Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mini Composition Workshop

How to Teach Composition - 
Mini Workshop 
by Cindy Downes 
(Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.)

College admission officers from around the country unanimously agree that composition is one of the weakest areas for most college freshman. This includes homeschoolers as well. Why is this happening? The reasons are many but can include:
  • Composition is harder to teach. It’s much easier to teach grammar skills using workbooks.
  • Many teachers became English teachers because of their love of literature, not their love of writing.
  • Composition ability is difficult to assess. Grading papers is difficult and time consuming.
  • Composition is usually taught in isolation from other subjects; however, it takes too much time away from other subjects when taught as a separate course. Therefore it is neglected.
  • Composition, when taught, is usually taught in high school as practice for college writing only - usually expository essays and how to answer in examinations.
  • Little real world writing is taught - letters, resumes, creative, editorials, business writing, journalism, etc. because of lack of time.
General Guidelines for Writing Instruction
  1. Prepare a list of writing projects the student will undertake and set deadlines. These are your short-term writing goals. Use The Checklist pages 127-131, for a guide.
  2. Have a purpose for each writing assignment. For example: if they need practice in transitions, have them spend a week or two just practicing using transitions in their writing.
  3. Focus on only one or two new techniques per assignment (topic sentences, vivid verbs, idea starters, descriptive paragraph…) Don’t overwhelm them.
  4. Have an audience for the writing assignment: portfolio, friend or relative, letter to editor, newspaper to family, publication, or contests.
  5. Let them write about what they know or about what interests them.
  6. Don’t punish kids for grammar skill deficiencies in composition class. Make composition lesson be composition lesson, grammar lesson be grammar lesson.
  7. Allow them time to write - put it into your schedule. Spend more time in writing instruction than in grammar workbooks. You can teach grammar using their writing assignments and a good handbook. Have him write frequently in a Daily journal and integrate composition practice into other subjects.
  8. Read books to them that are above their grade level to help them increase their vocabulary.
Writing Instruction Timeline. Until the child can write comfortably in manuscript:
  1. Have him dictate his compositions to you. Tape them or you write as he speaks. An autobiography is a great project for the early years.
  2. Use Storybook Weaver Deluxe, Story Wizard, or similar software to practice composition.
  3. Make simple booklets with pictures.
  4. Read aloud from great pieces of literature to increase vocabulary and to illustrate good writing techniques.
  5. Use games like Squiggley’s Writing Corner to make writing fun (mad libs)
As writing becomes more comfortable:
  1. Teach him to outline.. 
  2. Use paper with lines and drawing space, writing booklets, or newspaper blanks to make writing more interesting. See Homeschool Forms for some templates.
After the child writes comfortably in both manuscript and cursive:
  1. Teach him to type - minimum 40+ wpm (Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Deluxe 20)
  2. Show her where to get ideas for writing. and more ideas.
  3. Have him write a list of things in which he is interested (sports, horses, airplanes). Use these as the basis for writing assignments.
  4. Have her start a clipping file: Collect magazine and newspaper clippings that interest her and use those for writing ideas.
  5. Visit museums, factories, missions, farms, read, expand their world. Have him take photos and use them as writing ideas.
  6. Have him carry a notebook in which he can jot down ideas, images he sees, characters he meets, dialogues he hears, interesting names, etc
  7. Teach her how to combine sentences to create more interesting sentences.
  8. Teach him to add details to his writing.
  9. Teach her to use transition words (although, after, therefore, while, finally…)
  10. Teach him to write good leads or “hooks.” Begin with a: Funny, interesting, or dramatic statement, a question, quotation, or an opinion statement.
  11. Teach her how to limit her topic.
  12. For help, use Harvey Wiener's, Any Child Can Write.
Teach the Rules of Vivid Verbs:
  1. Use active rather than passive verbs. Ex. The football was clutched by Dennis. Better: Dennis clutched the football.
  2.  Avoid using the “to be” verbs (is, are, was, were, am . .) Ex. Cindy is a fast typist. Better: Cindy types fast.
  3. Use verbs that show rather than tell. Ex. The truck ruined the toy car. Better: The truck flattened the toy car.
  4. Use a verb that is strong enough to stand alone without an adverb. Ex. Joan sat quickly on the sofa. Better: Joan plopped on the sofa.
More Tips:
  1. Teach him to write from different points of view (1st, 2nd or 3rd person). Read a short story, then have him rewrite it in another point of view.
  2. Teach her to write good endings.
  3. Have him write from dictation great pieces of literature.
  4. Let her use a word processor to write compositions if she is more comfortable.
How to correct your child’s writing.
  1. First focus on content.
  2. Have him read it out loud and rewrite parts that aren’t clear.
  3. Sentence structure-does it sound smooth when read aloud? If she is having trouble putting it on paper, have her tell you orally what she is trying to say. Then have her write it down. 
  4. Are there good transitions between paragraphs?
  5. Look at the arrangement of sentences, paragraphs. Reorder them if necessary. Alphabetical order; Chronological order; Geographical order—for example, describing an object from top to bottom or left to right; Rank order—presenting topics according to some measure such as smallest to biggest, least expensive to most expensive, or most favorite to least favorite.
  6. Is the main focus or idea of the piece either stated or suggested?
  7. Help him to delete confusing or unnecessary words.
  8. Does she use descriptive words?
  9. Does he use good action verbs?
  10. Is there a good title?
  11. Encourage him to rewrite (Rewrite however many time it takes to get it right. Put it away for awhile. Then go back and edit some more.) Hawthorne wrote one chapter over 100 times!
After the content is the way he wants it, edit for correctness.
  1. Spelling
  2. Punctuation
  3. Capitalization
  4. Usage (Verb Agreement, Grammar) - most of this is corrected during the oral reading.
Create the final product:
  1. Typeset
  2. Illustrate
  3. Publish (a reason to write)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.