Get Students Writing Now with Paragraph POW! (Part five: how-to or instructions)

I invented Paragraph POW! as a way to make writing practice more fun. We practice on special paper—lines in a box, just like on the state writing test. One difference: our paper has an awesome Paragraph POW! logo at the top.

Paragraph POW! became so successful that I developed dozens of writing prompts.  Writing prompts on lined paper are hardly marketable in workbook form, so I’m giving them away for free.

Kids often face how-to prompts.  Kids are not the best at breaking tasks down to their component parts.  Hence, kids should really practice how to mentally break down a task—and how to write about it.

How-to prompts can easily become culturally biased.  I tried to think of the most basic how-to prompts that I could, but they are still based in a certain culture.  For example, not everyone in the world eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Heck, these days kids think that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches come from the freezer!  But I’ve seen it as a practice prompt, so I included it here.

Some suggestions for writing a how-to:

Pick a topic quickly: This becomes important if the prompt lets students write an instructional paragraph on whatever they wish. Kids will spend forever thinking of just the right thing.  I suggest that they choose quickly, based on what is easiest to write about.   That leaves time for better planning, more vivid details, more interesting syntax, etc.  (You’d hope!)

Break the task into steps—but not too many.  I recommend no more than five.  If possible, stick to a magic three structure.  After all, details can always flesh out the paragraph or essay.  When you’re being judged on your paragraph/essay writing, you don’t want a laundry list of steps.

Use transitions: the basic first, next, last are good—if you know how many steps you’ll need.  Otherwise, you may say “last” and then add one more thing.  To be on the safe side, consider “first, second, third.”  It won’t win any awards, but it’s foolproof.

Remember that it’s still a paragraph: give a topic sentence and a conclusion.  Try to fit in details.  Vary sentence structure as much as you can.  Little things will elevate a simple list to something resembling a paragraph.

Here are the Paragraph POW! how-to writing prompts. Click on each link for a printable PDF. I have also given you an all-purpose Paragraph POW! sheet so you and your students can write to your own prompts.

Have fun!


 

Supporting girls with ADHD

Girls experience ADHD differently than boys do, and a teacher who understands this can help girls cope with ADHD and reach their potential.

I hope this article helps you recognize ADHD-related symptoms and behaviors in your girls.

Girls with ADHD often feel disorganized, scatterbrained, forgetful, and overwhelmed.  Some girls are hyperactive, but others become more and more introverted, maybe even depressed and anxious.  While ADHD symptoms sometimes decrease in puberty for boys, girls’ symptoms intensify as estrogen increases in their system.

Girls with ADHD are often not diagnosed until middle school, high school, or beyond.  That means that elementary school teachers probably won’t have a diagnosis or 504 plan to alert them to a girl with ADHD.  That doesn’t mean she isn’t hiding in your class, hoping you can help.

If you start to think that a struggling girl may be falling behind because of ADHD, take notes on the symptoms/behaviors you observe and the interventions you try.  If possible, note which subjects the class is studying when the student’s attention wanes.  Your notes might either point to a learning disability—or suggest that it be ruled out if academic subject does not seem to affect how much attention the girl pays to the lesson.

Try some of the classic support strategies: assign her to a seat near the front, teach her an organizational system, ask a classmate to help her stay organized, and prompt her to pay attention or focus on a task.

Girls with ADHD often suffer socially.  Even today, society still expects girls to be neat, organized, and sociable.  A girl with ADHD, who finds these things a struggle, may feel isolated from her peers.  You might be able to pair such a student with a caring girl who can help her make friends.

I learned about a new test called the TOVA.  It stands for Test of Variables of Attention.  TOVA is a computerized test of attention that assists in the screening, diagnosis, and treatment monitoring of attention disorders.  Your student’s parents may be interested in pursuing the test on their own.

A good resource is CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.  The section for parents and caregivers contains helpful tips for teachers.

Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Sep 20, 2013

 

Get Students Writing Now with Paragraph POW! (Part four: persuasion)

Test TakingI invented Paragraph POW! as a way to make standardized writing practice more fun.  We practice on special paper—lines in a box, just like on the test.  One difference: our paper has an awesome Paragraph POW! logo at the top.

