Sunday, November 4, 2012

Turning Terror into Triumph: The Triple Whammy Sentence (Update)

When we returned to school Wednesday, after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in our area, I knew my students would need to reflect on the latest events and how Sandy affected them personally.  Many of my students ( and fellow teachers) were thrilled to be in school, especially since many still didn’t have power or safe conditions in their homes.  It was a perfect opportunity to use oral writing with the Genius Ladder  for students voices to be heard.  The Triple Whammy Sentence was also used to distinctively organize their thoughts.
Every morning, when students come in the room and unpack, they know to read the board for their special message and breakfast assignment.  That morning I wrote a warming message and a sentence on the bottom rung of my Genius Ladder: 
Superstorm Sandy VERB the East Coast.
 I could see a spark light in their eyes as they anticipated being able to share their Sandy experiences. I typically don’t do Oral Writing or Genius Ladder FIRST thing in the morning, but I knew it was important to begin this day in this way.  Students eagerly  began replacing the blank with verbs such as hit, struck, smashed, and destroyed.
ADJECTIVE Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast.
 To make our sentences “spicier” we used adjectives to describe Superstorm Sandy.  After Teach-Okay, I had them inform me of different adjectives their partners used, and we created a web:

Three major effects of Superstorm Sandy were _______,_________ and ________.
This is what they were waiting for; the opportunity to provide three DIFFERENT ideas while avoiding the dreaded CLINKER! 'Clinker' is just one of those words that students enjoy saying. They LOVE when a student provides 3 ideas that are too similar, so they can loudly exclaim “CLINKER,” to alert that person to try again!  During this section, students stood up using their own variation of “Class-Yes” to get everyone’s attention, and then carefully proceeded to fill in the Triple Whammy Sentence.  In the very beginning I heard CLINKER  examples such as “ Three major effects of Superstorm Sandy were lots of wind, trees falling, and poles fell.”  I discussed how the wind caused the trees to fall and the poles to go down, so the ideas were too similar and would overlap.  I stressed choosing the MAJOR effects that would provide an ample amount of adders to later discuss in our paragraphs.  After only a few clunky CLINKERS, students were readily providing ideas that were different:
 Three Major Effects of Superstorm Sandy were flooding, fires, and power outages."
We have been working on 5 paragraph essays for the past few weeks, so I set the students free at this point to create the Genius Introduction of their 5 paragraph essay about Sandy (after we did our 5 paragraph essay Power Pix reference and gesture.)  The only requirement was that it had to be AT LEAST 3 sentences and had to include their Clinker-free, topic sentence (aka Triple Gold Sentence). In the beginning of this unit, I had more structured guidelines, but now that students have more confidence in their writing, most students enjoy the freedom of using the Triple Gold Sentence in any part of the introductory paragraph they desire to.  Struggling writers kept the 2 sentences we worked on in class and then added  added sentences, while the more creative, advanced,  writers enjoyed creating their own catchy first sentences and clever closing sentences that we’ve practiced in past lessons.

 They enjoyed writing this essay, as it was a way to include all that they had experienced, or spent hours watching on the news for days!  I was VERY proud to see that only TWO students out of 27 had CLINKERS!  This was an amazing improvement from less than a month ago.  The remarkable thing about focusing on the Triple Whammy Sentence, is that it completely takes away the complexity for students in essay writing.  That one sentence guided the entire 5 paragraph essays they completed last week, keeping it focused and flowing!  Students automatically knew that their second paragraph would be about their 1st example, their third paragraph would be about their 2nd example and so on. 

Students also now routinely write their constructed responses in 5 paragraph form!  If the response only requires 2 examples, they modify it to a 4 paragraph essay.  At first it took FOREVER for them to complete assignments, but with practice they are becoming more fluent writers!   I love the increasing amount of time that I spend in TEACHER HEAVEN!

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