25% off on ELA writing prompts

Just in time for back to school, I’m offering 25% off my collections of writing prompts for teens or adults in English/composition classes.

These aren’t just writing topics. Each prompt is embedded within a self-contained writing lesson that provides everything students need to start their writing task without having to ask you for help.

Ready, Set, Write!  includes 20 writing prompts. Bullying Begins as Words contains 15 writing prompts.  Each prompt includes:

  • Context that tells students why the prompt is relevant.
  • Directions for pre-writing preparation.
  • The actual writing assignment.

All the prompts are ready-to-go. Just fill in the due date and the writing prompt is ready for students’ use.

Twenty of the 35 writing prompts are for not-yet-competent writers, who are referred to as noncoms. (Isn’t that a much nicer term than the labels sometimes given that group?)

As the marketers say, results may vary, but  in my experience, 21 weeks of responding to one formal prompt a week supplemented by daily informal writing  got three-quarters of noncoms writing competently.

Each collection includes resources for you in addition to the writing lessons for students. Here’s what you get in either collection:

  • An E-book that puts all the student and teacher materials in one place.
  • The PPC Handbook to answer your questions about using the materials.
  • All the prompts in the collection in both .pdf and .docx versions, each saying you have permission to use them with your students your entire teaching career.
  • A rubric for easy, helpful assessments.

If you already know you have to have these prompts, visit my e-junkie shop where you can get either or both collections at the 25% off discount.

The sale ends at midnight Friday, Aug. 16, 2019.

2 ELA writing prompts sets out June 22

I have two PenPrompts Collections of writing prompts for teens and adults ready to launch on the first Saturday of summer, June 22, 2019. The delivery mechanisms are being tested this week.

Prompts in each PenPrompts Collection are embedded in self-contained writing lessons giving students all the information they need to begin work without bugging their teacher for help.

"Ready, Set, Write!" is written on cover of composition book My newest PenPrompts Collection, Ready, Set, Write!, is a set of 20 writing prompts designed to help not-yet-competent teenage and adult learners master expository writing as they write about ELA topics.

Person directs words that cause another to cringeThe second edition of Bullying Begins as Words, a revised and expanded collection of ELA writing prompts about how word choices impact behavior, contains 15 prompts for not-yet-competent, competent, and proficient teenage and adult learners.

Each student lesson in PenPrompts Collections is accompanied by material to help teachers decide if the prompt is appropriate for their students and to help teachers use the prompt well.

PenPrompts Collections are delivered as digital downloads. Each comes with a copy of the PenPrompts Collections Handbook, which serves as a reference for all PenPrompts Collections.

I’ll post more information about  each of the new collections as soon as the bugs are worked out of the delivery mechanisms. .(My Momma didn’t raise me to be a technician!)

Recommended literary nonfiction reading

3 literary nonfiction books

Note to readers: This post has been revised, I hope for the better.  When I published it April 5, 2019, Internet gremlins duplicated, deleted, and rearranged elements until they the content was unrecognizable.  

Although short literary nonfiction has its place in the academic curriculum, if we are going to attempt to encourage students to become lifelong learners we must have them read some book-length literary nonfiction each year.

The first quarter of 2019 I made a conscious effort to read literary nonfiction that some students might find worth reading. I looked for:

  • tie-ins to courses, current events, and/or students’ experiences
  • good writing that wasn’t stuffy
  • books with at least some images in them
  • books that are widely available through libraries
  • books that are available new at under $10

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip is lighthearted history, fun to read, packed with bits and pieces of historical fact, and illustrated with 1950s photos and cleverly drawn maps.

On Jan. 20, 1953, after Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president, when back home to Independence, Missouri, as an ordinary citizen.

A few months later Truman got a letter inviting him to speak to the Reserve Officers Association on June 26 in Philadelphia. It seemed the ideal opportunity for Truman and his wife, Bess, to go East to see their daughter, visit old friends, and enjoy the open road.

Truman put the suitcases in the car and the couple took off by themselves, Truman at the wheel, Bess riding shotgun, keeping track of every fill-up, and telling her husband not to drive so fast.

Matthew Algeo uses his pleasant, often funny, nonfiction narrative as a lens through which to examine not just 1950s America, but the way the United States has changed since then.

The book could be used for literary nonfiction reading in social studies, English, art, and graphic design classes.

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo. (Chicago Review Press, ©2009. 264 p.) 

