88: Summarizing & Note Taking





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Summary of Research on Summarization:
  • Summarizing involves deleting, substituting, and keeping information
  • The skills above require deep analysis of material
  • Being aware of explicit structure of information helps with summarization (another reason to scaffold academic literacy)
Classroom Strategies:
  • Rules-Based Strategies:
    • MODEL how to apply rules such as:
      • delete trivial info
      • delete redundant info
      • replace lists with grouping words that summarize lists
      • select or create topic sentences
    • Use Think Aloud strategy while modeling rules
  • Summary Frames:
    • Series of questions that highlight critical elements for specific types of info
    • 6 Summary Frames – click here to see related questions
      • Narrative
      • Topic-Restriction-Illustration
      • Definition
      • Argumentation
      • Problem/Solution
      • Conversation
  • Reciprocal teaching
    • Student arranged in teacher groups
    • Leader of group facilitates discussion in which students take a lesson or reading and
      • summarize the lesson/reading
      • question – ask questions about the lesson/reading
      • clarify – try to answer questions
      • predict – predict what they will learn or do next
Research and Theory on Note Taking
  • Verbatim note taking is the least effective method – recording everything makes it too hard to synthesize info
  • Notes should be viewed as living documents
  • Notes should be used as study guides for tests
  • The more notes, the better
Classroom Strategies for Note Taking
  • Provide models – notes taken by teacher
  • Present students with a variety of note-taking formats such as
    • Informal outline
      • subordinate ideas are more indented than big ideas
    • Webbing
      • sizes of circles represent relative importance of ideas
      • lines show relationships between ideas
    • Combinations
      • Combines webbing and informal outline (like a double entry journal)
        • left column = informal outline
        • right column = webbing
      • Also includes a horizontal strip at the bottom for summary statements

Summarizing and note taking are powerful learning strategies.  Often these skills are un-scaffolded student activities and expectations.  Teaching students how to summarize and take notes can help them become more independent learners.

Preparation Steps
  • Pre-assess students’ note-taking and summarizing skills – identify their strengths and gaps
  • Identify which strategies (see above) could enhance students’ summarizing and note taking skills
  • Gather / prepare graphic organizers and visuals that go with selected strategies
Early Implementation Steps
  • Model (use think aloud and graphic organizers) summarizing and/or note-taking strategies
  • Give students opportunities to practice strategies
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Have students reflect on the impact different note-taking strategies are having on their learning
  • Let students use their reflections to choose the most effective note-taking strategy that fits their learning style and preferences

85: Writing for Tests & Assessments





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  • Uses:
    • Prepare for standardized tests
    • Assess what students are learning
  •  Limitations of Standardized Test Essays:
    • Writing to summarize what one knows as opposed to everyday writing that aims to inform, persuade, entertain, etc.
    • Tends to promote external (not intrinsic) motivations, esp. on high stakes tests
    • Audience is very limited
    • Limited to test topic – doesn’t explore related issues
    • Limited time to edit and revise
    • Prompts are not always authentic
    • Snapshot of 1 moment in time, not a progressive assessment
  • Teaching Students how to Respond to Essay Questions:
    • Focus prompts on big ideas, some direct & indirect
    • Use higher Bloom’s verbs in prompts rather than just asking students to summarize material
    • Make essay questions on tests, one step in an ongoing writing process
    • Give students more time (take home essay tests) – makes tests more valid because students have more time to revise and edit
    • Have pair discussion about prompt as a prewriting activity
    • Connects features of tests to features of video games
    • Use practice prompts that tie well with students’ prior knowledge so they can focus on writing organization, revising, and editing
    • Teach students how to use formative feedback to improve their writing
    • Using rubrics tips:
      • Involve students in creating parts of the rubric – can help them identify key features by studying models
      • Keep number of criteria small
      • Maintain a balance between writing and content criteria
      • Make content criteria broad and conceptual
      • Build in flexibility – include extra blank row in rubric for unexpected outcomes
  • Essays on Standardized tests:
    • Instead of asking for summaries, ask students to draw conclusions based on evidence/ examples and to make connections between material and the outside world
    • Explain and practice meeting standardized test rubric criteria
    • Promote attitudes that students apply to video games such as:
      • engaging topic as intellectual exercise
      • alert, quick to respond
      • searching mind for info
      • considering lots of possibilities
      • deciding on type of game response


