Turn Students with
Learning Disabilities Into Writers
By: Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., Educational Therapist, Learning Disabilities Specialist
Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., Educational
Therapist and Learning Disabilities Specialist spoke at the CEC/CSF CA State
Conference on Turning Students with Learning Disabilities into Writers. The
following is a summary of her talk.There are several key points to turning your
L.D. students into writers. To begin with you need to have abasic understanding
of why we teach with associations. Several studies have found that the easiest
way for students to master material is to teach the material with an association
that students can relate to. When students have a concept from their background
to attach the new concept to and they will retain it better. As stated by Kimberly
Kassner in Youre a Genius and I Can Prove It 1994, "Association is
the basis ofall learning, and without association you can learn nothing."Eric
Jensen states in Brain Compatible Strategies 1997: "In the learning context,
it makes sense to take advantage of this amazing organ [the brain] that is hungry
for pictures, movies, and images.... After two weeks, the effects of direct
instruction have diminished. But the effects of peripherals [posters, pictures,
drawings, & symbols] often go up." (Brackets are from elsewhere in
Dr. John Brown from Prince
Georges County Public Schools in Maryland stated at the 1999 ASCD (Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development) Conference on Teaching and Learning
"Give students a model for the process, and create opportunities for them
to practice the process. Provide students with graphic organizers or representations
of the model to help them understand the process."
Keeping this in mind, when
wanting students to remember the concepts that we are teaching, it makes sense
to teach with associations. Students retain information longer when they can
attach a concept to something that is familiar to them.
It is best to use a step-by-step
approach to writing instruction to build upon success. The first thing to do
is to not jump right into writing a paragraph! Instead, have the students practice
note taking skills. Becoming proficient at note taking is an important component
for succeeding in school and in most jobs outside of school. Note taking is
a precursor to paragraph, essay, and report writing.
Step 1. After reading
a selection, decide if it was informational (expository) or if it had a beginning,
middle, and end (narrative).
Provide your students with
fill-in-the-blank note taking forms. Students can at times stare at their blank
papers, frozen, unable to take notes. They do not know where to start. Once
given fill-in-the-blank note taking forms, they are able to succeed at this.
Younger students often start out by dictating the notes and we write them either
on the board or on a second fill-in-the-blank form. We write their notes using
different colors for each thought so that the students are able to recopy the
notes with greater accuracy. In this way, the students do not lose track of
their train of thought while trying to write it out. As soon as the younger
students are able, they write the notes independently.
Step 2. Take notes
using fill-in-the-blank note taking forms like those in Ten Minutes to Better
Study Skills. Spend several weeks at this step, getting in lots of practice
with note taking. Then students are ready for step 3 - writing a paragraph from
their notes. Again, do not just expect the students to know how to do this.
They can have a habit of freezing up when expected to do this independently
the first time out. Instead, provide another fill-in-the-blank form with an
association they can relate to.
When teaching my students
how to write the basic American paragraph, do it with a model, an association,
they can relate to. Since the hamburger is familiar to most students,
I teach the basic paragraph with a 3-dimensional hamburger and a graphic organizer
fill-in-the-blank hamburger. I put the format on the overhead in the form of
a deluxe hamburger. If the students can make themselves a hamburger or a sandwich,
they can write a paragraph.
1. The topic sentence is
the top of bun.
2. The detail sentences
are the ingredients of hamburger . We want an interesting paragraph, so well
have to make it a deluxe hamburger with tasty ingredients.
3. The concluding sentence
wraps up or restates the topic. The bottom bun is bread like the top, but it
is usually a bit thinner. Without the conclusion, you would have a sloppy mess,
so you need to conclude or wrap up your thoughts.
On the day the students
do their writing, place the 3 dimensional hamburger in front of them and remind
them how the paragraph is constructed:
- First, we tell you what
we are going to talk about (topic sentence).
- Second, we tell you
about it (details).
- Finally, we tell you
what we told you (concluding sentence).
As you can see, the secret
to writing a good American paragraph is to make a good American hamburger.
Paragraph Writing Tips
American paragraph has three parts.
first tells the reader what he is going to write about
(the main idea- thesis).
tells you about the main idea
(gives several supporting details).
tells the reader what he told you
(concluding or wrap up statement).
Tip: Dont forget
to indent each paragraph!
Step 3. Use the graphic
organizers in Ten Minutes to Better Writing Skills book to help the students
get all the parts of the paragraph.
