Why Johnny Cant Write

Why Johnny Cant Write

Johnny is​ a​ creative story-writer, but he can’t write an​ essay to​ save his life. Does this ring true for your child or​ student?

Johnny has had some good writing instruction. He can recite the steps of​ The Writing Process from the posters he has seen in​ every classroom throughout his elementary school years. He knows all about Writers Workshop. He would know what to​ expect if​ the teacher had written “Writers Conferences” or​ “Response Groups” on the white board as​ parts of​ her daily lesson plans. Johnny’s writing portfolio is​ chalk full of​ fanciful stories and writing pieces in​ the sensory/descriptive or​ imaginative/narrative writing domains. He has been encouraged to​ unleash his creative mind—although that story that he wrote last year about the student boycott of​ the cafeteria may have been a​ bit too creative for the principal’s tastes.

However, if​ you give Johnny a​ writing prompt, asking him to​ “Compare and contrast the cultural roles of​ women in​ Athens and Sparta,” sixth grade writing paralysis would surely set in. or​ worse yet, Johnny might begin his essay with “Once upon a​ time in​ a​ far-away land called Greece, two young women from Athens and Sparta…” His difficulties would, no doubt, increase if​ this were a​ timed assessment.

Unfortunately, most of​ the writing that Johnny will need to​ complete throughout his academic and work careers will not take advantage of​ his story-writing experience. Instead, most of​ what Johnny will be required to​ compose will be some form of​ writing that informs or​ convinces his reader. Additionally, most of​ his writing will be subject to​ some kind of​ time constraint. Johnny has just not had the instruction and practice in​ this kind of​ writing. His college professors probably will not hand him a​ “blue book,” tell him to​ write a​ story of​ his own choice, and then turn it​ in​ after multiple revisions when his final draft has been published and properly illustrated.

Students need to​ learn how to​ write structured essays designed to​ inform and convince their teachers and professors. But how do you transform a​ creative, non-linear thinker like Johnny into an​ organized and persuasive writer? Take the mystery out of​ essays by replacing the confusing terminology of​ thesis statements, topic sentences, concrete details, and commentary with simple numerical values that reflect the hierarchy of​ effective essay structure.

For example, assign a​ “1” to​ introductory strategies, a​ “2” to​ the thesis statement, a​ “3” to​ the topic sentence, a​ “4” to​ the concrete detail, a​ “5” to​ the commentary, and a​ “6” to​ the conclusion strategies. Telling a​ student that a​ “5” is​ needed to​ support a​ “4,” which supports a​ “3” is​ much more intuitive—and students get it!

Teach structural variety by having students write 3-4-5-4-5 paragraphs and revise with 3-4-5-5-4-5-5 paragraphs. Have students analyze text structure by numerically coding their science book or​ a​ newspaper editorial. Use this approach to​ develop sequenced writing skills, incorporating different grammatical structures and sentence structure. Teaching Essay Strategies ©2018 Pennington Publishing provides a​ systematic program of​ essay skills instruction.

Why Johnny Cant Write

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