Tag Archives: #TeachWriting

Summarization Strategy w/Peer Review

It has been a few years since I wrote this primer and I have moved from using SurveyMonkey, PollEverywhere, and Google Forms to Turnitin and PeerGrade. When I speak at conferences and talk to other high school history teachers about using peer review and conferencing with students about their writing, they look at me like I have three heads. On Tuesday night, May 15th at 6 PT, I am hosting a #TeachWriting chat on using peer review. I’m hoping to learn how comfortable secondary teachers are using peer review so their students learn from evaluation.

This post will describe a timed summarization strategy that adapts what John Collins calls the 10% summary.  In this activity, I give students a reading on a historical topic. They have 20-25 minutes to summarize it. Then they swap papers with an elbow partner and have ten minutes to read the partner’s summary and grade it according to a criteria chart. I have found it helpful to include exemplar summaries, or mentor texts that demonstrate superior work.

During the first pass, my 10th-grade students wrote an average of 173 words. Their feedback was perfunctory and not helpful. See Figure 1.

Summarization Strategies

After some direct instruction and modeling, this student was able to improve their feedback using specific language from the criteria chart.  See Figure 2.

Summarization Strategies (1)

These students need guided support when evaluating each others’ summaries. Focusing on simple to evaluate factors help students become more successful. Since I know the word count of the original text I asked them to summarize, after they count the number of words they wrote, they can tell me whether or not they met the 10% rule.  Next, I ask students to evaluate how well the author used their own words instead of copying directly from the text.


Lastly, we discuss the main ideas from the passage to determine whether or not the author was successful in listing and explaining them. This process can help students engage in content reading, build background knowledge, and learn from each other. It is an easy way for secondary Social Studies teachers to incorporate peer review into their everyday classroom instruction.

Writing for Ears

I have been doing some research for a MOOC I will be teaching with Erik Palmer and Corbin Moore this summer. Teaching Speaking & Listening Skills will launch June 20th on the Canvas Network. Like most teachers, I assign speeches and presentations within my instructional program and I am almost always disappointed by how poorly my students listen to each other and how little they gain from their colleagues’ presentations. This is because I rarely give them directions on how I want them to listen and what I want them to listen for.

This post asks questions about how teachers can inspire their students to Write for Ears. Specifically, what writing tasks teach students to listen? TED speaker Julian Treasure has an excellent primer that explains why we are losing our listening.

Even though most of us spend the majority of our day listening, it is the communication activity that receives the least instruction in school (Coakley & Wolvin, 1997). Research suggests that listening while reading helps people have successful reading events, where they read with enjoyment and accuracy. This also helps with decoding, a fundamental part of reading. The average person talks at a rate of about 125 – 175 words per minute, while we listen at up to 450 words per minute (Carver, Johnson, & Friedman, 1970).

Imhof (1998) found students do not have a clear concept of listening as an active process and they often find it easier to criticize the speaker as opposed to the speaker’s message. Conaway (1982) demonstrated how listening skills are crucial to academic success by giving a listening test to a freshman class of over 400 students at the beginning of their first semester of college. After their first year of studies, 49% of students scoring low on the listening test were on academic probation. Conversely, 69% of those scoring high on the listening test were considered Honors students after the first year. Only 4% of those scoring high on the listening test were on academic probation.

Similar findings have been replicated in other studies, on average, viewers who just watched and listened to the evening news can only recall 17.2% of the content. Timm & Schroeder (2000) showed that listening and nonverbal communication training significantly influences multicultural sensitivity. Further, listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek. Despite this, schools, districts and assessment consortia have turned a deaf ear to this important skill. What strategies and techniques have you found helpful in improving listening comprehension?

Active Listening

Don’t miss our #TeachWriting chat on April 5, 2016 at 6pm PT. Where we chat about the following issues in increasing the listening comprehension of our students.

08: Q1 What prevents our students from becoming good listeners?

14: Q2 What are common misconceptions students have about listening?

20: Q3 How can you use audio to increase literacy skills in your classroom?