For some teachers, standardized tests are unavoidable.  Finding ways to integrate high stakes standards into PBL projects is part of ensuring students are able to reap the positive consequences of high stakes tests such as graduation, grade level promotion, college credit, etc.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze high stakes standards and high stakes testing rubrics (if released)
  • Write student friendly, specific  learning targets based on an in-depth analysis of high standards standards and high stakes rubric criteria
  • Prioritize and sequence learning targets
  • Design problems and essay prompts that align to the  learning targets
  • Find authentic contexts and products that students can use to practice skills and understandings in learning targets
  • Build scaffolds and attitudes that support students’ ability to solve problems and create essays that meet learning targets
Early Implementation Steps
  • Practice prioritize thinking and writing skills in the context of PBL projects that naturally connect with learning targets aligned to high stakes standards
  • Implement scaffolding activities and assessments that include some of the strategies (above)
  • Have students reflect often on how their skills and understandings are progressing towards prioritized learning targets
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students how to analyze and summarize benchmark data and use it to set and achieve academic goals
  • Teach students the language embedded in the standards and use reflections and tools that make them specifically aware of their areas of strength and growth with regards to high stakes assessments



84: I-Search Papers





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I-Search Paper 
  • Similar to research paper except
    • Student chooses topic
    • Written in 1st person
  • Uses:
    • Build personal curiosity and tools to pursue it
    • Students can learn how to
      • narrow and deep dive into a topic
      • use research skills (identify valid sources, annotate sources, identify biases)
  • Play by play
    • Topic Search:
      • Brainstorming
        • start creating brainstorm lists individually
        • then share in pairs and teams and revises lists
      • Narrow brainstorm list to 4 topics
      • Conduct preliminary research and have student interview team mates about potential topics:
        • Why do you care?
        • Who do you already know?
        • How do you plan to learn more?
      • Narrow topics to 2 choices – Top Pick and Plan B in case Top Pick hits a dead end
      • Variations:
        • Could brainstorm content item lists
        • Try to build bridges between top personal & content item choices
    • Identifying the Audience:
      • Other students and teacher
      • Could try to guide students to recruit audience from a group that ties to to their topic – if you do this prepare recruiting email and recruiting phone call templates
    • Prewriting Part I
      • Use a lot of pre-writing activities (WTLs) to process research such as:
        • Use double entry journal strategey- columns: what I think I know, questions I have (brainstorm list based on prior knowledge and for planning research next steps)
    • Gathering Information
      • Student create anothe double entry journal – columns = questions organized under major questions, possible sources
      • Books:  secure help from media specialist
      • Interviews: helps students design questionnaires, model interview process
      • Internet:
        • teach search query commands for search engines, how to use databases, and how to identify valid sources
        • provide internet source sheets that guide students in assessing and annotating websites
    • Prewriting Part II
      • Underline key information in references and write note as to why it’s underlined
      • Start with 4 questions on 4 Sheets of papers – color-code highlight sources to match up information that addresses top 4 questions
      • Jot down notes summarize info related to each question
    • Drafting
      • Main parts of paper:
        • Introduction
        • Description of search (optional, omit if it leads to repetitive description)
        • What was found
        • How to use information and related questions
    • Revisions
      • Facilitate revision meetings with writing teams who discuss
        • Introduction
          • How does writing grab attention?
          • How does intro hint a prior knowledge and interest?
          • How does writer help unfamiliar audience?
          • How does writer make topic appealing?
        • Question answers
          • Best evidence?
          • Missing evidence?
          • Off topic evidence?
        • Conclusion
          • Connections to intro ideas?
          • Follow-up questions and next steps?
          • Lingering lessons
    • Editing
      • X out common errors such as 2nd person
      • Replace 2nd person with real nouns
    •  Sharing the Writing
      • Convert paper to shorter feature articles for school newspaper
      • Read aloud papers at presentations
    • Troubleshooting
      • Plagiarism
        • Use WTL assignments to process research
        • Teach students parenthetical citaions


Letting students choose their own I-search paper topics can help them be more invested in their processes and products.  Guiding the research and prewriting processes with Writing-to Learn tasks can helps students process information, create drafts, and avoid plagiarism.  See WTL 1 and  2 articles.


