Practice, Practice, Practice: From First Draft to Final Copy

I love teaching Language Arts, but one of the greatest challenges I face is helping students learn how to become good writers.  A great resource to help you teach students how to write effectively is “Teaching Adolescent Writers” (2006) by Kelly Gallagher.  I absolutely love this book and will be providing a resource review soon, but until then, I’ll just be going over a tiny portion of what is covered in this fantastic resource.

Gallagher recounts that when he was a basketball coach, he would take his players through a variety of defensive and offensive drills in order to be ready for the big Friday night game.  Just as coaches take their players through a variety of training practices to build up their skills, so too should teachers provide students with a variety of practice runs to help them become more effective writers.  Before producing well-written formal pieces of writing, students must be given opportunities to explore and develop their skills as writers.

When planning my Language Arts units, I have tried to incorporate as many opportunities as possible to have my students write, write, write!  One area we spend considerable time focusing on is the development of a first draft into a polished and formal final copy.  Sometimes it is very difficult to convince students that their work is only a first draft and it has to go through revisions (possibly several revisions) before it is ready to be evaluated.  A way that I have explained this to students is by using these posters to differentiate between first draft and final copy writing.  These posters are based on the First- vs. Second-Draft Comparison Chart in Gallagher’s “Teaching Adolescent Writers” (p. 51) from Mary K. Healy in Bay Area Writing Project.  I’ve changed the language a bit to make it more accessible for my students.

I’ll be posting on the following strategies to help you get your students writing, revising, and polishing their drafts soon:

  • STAR (Substitute, Take things out, Add, Rearrange) from Richard Cornwell, South Basin Writing Project
  • Surface vs. Deep Revision from Kelly Gallagher in “Teaching Adolescent Writers”
  • Hot Writing from Teresa Totten (I heard her speak at Reading for the Love of It and she was phenomenal!)

Just click on the image below for the posters!

For some other Language Arts posters, check out PEEL!

The Daily 5, a complete Language Arts Program

The Daily 5 is a series of literacy tasks that a group of students complete daily while the teacher meets with small groups or confers with individuals. This book not only explains the philosophy behind the structure, but also shows us how to carefully and systematically train students to participate in each of the five components.  Explicit modeling, practice, reflecting and refining takes place during the launching phase, preparing the foundation for a year of meaningful content and instruction tailored to meet the unique needs of each child. “The Daily 5 is more than a management system or a curriculum framework – it is a structure that will help students develop the daily habits of reading, writing and working with peers that will lead to a lifetime of independent literacy.” (

As the title expresses, it is a combination of five different tasks throughout the two-hour literacy block. Each essential task is a foundational element in literacy for the K-5 grade levels. This program allows for a change to the atmosphere in the classroom and the role for us teachers. It is a change from trying to manage students, from rushing around the room, from putting out fires, to creating routines and procedures that creates independent literacy behaviours to the point of becoming habits. Read to Self is the best way to become a better reader by practicing every day. Children are allowed to choose books that interest them at their appropriate reading level. During the implementation and training stages, children are taught how to select books at their correct reading level. Read to Someone allows for more time to practice reading strategies. This essential task helps students work on fluency, expression, to check for understanding, to hear their own voice, and to share with their partner. Work on Writing works the same way as reading, the only way students can be better writers is to write each day. Listen to Reading is a task that allows students to listen to examples of good literature and fluent reading. This task allows students to expand their vocabulary and become better readers. The last of the essential tasks is Spelling Word Work.This task allows for consistent practice in spelling which aids in fluent writing and the ability to quickly write thoughts down on paper. These tasks are to be done daily and students are given a half-hour within each task. They rotate between the tasks, but what the most important factor of this system is the choice that students have. Eventually, when all is implemented, students will have the ability to select which task they wish to start with and which one he/she goes to next (as long as all five tasks are done within the day). In order for this system to work smoothly there are six core foundations to make it successful. Trusting students is the first. This is not a blind trust but a method to build behaviors gradually through lessons and guided practice. Providing choice is the second core foundation. Choice is extremely motivating and allows the student to be in charge of his or her own learning. Third is a nurturing community. This foundation will create a sense of community thus providing members (the students) with ownership to hold others accountable for behaviors of effort, learning order and kindness. Next is the core foundation of creating a sense of urgency. This foundation will empower kids by allowing them the opportunity to understand why we teach a certain idea or concept. A purpose along with a choice will give the student the motivation to keep persevering and keep on task. The next very important core foundation is the building of stamina. This correlates to the constructivist theory. For the program to be successful, children must commence slowly, a minute at a time thus providing them with a teacher who will lay the foundation for success, support them, cheer them on, and help them succeed. Should this not be done, students will become frustrated and failure is imminent. Last but not least is that the teacher must stay out of the way. This is extremely important because the teacher must display trust and must allow students the opportunity to make their own decisions and monitor him or herself.

I feel that the concept of the Daily 5 is greatly beneficial as students are really capable and if we work with them, we can truly empower them to be active participants in their learning process. The task is a great one, and there is a lot of preparatory work. The Daily 5 does allow for more control overall, and it does dissuade behavioural issues within a classroom. The program fosters a comfortable environment where desks are the furthest requirements. A couch and lounge chairs are more appropriate. This is a complete detachment from the current state of classrooms. It is a fresh approach which requires a 2 hour block of literacy. The five essential tasks are an excellent foundation to literacy. I must stress that this is a complete change in mindset but a successful one. Some school boards have begun to adopt the Daily 5, providing teachers the support and the resources to implement the program. Should you choose to take on this system there are many websites that support your implementation. I hope you find the Daily 5 useful and the following websites to help you start.

Disclosure:  This post contains an affiliate link.  All views expressed are the author’s own. Thanks for supporting our website!

