Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Read Like a Writer

We are sharing our love of the written word as a part of the Superb Writers’ Blogathon. In partnership with Grammarly grammar checker, this series is bringing helpful hints to all kinds of students.

CCSS Writing Anchor Standard 5 says that students should be able to “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing” with expectations for revision increasing with age.


Revision includes elaboration. One way to elaborate is to focus on getting your meaning across through the use of a variety of author's craft. Reading texts like a writer will help your students discover and use author's craft.

Katie Wood Ray in her book Wonderous Words says,
When we read with the eyes and ears of a writer, we focus less on what the writer is trying to say and more on how the writer is saying it. Specifically, we look at the craft moves the writer makes to get his or her message across and the way those moves affect us as readers.  When we notice an author’s intentional use of craft we have a window into the mind of the writer and we can begin to teach our students how to use these techniques in their own writing and stand on the shoulders of professional writers.
It is during close re-readings of texts that you can shift your instructional focus from what the piece is about to how the author wrote it. This type of reading will help students apprentice themselves to great writers, taking apart the writing to see what they can learn from it.  

Reading like a writer does not come naturally to everyone. In his book, LIVE Writing, Ralph Fletcher compares it to watching a magic trick.
Don't be surprised if this kind of reading feels new and awkward at first. It may be a kind of reading you've never done before. Then again, you may not respond to a piece of writing in the same way I do. That's okay. Writing is not an exact science. Each of us will learn something different from the same piece of writing. Reading like a writer is like watching a magic act. The magician cuts a rope into three pieces, puts it into a hat, wave the wand, and pulls it out:  Presto! The rope is back in one piece!  Our first reaction to a magic trick is: "Whoa! Awesome!" But that is quickly followed by a second reaction: "How did he do that?" And a split second later there is usually a third reaction:  "Do it again so I can figure out how to do it myself."
How do you teach students to read this way? Use the CCSS Language Arts standards to provide you and your students a focus for the close reading.

Here is an example. 

The focus of this series of lessons will be CCSS Anchor Standards W-5, RL-4 and L-5a, more specifically grade 5, with the goal of having students recognize and interpret figurative language and to then be able to elaborate in their writing using what they’ve learned. We are going to focus on metaphors, similes, and personification.

We chose the book Owl Moon because it is so rich in figurative language. If you haven’t read the book before, make sure that you first read it to your students for enjoyment. After the first read, ask "What did you think? Did you like it? What were you thinking about or wondering as I read it?" 

Explain to students that they will now be reading the story again but this time like a writer. During the first re-reading, ask students to highlight words and phrases that help them to  see, feel, and hear what is going on in the story.  "What are the words that helped you feel like you are right there, in the story?" Then ask students to turn and talk with a partner. "Tell your partner what the word/phrases were and tell him or her what the word/phrase did for you as a reader." This important step helps students to not only solidify their own understanding but to also gain another person’s perspective.

Introduce similes and metaphors as one of the techniques that authors use. Ask students to go back to their highlighted phrases and find metaphors or similes. Have them share whole class. Create a list of the metaphors and similes they've found. Explain to students that they will be creating a writing tool for the class writing center, a Similes and Metaphor book.

Using 8 1/2 x 11 paper, have students make a ¾ Book Foldable®.  On the inside of the left tab, students will write one of the similes or metaphors. (the snow below it was whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl ) On the outside of the upper right tab students will write the comparison (snow is being compared to milk in a cereal bowl), underneath the right tab, write the interpretation of the metaphor or simile (It means that the snow is very white and clean looking) and on the bottom of the right side, draw an image of the simile or metaphor. Glue all of the students ¾ books side by side to make the class Similes and Metaphors book.

Next, assign partners pages from a previously read chapter book. We like The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, which is filled with rich figurative language. With a partner, they will locate more similes and metaphors, and create additional ¾ books of their favorites for the class side- by-side book. Be sure to provide time for students to share. 

Create a 2 Tab Foldable® for the last page of the book. Glue it side by side to the last 3/4 book. Label one tab similes and one tab metaphors. Tell students that they are going to find similes and metaphors in all of the great books that they are reading and that you'd like them to keep adding similes and metaphors to the class book. They can collect them under the tabs on this last page (or pages if you need more).

Have students read a piece of writing that they’ve been working on to a peer. Together they will find places where the writer could elaborate with similes or metaphors and then add similes or metaphors to the piece.

After these introductory lessons, continue to observe your students' understanding and use of figurative language. Are they noticing similes and metaphors in the texts they read? Are they able to interpret what they mean and what impact they have on the reader? Are they using similes and metaphors in their own writing?

We've created a formative assessment tool to help you monitor the progress of your students and ensure the implementation of the targeted standards. We developed a progress map using the The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment (NCIEA) Learning Progressions Frameworks. The Learning Progressions Frameworks was designed for use with the Common Core State Standards. They help you see your students along a continuum of learning, rather than simply seeing some students “behind” in their learning (Hess, 2008a). To use the assessment tool, look for evidence of your students demonstrating the descriptors/progress indicators. Jot down the evidence underneath the descriptors/progress indicator that is being demonstrated by the student on the progress map.  

The next step would be for students to repeat this process looking for the figurative language of personification.

Check out Dinah-Might Adventures for directions for the 3/4 Book Foldable® and other Foldable® ideas.


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