If you have students with special needs in your general education class or just have some students who are slow learners that struggle with writing, then this post is for you!
I have been teaching ELA and SPED at the middle school level for nearly 22 years. It has been my experience that to reach the students that struggle and have those moments where the light bulb comes on with writing is to embrace patterns.
Let me show you what I mean:
These are my text-based essay anchor charts that I have used with both "regular" and special needs students. These anchor charts provide a pattern for students to follow along with a memorable mnemonic.
HAT is for the introduction - a hat goes on top of your head and likewise goes on "top" of the essay. ACE IT is a good way to remember what goes in the body of an informative essay and ARGUE matches argumentative. Then what's the last thing you grab before your leave home? Your cell phone - your AT & T! Ok, I know not everyone has AT & T but work with me here! :)
Now keep in mind that this is just a foundation. I am not suggesting that these structures completely define an essay. Certainly as the students learn more and progress, so will their writing.
However, for students who are really struggling, this gives them a lifeline. I have found that most students "get" the concept of an essay and maybe even know some of the basic vocabulary, but they lack an understanding of how to apply what they know. It all seems theoretical without a pattern to follow. It's like me understanding that I need to go north to reach my grandmother's house but not being able to get there without a map.
So first we go over all the vocabulary. There are so many ways to do this but one of my favorites is using Quizlet. This is a free site and app where you input the words and definitions and then the program places your information into various games. Then, when you're ready to assess, you can use my free
Next, I take the students through the entire process of essay writing:
-reading the prompt
-understanding what they are reading to find out
-reading the texts one at a time & then mapping them one at a time
-planning the essay according to the pattern with a graphic organizer
-modeling each paragraph type with a foldable
Yes, this takes time (about 7 days or so), but it is so totally worth it when you see your students go into the tests with a plan and then watch them implement that plan on their planning sheets! That means no more blank planning sheets!! Can I get a Hallelujah?! That's what I was shouting inside my head last year when I saw this happen with my own eyes for both my "regular" and special needs students.
If you'd like more information on how to implement the step-by-step Informative Essay or Argumentative Essay, please click on those titles.
Want to share your experiences with struggling writers?
Join in the conversation in the comments below!