Preparation Steps
  • Find time of year when I-seatch paper would be appropriate
    • Time of year dedicated to process standards
    • After students have already practiced several writing stages
  • Prepare resources related to the stages describe above
  • Prepare a project calendar that includes:
    • research time
    • prewriting time
    • in class writing time
    • critique and feedback lessons
    • conference times
    • milestone deadlines assigned to writing artifacts in writing stages
    • rehearsal and presentation time
    • student self reflection times
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project plan prepped above
  • Use formative feedback to fine time in progress project plan
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Recruit real panelists (or guide student to recruit real audiences) to read their work
  • Have student polish and summarize work for school blog or school magazine
  • Feature work in Learning Fairs



83: Learning Fairs





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Learning Fairs:
  • Students present work to community in poster session like environment (think science fair)
  • Uses:
    • Students study topics in depth
    • Students present to wide audience
    • Student learn field research techniques
    • Opportunity to integrate subjects – ELA, Science, Math, etc
  • Play by play:
    • Topic Search
      • Identity primary sources
        • Students brainstorm people they can interview
        • Students brainstorm scientific questions they can investigate
      • Communicate expectations – product formats & criteria
    • Identify the audience
      • Recruit varied panel consisting of teachers of different courses, students, family members, other community members
    • Gathering information
      • Provide thinking sheets to guide research
        • Help students design interviews
        • Help students design investigations
      • Provide in-class research time so that parents don’t help too much
      • Expose students to models and discuss common features and identify strategies
      • Allow time for multiple investigations or interviews – can learn from first iteration and apply lessons to later iterations
    • Drafting, revising, & editing:
    • Sharing the writing:
      • Create speeches and visual aides based on papers
      • Allow rehearsal time prior to Learning Fair
    • Possible Grading Criteria:
      • Engaging beginning
      • Clear controlling theme
      • Thorough, clear supporting evidence
      • Good organization of anecdotes and arguments
      • Free of grammar and spelling errors
      • Creative, school appropriate
    • Troubleshooting
      • Students make early errors that affect end products
        • Give feedback throughout the duration of project – don’t wait till the end
    • Grading tips:
      • Recruit external panel – alumni, teachers from other courses, community members, experts
      • Design easy-to-use assessment tools for panels – rubrics or checklists or criteria with room to assign Likert scale scores


Learning fairs provide opportunities for the school and local communities to gather and celebrate student work.  Grade level teams can coordinate to create complementary learning fair products.  Real broad audiences can inspire students to product their best work.  To prevent student learning fairs from become parent fairs, provide a lot of in class feedback and work time.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide if you want to coordinate with grade-level teachers (or cross grade-level teams) and meet regularly to plan logistics (common themes, fair dates, variety of complimentary products, etc)
  • Recruit panelists
  • Set a learning fair date, secure space and publicize fair date, location, and theme to the community
  • Decide on target content and target genres and prepare scaffolding and assessment – see above for ideas
  • Design a project calendar that includes:
    • ample time for writing phases above
    • ample time for in class work time and feedback from various sources and revision time
    • rehearsal time
    • milestone deadlines for different stages of products
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project plan – see activities planned in preparation phase.
  • Use formative feedback to fine tune scaffolding and assessment as needed.
  • Use formative feedback to teach students how to revise work during in class work time
  • Facilitate lessons during all writing stages
  • Facilitate time for rehearsals and final round of feedback
  • Organize panel and panel resources (evaluation materials, assignments to teams, etc)
  • Facilitate Learning Fair and Enjoy (takes lots of pictures)
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Could tie Learning Fair to real contests – if so, be sure to scaffold and assess content criteria
  • Make Learning Fairs a regular event (2x per year per grade level?) at school in order to build community moral and relationships



82: Social Action Papers


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Social Action Papers
  • Any writing assignment that connects learning targets with real issues in the community
  • Uses:
    • Develop research and persuasive writing skills
    • Develop citizenship values and skills
    • Student learn how to use textbooks as reference tools
  • Play by play
  • Caveats:
    • Students may choose a topic / project whose scope is too big or too small
      • can resolve with feedback on proposals
    • Students can procrastinate
      • can resolve with milestone deadlines, in-class supported work time


Social action papers can tie content to real issues.  The real relevance can make project more engaging to students.  Incorporating a real audience into the project can also raise the stakes and interest level of the project.


