Wednesday, January 19, 2011

6 + 1 Trait Writing: Organization

This is the second January our TeachingAuthors posts address 6 + 1 Trait Writing.
Last January we focused on the first trait, Ideas, each of us sharing the generation of a particular work.
This January we focus on Organization.

Brainstorming this post, though, I wondered, “Are all of our readers familiar with 6 + 1 Trait Writing?”
Many of our readers are classroom teachers, reading our posts to help them grow writers; many, however, are first-and-foremost writers, specifically children’s book writers.
6 + 1 Trait Writing – or Six Traits Writing as it’s often called - may mean little, if anything.

So, I’ll organize my post as most writers would organize their work – i.e. structure its movement forward and create its shape, then begin by grounding my readers in this singular Language Arts approach.

Essentially, the Six Traits approach offers an analytical model for assessing and teaching writing based on six identifiable key qualities of strong writing:

• IDEAS, the main message;

• ORGANIZATION, the internal structure of the piece;

• VOICE, the personal tone and flavor of the author's message;

• WORD CHOICE, the vocabulary a writer chooses to convey meaning;

• SENTENCE FLUENCY, the rhythm and flow of the language;

• CONVENTIONS, the mechanical correctness;

• PRESENTATION, how the writing actually looks on the page.

I like the Six Traits connection children’s book author and teacher Anastasia Suen shares on her website:

“I like to teach with the six traits because this is how I write! I start with ideas, and then I organize them. Once I have a plan, I begin to write. I say things the way I want to say them, with my voice. I choose words and make the sentences flow. Then I clean it up by focusing on the conventions (grammar, punctuation and spelling). I work in this order, so that ideas come first and conventions are last.”

Ruth Culham is the SixTraits Guru.                                           
I’ll be sitting at her feet soon, learning-learning-learning, at the upcoming February CCIRA Conference (Colorado Council International Reading Association) in Denver – and – March Illinois Reading Council Conference in Springfield.
Dr. Culham was formerly the Unit Manager of the Assessment Program at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Oregon.
Many educators I know turn to Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory Education for resources, lesson plans and books.

Aurora, Illinois first-grade teacher and national literacy consultant Dr. Maria Walter authored a series of articles in Book Links that showcase picture books representative of strong trait writing.
Scholastic published Maria’s book Literature Is Back! Using the Best Books to Teach Readers and Writers Across Genres in 2007.

To ensure we’re all on the same page for the posts that follow, here’s Northwest Regional Education’s definition of Organization:

“Organization is the internal structure of a piece of writing, the thread of central meaning, the pattern and sequence, so long as it fits the central idea. Organizational structure can be based on comparison-contrast, deductive logic, point-by-point analysis, development of a central theme, chronological history of an event, or any of a dozen other identifiable patterns. When the organization is strong, the piece begins meaningfully and creates in the writer a sense of anticipation that is, ultimately, systematically fulfilled. Events proceed logically; information is given to the reader in the right doses at the right times so that the reader never loses interest. Connections are strong, which is another way of saying that bridges from one idea to the next hold up. The piece closes with a sense of resolution, tying up loose ends, bringing things to a satisfying closure, answering important questions while still leaving the reader something to think about.”

I look forward to learning how my fellow TeachingAuthors come at organizing their stories, with hopes readers will comment as to how they do the same.

Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

Writing Workout

I began my career writing picture books, a singular art form if ever there was. It wasn’t until I wrote my first novel, however, that I truly understood how a picture book worked, how the format demands the essence of a story. A picture book offers - in 14 to 15 double-page spreads -the bare bones of a story. The 14 to 15 chapters of a middle grade novel? Why, those chapters total a fleshed-out picture book story!

Choose a favorite novel. Summarize each chapter in one or two sentences, focusing on the character, his actions and re-actions. Note the question each chapter leaves the reader asking. Note the plot structure – episodic, circular, scenes that build to a climax? How might the novel play out as a picture book? How might you tell the story to accommodate the format, ordering those chapter summaries within double-page spreads?

Now choose a favorite picture book. Summarize each double-page spread, again focusing on the character, his actions and re-actions. Note the pacing, the tension, the page-turn. Determine the plot structure. How might the picture book become a novel? Which scenes need to be rendered more fully, expanded and amplified, to give heft to the storyline? Which characters would assume a greater role?


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for a great intro to the topic of Organization, Esther.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Fabulous, fabulous launch into this topic, Esther. Thanks for stating it so well.

Donna said...

Great post, Esther! I love the use of 6+1 writing traits in the classroom. It really stays true to the actual writing process.

Thanks for the refresher.

BJ Schneider said...

I don't know how I missed this, but the series is terrific! Several years ago, as a volunteer, I worked with six fourth graders on writing. We talked about beginning/middle/end, kinds of sentences, punctuation, and outlining. They picked a topic, outlined it as a group, and wrote their stories following the outline. They really got it!!! Hopefully it stayed with them. Now, if I could get myself organized....