cautions that owning our words takes time. We can help this process by encouraging students to read aloud frequently and by maintaining a colourful classroom library. The main things to emphasize when teaching word choice are: using words accurately and precisely, making use of strong verbs, original ideas, creating a picture in the readers mind, using new words, avoiding redundancy (and then, and then, and then I…), and writing concisely.

A few of Spandel’s ideas for teaching this concepts are as follows:

-READ.READ.READ. The better readers we are, the better writers we can become.

-Read above grade level. If students come across a word they do not know, introduce them to their best friend, the dictionary! Then guide them to a thesaurus to look up synonyms for their new word.

-Harness the power of verbs. Practice using verbs that breathe life into the students’ writing. For example: slashing rather than touching.

-Model revising for word choice. Write a poorly worded example for the class to revise together, and go through the piece line by line. Highlight words to change, and have students suggest new words.

-Rank words for intensity. Write ANGRY on the board. Now ask students for all the synonyms for angry. Which words are the most intense (enraged) the least intense (irritated). This is a great visual tool for students to understand distinct meaning.

-Give tired words a rest. “Give me a break!” Brainstorm words that we overuse, and write them on chart paper. Hang up in the classroom so students remember to get these words a break.

-Explore new words. As a class, check out the new revisions to the dictionary. See how many words are already part of your vocabulary, and how many are brand new words. Start a word wall in the classroom of new words the students come across throughout the school year.

-Revise for clarity. On page 187, Spandel suggests four ways to revise writing for clarity:

–        Read the piece carefully

–        Figure out what the writer is trying to say

–        Rewrite it in simple, straightforward language

–        Test your revision by sharing it with someone who will tell you the truth

For a good laugh, figure 6.10 on page 187 has a pop culture translation of Shakespeare that a grade 8 student wrote. This is an excellent example of clarity to show to a middle school class.


Exploring the world of beginning writers

Kindergarten. Land of scribbles, backwards letters, and cat faces with arms and legs attached. Can you tell I am terrified of this age group?! How do you assess writing that isn’t, technically, writing? Spandel saves the day in her chapter on beginning writers, so that people like me, who would rather spend all day with sassy seventh graders, can begin to understand the mind of a sweet five year old.

This might take some work interpreting…..

Spandel makes an excellent point on page 310. She explains that the best way to understand student writing and be able to gauge what to look for, is to spend time reviewing examples of work with colleagues. By reading work aloud and assessing images with coworkers, teachers are able to gain a different perspective that might have been unclear or unapparent. Spandel also suggests reviewing early writing guides in order to be familiar with what is working within the writing (the essence of writing). The examples of student work on the following pages allow for the reader to:  view and assess a spectrum of writing skills, understand the young writer’s ideas, using positive words to encourage writing, and understand the varying skill levels and competencies within the same grade level.

Spandel shares 11 ideas to help young students reach their writing potential, I have pulled main points from each idea to reflect on.

Create an environment in which writing thrives:

-encourage interaction by carefully considering seating arrangements: Think “circle talks”

– provide fun writing tools and incorporate technology

-provide a consistent time for writing (every day!)

Be a writer and illustrator yourself:

-Keep a writer’s notebook and use your examples for teacher modelling. Write with the students. Share your bad (or good) illustrations. You are their role model!

Model, Model, Model (see above)

-revise work as a class, using a past student’s writing.

Talk traits in primary language

-Introduce traits using the figures on page 329-331

– Introduce one trait at a time

-Use writer’s vocabulary to talk about students’ writing (wow Ashley, you look at things closely, your rabbit looks so soft and his whiskers are even crooked-great detail!)

Encourage writers to choose their own topics

-When you write about something you love, your voice shines through the work.

-model prompts to help students narrow down a topic

Create experiences to write about

-some children have parents who lead very busy lives, as a teacher create experiences to share using writing. Invite pets to visit, grow beans, visit the aquarium, partner up with a senior centre and visit once a week.

Spend time talking and drawing

-oral language is the foundation of the other language arts strands, therefore, strong speaking skills will lead to strong writing and reading skills. Talking is faster than writing for young students, so let them talk! Drawing is also an effective prewriting tool. Allow your students to create a detailed picture and talk about their picture (record them for an added bonus).

Be flexible about format

-allow for creativity; students who are not ready to create extended text can draw and talk their writing out instead

Share writers’ secrets

-Come up with the right mentor text

-pretend your help is actually a secret, great for motivation

Teach primary writers to think like editors

-Young writers are curious, engage that curiosity by showing them proper conventions

-make up a conventions treasure hunt, write up an editing checklist, have them edit practice sentences

Read and celebrate literature

-Read to your students every day. Share favourite books, have group read alouds, and create a classroom library with books that focus on the 6 traits of writing (example texts on pages 339-345)

These ideas will help your students become writers, and as such, they will grow up with a love for reading and writing.

How do you assess young writers? Spandel ends Chapter 10 by explaining the stages of assessing student writing:

  1. Looking carefully at student writing
  2. Observing young writers carefully
  3. Asking children to talk about their process
  4. Keeping portfolios
  5. Using age-appropriate tools for assessment


By following these guidelines, the teacher is aware of the students’ needs and can adjust lessons accordingly. Furthermore, portfolios are an excellent teaching tool to show students how far they have progressed since the beginning of the school year. Assessing young writing is focuses on positivity and making a meaningful rubric (think illustrations for a student rubric).  I also loved her in depth lists of books to display and read in the classroom. This chapter is an exceptional resource for teaching and assessing young writing. I have already copied some of the rubrics and shorties to use with future students J

Lastly, I feel the most important take away from this chapter is that teachers need to create a learning environment that focuses on fostering a love of reading and writing from a young age. By modelling proactive reading and writing strategies, you are giving children invaluable tools that help them succeed in almost every aspect of their lives.



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