Preparation Steps
  • Find real audiences
    • Recruit a local partner as a resource or client for the project – they could be clients and/or sources of expertise
    • Identify connections to potential topics that can make students’ friends and families viable audiences
  • Research and gather resources that relate to genre of social action paper
  • Design resources / activities to help students select topics:
  • Research and prepare resources for scaffolding writing.  Related articles
  • Design a project calendar that includes:
    • Time to brainstorm, select, vet, and refine topic / product choices
    • Research time
    • Time to scaffold writing and related content
    • Milestone deadlines for writing stages
    • (if possible) Time to interact with real audience
    • Multiple reflection times
    • Critique & feedback lessons
    • Time to present to real audience
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement resources prepped above.
  • Be flexible with students who are working with real clients / experts because their time lines may not match school time lines
  • Provide a lot of formative feedback and in class work time throughout the project
  • Schedule time to meet with and present to real clients
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Build sustaining relationships with local organizations so that multiple cohorts of students can work for real local organizations
  • Use tools like Nepris or Ignite by DiscoverSTEAM to connect students with real clients / experts.
  • Scaffold students through a design process to create products that client really needs.  See Design Process articles.



81: Multigenre Projects





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Multigenre Project

  • Instead of one long research paper, students compose several shorter pieces focused on a single topic
  • Recommended related reading:
  • Uses:
  • Play by play
    • Getting started
      • Use preliminary research to help students pick a topic that genuinely interests them
      • Inspire and inform students by showing them models
      • Scaffold research processes
        • how to select valid sources
        • how to gather notes on researched information
    • Working the room
      • Have students choose from a LARGE menu of writing genres,  Putz has them pick 7.
      • Possible genres
        • Check out the book , too many to list here.  Plus the book has some pretty compelling examples of student work.
        • Would be neat if someone would take a large genre list and classify it by the 6 facets of understanding .  Then you could require students to pick 1 genre form each facet.  If such a chart exists or if you create one, please share.
      • Facilitate mini-lessons and distribute thinking sheets and show models that go with each genre
      • Allow students to select appropriate tools (apps, paper, fonts, etc) to represent their chosen genres
      • Require students to connect all 7 pieces into a coherent whole – logically sequence them and create transitions between them.
      • Students select a package to hold writing pieces that goes with topic.  (Note: These remind me of items from a McSweeney’s subscription)
    • Leverage the work
      • Individual students form teams and create a piece of reader’s theater than incorporates excerpts from all their pieces.
      • Self – assessments on the work –
        • How did you choose your genres?
        • What did you learn?
        • How did you connect your pieces into a cohesive whole?
        • Are you happy with your topic choice? why?
    • Challenges
      • Complicated project calendar
      • Need to prep resources for many writing genres
        • Could have students gather 3 examples from a new genre and find common features and use those for criteria to create writing piece
        • Could limit menu of genres to ones you already have prepped resources for


Multi-genre products actively engage students to explore multiple types of understanding by having them write in multiple genres.  Each genre has different thinking and writing demands.  This type of project could be good for advanced PBL teachers and advanced students who need a different type of project to break up the monotony of commonly assigned products.  This can be used to explore and appreciate BIG IDEAS that have lots of layers.


