Engaging Students in Writing

This year students in READ 6306 were required to contribute a post to the Readinginthborderlands blog.

By Anita Castillo

As I reflect on my learning experiences with writing, my mind goes blank.  I can not remember how I was taught to write; all I can recall was to create five-paragraph compositions about topics that were of no interest to me.  As a student, my teachers did not render writing as an engaging process that I wanted to be linked to.  Now, as a teacher, I desire to give my students the experience I never had with writing.  I want to create an environment where writing is engaging and meaningful for my students.  I would like to provide a memorable experience that will help my students appreciate writing and hopefully, that enjoyment of writing will continue throughout their life. 

After reading Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12, a professional book written by Janet Allen, for one of my graduate courses, I considered it to be a resourceful tool for myself and any teacher attempting to spice up their writing instruction.  Allen writes a specific chapter, Reading the Way to Writing, about integrating literacy with the instruction of writing.  As Allen reveals, “Literature can be a valuable resource for all aspects of the writer’s craft: topic development, organization, details, sentence variety, effective leads and ends, and characterization” (p. 194). 

Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12

Shared writing is a proposal that can make writing an engaging process for students.  One method to help students write is to do read alouds.  A read aloud will assist students in creating their own ideas about what to write.  Allen suggests students jot down their ideas, personal experiences, or connections made through the read aloud using a log – Ideas for Writing.  This record will supply students with their own ideas to use when they are ready to write.  My students were constantly complaining that they did not know what to write about.  I introduced this log to my students and it helped by allowing them to keep track of their thoughts or connections they made with the read aloud, which, in turn, gave them ideas to compose a writing piece. 

My students struggle with words.  They lack vocabulary that will help in their writing.  They have difficulty expressing themselves on paper, so Allen offers great ideas on creating word banks.  Allen created a log – Language Collection – that serves as a personal word wall for their journals and supports their awareness of language.  She also generated a chart – Language Choice – that assists students in creating new words for overused words.  I really like these concepts because they function as an alternative to making language more creative and accessible for students to grasp.  As Allen shared, “Language activities … help students move from their natural speaking to a wider repertoire of language” (p. 190).

Teachers may decide to choose literature that incorporates patterns for creating writing pieces.  Some examples of patterned writing are poetry, song lyrics, and picture books.  Teachers can introduce these forms through a read aloud to expose students to the nature of patterned writing.  Because the writing follows a pattern, it offers a framework of support for struggling writers.  I have utilized poetry in my instruction of writing, which my students composed different pieces based on the variety of poetry texts I introduced.  They enjoyed the ability to demonstrate their creativity through poetry.  My next goal is to introduce song lyrics as a means of writing.  I’m interested in witnessing the originality my students will produce through this form of patterned writing.

 Writing does not have to be the boring five-paragraph compositions many of us may have grown up using.  As teachers, we need to make writing an engaging process that will stimulate the minds of our students, and, simultaneously, bring awareness to the language that writing can incorporate.  I truly believe in Janet Allen’s vision of employing literacy as sources of effective writing.  She has great ideas for making writing a pleasurable and meaningful learning experience for teachers and students.  One of our goals should be to transition our learners from reader roles into writer roles.  I think Allen says it best “When readers begin to think like writers, and writers begin to write with readers in mind; the lines that separate the teaching of reading and writing disappear” (p. 198).

Professional Resources for a Struggling Reader

This semester students in READ 6325 explored professional resources on a variety of topics.

By Mayra Padilla

Because of the fact that struggling readers can be found in every school and/or grade level, it is important for educators to be aware of professional resources that can provide more information on struggling readers.  One advantage of being familiar with these sources is that teachers will be able to identify characteristics of a struggling reader and may even help prevent a student from becoming one.

After searching for such resources, I have come across a professional journal titled Reading Improvement that I feel is an excellent source for this topic. This peer reviewed journal provides different articles dealing with struggling readers such as; Strategies for Improving Reading Skills, Implementing Peer Coaching Fluency Building to Improve Early Literacy Skills, and the one that impacted me the most was Struggling Readers in High School. I thought this article was very interesting because it provides educators with information as to what actions to take when dealing with struggling readers. It mentions the importance of becoming knowledgeable in the subject matter, being an advocate for these students so that they may not be forgotten, and providing them with interventions that will focus on their individual needs. This article was great and I encourage every high school teacher to read it. Another journal that I felt was an excellent source was Teaching Exceptional Children. This journal provides information on how to improve struggling learners/readers and identifies different issues that can cause this. These issues include a specific learning disability, autism, lack of experiences, and diversity in culture. The article that dealt specifically with struggling readers was titled Technology for the Struggling Reader: Free and Easily Accessible Resources.  This article is extremely helpful for teachers that have struggling readers in their classroom. It provided information on different computer programs that will assist these students. Such programs include; Microsoft Readability Statistics Tool that will provide teachers with information to determine whether or not students need modified texts, and Microsoft AutoSummarize is a tool that assists students by summarizing important information from the text and providing key points.