Paragraph POW! became so successful that I developed dozens of writing prompts.  Writing prompts on lined paper are hardly marketable in workbook form, so I’m giving them away for free.

Practice writing persuasive paragraphs helps students with their reading skills as well as their writing skills.  Students often face “author’s purpose” questions on standardized writings tests.   When students write to persuade, they are more likely to recognize when an author is writing to persuade (as opposed to writing to inform or entertain.)

This is Paragraph POW! and not a formal essay, so the organizational requirements are not as stringent as they would be if students were writing to a prescribed formula.  Nevertheless, students should abide by a few basic rules:

State your purpose: this works well in a topic sentence.  That way, everything about the paragraph should support the purpose/

Give a few reasons: as with many things in life, three is a good number.  One or two are not enough, four gets unwieldy.

Support your reasoning: this is where detail sentences come in.  It’s not enough to just give a reason—state why it is important or offer a detail.

Close with a call to action: this is really just a fancy type of conclusion sentence.

Paragraph POW! works best when students know their writing will be published and assessed.  Since I assign it so often, I don’t box myself in by promising to grade each paper, copyediting every single page.  Instead, I choose the papers that best exemplify qualities that I know standardized test graders value.  I put those papers under the document camera and read them aloud, giving many compliments.  Students want to see their work spotlighted and they put in their best effort.

I always insist that students do these things:

  • Write in the box (on standardized  tests, only writing in the box is graded)
  • Give your piece a title (test assessors love titles, apparently)
  • Start with an attention-getter.  This can be part of your topic sentence, or some fluff just before it.
  • Give examples and description.

Here are the Paragraph POW! persuasive writing prompts. Click on each link for a printable PDF. I have also given you an all-purpose Paragraph POW! sheet so you and your students can write to your own prompts.


 

Work as a group to maintain the classroom

Kids will do practically any chore—at school.  (As we all know, home is another story.)  Make the most of your classroom of eager helpers.  You and your students will build community bonds while creating a pleasant learning space.

I like to teach a simple math lesson about man hours before we begin the classroom cleanup.  I tell students that completely cleaning and organizing the classroom might take one person several hours—or several days of work.  However, if all of us spend just one hour on the task, that’s about 30 man hours.  (So, an hour probably isn’t necessary for most spruce-up jobs.)  When all 30 of us spend just 15 minutes, the classroom gets 7.5 man hours of work.

To students, this concept is like a magic trick.  They really enjoy putting in a collaborative effort and admiring what does indeed seem like 7 or 8 hours’ work for a single person.

 Maintaining a nice clean classroom begins with class jobs.  I wrote a detailed post that explains my time-tested system for assigning jobs.  I even give you an Excel spreadsheet to organize your little helpers.

 Next, set aside time to tackle larger tasks.  My students and I like to spruce up the classroom during the last half-hour or so before school breaks.  Coming back to a sparkly clean classroom helps us get back in the swing of things.

 Make two lists, and write them on the board. One list is for jobs everyone should do. Once these are completed, students can tackle the community service list. It’s extra fun if they get to sign the board by jobs they completed.

 Everyone must:

–Clean out their own desk

–Get rid of loose paper.  It’s the enemy of organization.

–Keep only 1 or 2 books from our classroom library.  Return extras to their rightful place

–Pick up scraps under or near their desk

–Clean your desk and chair with a Lysol wipe

 

Community Service: Sign your name after you do a job

–Organize class library

–Organize game cabinet

–Help slowpokes

–Clean countertops

–Clean the lunch bucket (we use it to carry cold lunches to the cafeteria)

–Dust

–Wipe down cabinets

–Invent a task, do it, and write what you did on the board.  Then sign your name.

I don’t recommend giving treats or any sort of incentive to the kids who complete community service.  The reason?  Students LOVE to do chores at school, and they will be competing to get these jobs done.  If you tie an incentive to it, you will create chaos and competition rather than cooperation.  Seriously.

Now, step back and admire your shiny clean classroom!