The Fever of 1721

The Fever of 1721 ties together famous names from American history—Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams—using the story of a Bostonian merchant seaman whose crew had developed smallpox on the trip from England.

By the time John Gore’s brig reached Boston Harbor, one sailor had died, six others were nearly recovered, and Gore had begun showing smallpox symptoms.Gore was dead and buried within 10 days.

The government concealed Gore’s death for fear of creating a panic and for fear of an embargo that would ruin Boston’s economy.

From that beginning, Stephen Coss goes on to discuss the history and politics of vaccination, American-British relations, the history of American newspapers, religion in the colonies, and how the political ramifications of the epidemic laid the groundwork for the American Revolution.

The Fever of 1721 could be used as literary nonfiction reading in English, journalism, history/social studies, science, and health classes. The 1721 controversy surrounding vaccination for smallpox could be compared with the 2019 controversy around measles vaccination.

The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics by Stephen Coss (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. ©2016. 350 p.) 

Passages to America

Between 1892 and 1954, two million child immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. Another one million child immigrants were processed through the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940.

In Passages to America, developmental psychologist Emmy E. Werner presents the recollections of some of those people about their immigrant experience as children between the ages of ages four and 16.

Werner organizes the histories by population groups including those from the British Isles, Italians, Scandinavians, Armenians, and escapees from Nazi Germany.

Werner’s book is literary nonfiction for a general audience.   Although Werner was an academic, her prose is clean, clear, and easy to understand.

Passages to America could be literary nonfiction reading in social studies and English classes. Virtually every American student would find some personal connection to some immigrant group mentioned in the text. The pre-1955 immigrant experience offers opportunities for comparisons to the experiences of 21st century immigrants.

Passages to America: Oral Histories of Child Immigrants from Ellis Island and Angel Island by Emmy E. Werner (Potomac Books. ©2009. 177 p.)

In case you’re curious

I bought all three of the books mentioned here at hamiltonbook.com. I got Passages to America in hardback, Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure and The Fever of 1721 in paperback.

I have a couple more volumes of literary nonfiction to tell you about next week.

Reflective writing prompt

In his 1982 bestseller about the American space program, appropriately titled Space, James A. Michener says, “People make themselves capable.”

You could use that quote to introduce an end-of-course writing prompt.

Discuss how Mitchener’s observation that “people make themselves capable” was/was not illustrated by your own experience in this class.

In preparing to write, think about these questions:

  • What does it mean to be capable?
  • How is being capable different from anything with which it might be confused?
  • Of what, if anything, did you become capable during this course?
  • If you developed some capability, how did you do that?
  • If you didn’t develop some capability, why did you not develop capability?
  • Do you think your experience with regard to making yourself capable is similar to or different from that of your peers in this class?

Best practices in teaching writing, #7

Quote: hold students responsible for correcting their own work.
Teach students how to edit and what to edit. Make them edit.

Don’t correct students’ writing

As a teacher, you cannot possibly do everything you think you ought to do.

One area you can skip without any qualms is correcting students’ responses to your formal writing prompts.

You know the kinds of things I mean:

  • Correcting spelling.
  • Fixing verb tenses.
  • Putting the missing comma after an introductory element.

Making those corrections may make you feel you’re accomplishing something, but they won’t make a tad of difference in students’ writing.

As long as someone else —like you—will identify their errors for them, most students will not take responsibility for correcting even their most serious, habitual errors.

So take the easy way out.

Set up Individual Mastery Plans. Establish caps on the number of errors you’ll accept without limiting the top grade students can achieve. Then IMP flag errors until you reach the cap.

It won’t take long for students to see the relationship between the number of flags and their grades.

Spend time you might have wasted changing it’s to its in teaching students how to edit their work for their own most serious, habitual errors.

There’s more to editing than correcting typos and grammar errors, but if you get students to do the simple corrections without prompting,  you qualify for a Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

© 2017 Linda Aragoni

Best practices in teaching writing #4

Quote: develop good writing prompts that you can reuse year after year.
Develop enough formal writing prompts to give you a choice.

Preparing formal writing prompts may not require more effort from you than preparing informal ones, but responding to them requires a greater investment of time by students. For that reason, you ought to make sure your formal prompts are on some of the most significant topics in your curriculum.

If Susie is going to need to spend five hours on an essay, it ought to concern a topic that’s worth five hours of study.

What’s worth five hours of study? Probably it is a topic to which you devote at least a week of class time.

