All children have specific writing weaknesses, mistakes they are inclined to make over and over again. As a teacher, I find this particularly frustrating. “Sebastian, I told you that you have to indent when you begin a new paragraph. Actually, I’ve told you fifteen times. Today. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY WON’T YOU REMEMBER?”
Thus, at the start of the new year, I have my students make three—and only three—“writing resolutions,” or specific ways they hope to improve their writing. I do this not only to potentially preserve my own sanity; I want each student to have a self-generated reminder of writing elements that must be improved. The key is making sure the kids come up with their three writing resolutions on their own. As all teachers/parents know, the best way to make kids do something is to convince them it was their idea in the first place. (They really should teach Psychological Manipulation to Foster Student Improvement in teacher school.)
It’s hard for children to think of concrete examples without guidance, so we spend some time brainstorming common weaknesses that the class thinks I see in their writing, breaking it into three categories: content, grammar, and spelling.
Here are some of the usual responses I get, divided by category:
–Does not stay on topic.
–Does not start with a grabber beginning.
–Ideas are not good. (That’s a bit harsh—and vague—so I usually tweak it to “Writer needs to spend more time brainstorming before starting.”)
–Does not use sensory details.
–Tells too much; doesn’t show.
–Forgets periods and upper-case letters at the beginning of sentences. (Ouch.)
–Does not indent paragraphs.
–Needs to vary sentence patterns.
–Must remember to proofread to catch silly mistakes.
–Needs to remember that apostrophes actually serve a purpose and are not simply decoration.
–your vs. you’re
–excited vs. exited
–their, they’re, there
–to vs. too
I’m sure your students will come up with even more than the ones I’ve listed here; they always do with me. I have students make this list with their writing notebooks open, so they can search back to see what types of errors they’ve made.
After we’ve brainstormed, students should choose three things that they resolve to improve over the coming year, preferably one from each category. Each student should write these on an index card, which is then taped to his/her desk. After every writing assignment, students should re-read this card as part of their proofreading. If they catch an error that they would have made if they hadn’t been reminded by their list, they can put a checkmark next to that category. When sharing assignments, I also like to share one or two “resolution corrections” just to remind students that this is an ongoing process. It really works!
(My writing resolution is to update this blog bi-weekly! If anyone has any particular writing topics that you’d like me to address, please feel free to send me an email via the contact button!)