Informal writing prompt: trees coming down

Again today, I have an informal writing prompt built on a message actually sent by a business. That means this writing prompt is an authentic writing task, similar to those students are likely to encounter in nearly every type of work. The prompt is could be used in classes from grade 8 through first-year college.

Here’s your script:

I’m going to show you a four-sentence message that contains some errors and ask you to identify the errors by writing one sentence about each of the four sentences in the message.  This is the message:

memo about tree-cutting
This is the message that was actually sent.

Please identify the error or errors in the message sentence by sentence. As you make clear which sentence you’re discussing, you don’t need to write your sentences in the same order in which they appear in the message. You have two minutes to write.

[After the two minutes] Now I want you to rewrite the message to make it shorter and clearer. You have one minute to write.

Optional group activity

To get maximum value from this informal prompt, you could have students work in small groups for five minutes, to discuss what they changed and why they made those changes.

Students should notice grammar errors

Every student should notice that the second and fourth sentences are actually sentence fragments. Every student should also notice that the third sentence begins with the pronoun that cannot logically refer to the preceding noun: buildings don’t get loud; sounds do.

A few students may quibble over whether “multiple trees” is redundant and whether “will be taking down” should be “will take down,” since the activity appears to not be scheduled to start before tomorrow.

Students should identify the point

The point hidden of the message is: “Expect loud noise tomorrow morning when trees are cut on the front and back sides of the building.”


FYI: Next week I plan to take a break from posting informal writing prompts to recommend three fascinating literary nonfiction books. Two are about famous people and one is about a man who was tremendously influential but is barely remembered today. 

© 2020 Linda G. Aragoni 

 

Let’s take English out of the classroom

Scarcely a week goes by that I don’t see an article such as this about teachers taking STEM teaching out of the classroom into alternative settings.

11-20-14_Lab_series_2Science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers seem to have no difficulty finding topics their students are already interested in that apply science, technology, engineering and math concepts.

I rarely see English teachers getting students out of the classroom to see how reading, writing, and speaking are done in alternative settings.

Visiting a TV station or interviewing seniors about how life was different before cell phones may be more interesting than doing grammar exercises, but I doubt those activities do much to show students how something they are already interested in applies reading, writing, and speaking on a regular basis.

Working on ” if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em” premise, you could try working with STEM teachers who are taking their classes into alternative settings.

At some point all that knowledge about the physical world needs to be documented so it can be readily transmitted. Figuring out how to craft the documentation for a particular audience is applied English.

Your school may offer opportunities for students to use English class skills in nontraditional settings.

For example, the college application process is tough on students.

How could your students use their English skills to make the application process easier for next year’s crop of applicants? Video interviews with people with particular expertise? Infographics? A series of weekly podcasts to help applicants break the application process into manageable bits?

logo from Federal Student Aid website

Getting their kids into college isn’t easy for parents either. How could your students use their English skills to make sending their kids off to college easier on parents?

Are there specific groups of parents who need specialized help with the transition, such as parents whose son or daughter will be the first person in the family to attend college or parents for whom English is a second language? What kinds of communications would be most useful to those small groups of parents?

Article consisting of sample college recommendation letter from a teacher
Sample recommendation letter is a teacher resource

School staff may also appreciate a little help as students go through the college application process.

How could students use their ELA skills to make staff’s lives easier? Would curating a list of online resources help? Perhaps a private (school-only) resource in which college-bound students summarize their goals and accomplishments with appropriate pictures to remind those who may be asked to give recommendations of what the student wants to be remembered for.

In working on projects within their school, students are likely to run into problems in which their view of their audience’s needs and the school’s view clash. Such problems are routine occurrences for people whose jobs entail communicating on behalf of an employer.  And learning the soft skills of navigating over such rough spots is an important part of English language arts.

What do you do to show students how ELA skills are used beyond the classroom?

Photo credits:  Lab series 2 by sadsac