Let’s Take a Walk Down My Writing Lane

During my unit, Power, Leadership and Change, my students write a literary response essay about the novel, Animal Farm. My goals are to improve their thesis and topic sentence development, along with their quote integration. Here are the steps we have taken during the writing process. Now that I am looking at the final products, I realize I still have work to do; therefore, I am adding a new step and continuing the revision process.

1. Thesis Throwdown

I have six prompts to choose from and students work in Lit Circles to develop thesis statements for each prompt. See my post about this step here. The idea was inspired by Catlin Tucker’s blog post. Check it out!

2. Rough Draft Document w/ Model Essay

I use Doctopus to share a document that breaks down each step of the essay (this can be done w/ Google Classroom). On the document, I have a model RTL essay about another piece of literature written by a previous anonymous student. After Thesis Throwdown, students work on their RTL introductions on this document.

Sample RTL Intro

3. Introduction Gallery Walk

The next morning, I get to school early and print six anonymous introductions written the night before by the students (I have access because I sent out the Docs via Doctopus; you can do this w/ Google Classroom). I attach these to what I call my “parking lots” and Lit Circles walk around critiquing the introductions. I then randomly ask one to two students per Lit circle to share our “areas of growth” as  introduction writers. I then require students to open up their Google Documents and revise, paying attention to  these “areas of growth.”

4. Topic Sentence Class Give and Get

Once students have revised introductions, they write their body paragraphs one at a time. After writing their first body paragraph, I print out anonymous topic sentences written by my students the night before (a class set- 35 different topic sentences). As a student enters the class, I hand them a topic sentence. During the Give and Get, students try to meet up with as many students as possible to get feedback on how best to revise the topic sentence assigned to them. After about five minutes, students report to their Lit Circle parking lot and decide whose topic sentence has the most room for growth (this may or may not be a topic sentence written by a group member). They then attach it to their parking lot and revise it as a group. Representatives from each Lit Circle then share the original sentence and revised version. After this process, students then sit down, open their Google Documents and revise their own topic sentences that were written the night before. Finally, I assign the writing of their next body paragraphs with time to write in class.

5. Quote Clash

This activity is much like Thesis Throwdown. The goal is to help students write clear quote sandwiches as evidence to prove their thesis statements. I share a Google Document with the Lit Circles that has room for six quote sandwiches. I then one at a time display a quote on the screen and Lit Circles have six minutes to write a quote sandwich (context, smoothly integrated quote, and analysis). When the timer goes off, a secretary then posts the quote sandwich on the class Padlet wall. Groups then must vote for the quote sandwich that is the strongest. If their vote matches mine, they earn a bonus point. Throughout the process, I stop to discuss strengths and areas of growth of the quote sandwiches posted to the Padlet wall. This activity occurs before a revision day, where students then must review and revise their quote sandwiches, paying close to attention to pointers discussed during Quote Clash.

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6. GoFormative Assessment and Revision

I love using GoFormative to have students score class writing and make revisions. I will add screenshots of student writing and ask students to score with a rubric (4 point scale) to see if  they have the ability to recognize what makes strong writing. I  screenshot samples of low, middle and high writing and ask students to explain their scores and/or revise the sample writing to make it stronger.

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7. Score w/ Student Goobric

On the day the RTL was due, students used the Student Goobric extension to self-assess their writing with our school Literary Response rubric. This was my first time trying it out and we did have some hiccups, but for those students that had no technical issues, it was beneficial to give time for reflection. The students that had technical issues used a printed version of the rubric, which is not as convenient for me, since I have to have these with me while I am grading. With the Student Goobric extension, wherever I am with my technology, I have the ability to see their self-assessment.

On this day, I also had them highlight their thesis statement and topic sentences and leave me a feedback question with a comment explaining which activity helped their writing the most. I will use this feedback to guide my lesson planning during our next writing process.

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8. Offering Feedback with Kaizena

Because my students left me specific questions about their essays, I wanted to be sure I spent time giving adequate feedback. However, I realized as I started the process that this was going to be quite time consuming (130+ students). I tried opening the documents and offering feedback with the Google Voice Typing, but I found that it often misspelled my words, which was even more time consuming to fix. My Digital Learning Coach mentioned Kaizena, so I played with it this weekend. I sent out a Remind 101, offering students a few bonus points if they joined my Kaizena classes. I also added the shortcut addon to my Google Document app (this allows me to add student papers to Kaizena even if a student hasn’t added himself/herself to my class yet). Yesterday, I offered feedback to at least 40 students from home. I LOVED the voice comments capability and the ability to add lessons. There are curated lessons, but you can also add your own. I have links to my favorite videos/pdfs/web resources for skills such as quote integration, analysis, thesis statement writing, etc. With my added lessons, I can highlight the students’ text in their essay and quickly provide them with a link to the resource.