Step 4. Have your
students do their rough drafts and final copies in spiral notebooks. Do the
rough drafts on the right hand side of the page and write on every other line
to make it easier to put in any corrections.
Step 5. Change boring
verbs to more interesting ones, add description words, check punctuation and
capitalization. The Writers Easy Reference Guide is a great resource for
Students should write their
rough draft without being hindered with word choice. Then go over the rough
drafts together and underline the verbs. After underlining the verbs, look at
lists of interesting verbs and substitute in more interesting ones. Always provide
students with lists of interesting words to choose from! [example: The house
was dark last night. If the students change the verb was to remained the quality
has dramatically improved. The house remained dark last night.] The Writers
Easy Reference Guide has lists of interesting words for students to choose
from. It also has capitalization and punctuation rules in it.
Step 6. Final copy:
Then have students recopy with the corrections on the left-hand side of the
page. This also gives them a record of their growth in writing as they fill
Give the students experience
writing paragraphs before moving onto essay writing. Doing this will provide
students with the confidence and experience they need to master each step. After
successfully practicing paragraph writing, move on to the next step - getting
ready for essay writing.
Give the students the "secret"
to writing essays: plug your thoughts into the formula of the basic American
Essay as found in English text books, Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills,
and The Writers Easy Reference Guide. Just like a paragraph, the
essay first tells what you are going to talk about (thesis paragraph), then
has at least three detail paragraphs, and finally a fifth wrap-up
or concluding paragraph. Show a lot of examples so the students realize they
do not have to reinvent the wheel. Work through the Improving Your
Writing section of Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills. For 4th through
8th graders pick out articles from
Readers Digest, Childrens Digest, The Curious Reader, and Childrens
Step A: Read the
Step B: Identify
the main idea.
Identify and list some of
the details (supporting statements).
Identify the concluding
(Sometimes do this identification
orally, other times use a graphic organizer like those found in Ten Minutes
to Better Study Skills.)
Step C: Choose just
one of the paragraphs and find the subject and the verbs of each sentence.
Notice the different lengths
of the sentences.
Good writers use a variety
of sentence types and lengths.
Step D: Talk about
the different types of verbs that are used and encourage students to use interesting
verbs in their writing (Provide students with a list to choose from and I have
been known to outlaw the verbs like, was, is, and wants.).
The first several times
do these steps as a class, then as a small group, and finally on an individual
basis. Then go back to the students writing their own essays, keeping these
items in mind. Sometimes have older students do this with peer editing. This
identification with peer editing of the first drafts helps the students see
if their writing is clear. Can fellow students identify their thesis statement,
etc.? This study has tremendously helped my students to improve their own writing.
It helps them to both focus on the different components of the essay and vary
the types of sentences they use. The end product is a much more interesting
Once students have practiced
this, go back to work on note taking and either paragraph or short essay writing.
It is a continual process each week.
- Read a selection and
decide if the selection is informational (expository) or has a beginning -
a middle - and an end (narrative).
- Take notes from what
you read using fill-in-the-blank forms (Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills).
- Put notes into fill-in-the-blank
paragraph format (Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills).
- Write a rough draft.
(Use the spiral notebook.)
- Check your word usage;
use lists of interesting words from The Writers Easy Reference Guide.
Check for capitalization, punctuation, and formatting mistakes.
- Write your final copy.
(Use the spiral notebook.)
Using this method has dramatically
improved the quality of my students writing!
For information on resources
referred to, contact Bonnie Terry at (530) 888-7160, www.bonnieterrylearning.com,
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2000-01 Bonnie Terry, M. Ed.
MEET YOUR PAL
Bonnie Terry is a Learning
Disabilities specialist as well as the owner of Bonnie
Terry Learning which is a company that produces quality educational books
and games. Bonnie Terry Learning's books range from phonetic reading drills
for reading fluency, items to help one's study skills, spelling the 500 most
used words and more. The games help with building on reading comprehension,
sentence building and structure, and math skills. Guides which are able to be
placed in one's binder. The Writer's Easy Reference Guide covers all your needs
for writing; such as paragraph and essay writing tips, bibliography tips, types
of sentences in the English language, words to make your writing more interesting,
transition words, common prefixes, suffixes and root words, help / being verbs,
capitalization words, punctuation rules, parts of speech definitions, how to
write a business letter, and more! Details on the Math Easy Reference Guide
are soon to come. Videos cover tips on using The Sentence Zone, spelling techniques,
and the Peoples to Peoples' Educational Tour of China.