Preparation Steps
  • Conduct more research than is in this article – see related reading above and the source book
  • Gather resources (mini-lessons, models, thinking sheets) for all the genres in the menu students will be allowed to pick from
  • Design resources to help students choose their topics:
    • Design an essential question that aligns to targeted standards and that students can unpack to choose a topic that interests them
    • If course standards permit, design a preliminary research / topic selection activity that will allow students to choose topic that interests them
  • Design project calendar that has:
    • Adequate research time (near start of project)
    • Milestone deadlines for genre types (middle of project)
    • Milestone deadlines for coherent whole (end of project)
    • Milestone deadlines for team product – reading theater piece (end of project)
Early Implementation Steps
  • Facilitate project using resources designed above
  • Provide A LOT of in class work time and in class feedback – see these articles for ideas – Critique / Feedback lessons and Writing Workshops
  • Facilitate self reflections and self assessments that help students become aware of how their writing and understanding are developing throughout the project and to help students set and achieve academic goals
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use  6 facets of understanding to create a genre menu that enables students to select one genre per facet of understanding.



80: Shorter Writing Projects (3 of 3)



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Newspaper Front Page:
  • Team creates short list of interesting articles that leave audience wanting more
  • Uses:
    • summarize material
    • practice different formats – news article, editorial, feature, advice column
    • show how subjectivity plays into non-fiction pieces
  • Play by play
    • Topic search:
      • teacher-assigned
      • assign major role players and students brainstorm lesser characters
      • choose from menus of topics and formats
    • Identifying the audience:
      • How will I need to title and write the article to catch the interest of _______?
      • Brainstorm audience types that go with topics
      • Select audience of let the WheelDecide
      • Brainstorm newspaper title that will appeal to audience
    • Gathering information:
      • Use information in students notes and textbook
      • Research information from valid internet sources
    • Prewriting:
      • Use templates to set word counts, image quantities and sizes per article
      • Restrict to 1st page to make every word count
      • Brainstorm content of specialty boxes – example: “Inside this issue”
    • Drafting:
      • Since articles are short, draft in class and provide students with in-progress feedback
    • Revision:
      • Meet in writer’s group and look for: (Also, see RAFT notes)
        • Inclusion of descriptive helpful information
        • Audience appeal
        • Wording
      • Writers take turns slowly reading aloud team members’ papers to listen for elements to polish and taking notes on feedback from team members
    • Editting:
      • Type up and use spell and grammar check
      • Check article word count to ensure they match templates
      • Write in word processing software (simple) and then copy/paste into template software
    • Sharing the Writing:
      • Share in gallery style presentations
      • Post high quality work on class bulletin board
    • Other tips:
      • Tech tip:  Use same template software to create entry document to familiarize yourself with software
    • Grading criteria:
      • Catchy titles
      • Accurate header information
      • Consistent fonts (and other newspaper formatting details)
      • Evidence of use of notes and research
      • Cover who, what, when, where, why
      • Lead sentences grab audience attention
      • Information aligns to intended to topics
      • Free of grammar and spelling errors
Web Page
  • Writing piece(s) published on the internet
  • Uses:
    • Uses of sub-pages and hyperlinks can add layers to information
    • Develops understanding by having student impose structure on information
    • Breaks up writing into small, connected chunks
    • Practice 21st century literacy skills
    • Motivate students with real, wide audiences
  • Play by play:
    • Getting started
      • Internet research from valid sources
      • Teach norm: If information is already in website, link it – don’t include it in writing to avoid plagiarism
      • Select easy to use or familiar web-creation tool – poll students to say what they’ve already used, can place a few students in expert role to assist students with using website tool
    • Working the room
      • If possible, divide up class time between workshops (and other learning activities) and website work time
      • Set milestone deadlines for key elements/decision  – choosing a focus, completing research, creating graphic, drafting scripts, and publishing
      • Provide feedback at all milestones
    • Variations:
      • Use thinking sheets to guide research and writing processes
      • Can combine web question with website creation


Knowing a wide variety of possible writing projects can prevent writing products from feeling stale and repetitive.


The Newspaper front page can teach students how to represent a lot of essential information using a concise style that appeals to a specific audience.  This exercise can show students how subjectivity affects non-fiction writing.


