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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Plausibly Preposterous: Mixing Vocabulary and Grammar (Part II)

In Part I, I discussed my writing lesson using the vocabulary words plausible and preposterous, with the addition of the word there, using a strategy from Gretchen Bernabei. I now pick up with a revising strategy from Bernabei called Paragraph Overhaul. 


My students have done a great deal of writing this year, but we have not moved on to editing and revising until now. While attending the TexTESOL conference in San Marcos this month, Gretchen Bernabei discussed a technique she calls Paragraph Overhaul, and I brought this back to my classroom to use with my students. 

I had my students the steps in their composition books. We worked on each step as we went through the process. I modeled. They worked with me. I also had conversations with toys, but that's a bit farther along in the reflection. 

Paragraph Overhaul

1. Count how many sentences you wrote (this means a beginning capital letter to an end punctuation mark). Write this number at the top of your paragraph. 

This step made many of my students aware that they are not using end punctuation anywhere in their writing. I have a dyslexic student who can write clear thoughts, but he was surprised to discover that he had written one gigantic run-on sentence. As we continued through the writing workshop, I had to help break his writing into chunks for him to work with. I saw similar issues with some of my ESL students. 

2. On a new page, write your sentences in list form. 

Although I wrote my own paragraph for my students, I had not made enough mistakes to effectively model the paragraph overhaul process. I used a student's writing from different class periods throughout the day. 

Student Example

3. Put your sentences through the WRINGER.

This was another opportunity to introduce a vocabulary word. Although a few students thought this word was "that thing your phone does," most were able to define it when I made physical gestures and describes what I would do to a wet towel. My kids knew this word, but they had not seen it in writing to know that it was spelled differently than "that thing your phone does."

One thing I am not afraid to do in my classroom is embarrass myself. It is not easy to teach grammar. Grammar tends to be boring and dry. Over the past 11 1/2 years, I have embraced my nerdiness and let it shine in my classroom, and it seems to work. Bernabei shared her way of teaching this process, but I had to put my own spin on it. 

3a. Pssst! Test: Does it make a statement?

I don't even know how to explain this and have it make sense, so I am going to share a page from Bernabei's book:

Now, saying Pssst! in a room full of eighth graders sounds like another word that I do not like them using in my classroom. So, of course, I ran with it and made lots of corny jokes to sucker them into this part of the lesson. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do!  

I also added my own spin to this. I really wanted my students to understand that this "What?" voice is meant to annoy them and get them thinking. So I brought a prop:

Who is more annoying than Donkey?

As I modeled the Pssst! Test, I was having conversations with Donkey. Yes, my students told me that I am weird and that I have lost cool points (but earned crazy points), but within a few minutes, they were following my lead. 

Me: Pssst! Donkey!
(wait a moment)
Me (looking at class): Donkey said, "What?"
(read sentence, then listen again)
Me: Donkey says that is not a sentence, and he is not being nice about it.

This part was a struggle for them when they did it on their own. I had them drawing faces on their fingers and Pssst!ing their classmates to help, but because their everyday speech is grammatically flawed, they were not picking up on some of their fragments and run-ons. Most of my students did eventually pick up on their mistakes and make corrections.

3b. Verb Check

Although this step is meant for sentence fragments, I had my students to verb checks on every sentence they wrote. Yes, I teach eighth graders who are clueless about verbs. So I took advantage of the opportunity. I was also able to use this method with a student from another English class who was stuck on a subject and predicate assignment. It's so simple, I wish I had thought of it. 

To prove you have a verb, find the word in the sentence that you think is a verb, and plug it into each of the following blanks:

I __________. You __________. He __________. 

If your word makes sense in any of those, you have found your verb. We did discover that some adverbs also made sense, but if the students had adverbs, they usually had verbs. 

3c. How many? If there is more than one sentence, how are they joined?

To join sentences legally, use one of the following:

. (period); (semicolon), conjunction 

This WRINGER sample is from an ELL. She struggles with
using correct verb tenses. We focused heavily on this,
and she made significant progress.

I modeled every step of this. I had kids making their own corrections as we modeled. I had some who took three days to figure it out ("I don't get it. What's wrong with 'take me a bath'?"). Regardless of how much (or little) they ended up understanding, there were huge improvements in their writing. 

The whole lesson was more fun than I expected, and I enjoyed every bit of frustration my students endured. I told them that frustration means they are thinking, and we need to push through that frustration instead of giving up. For a first attempt on my part, I think this went quite well.

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