Monday, May 16, 2011

Basic Skills and Writing--10-Minute Essays (02)

The following information is reprinted from my book, Teaching English, How To…. (Xlibris, 2004).

Question: How can teachers help students learn to correct basic mistakes in grammar and to use Standard Written English?

Answer: Ten-Minute Essays

What are My Readers’ Questions about 10-Minuted Essays?
How could you find the time to mark and correct 10-minute essays for five classes? I did not use ten-minute essays for the five classes all at the same time. I used ten-minute essays in the first class for three weeks, then for three weeks with the second class, etc. When the cycle of five classes was completed, I started all over again with the first class, this time for a different purpose, from correcting basic grammar to learning to use Standard Written English.

Did students have to complete the essays in ten minutes? No. They wrote for the ten minutes and then I stopped them, in mid-sentence, at the end of the ten minutes. The amount of writing was relatively short to enable me to be able to mark and correct them in the evening.

Did you assign complete essays? Of course. The ten-minute essays were just a small part of my writing program. I usually assigned ten full-length essays a year along with a research paper. In the regular writing course, I taught the writing process, consisting of brainstorming the topic; formulating the thesis; writing a first draft based on the thesis, with paragraphs begun by topic sentences, when needed, and ending with the summary paragraph; writing the introduction; and concluding with revision and editing.

What was the purpose of the ten-minute essays? The first purpose of the ten-minute essays was to demonstrate to students how to correct basic mistakes in sentence structure, usage and punctuation. The second purpose was to help students understand the labels that I put on their mistakes. A third purpose was to deal with individual mistakes that did not require the attention of the entire class. Having learned what the various labels meant and how to correct the mistakes, students were prepared for the full-length compositions that I assigned in the regular writing program where I used only labels.

What about the classes that had not yet written ten-minute essays when they had to write full-length essays? I was especially careful to explain the meanings of my labels before they rewrote their drafts.

Aren’t you just doing the work for the students? I demonstrated how to correct mistakes that I labeled while recognizing that the students might not understand those labels. I showed them what the labels meant and how to correct the labeled mistakes. I modeled behavior that I expected of the students when they wrote.

What did you do if some of the students had someone else write their ten-minute essays at home and slipped them in as their own? I assigned topics.

What effect did this daily writing have on the students? Gradually, the students’ ten minutes of writing began to produce fewer and fewer mistakes. Sometimes their 10-minute essays would be mistake-free, In their evaluations students wrote that the corrected ten-minute essays gave them confidence that they could write in almost any situation.

Next Blog: The Ten-Minute Essays and Standard Written English.

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