Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Deconstructing a Writing Prompt

    As our students began prepping for the state writing assessment, we quickly discovered that one of the biggest obstacles they faced was effectively answering the writing prompt.  In their written essays they were missing key components, lacking sufficient evidence, or not even answering the prompt at all.  After digging deeper, it became evident that students didn't have a clear understanding of what the prompt was actually asking them to do.  Prompts can be lengthy, confusing, consist of multi-steps, and full of extensive vocabulary.  If you can train your students how to rip apart a prompt to make sense of it, half the battle is over.  So where do you start?

1.)  Highlight all the action verbs or phrases.  This will clue them in and remind them they are to actually DO some things! (It's usually MORE than one thing!) 
2.)  Circle important or keys words (the words that it's asking you to write about) and jot some synonyms (or phrases with similar meaning) for them.  The synonyms or phrases students select are the words they are most comfortable using.  This will ease their apprehension of the prompt and give them a tool for finding matching key evidence in the text that answers what the prompt is looking for.  It will also LEAD them to the mode of writing they need to be thinking about.  
3.)  Rewrite the prompt in their own words.  This is one final way of confirming they understand the task, as well as double check that they have all the parts of the prompt accounted for.  

I have had the privilege of working in some classrooms over the last couple of months on this very task.  Students often start out with that same puzzled look, only to finish with more confidence.  In the words of one of our 4th graders this week, (after viewing a state released practice prompt for the first time),  "Hmmm…Not sure what this means RIGHT NOW, but give me a minute to rip it apart!"  

I'm happy to share one of the activities some teachers and I used with our third, fourth, and fifth graders as we worked through deconstructing prompts.  ENJOY the "RIP APART the PROMPT" FREEBIE!  We would love to hear about some successes in your own classroom, so feel free to grab it, give it a try, and share with the rest of us!  :-)

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Opinion-Narrative-and-Expository-Writing-Unit-1647373The freebie prompt is part of a larger unit if you're looking for something to work with all year.  My newest writing unit centers around narratives, opinions, and expository writing, focusing on the procedure of putting together a solid piece of writing in the correct mode.  The unit is loaded with organizers for each mode that are designed with every season (fall, winter, spring, summer) in mind.  Also included are
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Opinion-Narrative-and-Expository-Writing-Unit-1647373practice skills with each mode (dialogue for narrative, opinions vs. facts for opinion, sensory details for narratives, etc.)  Mini-writing folder contents are also available that offer helpful hints for organizing, constructing, and editing your writing. Students love using them and find them incredibly useful and FUN as they learn the process. Check out some of our "hard at work" 3rd graders working on their expository pieces with their mini-folders!  Click on any of the photos for a closer look at that unit. 

Bananas for students (and teachers) who love a good writing challenge!


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