Creating websites can teach students how to represent information in short pieces connected by hyperlinks.  The act of creating these layered, connected writing pieces can help students develop understanding by imposing structure on information.  These products can motivate students to produce high quality work because of their access to wide audiences.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what writing assignments best align to current and future learning targets.
  • Research and develop scaffolding and assessment activities and resources that go with selected writing assignment.  See above and Writing articles for ideas.
  • Research how to use tech tools that go with written products
  • If possible, model use of software by creating launch materials using selected software
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project that features selected writing activity.
  • Have students reflect on how the steps in the writing process are affecting their content understandings and their writing skills.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Re-use some of the positively tested strategies in previous projects to reinforce skills in current and future projects.
  • Maintain a class blog or class magazine that features high quality student work.
  • Have students gather feedback from audience members outside school to revise and refine work



79: Shorter Writing Projects (2 of 3)



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RAFT Papers
  • What is RAFT?
    • Role of writer
    • Audience of writer
    • Format of writing piece
    • Topic
  • Uses:
    • See content from different perspectives.
    • Creative representation of researched facts
  • Play by Play:
    • Topic search:
      • Give a menu of topics to choose from
      • Start with broad topic that has many possible subtopics that students can choose
    • Identifying Audience, Role, & Format
      • Possible roles: professions, historical figures, real related roles, etc
      • Possible audiences: related orgs/interest groups, historical figures/orgs, friend/foe of role, etc
        • Try to select audiences far removed from classroom that emotionally or logically relate to role
      • Possible formats: speech, letter, conversation, essay, argument, editorial, pamphlet, etc
      • Trinilicious twist:
        • Each team gets to pick topic (same for all team members)
        • Use WheelDecide to select Role and Audience for each individual on team
        • Select Format that goes with plausible interactions between writer role and audience
      • after RAF selections, brainstorm implications in groups of 3 or 4
    • Gathering information:
      • Gather information from valid internet sources
      • Take factual notes from research
      • Make notes that describe how role and audience and format affect factual information
    • Pre-writing:
      • Give out tip sheets, checklists, or thinking sheets that scaffold different writing formats
      • Use mini-lessons, models, and thinking sheets (or similar) to scaffold writing formats
    • Drafting:
    • Revision:
      • Work in writing teams to identify:
        • What lines fit role (and not)?
        • What details reflect time period, audience, actor, setting, etc.?
        • Is intended effect on audience obvious?  How to enhance this?
      • Silent rereads after team discussions
      • Underline hard facts in writing piece
      • Conduct more research to fill in parts with missing factual details
      • Use new research and team feedback to revise draft
      • Print new copy
    • Revising:
      • Pick a couple of watch-fors to focus feedback
      • Try to select watch-fors that are common elements to writing formats – example: use of quotes in letters
    • Sharing the writing:
      • Read aloud in presentations
      • Publish high quality works in school blog or magazine
    • Possible grading criteria:
      • Role is clear – fits audience and format
      • Follows format conventions
      • Extensive use of research notes
      • Original, interesting, school appropriate
  • Students convey information with interesting graphics and concise writing that conveys essential and interesting facts
  • Uses:
    • Review material
    • Connect writing and learning with visuals
    • Summarize researched information
  • Play by play:
    • Topic search:
      • For review: assign topics
      • For research:
        • Provide menu of topics to choose from, or
        • General topic that inspire sub-topics – facilitate brainstorming activity to generate possibilities
    • Identifying the Audience:
      • Select audience that will inspire students to write in clear and interesting ways – example: middle school students for high school students prepping a review brochure
    •  Drafting: 
      • Hand write or type drafts
      • Use brochure templates in word processing software or create brochures by hand (collage-style)
    • Revision & Editting:
      • Work with a feedback partner:
      • Revision Look-Fors:
        • Is all essential information present?
        • Writing style?  Dry? Plagiarized? Enthusiastic?
        • Does writing style fit audience?
      • Partner slowly reads aloud brochure text –  Listen for errors in wording, spelling, and grammar that can be fixed to polish the brochure.
      • Read piece backwards slowly to check for correct spellings and wording
      • Assemble final brochure after revising and editing are done
    • Sharing the Writing
      • Students share brochures and note how same information is represented among brochures
      • Use brochures to study for assessments
      • Could share with real intended audiences
    • Other tips:
      • Require original graphics to avoid plagiarism
Knowing a wide variety of possible writing projects can prevent writing products from feeling stale and repetitive.


