Persuasive Writing: The Power of the Pen

40901973-6e58-48a1-9406-51cdaa2da9b2_thumbAs a former English Language Arts teacher, I found persuasion to be one of the more demanding forms of writing for students.  The ability to state ideas clearly and back them up with proof is increasingly important, regardless of one’s profession, age or background. While new technologies such as blogs, podcasts, instant messaging, virtual social networks and email make opinionated self-expression easier and more encouraged than ever before, learning to distinguish reputable sources of information from inaccurate sources is challenging, yet important when making credible arguments.

Persuasive Writing:  Take a Stand is a resource designed to teach grades 9-12 students to learn how to recognize credible sources and use those to form opinions and support them, a skill used by everyone from sports stars and homemakers to business leaders and politicians.  I hope you find the resource helpful in teaching students to write persuasively and credibly.

Can New Computer Software Improve Writing Skills?

Girl WritingFor years, employers have complained about the need to spend millions of dollars in remedial writing classes in order to bring employees with poor writing skills up to an acceptable level of proficiency. More recently, the heavy use of word processing programs appears to have eroded weak writing skills even more as people rely on the software to correct unclear structure, incomplete sentences as well as errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Now a software manufacturer claims to have created a program that will improve writing skills across the grade spectrum. This begs the question:  Can the technology that contributes to the problem solve the problem? The makers of infographic claim yes.  Read a review of this product, prepared by Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor of eSchool News in their October 2nd issue by clicking here.

The Rich and Varied History of Latino Americans

hm-aside-yourvidsOn Tuesdays, from September 17 to October 1, at 8:00pm, actor Benjamin Bratt narrates the landmark six-hour series, LATINO AMERICANS.  This is the first major television documentary series to chronicle the rich and varied history of Latinos, who have for the past 500-plus years helped shape what is today the United States and are now the country’s largest minority group.

Immigration is at the heart of the American experience and a central part of the long-running democratic experiment —  the United States.  The story includes expansionism, Manifest Destiny, the Wild West, multiple wars (Mexican-American, Spanish-American, World War II), the rise of organized labor, the Great Depression, the post WWII boom, the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, globalization, and the effects of multiple kinds of technologies –- from the railroad and barbed wire to the internet and satellite television.  Preview.

You’ll find rich educator resources at the LATINO AMERICAN website from timelines with videos, trailers, an episode guide and even an opportunity to become part of the LATINO AMERICANS project by submitting a video that shares family traditions, celebrations of  heritage, culture, and role models.  Such resources also offer opportunities for journaling, researching family history and interviewing family members.

Of course, you’ll also want to explore PBS LearningMedia with its scores of classroom resources on Latino Americans  for grades PreK-13+, including lesson plans.

PBS LearningMedia: Summer of Literacy

24b7b99b-a754-4d22-8abc-8d59591328cb_thumbPBS LearningMedia’s summer of literacy continues! Explore this special collection of resources designed to expand vocabulary, strengthen reading comprehension, and expose students to authors behind famous works:

American Authors in the 19th Century Grades 9-12 | Primary Sources | Authors:  Introduce students to five prominent American authors with this collection of primary source documents  Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, Stowe, and Poe.

Great Expectations: Happily Ever After? Grades 9-13+ | Video + Essay | Elements of a Story:  This video excerpt from PBS’ adaptation of Great Expectations  enhances lessons on 19th century literature and the work of Charles Dickens.

The Use of Soliloquy Grades 8-12 | Media Gallery | Literary Devices:  Shakespeare may be the author best known for his use of soliloquy. Engage students in a discussion about this literary device with resources from Shakespeare Uncovered.

Poem by Emily Dickinson Grades 7-12 | Animation | Poetry:  This resource for upper-level students illustrates Dickinson’s use of literary devices such as capitalization, personification, and rhyming.

Meet the Author Grades 2-7 | Media Gallery | The Writing ProcessIntroduce students to children’s author Rosemary Well’s background, career, and thoughts on the writing process.

Consonant Digraphs Grades 1-3 | Media Gallery | Vocabulary AcquisitionIntegrate these resources from The Electric Company into your next lesson plan to familiarize students with the consonant digraphs “gh” and “ph.”

Find these resources and more in the Gone Readin’ Summer Literacy Collection designed to support literacy from PreK through 12th grade.

13 Inexpensive, User-Friendly Writing Tools & Apps

typing2-150x150Since writing allows students to practice critical-thinking in virtually all subjects, we thought you might want to look at this article by a contributor at eSchool News on  July 26, 2013  “Being able to write clearly is an essential skill for all students. With these simple online writing tools and apps, students get to practice writing informally in settings that won’t be too daunting.”

“This information comes from Common Sense Media and its new Graphite service, a free collection of teacher-written reviews of websites, apps, and digital games for the classroom. Thirteen products are reviewed here with a description of the program and its pros and cons. The various products reviewed cover K through grade 12.  Web addresses are included with each review if more information is desired. . . .”

Read the complete article by clicking here.

Empowering Children: Independent Lens’ The Revolutionary Optimists

fbOn Monday, June 17, at 10pm WGBY airs the documentary The Revolutionary Optimists about some of the poorest slums of Kolkata.  Amlan Ganguly, a lawyer-turned social entrepreneur, sows hope in the poorest neighborhoods of Calcutta by empowering children to become leaders in improving health and transforming their communities.

