Category Archives: Writing

Why Kids [Still] Can’t Write

“On a bright July morning in a windowless conference room in a Manhattan bookstore, several dozen elementary school teachers were learning how to create worksheets that would help children learn to write. Judith C. Hochman, founder of an organization called the Writing Revolution, displayed examples of student work. A first grader had produced the following phrase: ‘Plants need water it need sun to’ — that is, plants need water and sun, too. If the student didn’t learn how to correct pronoun disagreement and missing conjunctions, by high school he could be writing phrases like this one: ‘Well Machines are good but they take people jobs like if they don’t know how to use it they get fired.’ That was a real submission on the essay section of the ACT.” D. Goldstein, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit A. Asemota The New York Times


Credit A. Asemota The New York Times


Excerpt: Why Kids Can’t Write, By Dana Goldstein

“It all starts with a sentence,” Dr. Hochman said. Focusing on the fundamentals of grammar is one approach to teaching writing. But it’s by no means the dominant one. Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature…Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to successfully complete a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data.

The Hochman Method

Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this. By requiring students to learn three types of essay writing — argumentative, informational and narrative — the Core staked a claim for writing as central to the American curriculum. It represented a sea change after the era of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that largely overlooked writing in favor of reading comprehension assessed by standardized multiple-choice tests.

So far, however, six years after its rollout, the Core hasn’t led to much measurable improvement on the page. Students continue to arrive on college campuses needing remediation in basic writing skills…Adherents worry that focusing too much on grammar or citing sources will stifle the writerly voice and prevent children from falling in love with writing as an activity.

Dr. Hochman’s strategy is radically different: a return to the basics of sentence construction, from combining fragments to fixing punctuation errors to learning how to deploy the powerful conjunctive adverbs that are common in academic writing but uncommon in speech, words like ‘therefore’ and ‘nevertheless.’

After all, the Snapchat generation may produce more writing than any group of teenagers before it, writing copious text messages and social media posts, but when it comes to the formal writing expected at school and work, they struggle with the mechanics of simple sentences. ‘I don’t mean to be dismissive,’ she continued, ‘but every instructional minute has its purpose.’

Your v. You’re

Before writing paragraphs — which is often now part of the kindergarten curriculum — children do need to practice writing great sentences. At every level, students benefit from clear feedback on their writing, and from seeing and trying to imitate what successful writing looks like, the so-called text models. Some of the touchy-feel stuff matters, too. Students with higher confidence in their writing ability perform better.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Free writing  helps get your intuition back when you make space for it.
  2. Students need to stop the chattering of the rational mind.
  3. One student wrote about the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.
  4. The student was struggling with how to begin the essay.
  5. Teachers need to start  by exposing them to great writing.
  6. Over the years there hasn’t been much measurable improvement.
  7. Students  still need remediation in basic writing skills.
  8. There is virulent debate about what approach is best.
  9. Good teachers know the importance of rigorous writing.
  10. Simple worksheets can reinforce basic writing  concepts.

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Molly Cudahy, who ___fifth-grade ___education at the Truesdell Education Campus, a ___school in Washington, D.C., said she ___Dr. Hochman’s explicit and technical approach. She thought it would___her students’ voices, not ___them. At her school, 100 percent of___come from low-income families.

WORD LIST:   students, free, appreciates,  public, special,   constrain, teaches,

 Grammar Focus: Prepositions

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Prepositions:  in, for, of, with, by,  on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over,  toward, through, from, during, up, off,  along

___her teacher training sessions, Dr. Hochman___the Writing Revolution shows a slide ___a cute little girl, lying contentedly ___her stomach___she scrawls___ a piece of composition paper.

___the way, students are learning ___recall meaningful content ___math, social studies, science and literature.

There is a notable shortage ___high-quality research___the teaching___writing, but studies that do exist point___ a few concrete strategies that help students perform better___ writing tests.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Ask/Answer  Questions

Directions:  Place students in groups and have each group list 3  questions they would like to pursue in relation to  the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


Category: Writing