26: Q4 What listening objectives are most frequently used in your class/discipline?
Photo-Card w/ Mead (1978)

  1. to recall significant details;
  2. to comprehend main ideas;
  3. to draw inferences about information;
  4. to make judgments concerning the speaker (e.g.,attitude, intent, bias, credibility);
  5. to make judgments about the information (e.g., type, evidence, logic, arguments)

32: Q5 What types of listening activities can help students improve their writing skills?

38: Q6 What writing assignments do you use with songs & speeches?

45: Q7 What strategies/games can Ts use so that Ss actively listen to their peers’ presentations?

52: Q8 What writing assignments have you created that teach listening skills?

I look forward to hearing how you are teaching your students to listen. Dust off the lessons you have used to help students improve their listening skills with writing and get ready to share. Thanks to www.listen.org for a great collection of listening facts.

#TeachWriting Coaching Student Writers

Corbin Moore and I taught an online class called Improving Historical Reading and Writing over the summer. We learned that one of the major barriers to non-ELA teachers assigning writing in their classes is simply that they don’t feel comfortable providing feedback on that writing. They are also concerned about increasing their workload. Our experiences as classroom teachers have led us to include more writing in our daily practices. We hope this chat encourages other teachers to do the same.

Q1 With the recent emphasis on increasing writing in all subjects, how has your job as a teacher changed?
Goal-setting strategies are terrific. Here is a longer paper Scott wrote about using goal-setting strategies as formative assessment.
Shorter, more frequent, focused skill-building writing tasks show great promise in increasing positive attitudes toward writing. They can be graded quickly or used for peer review.
Q2 What is your definition of effective feedback?
This John Hattie article demonstrates that feedback has a strong effect on student learning. Unfortunately, this is not always positive.
Turnitin has done some extensive research on feedback and discovered a gap between teacher and student perceptions about what constitutes effective feedback.
Q3 What strategies/tools have you found valuable in providing feedback and/or peer review?
Google Docs
Rubrics/Criteria Charts
Q4 How is coaching student writers different from teaching writing? What are the advantages to coaching versus teaching writing?
Q5  What are the best writing tools, strategies, and frameworks for teaching writing and coaching students through the writing process?
Q6 What would happen if you stopped evaluating writing and switched to coaching?
Q7 How can teaching speaking and listening skills help improve student writing?
Extra Credit

SPAWN Writing Prompts

Students need content-focused writing opportunities in Social Studies classrooms. Writing across the curriculum can be supported with SPAWN prompts. SPAWN stands for five types of writing prompts (Special Powers, Problem Solving, Alternative Viewpoints, What If?, and Next). They can be used to prepare students to learn new information about the topic or reflect on what has been learned. Fisher et al explain more below:

Spawn Acronym


S – Special Powers
You have the power to change an important event leading up to America’s entry into World War I. Describe what it is you changed, why you changed it, and the consequences of the change.
P – Problem Solving
We have been reading about how most people in the United States were isolationists at the start of World War I. How do you think President Wilson can convince his country to enter the war?
A – Alternative Viewpoints
Imagine you’re the commander of the Lusitania. Write an accurate description in a letter format of your ship’s being torpedoed.
W – What If?
What might have happened if the Turks hadn’t entered the war on the side of the Germans?
N – Next
We learned yesterday that Germany has decided to use poison gas as part of trench warfare. What do you think the Allies will do next?

The response below is a student writing about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand from a unique perspective.

Spawn Example

The above SPAWN example from Fisher et al (2014) demonstrates how students can be factually accurate when engaging in historical writing. Please practice developing SPAWN writing prompts by contributing five in the comments section.


Fisher, D., Brozo, W. G., Frey, N., & Ivey, G. (2014). 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy. Pearson Higher Ed. http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/product/50-Instructional-Routines-to-Develop-Content-Literacy-3E/9780133347968.page

Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading: A report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools. New York/Washington, DC: Carnegie Corporation. Alliance for Excellent Education.