In all likelihood, a topic that’s worth a week of study in your English class in 2017 will also be worth a week of study in your English class in 2018.

It makes sense, then, to prepare formal writing prompts that you could, at least in theory, use year after year.

You won’t want to use all the same prompts year after year.  Besides the risk that students will recycle work by those in previous years, there’s the more serious danger of boring yourself.

Bored students are bad enough.

Bored teachers are stultifying.

The solution is to prepare writing prompts that have a high degree of likelihood of fitting into your course next year as well as this year.

After you have a full year’s worth of formal prompts, begin creating replacements for a certain number of those prompts every year.

Tip: Don’t discard a prompt unless it was a total disaster:  Tweak prompts that produced disappointing results their first time out, preferably right after you read students’ responses to the prompt.

If you have 25 formal prompts for a year and create replacements for five of those a year, by your sixth year of teaching you would have 50 formal prompts on major topics in your curriculum.  Having all those choices will help keep boredom at bay.

Even more importantly, you’ll have developed skill at writing formal prompts and at spotting current events hooks to use with them.

Those skills will help prevent burnout and boredom in later years.

© 2017 Linda Aragoni

Best practices in teaching writing #3

Quote: Give explicit directions so you don't have to keep re-explaining.
Explicit directions are good, but they’re even better written down.

No matter how clearly you phrase information, no matter how carefully you choose your illustrations,  no matter how well you prepare, you are not going to get through to every student on your first attempt.

Instead of getting yourself tied in knots over your failure—which may have nothing whatsoever to do with you—prepare in advance for failures.

When you prepare writing prompts,  include in writing stripped-down directions about how to do the main task(s) the writing entails. You can also put the directions in some other formats (audio clips or video), but always put it in writing.

If you include in each writing prompt written information that teaches students how to do one writing task, by the time students have had a dozen writing prompts, they should have a miniature handbook on writing embedded in the prompts.

Encourage students to treat your writing prompts as instructional materials by referring students to directions you included in prior prompts.

Of course, not all students will read the prompts carefully or keep them after turning in the assignment, but if your prompts include genuinely helpful tips, many will hang on to the prompts to use again.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

Best practices in teaching writing, #2

Quote: Make every writing assignment do double or triple duty.
Time is too valuable to squander on writing with just one purpose.

To make wise use of your time — and your students’ time — craft writing prompts that do more than make students write.

Prepare writing prompts that teach students something about how to write rather than just directing them to write.

Have students write about course content or about topics related to course content.

(Please, if you teach English, don’t limit yourself to literary topics. Many students find language topics more relevant.)

If you’re really a creative teacher, you can not only make your prompts

  • teach something about writing, and
  • teach or apply some non-writing course content,

but also politely force students to seek connections between the writing topic and something that matters to them.

I strongly recommend developing writing prompts that are, in effect, self-contained writing lessons complete with help getting started on the assignment and resources to consult if students get stuck.

It’s much more efficient for students to use their own material as they learn how to do a writing task than to do exercises isolated from their own writing.

To learn more about crafting formal writing prompts, visit the formal writing prompts section of my new website, PenPrompts.com.  If you sign up for the PenPrompts newsletter, you get a copy of my formal writing prompts template free.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

Best practices for teaching writing: #1

Best practices work for students and their teachers.   The best practices for teaching writing focus on teaching essentials thoroughly. If your lesson content isn’t essential, why are you wasting time on it? Teaching the essentials thoroughly usually  means teaching a few lessons multiple times in multiple ways over a period of months. When your goal is developing writing skill, you must teach the essential concepts, patterns, and skills until students write competently. Competence takes time. Students need time to try out what they understood you to say to see how it works in their writing—which is vastly different from seeing how a concept works on publisher-created materials. If students don’t learn to write competently, you may have presented but you didn’t teach.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

Best practices in teaching writing: #1

Quote: Teach one lesson multiple times in mutliple ways.
Best practices work for students and their teachers.

 

The best practices for teaching writing focus on teaching essentials thoroughly.

If your lesson content isn’t essential, why are you wasting time on it?

Teaching the essentials thoroughly usually  means teaching a few lessons multiple times in multiple ways over a period of months.

When your goal is developing writing skill, you must teach the essential concepts, patterns, and skills until students write competently.

Competence takes time.

Students need time to try out what they understood you to say to see how it works in their writing—which is vastly different from seeing how a concept works on publisher-created materials.

If students don’t learn to write competently, you may have presented but you didn’t teach.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni