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Essay Writing Review and Writing Assessment Testing Tips April 11, 2011

Two Teacher License

Do you have an elementary or middle school state or district writing assessment coming up? Or perhaps you simply want your students to write excellent essays? If so, read on! And if you teach beginning essay writers or struggling essay writers, be sure to check out Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay! It’s sure to revolutionize the way your students understand writing!

Writing Assessment Rubrics: Hit a Bull’s-Eye!

On district and state writing assessments, students are usually graded using a rubric. Writing rubrics can have harsh consequences even for excellent writing. Be warned—sometimes fantastic writing misses the mark when it comes to a writing rubric. As such, we will examine how to improve writing skills, and also how to hit a bull’s-eye on the writing rubric. Most writing rubrics contain most of the topics found below.

Addressing the Writing Prompt

Students must address the writing prompt and stay on target. Consider these questions:

   What is being asked for in the prompt? How on target is the writing?
   Do the titles of your students’ essays contain any keywords from the writing prompt that show that the students have addressed the writing prompt?
   Did students use keywords from the writing prompt throughout the essay?
•   Think about it: Can the writing be on target if students don’t use any keywords from the writing prompt in either the title or the essay?

Essay Outlines

Students must have an understanding of “The Big Picture” essay structure in their essays. Their essays need to demonstrate a clear beginning, middle, and ending. Students need to have an understanding of how paragraphs flow throughout an essay. Here are a few outlines for an entire essay. Each outline shows between four and six paragraphs:

   Introduction – Idea 1 – Idea 2 – Idea 3 – Conclusion   (a basic five-paragraph essay)
   Introduction – First – Then – Finally – Conclusion       (a basic narrative essay)
•   Introduction – Cause – Effect – Conclusion
•   Introduction – Cause/Effect #1 – Cause/Effect #2 – Conclusion
   Introduction – Cause #1 – Effect #1 – Cause #2 – Effect #2 – Conclusion
   Introduction – Problem – Solution – Conclusion
•   Introduction – Similarities – Differences – Conclusion
   Once Upon a Time – Rising Action – Rising Action – Climax – and They Lived Happily Ever After

Prewrite, Write, and Revise

Prewrite, Write, and Revise – Students must allow at least a little time for each of these. Teachers need to address the matter of how to break up and monitor the time allowed. Here is one possible way to break up the time: Prewrite 15% – Write 70% – Revise 15%. If students don’t spend at least a little time in each area, it’s unlikely their writing will be as good as it can be.

Sentence Variety

Sentence Varity – An easy way to bring about sentence variety is to focus on how sentences start. It’s amazing how quickly these simple and interesting sentence-starting patterns can transform student writing. And kids like them! They bring rhythm, flow, and beauty to language—without a lot of rules.

Nine Fun Ways to Start Sentences with Examples:

1.   -ly Beginnings  –  Surprisingly, my parents liked the fort I had built in our backyard.
2.   Prepositional Phrase Beginnings  –  Beyond the moon, the rocket soared.
3.   Two Adverb BeginningsFast and furious, the little mouse scurried towards the cake.
4.    Two Adjective BeginningsBeautiful and elegant, the princess bride descended the stairs.
5.    -ing BeginningsFalling down the garbage chute, Billy began to wonder if he had made a wise choice.
6.    -ing in the Middle – I brought $100 to the fair, hoping no one would stop me from spending every last cent of it.
7.    Balanced Sentence Structure (Includes both Items in a Series and Parallel Structure) – Eating ice-cream, watching TV, and wrestling tigers may be fun, but they are not healthy activities.
8.    Appositives (Insert information or explanation) – Shark Cove, the small bay where sharks gather to eat seals, is not a place I like to go swimming.
9.    Dependent Clauses After the storm ended, the sun began to break through the cloudy gloom.

Don’t Mix First Person and Third Person

Please note that this illustration does not represent an absolute rule, but more of a wise guideline. This topic is actually a bit more complicated.

Don’t Mix First Person and Third Person - The way students begin their writing is the way they should finish their writing. It’s best if students make a conscious choice right at the beginning of their essay. However, this doesn’t always happen.  The first step in solving this problem is to have students understand if the writing prompt is asking for expository writing, descriptive writing, argument writing, or narrative writing. Students should maintain the same Point-of-View and tone throughout.

Take a look at the following. It illustrates how a writer began with an expository third person POV and tone but switched to a casual first person.

Student begins with a formal expository third person:

   Society has become concerned with protecting the environment.
   The government has started to enforce stricter environmental laws.

Student then switches to casual first person:

   I feel it is a person’s duty to help protect the environment.
   Everyone in my family recycles.

Better: Student should have continued with the third person or at least removed the casual first person feel:

   It is a person’s duty to help protect the environment.
   Studies show that more and more families are recycling.

More Random Essay Writing Tips:

   Students should make sure that the introduction contains a clear thesis statement. A thesis statement is a clear, explicit statement that defines the purpose of an essay.

•   Along with a clear thesis statement, the introduction should contain a clear attention grabbing “hook.” (Examples: use curiosity, ask a question, pose a challenge, state a problem, or make a startling statement.)

   Use specific and varied transitions between paragraphs. Students can also use a variety of common transition packages (first, next, finally etc.)

• Students should demonstrate that they know who their target audience is. Language, vocabulary, and tone all reveal who the author is talking to.

   Students should demonstrate purpose. While using the words “persuade” and “inform” are a bit obvious, they are also effective. Have students use other important keywords to communicate purpose: convince, facts, reasons, information, data, report, statistics etc.

•   Give relevant supporting details. What’s relevant? Give value with every detail. Eliminate everything that does not give value.

   Details support, prove, clarify, explain, and give information about the topic sentences. If all else fails, simply focus on “proving it.” For centuries kids have said “prove it.” Having to prove something makes sense to them. “I had fun at the park.” Prove it. “Okay. I went with my best friend. We played soccer. My mom made a great picnic. I REST MY CASE.”

   Do not make the details sound like a list of details.

   Have the conclusion readdress the prompt and reemphasize or repeat the thesis statement.

•   Uses Standard English grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure. Use formal language. Students are not talking to their buddy out on the playground.

   Don’t repeat ideas and sentences. Each sentence communicates a unique idea. On the other hand, many rhetorical techniques are based on repetition—but for effect.

   Don’t generalize. Compare these two sentences, one general and one specific: “Peace would be good.” vs. “The elimination of war, hatred, and intolerance would be incredible.”

   Make sure paragraphs end with a conclusion sentence or some form of connecting sentence. Beginning, middle ending… beginning, middle, ending!

   Don’t add new information in the conclusion. Don’t open boxes you can’t close.

•   Every sentence should either be “simple and concise” or “a work of art.” Alternate between these two types of sentences.

   Write neatly! Neatness matters! People have a built-in natural bias against messy writing.

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