Keeping Parents in the Know!

Keeping Parents in the Know! Parent Communication Form! Freebie!


How many times have you sent a graded test or assignment home in order to communicate with parents regarding the achievement of their son or daughter?  More often than not, that vital piece of information was never shown, and more than likely lost forever!  I find this very frustrating.  I haven’t been able to communicate with parents and at the same time have lost essential documentation for my student files and portfolios.  Instead, I use my notification form (attached below) to communicate with parents/guardians  of their child’s achievement.  Should this form be lost or never returned, you need not worry as you have the evidence on hand.  Enjoy and use as you please!

Scientific Literacy: Using QAR to help students learn about the Ontario Greenbelt

A scientifically literate person may be described as “one who is aware that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations; understands key concepts and principles of science; is familiar with the natural world and recognizes both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes” (Derek Hodson, “In Pursuit of Scientific Literacy” 1998. p. 2).

Hodson describes three different aspects of science education: learning science, learning about science, and doing science. The three different aspects of science education are discrete; however, they are clearly connected and provide a well-rounded science education. He goes on to explain that learning science teaches about science facts and knowledge; learning about science develops an understanding of the nature and methods of science and the interaction with science, technology and society; while, doing science engages and develops scientific inquiry and problem-solving.  All three aspects of science must play a role in science education because they allow different areas of a student’s scientific literacy to be developed.

So what does this mean for educators?  Well, not all of the students in my science classes will go on to pursue science related careers; however, they must all have critical thinking, inquiry, and problem solving skills in order to make well-informed decisions, both for themselves and for society as a whole.  I think that a great way to develop scientific literacy is to use realistic examples, scenarios, and case studies during science classes.  An example of this is the mining case I posted earlier:

The fictional town of Drew’s Falls, Ontario faced quite a dilemma: as a town based on a strong summer and winter tourism industry, townspeople needed to decide if they should mine a nearby copper deposit. The townspeople were split in their decision—some argued that the mine would create new jobs, improve the economy, and create a new industry to support the citizens. On the other hand, several residents discouraged the mine development as it would pollute the surrounding town, lake, forests and parks, endanger animals, and threaten the tourism industry. Before the town can reach a decision, several issues must be carefully considered to determine the consequences of both choices.

Another way to develop scientific literacy is to use real-life issues; for example, in 2005, legislation was passed to create a greenbelt around the Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario.  The purpose of this greenbelt is to prevent urban sprawl from decimating the natural green space (i.e. agricultural land, conservation parks, wetlands, forests, and watersheds) surrounding some major cities.  Since this is a critical issue in Southern Ontario, it is important that my students understand both the benefits and challenges of the greenbelt and how it will affect them.

I’ve provided a short text explaining the Ontario Greenbelt and a QAR student sheet to help you promote scientific literacy in your classroom (and it’s cross-curricular with Language Arts!).  Even if you do not live in Southern Ontario, you could discuss the relevance of a greenbelt with your students and determine whether a protected area like that would benefit your town, city, or province/state.

For further reading about scientific literacy, here’s a great article by Derek Hodson, a professor at OISE/UT:

Here’s the student text, worksheet, and teacher answer key! Just click the image below!

Speech Writing Rubric

Here’s a rubric to help you assess the speeches your students have written!  Public speaking is one of my favourite units for several reasons:

  • Public speaking hits upon several curriculum expectations for both writing and oral communication
  • Students not only improve their speaking skills, but they also develop their listening skills
  • Students need more opportunities to practice speaking in front of an audience

When I announce that we will be working on public speaking by writing and delivering speeches, most students are very apprehensive and lack confidence in their abilities.  It’s amazing to see how well they end up doing!  This type of activity really surprises students and allows them to overcome their fears.

I previously wrote about how I start out my unit by having students listen to three awesome speeches on YouTube and use these three speeches to inspire their writing and delivery.

Here’s the rubric that I use to assess the written component of their speech (just click on the image!).

speech writing rubric

Using PEEL Responses as a Framework for Making Connections

The Ontario Language Arts curriculum document is divided into four strands—Oral Communication, Reading, Writing, and Media Literacy.  In both the Oral Communication and Reading strands, expectation 1.6 requires students to “extend understanding of texts by connecting, comparing, and contrasting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them.”   Being able to make a meaningful connection to the text is essential for reading comprehension and strategic reading; however, some students may have trouble actually getting their words down on paper.  In order to help my students produce a well-developed written response (one paragraph or multi-paragraph), I tried to find some strategy that they could use to help sort out their ideas and give them a framework to follow. I first found the PEEL strategy on and it appears that this writing framework is very popular in the U.K.  After a small adjustment, I decided to try it out with my class and have achieved tremendous success with it.

So, what is PEEL? Well, PEEL is the acronym for POINT-EVIDENCE-EXPLANATION-LINK and works in the following way:

Point:  provide the opening statement for your argument…what point are you trying to prove?

Evidence:  provide evidence in the form of quotes from the text

Explanation:  explain the evidence you provided through purpose and context

Link: a statement that links back to the main point

When actually using PEEL with my students, the “L” became make a link by connecting to a personal experience, another text, or the world around you.  This worked really well with my students and helped them not only make deeper and more meaningful connections, but they were able to easily extend their written responses without much struggle!

Also, some of my students preferred to flip around the middle section and make it Point-Explanation-Evidence-Link because they wanted to first explain their argument and then provide evidence to back up their claims.  After reading both sets of responses, I tend to agree with them and like having the explanation first and then the evidence as proof.

I’m providing two worksheets to cover both formats (evidence-explanation and explanation-evidence).  Also some classroom posters!  Have fun!


PEEL posters