When looking into organizations that support struggling readers, I found the Iowa Reading Association. This association is an interactive group of individuals that are interested in reading and promote literacy through leadership, educational programming, and legislative endeavors. Their website provides members with excellent reading strategies that teachers can use in their classroom. These include; Say , Four Square Writing Method, Bookmark Technique, Character Retrieval Chart, Words to Fluency Something, Four Star Sentence, Hula Hoop Words, Literature Circles, Using Prop Boxes, Retelling: A Comprehension Strategy, Retelling: One of Many Comprehension Strategies, Search Strategy and Strategy Hand. These strategies are helpful and I have personally used two of them in my classroom.

The Struggling Reader Interventions that Work textbook is a great resource for struggling readers. It gives a clear explanation of the reading process. It talks about the importance of oral language development and the fact that it is the foundation of all literacy, phonemic awareness, word recognition, vocabulary, reading fluency, comprehension, writing and the importance of teachers staying up to date with new research in reading.                                    

 All of these professional resources are excellent and I hope that this blog is helpful to all educators because at one point in our teaching career, we will have to assist struggling readers.

Adults Read!

This semester students in READ 6325 explored professional resources on a variety of topics.

By I.Martinez

According to LiteracyTexas.org, there are 93 million adults in the United States who are reading at or below the basic levels of literacy, and of those 93 million, an estimated 3.8 million live in Texas, of which only about 100,000 are being served in Adult Education programs. The Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy & Learning lists Hidalgo County as having an illiteracy rate of 50%, slightly above Starr County which is listed as 65%, and below Cameron County at 43%. (http://www-tcall.tamu.edu/docs/09illitmap.html)

Judging by this center’s statistics and those of the Texas Council of Developmental Disabilities, it is indicated that many border counties have the highest illiteracy rates and also some of the highest poverty indexes.  These border counties are listed as having illiteracy rates of 40% and above and poverty indexes of approximately 33% and above. With all this in mind, it is no wonder that many of our students enter school significantly behind in their literacy skills. If we are to help our nation, state, county, and our individual students, then the issue of adult illiteracy must be confronted. The following listings of resources have been provided for all who work with Adult Literacy in a professional capacity or as a volunteer.

Professional journals that focus on adult literacy are:

  1.  Perspectives: The New York Journal of Adult Learning, which is a publication of the New York Association of Continuing Community Education, and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, describes itself as a journal that explores common practice, research and theory in adult education, community education, continuing education, workforce development, and higher education. It also offers a complimentary sample of the journal.
  2. Commission on Adult Basic Education Journal or COABE Journal, describes itself as the only journal in North America that publishes research about the field of adult literacy. This journal also offers a free sample publication copy.
  3.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, describes itself as the only peer-reviewed journal that focuses on effective research-based strategies for teaching literacy to adolescents and adults. This journal also releases free articles from some of its issues.

 The above listed COABE Journal is produced by the Commission on Adult Basic Education which is a professional organization particularly aimed at meeting the needs of professionals in the field of Adult Literacy. The COABE organization is comprised of practitioners and administrators with a membership of approximately 10,000.  A membership link is provided on the home page of their website: coabe.org/index.html

Books focusing on Adult Literacy are not very abundant, never-the-less, I was able to find listings for the following books on the Amazon.com website. They are:

Tips at Your fingertips: Teaching Strategies for Adult Literacy Tutors, by Ola M. Brown

Litstart: Literacy Strategies for Adult Reading Tutors, by Ed; DeVergilio, Marsha; DeButts, Donna Robson

Litstart: Strategies for Adult Literacy and ESL Tutors, by Patricia Frey

Improving Adult Literacy Outcomes: Lessons from Cognitive Research for Developing Countries, by Helen Abadzi

The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, by John Comings,  Barbara Garner, and Cristine Smith