Six Word Definitions

Thanks to #TeachWriting, my rockin’ PLN on Twitter, I was apply to apply a new technique in my World History classroom this week. Several ELA teachers were discussing #6wordShakespeare and some of the other six-word story exercises that had been done in their classrooms. Hemingway wrote one of the most famous six word stories: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. These teachers described the technique as a fast brainstorming tool that gets students writing and playing with language immediately. I thought it could be used in the vocabulary-intensive unit I am currently teaching about the Cold War.

These two definitions from the book and subsequent student simplifications illustrate the concept.  Containment: The U.S. strategy of keeping communism within its existing boundaries and preventing its further expansion (p. 509). Truman Doctrine: United States policy, established in 1947, of trying to contain the spread of communism (p. 491).

6 word CW Vocab

Hyland & Tse (2007) report that many teachers regard helping students develop specialist [content] vocabulary as an important part of their role and many lists of key terms have been assembled. Marzano & Pickering (2005) offer a manual with 7,923 terms so school and district teams can choose the most important vocabulary words to teach their students. The terms were extracted from national standards documents, across eleven subject areas, and organized into grade-span intervals for: K–2, 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12 writers.

Here are examples of online definitions, along with student six-word definitions.  Iron Curtain:  The political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal off itself and its depended eastern and central European allies from open contact with the West and other noncommunist areas (Encyclopedia Britannica). Capitalism: An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state (Google). Interestingly this term is not defined in the World History textbook, instead capital is defined as “money or wealth used to invest in business or enterprise” (p. 175).

6 word vocab

The majority of my students mastered this task and defined all seven terms in 15 minutes. I find that quantifying and charting how many terms a student completed within the allotted time helps me get a better picture of their engagement and alerts me to any comprehension problems that may be brewing.

Here some additional examples of student work:
Communism: Form of socialism advocated by Marx; Community has all power in society; All wealth and property owned collectively.
Capitalism: Private owners rather than the state; Prices are based on supply and demand; Individuals make decisions, not the government.
Cold War: Tension and hostility between two nations; Competition between U.S & Soviet states.
Iron Curtain: Prime Minister accuses Soviets of aggression. Soviets create a buffer in Europe.
Containment: Keeping communism within boundaries without spreading; America’s policy toward communist countries.
Truman Doctrine: Tried to prevent spreading of communism; 1947 USA policy stopping Soviet Socialism.

6 word stories

Kinsella (2013) argues that word knowledge is a strong predictor of academic achievement and educators cannot afford to leave vocabulary instruction to chance. She further advises that devoting attention to words that matter most is the first step in responsible lesson planning. I thought these six word definitions demonstrated understanding of Cold War terms and will continue to use it to help students master content vocabulary. It appears that finding activities like creating six-word definitions and re-tweeting favorites enable students to have fun while building their academic vocabulary. What tricks and techniques have been successful in your classroom?


Hyland, K., & Tse, P. (2007). Is there an “academic vocabulary”?. TESOL quarterly41(2), 235-253.

Kinsella, K. (2013). Cutting to the Common Core: Making Vocabulary Number One. Language Magazine12(12), 18-23.

Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s manual. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1703 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311-1714.

#TeachWriting Chat on Historical Writing.

On Tuesday, February 10, 2015, I was the Guest moderator for the Twitter Chat #TeachWriting on Historical Writing. You can read an archive of the chat. The questions and resources I shared are posted below.

Welcome to tonight’s #TeachWriting chat on Historical Writing. Please introduce yourself, including subject and grade level.

Q1. What type of writing do you typically include in your classroom? (Argumentative, informative/explanatory, and/or narrative) #TeachWriting

Q2. Do your students have a preference for any particular writing tasks? #TeachWriting

Q3. What is the biggest challenge for your Ss writing a thesis, developing an argument, or assessing evidence? #TeachWriting

Q4. How can History teachers share the burden of writing instruction with other teachers? #TeachWriting

Q5. How can writing assignments be increased in History classes without interfering with coverage, or pacing plans? #TeachWriting

Q6. Should automated essay scorers be used to grade student writing? #TeachWriting

Q7. What tools and resources do you use that help students with argumentative writing? #TeachWriting

