Saturday, April 25, 2009


Teachers at my school have focused on writing this year, and our hard work is beginning to show. Students are demonstrating more focus, specificity, and voice. They are still struggling however, with conventions and spelling. I attended a district work session on writing earlier this week, and it appears that students all over our district are having difficulties in this area. 

I believe conventions are important. Kids need to understand that writing is about expressing ideas clearly and conventionally. They need to know that writers worry about getting their thoughts down on paper, but then about cleaning them up so that others can read their writing easily. They need to understand that people judge you based on your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. When I talk to kids about conventions, I generally refer to them in terms of how conventions impact the reader. We talk a lot about conventions as "using your writers' manners."

Yesterday, I came across a really fun series for helping kids understand/remember conventions and parts of speech. The WORD FUN series, published by PICTURE WINDOW BOOKS, has books on many grammar related topics:
  • DIFFERENT KINDS OF WORDS- contraction, compound word, homonym, synonym, antonym
  • PUNCTUATION MARK- period, question mark, exclamation mark, comma, quotation marks, apostrophe
  • PARTS OF SPEECH- noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, preposition, pronoun, interjection
  • MISCELLANEOUS- prefix, suffix, palindrome, onomatopeia, alliteration
All of the books are titled, IF YOU WERE A…. 

I bought two- IF YOU WERE A QUESTION MARK and IF YOU WERE A SUFFIX. Each of these books appears to have kind of a "dual text" format. The pictures, done in collage, tell a story. IF YOU WERE A QUESTION MARK, for instance, is about a skunk, dog, duck, koala, and an owl who are having a birthday party. The dog, Sophie, discovers that her strawberry cupcake is missing and they have to call a detective. The animals ask lots of questions, e.g.:
  • Who could help us solve this mystery?
  • Are you worried the thief will steal your cupcake too?
  • Sam only likes chocolate?
  • Is that strawberry frosting on Jasper's nose?
The animals' questions are kind of embedded in the illustrations.

There is a whole other text, however, done in a different font, that teaches kids some of the rules about the function and uses of question marks, e.g. here are the ones that match the questions listed above:
  • If you were a question mark, you would replace a period at the end of a sentence that asks a question.
  • If you were a question mark, you could ask how people are feeling.
  • If you were a question mark, you could make it clear that a statement is really asking for information. 
  • If you were a question mark, you could ask the really important questions. 
IF YOU WERE A SUFFIX addresses the meaning of different suffixes, e.g. -ing, -ed, -er, -est, -ed, -ful, -less. The story line in this book is not quite as clever; each picture stands alone, instead of telling a connected story. Even so, I think kids will love the collage illustrations, and might even want to make some of their own. 

I believe that kids need information presented in lots of different ways. Sometimes, they need explicit information about the rules of using a particular convention. Other times, they need to see a teacher or student modeling how the convention is used in his/her own writing. Sometimes, it's helpful to look at the convention in the context of a much loved mentor text. And still other times, books like, IF YOU WERE A… velcro the information into children's heads. This series gives me one more tool I can use to help my students become better writers…


Franki said...

Looks like a series I need! We are definitely not good for each other's finances:-)

Maureen said...

Thanks for sharing these - they look great! I've used an approach similar to your "writers' manners" idea. I agree that it's important that students understand that readers will form judgments based on spelling and conventions. At times I've shared mistakes that I've seen made by adults - on signs, in mail I receive etc. They react with such disdain that adults could be so careless!

Laura Lynn Benson said...

Oh, goody! Very compelling :)
Very kind of you to share with us!

Angela said...

Thanks for posting about this. Looks like FUN!!