Inspired by The Revolutionary Optimists, which profiles “The Daredevils” in one of Kolkata’s most notorious squatters’ colonies, Map Your World is a multi-platform project in development that puts the power of new technologies into the hands of young change agents, enabling them to map, track, and improve the health of their own communities and share their stories.

When you search subjects like  “children in poverty” on PBS LearningMedia, you’ll find hundreds of resources.  Here are just a few:

Protect Your Health and Environment  (Grades 3 – 4) In this media-rich self-paced lesson, students explore health hazards in their environment and learn how to make their environment safer.

Poverty (Grades: 6-12) shows children in unclean conditions and asks students to write a description of what they think life is like for these children.

Teens Fight for Toxic Waste Cleanup (Grades 9-12) Meet a student who successfully lobbied her state legislature about waste sites in her neighborhood in this video adapted from Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative.

LESSON PLAN FEATURE: Story Telling – Writers’ Workshop

storytellingStorytelling, an ancient art form, is what humans do best.  One of four lessons for grades 6-8, this lesson has students draw on their understanding of different types of narratives to inspire and enrich their own storytelling. It is based on three other lessons that introduce students to narrative traditions and storytelling from Alaska, Hawaii and other cultures through work with varied narratives, objects, and performance.

One theme woven through these lessons is the diverse nature and form of narratives. All of the narratives presented draw on the great range and variety of stories related to cultural resources available to teacher and student alike. Remember that although the term “narrative” is frequently applied to written texts and oral stories, narratives may also be inherent in a painting, a dance, an object, or an historical record.


  • Create original stories; share them with others orally and in writing, employing language arts practices such as pre-writing (gathering and organizing experiences), drafting, revising collaboratively, polishing and presenting work
  • Experience stories from a range of cultures and recognize both the commonalities and distinctions in styles and motifs of storytelling
  • Begin to identify key aspects of narratives, such as character, setting, action, conflict, and resolution
  • Begin to gain understanding of audience, author, and viewpoint in the context of narrative.

To check out more storytelling lesson plans with Common Core State Standards go to:

Storytelling: Oral Traditions Lesson Plan

Storytelling: Tales of Everyday Life Lesson Plan

Storytelling: Performance and Art Lesson Plan

Featured Lesson: Parents, Teens and Texting

indexTexting is a part of daily life for most teens.  In this PBS LearningMedia online lesson for blended learning, students watch videos by teens about texting.  They then evaluate statistics about texting, and use these data to form and support their opinions.  This lesson covers a topic that is engaging to students while covering some key literacy strategies: comparing and contrasting information; determining important information; understanding fact vs. opinion; and making inferences. 

To launch this lesson, determine what students already know about texting and about the debate between parents and teens over how much texting is too much. The Teacher’s Guide accompanying this lesson provides specific questions you can use to start the discussion.  Assignments in which students write opinion pieces supported by facts from the video, charts, and lesson text are an important component of this lesson.

Visit the lesson  from the Walmart Middle School Literacy Initiative to learn more.

Lesson Plan Feature: They’re Coming to America: Immigrants Past and Present

March’s celebration of Irish heritage be a good introduction to this lesson  where grades 5-7 explore the history of our nation of immigrants.  In the Introductory Activity, they identify their own and classmates’ countries of heritage.  Then they identify ethnic groups that migrated to the United States during various historic waves of immigration. In the Learning Activities, students watch video segments from Faces of America to develop an understanding of key motivations for immigration and explore online resources to examine specific immigrant experiences from various points in American history. The Culminating Activity asks students to use their historical knowledge and examination of case studies to develop a brief narrative summarizing the experiences, aspirations, and emotions of an hypothetical immigrant from the past or present.

In three 45-minute periods, students:

  • Articulate that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and that America’s immigrant past is reflected in our language, culture, and traditions
  • Identify their own countries of heritage on a world map
  • Describe the historic waves of immigration to the U. S. and the countries related to those waves
  • Explain motivations and rationale for immigration to the U. S.  at various points through its history
  • Provide specific examples of historic and contemporary immigrant experiences
  • Compare the experiences of historic and contemporary immigrants to the U. S.

The comprehensive lesson provides rich media resources, class materials, websites and more!

MAKERS: Women Who Make America

Creator and co-producer of “MAKERS: Women Who Make America” Dyllan McGee said she wanted to make a film about women’s rights pioneer and Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem, but Steinem “said her story was part of a collective of stories.”  From that inception, MAKERS aims to become the largest and most dynamic collection of women’s stories ever assembled.

The three-hour documentary, which airs on WGBY tonight at 8pm, originated from a very clear premise:  Over the last half century, the work of millions of women has altered virtually every aspect of American culture.  MAKERS tells the story of these exceptional women — both famous and heretofore unknown individuals — whose pioneering contributions continue to shape the world.  Visit for stories about women such as Judy Blume, Katie Couric, Geraldine Ferraro, Billie Jean King, Maya Lin, Condoleezza Rice and Faith Ringgold .

You can find resources on the subject of women at PBS sites such as NewsHourEXTRA for Teachers:  Lesson Plans on WomenPBS LearningMediaAmerican Experience and its  teachers’ area

With Women’s History Month coming in March, watch for more great resources to motivate and inspire you and  students!