Q8. Why isn’t SRSD writing instruction taught to History teachers? #TeachWriting


A1. LDC Rubric http://ldc.org/sites/default/files/LDC-Argumentation-Rubric-2.0.pdf #TeachWriting

A1. BATREECS argumentative graphic organizers starting at pp. 62-65 http://www.nancyfetzer.com/pdf/writing/AtaGlance7-12.pdf #TeachWriting

A2. LDC’s Gr 6-12 Informative/Explanatory Writing Rubric http://ldc.org/sites/default/files/LDC-InfoExplanatory-Rubric-2.0.pdf #TeachWriting

A2. This graphic organizer helps students with outlining http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/K12ELA7-3.3.2-InformativeEssayFrame-BY-SA.pdf #TeachWriting

A2. Elementary graphic organizers https://walch.com/samplepages/050078.pdf

A3. LDC Rubric http://ldc.org/sites/default/files/LDC-Narrative-Rubric-2.0.pdf #TeachWriting

A3. Argument graph org for elementary students on pp. 26-27 https://michelleleba.wikispaces.com/file/view/Social+Studies+Graphic+Organizers.pdf #TeachWriting

A4. Mix in some newswriting http://www.edutopia.org/blog/news-writing-teaches-history-writing-david-cutler #TeachWriting

A5. Don’t increase your reading, req Ss to use http://www.paperrater.com/ #TeachWriting Provides plag detect & grade

A5. Revision Assistant https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-09-22-where-does-automated-essay-scoring-belong-in-k-12-education #TeachWriting

A6. https://historyrewriter.com/2014/12/02/detecting-plagiarism/ #TeachWriting

A6. http://elearningindustry.com/top-10-free-plagiarism-detection-tools-for-teachers #TeachWriting

A7. Teaching students to write historical arguments http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/sites/default/files/ncss_what_makes_a_good_history_essay_for-posting.pdf #TeachWriting

A7. Guide to writing an argument from the U of Iowa. http://clas.uiowa.edu/history/teaching-and-writing-center/guides/argumentation #TeachWriting

A8. https://historyrewriter.com/2014/12/04/srsd-instruction/ #TeachWriting

A8. https://historyrewriter.com/2014/12/09/srsd-writing-in-history/ #TeachWriting

A8. All things SRSD. Great resources. www.thinkSRD.org #TeachWriting

College and Career Ready Writing

What does it mean CCR

Educators are familiar with the phrase “college and career ready” but few are able to articulate what determines this readiness. This is because there has been little empirical analysis on the literary skills required in community colleges. Being college and career ready means students are able to communicate clearly—to speak grammatically, write well and read the required materials with understanding. A May 2013 study from the National Center on Education and the Economy asked what kind and level of literacy is required of a high school graduate for success in the first year of a community college program? They collected data from seven community colleges in seven states, serving rural, urban and suburban populations with enrollments from 3,000 to 30,000.


The reading and writing required of students in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding. The reading complexity of college texts is between 11th and 12th grade. Successful readers of information-rich texts should have the ability to read complex texts in unsupported environments. The capacity to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information must be increased. Significant reading experiences must occur in a wider range of content areas. The skills in comprehending statistical tables, charts, maps, lists and other documents in college texts need to be improved.

CC Reading Levels_NCEE

Reading for in-depth subject matter comprehension is not formally taught in our high schools. This disconnect between high school and college reading demands suggests a need to reexamine what is taught in high school. What are we asking our students to do with what they read? College students are rarely asked to do complex analyses of texts, except in English Comp classes. One third (33%) of the courses examined used multiple choice or true/false exams and assignments exclusively.


Most introductory college classes demand very little writing; when it is required, instructors have very low expectations. Community College writing typically takes the form of informational writing or collecting evidence for a course of action. Complex writing plays a minor role in community college student exams. Even so, a large number of high school graduates cannot meet the low expectations that community colleges have of them.

