Help for struggling writers

For struggling writers especially, they really
benefit from having more scaffolded experiences. Simply telling a student to write and then
glaring at them for 45 minutes while they don’t write isn’t really going to help. So, we really think about various kinds of
scaffolded writing experiences that they can have, and I’ll talk about a couple of them. One is generative sentences. I can hardly think of a better way to get
a reluctant writer to start putting ideas down on paper than using generative sentences. Typically I’ll give them a word and I’ll
give them a position within a sentence to use that word. So, if I ask them, for example, to use the
word “voted” in the third position in the sentence that is at least eight words
long, now that writer has to think about how it is that he or she is going to compose that
sentence. And often students will say, “Well, do I
have to use voted? Can I use votes or can I use vote?” And the answer should always be no. I want you to use that form of the word because
it’s going to stretch your ability to be able to syntactically put a sentence together. So, if the third word is voted, then I might
have to start the sentence with something like I have voted. So, I have to think about the grammar that
goes within that. And the sentence needs to be at least eight
words long. So, now I have to think beyond I have voted. I have to build that idea out. I have voted in the past week for the school
president. And now I’m building that sentence. I will often do several of these generative
sentences that are focused on the vocabulary that students are learning. After they’ve done a couple of these sentences,
I’ll invite them to choose one of the sentences they wrote and to let that sentence be the
topic sentence in a paragraph that you write. And so now in fairly short order I’ve gotten
them to go from the word, to the sentence, to the paragraph level with a decent amount
of scaffolding that’s happening, but now they’re ideas that are down on paper. They don’t have to stare at a blank sheet
of paper. But they’ve got something to be able to
go with from there.

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