The RAFT paper shows students how different perspectives and intentions modify how information is written. This paper could be good for courses or good for projects that aim to teach students how perspectives affect understandings.  Completing different RAFT papers within teams that address the same topic with different RAF selections could teach students how to collaborate to represent the same information in different ways.


Brochures can engage visual learners and artistic students to engage in writing assignments.  They teach students how to present essential information using concise writing and interesting graphics.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what writing assignments best align to current and future learning targets.
  • Research and develop scaffolding and assessment activities and resources that go with selected writing assignment.  See above and Writing articles for ideas.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project that features selected writing activity.
  • Have students reflect on how the steps in the writing process are affecting their content understandings and their writing skills.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Re-use some of the positively tested strategies in previous projects to reinforce skills in current and future projects.
  • Maintain a class blog or class magazine that features high quality student work.



78: Shorter Writing Projects (1 of 3)





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People Research:
  • Uses / purposes:
    • Easier than research abstract topics
    • Stepping stone for building research and writing skills that build up to attract topics
  • Questionnaires & Surveys
    • Play-by-play:
      • Investigate sample surveys and extract examples and key features.  For modeling lessons, go here.
      • Learn about different survey questions and different scoring systems.
      • Design and implement own surveys.
      • Workshop how to cluster and summarize data using various graphs
      • Students write about conclusions that are backed by evidence in the summary graphs
  • Interviews
    • Play-by-play:
      • Help students select and contact people they can interview
      • Help students design interview questions
      • Students interview subjects using questionnaire and use writing and recording devices to record interview
      • Flesh out interview information with information researched from valid internet sources
      • Develop writing pieces using researched information aimed at a specific audience
      • Use teacher conferences and peer response sessions for
        • revisions – substantial changes in writing structure
        • revising – after revisions, polish word choice, spelling, and grammar
        • proofreading – correct tiny errors that spell check and grammar check miss
        • For critique lesson formats, go here.
        • Use checklists to help with giving descriptive feedback.
  • writing genre that marries factual research with imagination (facts + fiction)
  • students research facts and write stories involving these
  • Uses:
    • students can personalize learning – connect to their lives, prior knowledge, experiences
    • serve as additional alternative summative assessment in addition to traditional test
    • short guided research project
  • Example:
    • write a journal entry for character using researched historical details
  • Play-by-play:
    • Topic search: Depends on goals
      • Develop research skills – start with assigned set of resources
      • Independent research:
        • start with set of teacher generated list topics
        • guide students to find interesting topics:
          • scan textbook and pay attention to bold text and picture captions
          • assign 3 general website, study these, and list intriguing topics
    • Identifying the Audiences:
      • 3 audiences: teacher, writer, and someone else
      • identify other audience that connects to writing topic and writing genre
    • Gathering Information:
      • 2-3 valid sources
      • use a checklist for identifying valid internet sources
      • give students starter list of 5-10 sources
      • teach students how to search databases and how to frame data queries into Google and similar tools
      • collaborate with media specialist / librarian if your school has one or more
    • Prewriting:
      • record key research information
      • react to researched information in character
      • develop character details – age, social status, occupation, education, gender, background, goals, hopes, dreams
    • Drafting:
      • Work the room – scan writing as it evolves
      • After 30 min of drafting, students read aloud to a partner – listen for revision opportunities
      • Double-spaced drafts create room for written comments
    • Revisions:
      • Revise for 2 reasons;
        • increase evidence of sufficient research
          • underline key facts in piece
          • model use of parenthetical citations
          • students add citations to their papers
          • identify areas that have little factual content and research more info to fill these gaps
        • enhance characterization with examples, details
          • read papers aloud in writing groups and discuss:
            • words that created action and imagery
            • favorite parts
            • parts missing details and information
            • when did you care most about character
      • Split revisions into 2 phases (see 2 above) with space in between each to let work rest
    • Editting:
      • Chart common student errors and use chart to identify top 3 errors in individual’s work
      • Teach students how to find and correct common errors
      • Check in with ELA class to see if you can emphasize key grammar elements being featured in that course
      • Have writing partners only provide editing feedback on 1st page of writing and have individual students find similar errors in remaining pages
      • Create individual responsibilities sheets that list writing goals and individual’s top 3 errors – use these lists to improve writing
      • Have writing partner read the paper aloud – more likely to read mistakes as written so they are easier to hear
      • Check for spelling errors by reading slowly with finger tracing each word
      • Ask students to get 2 other adults (besides teacher) to proofread paper
    • Sharing the writing:
      • Read papers aloud at presentations
      • Seek out audiences beyond the classroom
      • Hold unto to writing samples and polish and
      • submit best sample within a semester to a class magazine
    • Other Tips
      • Facilitate each stage and explain its purpose so that students learn to appreciate writing as a process
      • Provide feedback at each phase so students can gradually improve over time
    • Possible grading criteria:
      • Realization of character through details
      • Replicates genre fully
      • Use of research and notes is evident
      • Uses citations and reference page correctly
      • Original, creative, but school appropriate