Panel Ratings_NCEE

Community College instructors do not expect their students to read at the level of their texts or to write much. The majority of essays were argument or informational, only one college contributed narrative essays. Agreement between scores was significant at the lower end of the grading scale with notable disagreement at the mid-range of the scale One-fifth (20%) of essays that the panel considered college ready were scored not college ready by the instructors. Almost half (48%) of essays considered college ready by the instructors were given scores of 2 or below by the panel.

Over 75% of the essays given a B by the instructors were marked 2 or below by the panel. Argument essays often received Bs without including well-supported claims. No pattern emerged to suggest why the panelists graded the writing aspect of the subject matter essays more harshly than instructors.


Community College students are required to learn college writing in English Comp and then rarely asked to write again. When they are asked to write outside of English class, the acceptable standard is considerably lower. Many of the deficits of HS school ELA instruction are being replicated rather than remedied in community colleges. Students clearly need better instruction in constructing arguments and in laying out their thinking logically and persuasively.

Big Takeaways

We need high schools and community colleges to concurrently raise their standards for reading and writing. This doesn’t just happen in high school, but needs to be a collaborative effort when implementing Common Core State Standards throughout the PK-12 curriculum.


Students must have the ability to read information-rich texts in unsupported environments. Teachers must increase the capacity of students to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information. Students must have significant reading experience in a wider range of content areas. Teachers must increase the ability of students in reading and understanding tables, charts, maps, and lists that supplement the prose in many college texts.


We are not teaching our high school and community college students to be proficient writers. The limited writing skills that we do teach, we do so ineffectively. Many high school graduates cannot meet the literacy demands of community college programs. Complex writing tasks need to play a larger role in both high school and community college student exams. History teachers may increase their writing instruction skills by signing up for this free online class.


Tucker, M. (2013). What does it really mean to be college and work ready? The English literacy required of first year community college students. The National Center on Education and the Economy. May 2013. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.ncee.org/college-and-work-ready/

Twitter TeachWriting Chat


Tuesday, November 18 at 9:00 pm EST/6 pm PST, please join us on Twitter for a  #TeachWriting chat on Interdisciplinary Writing.  I will be your guest host @scottmpetri .

For tonight’s chat, we will use the following definition for “Interdisciplinary” – applying more than one discipline to examine a central theme, issue, problem, topic, or experience – adapted from (Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, 1989).

Here is an example of an interdisciplinary Mock Trial I did with an English teacher a few years ago with To Kill A Mockingbird. She taught the book, I taught the Jim Crow era and we culminated with an in-class trial judged by real attorneys who had coached the students on making opening and closing statements. The students thought it was…, oh, what’s the word I am looking for… FUN!

I hope you will show up with loads of experiences and examples of interdisciplinary teaching from your school.  This year, I did a great project with two of my English teachers getting students to write an 800 word essay for the Bill of Rights Institute’s We the Students scholarship contest. (My previous three blog posts describe this process.) The students were motivated because they got credit in both classes for doing the same assignment. I feel that if we can get more teachers to integrate instruction and collaborate, we can increase student engagement. Here is a sneak peek at the questions I will be lobbing your way.

Q1 Can you describe a successful interdisciplinary writing project you have participated in?

Q2 What are some barriers to implementing interdisciplinary writing?

Q3 How can non-ELA teachers approach writing in their subjects?

Q4 What types of writing instruction PD should be offered to non-ELA teachers?

Q5 Why should teachers be required to teach argumentative, explanatory, and narrative writing in all subjects?

Q6 How can Math, Science, and other subjects increase the amount of writing in their courses?

Q7 What type of feedback do you give students on their writing?

Q8 How can revision memos and peer review be included in non-ELA classes?

Q9 What are your thoughts on automated essay scoring tools? Could they help increase the amount of writing assigned in K12?

If you want to learn more about interdisciplinary writing, please consider signing up for my MOOC, Helping History Teachers Become Writing Teachers, which starts on January 12, 2015.  

If you are attending NCSS in Boston, I am presenting on Innovative Teaching Strategies in Social Studies, come see me in room 310 of the Hynes Convention Center on Friday, November 21 from 8:30 – 9:30 am.