Because what’s most important to me is my students’ writing growth, I am going to extend the due date after I have provided feedback to ALL my students in Kaizena…this is a long Writer’s Lane, but I am sure the walk will be well worth it!



Let’s Have Fun!

During my 13th year of teaching, I was working with one of my APs to institute Instructional Rounds on our campus. With a small group, we read the book and then before beginning the implementation process, I asked him to observe my class with a form we created. During the debriefing, which was the best post observation conference I have ever had (not because it was all commendations, but because he made me self-reflect), he asked, “Would you want to be a student in your class today?” It was a simple question, but I was silent for a few minutes, and while I would say it was an engaging lesson, my answer was just “I think so.” When he left, the question resonated with me and till this day, it still does. This has motivated me to make a concerted effort to always make sure that as I make choices about learning objectives, tech tools and lesson design to also make my class engaging and fun. Here are a few lesson ideas I have implemented that you may want to try and/or adapt.

1. Blocks for English Humanity

Yes, this is adapted from Cards Against Humanity…hahaha! One weekend I played the game for the first time and had a blast! It made me wonder how I could adapt the game to fit some of my English objectives. I had some wooden blocks I ordered from Amazon, and had two ideas: 1. use them to practice sentence types 2. use them to examine literary devices in our literature. I picked the latter for now, but still have intentions to try the sentence types route somehow.

Each Lit Circle receives a block with literary devices written on each side. During each round, one student acts as a judge and rolls the block. The others are reviewing the previous night’s reading to search for an example of the literary device showing on the block. They then type them anonymously on their group’s Padlet wall. The judge gets to pick the quote they feel best exhibits the device and the student who wrote that quote earns a point. The judges rotate and the goal is to be the student with the highest score in the Lit Circle. I give each winner (6 per period) 1 bonus point for the reading quiz that follows.

I love this activity because one, students are forced back into the text to review, and secondly, because students are forced to have conversations about author’s craft. I often overhear students talking about the author’s intentions or whether the quote is in fact the literary device that the student is suggesting. Finally, it’s fun!

Student Directions

2. Thesis Throwdown

I learned about this activity from Catlin Tucker’s blog. I adapted it a bit, but the idea is the same. My students are in Lit Circles and competing to earn points. I project a writing prompt on the screen and students have 4 minutes to work with their group to construct a thesis statement. I use Doctopus to manage a Google Document that is shared with me and their groups (I haven’t switched to Google Classroom yet because I love that group sharing a Document and assessing w/ Goobric is so user friendly w/ Doctopus). I encourage students to use the comment box to revise/edit and collaborate as they devise a thesis. Once the timer is up, a group secretary must post the thesis statement to the period’s Padlet wall. The groups must then pick the best thesis statement during the round, but cannot vote for their own. I give groups who vote for my pick a bonus point to encourage them to judge wisely and not strategically for a win. After the final round, the team with the most points wins.

I love this activity because students get to work with all leveled writers to see and hear the process of devising a thesis statement. They then also have access to every group’s thesis statements on the Padlet wall to see samples as they write their literary response essays. There are also great teachable moments for me, as I can explain why one thesis statement is stronger than another, and how best to revise weak thesis statements.

Thesis Throwdown (1)Thesis Throwdown Pic

Thesis Throwdown

3. Team Textual Tussle

I use Team Textual Tussle as a way to review a night’s reading AND to practice writing with quote integration. I pick words or phrases that are significant from the previous night’s reading and display them one at a time. In Lit Circles, students must write a quote sandwich that shows the importance of the word/phrase. Each student must write on a separate sheet of paper and also be assigned a letter a-f in his/her group. After a couple of minutes in, I will call out a letter. Each student that is assigned this letter must run up and attach  his/her quote sandwich to the group’s parking lot (on my white boards). The first group that has a STRONG quote sandwich earns a point. Throughout the process, I will place the quote sandwiches under the document camera and explain the strengths and weaknesses. Just because a group is first to put their quote sandwich up on the parking lot does not ensure them the point. If the writing has weak quote integration and/or analysis, I will move on to assess the next group’s quote sandwich. The Lit Circle with the most points after all the rounds wins.

Team Textual Tussle Directions

I am always looking for fun, engaging activities to teach writing and grammar, so please share your ideas!