Mastering the Essentials is one of seven units that make up Writing Matters. The lessons at a glance are provided below. For an example of an entire unit, take a look at Writing Editorials. If you would like more information about Writing Matters, contact Teaching Matters at 212 870-3505.

Lessons at a Glance

The unit offers four weeks of instruction (organized into four steps), preceded by one week for assessing students and establishing guidelines for effective technology use. It is suitable for a wide range of middle school classrooms. Each step contains four lessons aligned with New York City and State learning standards in English Language Arts.

Step 0: Get Ready

Students prepare for participation in Writing Matters by producing a preliminary writing sample that will serve as a baseline for measuring progress over the year. Students learn procedures for using classroom technology appropriately, and enroll in the program in order to have access to the Online Classroom that offers activities that are integral to all units within the program.

Lesson 0.1: Baseline Assessment, Part I

Students write to the best of their abilities without any instruction. They each produce a writing sample that demonstrates their performance at the beginning of the year. This sample will serve as a reference for what to teach, as well as help to monitor how students have progressed throughout the year. Teachers use an Assessment Checklist for class observation during the baseline exercise.

Lesson 0.2: Baseline Assessment, Part II

Students revise and edit the writing sample they produced on the previous day. Students work as best they can to improve their pieces without any teacher or peer assistance.

Lesson 0.3: Technology Procedures

Students learn procedures for using technology in the classroom, including laptop distribution, laptop etiquette and file saving procedures. Students practice creating, naming and saving a word processing document in the correct folder on the computer.

Lesson 0.4: Welcome to the Online Classroom

After creating Writing Matters accounts and enrolling in their Online Classroom, students explore the online activities and resources they will use in the Mastering the Essentials unit. By becoming familiar with the resources and how to access them, students will find it easier to participate in the many literacy activities contained within the complete program. (Checkpoint)

Step 1: Be a Writer

Student writers are introduced to strategies, tools and rules that will make their participation in writing workshop with technology successful. Students learn to make good use of their writers’ notebooks for independently generating and developing ideas from their idea banks. Students also get to know one another as writers through the Online Classroom as well as face-to-face peer interviews.

Lesson 1.1: Build Your Writing Muscles

Students are introduced to the writing workshop approach they will take to become good writers this year. Given a set of interesting images as prompts, students begin brainstorming topics about which to potentially write now and later. They record their ideas in the idea bank in their notebooks.

Lesson 1.2: Collect More Writing Ideas

Students generate more writing ideas using another brainstorming strategy, The Five Door Strategy. They think of topics organized into the following categories or “doors”: observation, world, wonder, heart and memory. Students are guided through each door as they write.

Lesson 1.3: Create a Writer’s Profile

Students conduct peer interviews to get to know one another better as people and writers. After gathering information from one classmate, students prepare to post their own profiles online for the rest of their classmates to read. Students will expand their profiles later in the
unit.

Lesson 1.4: Share Your Writer’s Profile

Students post information from their writers’ interviews in the Online Classroom. They then read each other’s profiles and comment on them. In addition to familiarizing students with one another as writers, this lesson gives students a start in using the powerful communication capabilities of the Online Classroom which promotes ongoing feedback and high levels of motivation. (Checkpoint)

Step 2: Time to Write

Having been introduced to the basic structure and expectations of the daily workshop, student writers are ready to dig in to find ideas that make for interesting “snapshsots,” real experiences that can be described briefly but in detail. After exploring their memories, students select one to develop into a written draft that they will refine and ultimately share with an online audience.

Lesson 2.1: Locate Your Memories

Students get one step closer to identifying a memory that will serve as the basis for the writing assignment in the introductory unit. In order to do so, they draw maps of familiar places, charting the locations of vivid memories. After adding the memories to their writers’ notebooks, students write several paragraphs about one selected memory.

Lesson 2.2: Analyze an Author’s Memory

After listening to a read aloud of a snapshot in a mentor text, the class analyzes the example and develops a list of snapshot characteristics. Students then work independently to select topics for their snapshots, using these characteristics as a guide. Students post their topics in the Online Classroom. (Checkpoint)

Lesson 2.3: Write Your Snapshot

Students complete a teacher-led visualization activity to help them recall details related to their selected memories. Armed with rich details, students begin writing the first drafts of their snapshots, and upload their work to the Online Classroom for easy access throughout the remainder of the unit.

Lesson 2.4: Develop Your Snapshot

Students review the Snapshot Rubric to further understand the requirements of the snapshot assignment before working independently to complete their first drafts. Students are introduced to writers’ conferences and given a clear description of their purpose and structure. (Checkpoint)

Lesson 2.5: Type Your Snapshot (Supplementary)

This supplemental lesson is tailored for classrooms in which students are inexperienced in using word processing software. Students learn about good file saving practices in preparation for typing their first drafts. Students learn to upload their typed documents to the Online Classroom.

Step 3: Revise

Students learn the purpose of revision as well as basic craft strategies to improve the clarity of their writing and engage readers. Rubrics and technological strategies that advance the revision process are introduced as well. Students also learn how to take advantage of peer review as a way to help improve their writing.

Lesson 3.1: Revise for Clarity of Meaning

Students make their first set of revisions, improving the structure of their snapshots to emphasize the most important parts. To accomplish this objective, they create timelines and use them to identify those parts, and elaborate by adding more action.

Lesson 3.2: Revise with Descriptive Language

Students take the next steps toward bringing greater clarity and reader engagement to their snapshots by replacing generic or overused words with words and phrases that are more specific, unique and evocative.

Lesson 3.3: Use the Rubric to Revise Your Work

Students use a rubric to assess the quality of various elements of the writing they have produced to date: the topic itself, the organization of the piece, the use of craft strategies and grammar and mechanics. They then revise as required. To scaffold this process, they are introduced to an animated Think Aloud that shows how a student takes advantage of a rubric to improve his or her written work.

Lesson 3.4: Get Peer Feedback through Peer Review

After learning the importance of sharing feedback and giving specific comments, students confer with classmates to improve their snapshots. As reviewers, they respond to one another’s work and then, as writers, they use the feedback they receive to make appropriate revisions. (Checkpoint)

Lesson 3.5: Use Online Reference Tools (Supplementary)

Students learn to find synonyms and look up definitions using Microsoft Word’s thesaurus and dictionary tools. They use these tools to replace overused words in their writing with more descriptive alternatives.

Step 4: Edit & Publish

Students learn the importance of editing, and then use the checklist provided to take this final step before publishing for a real audience. Once the work is posted in the class ezine, students celebrate their accomplishments by reading and commenting on one another’s stories online.

Lesson 4.1: Edit Your Work

Students edit their writing for grammar and punctuation using the Editing Checklist (Handout 4.1a). They pay particular attention to including capital letters at the beginning of sentences and punctuation at the end. Students work on computers to correct their typed drafts. (Checkpoint)

Lesson 4.2: Title and Publish

Students develop titles for their snapshots. Then they upload their first completed pieces of writing to the class ezine, where they can be shared with their classmates and other members of the learning community.

Lesson 4.3: Reflect on Your Work and the Unit

Students reflect on what they learned in this first unit as well as goals for future writing. They also create an “About the Author” paragraph based on their online profile to include in the class ezine.

Lesson 4.4: Respond and Celebrate

Students read each other’s snapshots and comment on them using guidelines established in class. The class celebrates its hard work and prepares to move forward to the rest of the Writing Matters genre studies over the rest of the year.

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