 Books for the Adult Learners:

Goar Adult books are printed by Grass Roots Press and ABC Life Literacy Canada. These books are said to have adult themes but are written with accessible vocabulary and grammar. These books are also affordably priced at approximately $6.95, and can be found in Wal-Mart. You can find this webpage at: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/893385–goar-adult-books-for-adult-literacy-learners

For programs with limited funding, the Gutenburg project includes free books and some of the audio books that match the printed text. In other words, if your Adult Literacy program lacks the funds to purchase multiple copies of authentic literature for your classroom, you can download a free copy of a royalty free book (copyright has lapsed), and you can also download the adjoining audiofile to help as you do read alouds with your students. www.gutenberg.org/

 I have also included two charities that benefit Adult Literacy. The first is The National Adult Literacy Database (NALD), which is a registered, non-profit charity that provides internet based literacy information and resources. This charity provides materials, hosts websites for literacy organizations, and publicizes literacy events, to name a few services. On the Home page, to the right is a section labeled: Library-Multimedia collection, which I thought was quite good. It features videos that teachers can use for creating classroom materials, to videos on up to date research studies and findings on literacy.

The second non-profit organization that offers free instructional resources to teachers and volunteers is the ProLiteracy Education Network or EdNet for short. This educational network offers short self-paced courses in reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing and citizenship, plus printable PDFs of lesson plans and classroom activities. I found this website to be a gem. Besides its printables, videos, and audios, it has a very user friendly format which quickly took me to all these “freebies”. I have included the direct link to three audios. These audios discuss and model a think aloud for reading comprehension.


You can access the home network at the following URL: http:// www.proliteracyednet.org/

 Finally, for teachers wanting to brush up on teaching phonetic strategies to adult learners, there is a free, online 30 day Reading Horizons Workshop at the following URL:



*As a footnote, I’d like to include the following websites as well:





Analyzing Students’ Writing Development

This semester students in READ 6325 explored a variety of professional development resources.

By:  Paula Garcia

Every student develops their learning skills at different stages throughout their education. Writing is a process that is complex involving the hand, eye, and both sides of the brain.  Learning to write takes practice and develops at an early age in a child’s life. 

Writing is a skill that children can acquire with parental strategies within the home environment.  The professional journal titled “Parental strategies to scaffold emergent writing skills in the pre-school child with the home environment” found in Early Years Vol. 30, No. 1 written by Michelle M. Neumann and David L. Neumann gives information on the different stages a child needs to acquire once he or she is ready for the next phase.  Through this analysis, we have encountered and experienced the different writing stages and how some children spend more time at a certain stage than others.  This article also provides parents with the main writing strategies that they can use to scaffold emergent writing.  The strategies mentioned in this article are simple strategies that provide many rich opportunities for writing skills.  These home strategies include pointing out print in the child’s environment, songs and nursery rhymes, tracing letters, scaffolding word writing to name a few.  If any parent or person wants to learn more about the writing stages and strategies on how to scaffold emergent writing, this would is an outstanding journal article to read and put to use.

Once a child becomes proficient in writing, then the time to learn about the writing process also known as the Writing Wheel has arrived. “Teaching the Writing Process to the Students with LD,” is an article written by B. J. Scott and Michael R. Vitale which explains and discusses the writing process. This article can be found in the section Intervention in Schools, and Clinic, Vol. 38, No. 4.  By reading this article teachers will be better prepared on presenting the writing process to students with learning disabilities or any other students to develop their proficiency in writing. The writing process entails five writing stages which are: prewriting/planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. The Writing Wheel is a figure which shows the five stages of the writing process and visually guides students and teachers through the writing process. Teachers will find this article useful as a teaching tool to help students with or without LD to produce quality writing products.  Writing is a complex process, but with the use of the Writing Process or Writing Wheel students with or without learning disabilities will engage in writing becoming better writers and teachers will feel competent writing teachers.   

A professional book that can be useful to teachers especially those in charge of writing is “The Revision Toolbox, Teaching Techniques that Work” by Georgia Heard.  Georgia Heard in her book explains the difference between revision and editing. Heard makes sure that she clarifies that revision does not necessarily indicate bad writing.  She offers numerous teaching techniques/strategies that enable students to reorganize their writing to make it more sophisticated by assuring that revision is part of the writing process.  Georgia Heard, a writing teacher recommends strategies that not only to improve students writing but reassures students the enjoyment of writing. 

