KISS Grammar Writing Assignments
Suggestions for Parents and Teachers:
I have heard teachers say that they oppose
any type of "formulaic" writing assignments. Translated, this means I don't
know much about writing or how to teachit, so I am going to make a virtue
of my ignorance. Not every writing assignment should be formulaic, but
most students should be doing much more formulaic writing than they currently
do.Unfortunately, the current teaching of writing is almost as bas as is
the teaching of grammar.
The Importance of Revising
"Revising" means re-seeeing the substance of
what one has written. It primarily involves substance, not grammar. As
the various directions below suggest, however, revision can be assisted
by directions to add or check for various constructions. Even as early
as third grade, revision should be taught as a separate stage in the writing
process, a stage that should not be done on the same day as the drafting.
Such revision should probably not be requred for every writing assignment,
but some assignments should probably be revised several times.
The Question of Editing
With few exceptions (such as the structure
of a thesis sentence), students should never be thinking about grammar
and spelling while they are drafting or revising a paper. George Miller's
concept of short-term memory (See the KISS
Psycholinguistic Model.) suggests that we have only seven slots in
which to juggle information simultaneously. In the process of drafting
and revising, all of those slots should be devoted to content -- What
am I trying to say? What kind of, and how many, examples should I include?
How should they be organized? When students stop to think about spelling
and grammar, some of the content information (that should be in the slots)
is pushed out, as grammar and spelling rules are brought in. Editing, therefore,
should be taught as the final stage in the writing process. Once all the
ideas are on paper and organized, students should go over the paper a final
time to check for spelling and grammatical errors.
This idea came from a member of the KISS List.
Unfortunately, it was a while ago, and I cannot remember who suggested
it, but it immediately struck me as superb. It relieves the student of
two of their major problems -- finding a topic, and "brainstorming" for
details about that topic. Many students, when they have the option, pick
a topic about which they know very little. As a result, their writing process
is "jerky" -- as they draft, they continually have to stop to think about
what to write next. In addition to affecting the overall qualtiy of the
writing, this jerkiness affects the complexity of students' sentences.
When the mind is overflowing with information, some of this information
is naturally combined within sentences. Thus the sentences become longer
and more complex. When the mind is basically empty, and searching for something
to say, then individual stray thoughts are put down on paper, usually in
much more simplistic sentences. If they are retelling something that they
just read, their minds should be full of details, and thus sentences should
flow much more smoothly.
In some cases, you may want to give students a short chronological list
of the episodes (people and/or events) in the work. For example, if they
are retelling the story of Thumbelina, you could give them "the Witch,
the birth of Thumbelina, the toad, the fish, the butterfly, the cockchafer,
the field-mouse, the mole, the swallow, and finally the little Prince."
"What I did last summer" has been the object of many jokes about what students write in school, but for students working at KISS Level One, such personal experience papers can be good writing exercises. Other possible topics include "My Home," "My Favorite Place," "My Hobby," "My Favorite Toy," "Favorite Person," etc.
Revising and Editing at KISS Level One
KISS Level Two
[Grades 4, 5, 6]
L2N01 Writing a Characterization (Description) of a Person [Instructional Material for Students]
is probably the easiest "analytical" paper for students to write. Very
young children have a sense that other people are "nice," "mean," "helpful,"
"nasty," etc. In addition, characterization papers primarily depend on
adjectives (including predicate adjectives) and predicate nouns. Within
the KISS Curriculum design, these are among the first constructions that
are taught. Thus students can be asked to write characterizations (or descriptions
of characters) soon after they have begun to master KISS Level Two.
Think of one adjective or noun that would best desribe a specific character in the story. State that characteristic in an S/V/PA or S/V/PN sentence -- "Charlotte is a helpful spider." Then give as many specific examples as you can from the story to show that the character is like that.In an early assignment, it might be helpful to have the students brain-storm, as a class, for adjectives and nouns that would describe the character (or characters). Then each student could choose the adjective or noun that he or she considers best and support it.
The most important aspects of this assignment are the initial S/V/PA or S/V/PN pattern, and the support, the specific examples that the students provide. At the college level, students often complain that they get low grades because "the instructor doesn't agree with me." There is a fair amount of validity in the complaint, but the problem usually is that the students have given few, if any, supporting examples. Indeed, often the students simply impose their prejudices onto the story and there is nothing in the story that supports the student's view. On the other side of the coin, the students with whom the instructor agrees have usually given supporting examples, which is why the instructor agrees in the first place. College professors do, by the way, give A's to students with whom they disagree, but the student's paper has to include supporting examples. Thus this characterization assignment can be an excellent introduction to the most crucial aspect of all college writing -- make a statement, and then support it.
There are, of course, numerous ways in which this assignment can be expanded for students in upper grades. The simplest is to have students think of three or four characteristics and write a paragraph that supports each of them. This can easily result in a five or six paragraph paper:
Revising and Editing at KISS Level Two
I should confess here that it is only recently that I became much more aware of the importance of teaching grammatical transitions as a tool for revision. In order to make a transition, there has to be something to transition from and something to transition to. This in itself helps students resee the structure of their papers. In addition, different types of conjunctive adverbs (etc.) reflect differences in the logic and quality of the thoughts being expressed. "First," "second," "next," and "fourth," for example, can be used to make any unorganized list. A more thoughful writer will more likely use such transitions as "more significantly," and "most important." Not only do the latter suggest that the "list" has been put into a meaningful sequence, they are also more likely to lead the writer to explain why one idea is more significant that the preceding.
KISS Level Three
[Grades 7, 8, 9]
Revising and Editing at KISS Level Three
KISS Level Four
Revising and Editing at KISS Level Four
KISS Level Five
[Grade 11 +]
Revising and Editing at KISS Level Five