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Teacher-Created Web Site Has 'Write' Stuff!

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Curriculum CenterAre you tired of correcting the same stultifying stories and plodding reports? Let California teacher Michelle Bergey and her good friend Professor Pen help your students learn to write with skill and flair!

"Good morning, boys and girls," you say, putting on a brave and cheerful face. "This morning we are going to write about ... "

Too late! You've already lost your students' interest. The groans have drowned you out! You're determined, however, so you press on.

Professor Pen's 'Handy' Guide to Writing Five Paragraphs

The following is an excerpt from the Give Me Five! activity, one of the original resources you'll find on teacher Michelle Bergey's Ace Writing! Web site.

Give me five! OK, I know it's corny, but you always have your hand "handy" to help you remember to write five quality, related paragraphs.

1. Thumbs Up! (Count your upraised thumb as number one.) Start with an introductory paragraph that grabs your readers' attention and entices them to read on. In the introductory paragraph, give the reader an idea of what your topic will be. A "quality" paragraph will have a topic sentence that is supported by several other sentences.
2, 3, 4. Make Your Points! (Count your first three fingers as 2, 3, and 4.) Your next three paragraphs will make your points about your topic. They support your introductory paragraph. They are also known as the "middle" of your essay.
5. Close! (Close your fist on the count of the last finger.) Close your essay by summarizing what you have said. A powerful essay will make sure all your paragraphs work together as a team, with the closing restating --in different words --what you have said.

"Just put your pencil on the paper," you beseech the reluctant writers who 'can't think of anything to say.'

"Do your best!" you prod the timid spellers, stalled by nearly every word.

"Organize your thoughts," you tell the most prolific, who write faster than they can think.

"Pay attention to your words, your voice, your audience, your sentence structure, your punctuation and capitalization," you remind them all.

"Oh, by the way, be creative. Have fun!"

Can there be, you wonder, any other area of the curriculum quite as difficult to teach as writing?

Certainly, no subject requires elementary school students to master as many skills and muster as much creativity as writing does. Nothing is more important to your students' ability to convey what they know in every other subject.

TEACHING GOOD WRITING SKILLS HAS MANY BENEFITS

"Writing," according to California teacher Michelle Bergey, "is a hard subject to teach and very time-consuming, so it's often overlooked in a busy classroom. However, writing well provides fantastic benefits to students.

"A lot of research shows that students who are taught to write have a better vocabulary, develop better reading skills, and do better on standardized tests than students who are not taught to write well," Bergey explained.

Bergey, who teaches fifth grade at Twentynine Palms Elementary School, in Twentynine Palms, California, told Education World that teachers and administrators at her school decided to focus on student writing during the coming year. To prepare for that initiative, Bergey spent a summer creating a Web site she uses to teach writing to the school's fifth graders.

"My goal," Bergey said, "is to have more than enough material for the entire school year so our team can focus on quality instruction and delivery rather than on planning."

The result of Bergey's efforts is Ace Writing, a site that can make teaching writing easier than you ever imagined --and writing more fun than your students ever dreamed!

HOW TO GET AN A IN WRITING

"The first step for me," Bergey told Education World, "was to take our district's writing rubric and standards and try to make them easier for students, parents, and teachers to understand."

To accomplish that goal, Bergey called on her "good friend" Professor Pen to lead visitors through the site --and through the intricacies of learning how to write. In the section How to Get an A in Writing, Professor Pen displays the district's writing rubric and thoroughly discusses the five areas of writing that Morongo Unified School District teachers consider as they determine student grades. The five areas are :

  1. Content. Content, of course, rules. Professor Pen points out the most-important content errors writers make and provides a number of tools student writers can use to develop a "voice" and avoid boring their readers.
  2. Organization. Are you looking for a Venn diagram, a fishbone organizer, a family tree, or a storyboard? In this section, Bergey provides a link to a page of graphic organizers from S.C.O.R.E. (Schools of California Online Resources for Education). Another key point here is that transitions build a bridge between ideas --and Bergey provides original activities as well as links to help students build those bridges.
  3. Vocabulary. What's the right word for this section of the site? Wow! pretty much describes these lessons and links on personification, alliteration, description, similes, metaphors, and parts of speech.
  4. Language Mechanics. Just as auto mechanics keep cars running smoothly, language mechanics keep sentences running smoothly, Professor Pen points out. Here, students will find tools to help them tighten such nuts and bolts of writing as grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and diagramming sentences.
  5. Editing. The writing process goes a lot faster and is more fun with the revision and proofreading checklists and real proofreading symbols contained in this section of the site.

How to Get an A in Writing, which also includes activities and lessons to help students explore different writing styles, is the cornerstone of the Ace Writing site. Students learn the things they need to know to write well. The rest of the site is the filling --and the frosting --on the cake!

THE FILLING AND THE FROSTING

Bergey clearly knows that the work of teaching writing isn't done when students learn the basics. Recognizing a metaphor isn't the same as being able to write one. The ability to spell a word doesn't guarantee the ability to use it correctly. Refining basic skills takes practice, practice, practice --and a few additional tools as well. This site provides both.


In addition to the many activities scattered throughout the section on how to get an A, the site contains several additional sections, including:

  • Word Games --links to games useful for providing practice in those skills related to successful writing.
  • Resources for Young Writers --links to an online dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, and more.
  • For the Teacher --a list of all the games and activities at the site, with links to district writing standards.

The number and quality of the resources is so impressive that Education World asked Bergey how she had done it! "Resources?" Bergey laughed. "Wow! I checked out every possible book, workbook, and Web site I could get my hands on. I started by using our district standards to seek out resources about those topics. I then closed my eyes and imagined how I could present the subject matter in a way that is fun and interesting. I found the online resources by searching, linking, and book marking until I felt I had found the best possible sites."

Bergey isn't finished yet! She is also working on creating online quizzes as well as a question-and-answer forum called Professor Pen's Problem of the Day.

"I love using the Internet in the classroom," Bergey said. "It has so much potential for student learning! I have a pet peeve about the way the Internet is sometimes used, though. If all you're doing is displaying a book on a monitor, why bother? Why not just give kids a book?! So, when I work on anything for the Internet, I keep that in mind. I want to make it interesting for kids, not just put words on a screen."

The little things count. Every section of Bergey's site contains activities, links, tips, and tools to help students learn how to write. Every section contains lessons, links, activities, tips, and devices to help teachers teach students how to write. Put it together and Ace Writing contains enough material and activities to provide weeks and weeks and weeks of interesting and valuable writing lessons.

Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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12/22/2004

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