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Best-of-Smekens Writing Conference:
Writing Remix 2018



Refine the Definition of Textual Evidence

Create an evidence-rich classroom

Problem #1 Response lacks evidence

Remain neutral when asking How do you know? Have questions ready to encourage students to refer back to the text.

Don’t “give it away” if they are right or wrong. Rather, use a line from the Justification Cheat Sheet to ask them to support their thinking.

Problem #2 Response is not rooted in the text(s)

Problem #3 Response just provides details, not evidence

Listen to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” as a whole class.

Print lyrics for Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” for each student to have a copy.

Sort cut-apart lyrics based on the claim: This song is motivational.

Problem #4 Responses lack explanation of the evidence

Say/Mean T-Chart | Word document | PDF document | Notebook document

Fine-tune understanding with the Bullseye Strategy

Link to the resources: PDF | Smartboard Promethean
Access a Google doc for additional practice.

Teacher Katie Powell (Southmont Jr. High School, Crawfordsville, IN,) used special residue-free tape. She gave “answer” cards to each group and had them place cards face down in the target. After all answers were placed, they had a “big reveal.”


Strengthen Short Constructed-Response Writing

Model how to make an inference

Practice putting clues together

Follow the Yes, MA’AM formula for constructed responses

The four facets of MA’AM or RACE all live within the inference silhouette.

Write the 1st sentence

Write the 2nd & 3rd sentences

Crystal Calloway uses these sentence starters during text-based conversation with her Bailly Elementary (Chesterton, IN) fourth graders.

Write the 4th sentence

Practice writing Yes, MA’AM responses

Utilize these templates to fine-tune the four-sentence constructed response.

Apples to Apples. For a quick experience making inferences and citing evidence from visuals, use the Big Picture version of “Apples to Apples.” Reveal a single green card depicting a word and definition and five random images. Students determine which image best depicts the word/definition and write a short constructed response. They cite evidence from the visual for their conclusion.

After practicing the Apples to Apples game to find vital and important details, then have students include that evidence within a written response: Template for students’ Yes, MA’AM constructed responses.


Generate Long Extended Responses Based on Reading

Supersize Yes, MA’AM to craft an extended response

The Yes, MA’AM strategy can be adapted to fit the requirements of an extended reading response.

Provide frequent experience with simulated research tasks

Use the Writing About Reading Frames to provide students the needed support to respond to research-task prompts. offers dozens of authentic text excerpts with text-dependent questions and extended-response prompts for free. Each is labeled by grade-level appropriateness and also comes with suggested lesson plans.

Simulate research-writing tasks during eLearning. This practice helps to prepare students for similar experiences they will encounter on standardized assessments.

Explain the introduction

This Teaching Channel video introduces the parts of an essay, including how to rework the prompt to serve as the introduction.

Teach students to sort information pulled from one text to represent Perspective A versus B.

Provide multiple texts to synthesize and organize information collected per source.

Infer multiple reasons or main ideas

Observe a 30-minute lesson and activity executed in a Concord Junior High science class.

Blend evidence and elaboration


Generate Opinion-Based Reading Responses

Things Wrong in the World | List Template

Things Wrong in the World | Sentence Template

Parent letter to support letter-writing unit

Identify character perspectives

Read literature that reveals multiple perspectives.

Choose a side in 4 steps

Move away from letting kids choose a side based on preference. Rather, teach them the four steps to identifying the strongest position.

Watch the kindergartners at Concord South Elementary discern between duck details and rabbit details based on Duck! Rabbit!

Teach students to first chart the perspectives before choosing a position to align with.

Introduce the what and why structure

The writing standards expect students to reduce their opinion and provide a sense of closure.

Write responses with evidence

Save the best for last


Refine the Definition of Textual Evidence

Emphasize process over product

Look for frequent opportunities for students to generate smaller, faster research products.

Gather information from relevant sources

Generate shorter more-frequent research products

1-Sentence-equivalent formats

  • Focus on the research process only, have the class work together to complete a R.A.N. chart (i.e., Read-Analyze-Note). This could be done with sticky notes or digitally (Word, PDF, Smartboard).
  • The Q&A format allows students to dabble with report writing without requiring a long introduction, logical transitions, and a solid conclusion.
  • Information Equations were an idea inspired by Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s book This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations. New understanding can be conveyed through informative equations or argumentative ones.
  • Creating a single PPT slide of researched information includes the opportunity to dabble with the research process and teach some technology standards. If students each create one PPT slide on a common topic, then the slides could be combined into an all-class product.
  • Capture the entire topic in a clever tweet. Have students create social media posts from the perspective of historical figures.

List-equivalent formats

  • Labeled diagrams can include the students sketching the visual and labeling the parts. Or, you could provide the visual for them to label only.
  • When working on how-to procedural writing, start with a picture series that requires students to write captions. This again allows them to focus on the information in the body of the writing and to ignore the need for an introduction and conclusion.
  • It will take serious synthesizing to create a “recipe” about a concept. (Here’s one more example; this one by a high school student after studying the 1960s.)
  • A list might not include only straight-up information but also the differing perspectives in a two-column chart.
  • Whether as a class or individually, primary students can list out related words associated with a researched topic in the form of an ABC list. To make this more challenging, have older students make a list of key words (e.g., concepts, people, places, events, things, etc.) associated with the topic. Then, following the pattern set in Q is for Duck, they create a complex ABC Book.

Paragraph-equivalent formats

1-Page-equivalent formats

Multi-Page-equivalent formats

  • Consider a nontraditional research paper—the multigenre-research project.
  • Oral presentations of three or more minutes are an alternative to writing a long paper. For a biography unit, this might culminate with a Wax Museum.