3-sowhatThe two writing projects described above are research projects that build up to  more difficult genres that involve research of abstract topics.  The people research project helps students write about topics that are very personal and tangible and teaches them how to design and research questions.  The faction paper teaches students how to blend fact and fiction.  It helps them to connect factual research with their own lives and experiences.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what writing assignments develop skills that are good pre-cursors to more formal genres that are key to the course.
  • Early in the year scaffold and assess writing projects that feature genres that develop skills related to more complex genres.
  • Research and develop strategies and tools that relate to these writing genres.  Think about how the skills taught in these projects can be leveraged later in the year.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project that features writing product from a preparing genre.  See above for examples and here and here.
  • Have students reflect on how they are developing skills that you know will be used later in the year.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Re-use some of the strategies in preparation projects in order to reinforce skills that will be used in later writing projects.
  • Maintain a class blog or class magazine that features high quality student work.

77: Writing Assessments





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These are examples of activities that assess student writing in order to improve it before it appears before a public audience.  To see the difference between public writing pieces and write-to-learn pieces, go here.  To see an overview of all the steps that go into creating a piece of public writing go here or here.


Individual goal setting:
  • students write down 3-4 things they can most improve in their writing
  • go over goals in conferences and add 1-2 more goals that relate to student goals and/or work
  • store goals in writing folders
Marking papers:
  • don’t need to mark all errors
  • notice a common type of error and mark up a couple instances and ask student to find similar instances and correct them
  • communicates clear expectations for writing
  • can be used as a tool to identify strengths and gaps in writing pieces
Long-range reflection:
  • students compare writing pieces, reflect and write out how their writing is improving
  • can brainstorm next steps in writing growth
Using models: go there.


Using critique lessons: go here.


One Thing At a Time!
  • start small
  • go after writing skills and stages 1 at a time
  • support goals with helpful related writing activities



Writing assessment activities can help students become aware of goals and strategies that can improve their writing.  Integrating goal setting conversations into writing conferences can help teachers individualize student goals and related support.  Using efficient strategies (see above) to mark papers can save time and give students opportunities to practice recognizing and fixing their own errors.  Long range reflections can help students appreciate how their writing is evolving and use knowledge of that growth to set incremental writing goals.


Preparation Steps
  • Create a complete list of writing skills / stages needed to master key writing genres in the course.
  • Develop a yearlong sequence that includes times to incrementally learn strategies related to key phases of genre-specific writing.
  • Research and develop learning activities that connect to upcoming writing learning targets.  See above and Writing articles for ideas.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Incrementally facilitate activities in each project that gradually build up proficiency of students’ skills to demonstrate features of course-specific genre(s).
  • Have students maintain writing folders that contain writing artifacts gathered over time.
  • Have students periodically use writing folder samples to reflect on how their writing is progressing and to set upcoming writing goals.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use student feedback and observations to identify writing activities that students like and find effective.  Incorporate these into a repertoire of writing routines that scaffold writing in multiple projects.