Thursday, November 4, 2010

Personal Writing Portfolders

Teaching writing...a little detour while I'm thinking about it...

Children--actually, PEOPLE--retain better if they learn in context. We remember math vocabulary when we use the words in meaningful ways. Scientific terms become real when we use them during a real, hands-on experiment.

I spent countless hours in school learning rules. Few rules stuck. I want to make better use of my child's time through engaging, in-context learning. Here's one way I teach writing in context...

We've been making Portfolders for years. Originally, we used them for reflection on learning. Later, we made writing resource Portfolders.

Each child has a single Portfolder for use during writing. When a child is working on revision and comes to something he doesn't know--grammar, word choice, punctuation--we do a "mini lesson."


When do I use its vs. it's?

The child is revising a piece of writing. S/he doesn't know whether to use an apostrophe with "its." You discuss the uses and look it up in a reference book, if needed. (Note: One of my favorite little writing reference books is The Painless Path to Proper English Usage containing cartoon illustrations with words like effect/affect.) You write a brief explanation on the front of a notecard. On the back of the notecard, the child records two sentences featuring each use of the word. (If it's a punctuation rule, the child writes a sentence using the punctuation on the back of the card.)

The next time the child comes to that convention, s/he is responsible for it and refers to the Portfolder for review, as needed. The Portfolder, made from tagboard, can be stood on end as a little work station during writing.

Index cards are mounted in a staggered fashion with labels on the bottom of each card so the rule can be found with a quick glance. I use packing tape to adhere each card to the folder.
If you use Workboxes, the Personal Writing Portfolder can be kept with the Writing Workbox.

I began this yesterday with my 8yo. (I did it years ago with my older children.) We made three cards. I told him we were done with writing. His response? "Can't we make some more??" :)

He remembers the rules and conventions of writing when learned in the context of his own work. He values the information because he has a need to know.

And that's real life.


  1. Great advice! I will be using this in the near future. Thanks for sharing!

  2. That is so neat! I've seen handy little guides like that at Barnes and Noble, etc. But this little personalized gem would be easy to make, and therefore so much more helpful and effective.


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