An organization that is appropriate for writers especially those working with children is the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrator).  This is a non-profit organization that focuses on children’s book writers and illustrators.  The organization helps other writers to exchange knowledge between other people that have the same interest regarding children’s book. With more than 22,000 members worldwide, SCBWI is the largest children’s writing organization in the world.  In order to become an SCBWI member, there is an $85 due for the first year and $70 each renewing year. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators have many benefits for its members. It provides online discussion boards, discounts and services like health insurance, awards, grants, conferences, and publishing information.  Since 1971, SCBWI is an organization dedicated to writers and illustrators of children’s literature.

Writing is an important stage in a child’s life, and everything should be done in order to emerge the writing skill.

Where do I Start?: Discovering Resources on Using Children’s Literature

This semester students in READ 6325 explored professional resources on a variety of topics.

by Chris

Being an effective teacher means doing more than teaching.  A good teacher must have a strong knowledge base in children’s literature.  Additionally, good teachers need to keep up with effective current practices.  Below are several resources that can help.

The Single Most Important Activity

Since 1979 Jim Trelease has provided information on the ins and outs of reading aloud to children through his book: The Read-Aloud Handbook, now in its 6th edition.

Nearly half of this book is dedicated to the Treasury of Read-alouds which include a summary of the alphabetically arranged books in categories such as wordless picture books, picture books, or short novels.

His website offers a view of the Read-Aloud handbook and other topics such author profiles and censorship.  Additionally, Read-Aloud handouts for parents in both English and Spanish can be downloaded for FREE. 

The book can be ordered directly from his website for $16.00.  As an interesting footnote, this book has also been published in Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Indonesian.

Finding the Right Book

Prentice Hall publishes a book entitled: Children’s Literature: Engaging Teachers and Children in Good Books by Daniel L. Darigan, Michael O. Tunnell, and James S. Jacobs.  This is an excellent resource for finding the right book to incorporate literature across the curriculum.  This book has three main sections which discuss the reasons for reading, the various genres, and how to use literature in the classroom. 

The extensive middle section spans 328 pages which separates books by the following genres: picture books, poetry, traditional fantasy, contemporary realistic fiction, historical fiction, multicultural and international children’s books, informational books, and biographies.  Author interviews are also included in the chapters of this 583-page volume.  Also, each of the 15 chapters begins with suggestions for a particular topic of what to consider for read aloud and a text set.

The prices for this book on Amazon.com range from $10.00 up to $56.00.

Developing Professionally Through Journals

Children’s Literature in Education is a quarterly journal that publishes articles from all over the world.  The material ranges from infants up to young adults and the articles include topics such as how to approach reader-response with children and ideas on how to teach literature to children.  Varying genres are: prose, fiction, poetry, and picture books.  As an example, the current volume (43) for 2012 includes articles on the relationships between text and pictures as well as looking at seventh grade student responses for The Red Tree.    

Most articles from this journal, classified as open access, can be viewed and downloaded from the Springer website. 

The Lion and the Unicorn, published three times a year by Johns Hopkins University Press, not only includes book reviews and studies of books, but also articles on current developments in theory, media technology and mass communication, culture, and the state of the publishing industry.

Abstracts can be viewed online and the subscription price is $40.00 for individuals or $43.00 for the electronic version. 

Professional Organizations

The mission statement for Children’s Literature Association (ChLA) is “to encourage high standards of criticism, scholarship, research, and teaching in children’s literature.”  Members receive the ChLA Quarterly, Children’s Literature, ChLA Newletter, and reduced fees at the annual conference.  Belonging to this organization is a way of finding out the latest news and keeping up to date with current trends in children’s literature.

Recommended websites:

v  Database of Award Winning Children’s Literature (DAWL) – find books based on variety of options such as:  age of reader, ethnicity, genre, languages, publication year, author/illustrator/translator, format, historical period, multicultural, setting, awards, gender, keyword, or point of view  

Booklists put together by librarians from Monroe, IN.  Books are organized by special topics such as adolescence, adoption, divorce, dinosaurs, and adventure stories.  

Read, write, think has FREE materials on reading and language arts instruction such as organizing and summarizing, inquiry and analysis, writing and publishing prose, and writing poetry.

v  The website www.liketoread.com has ideas for teaching reading strategies based on Mosaic of Thought (a great textbook on foundations of reading).