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The Power of the Pen, from Three to 100

Students Write to Persuade, Give Long-Life Advice

Two classrooms, two grades … two levels of writing being honed. All in a day’s work at Breton Downs Elementary.

Never Too Old for Star Wars

Kindergarten teacher Kristen Borak’s students were immersed in how to write how-to’s when the school reached its 100th day in session. They typically mark the day in some special way, Borak said. So the class brainstormed and came up with the idea to write a how-to on living to 100.

Grant Griffin’s Step 1: Get a wheelchair. Step 3: When kids are in your yard, say “Get off my yard, little rascals.” And Step 5: Get lots of rest.

Breton Downs teacher Joanne Anderson with third-graders, clockwise from left, Mikey Wolford, Lyndon Turnage, Josh Tewinkle and Sophie Titus

Hannah Gerkin had a different take. Step 1: Take a bath “because maybe you got dirty.” Step 3: Tell people when you are going to Florida. Step 4: Go to class “because maybe there are things you didn’t learn yet.”

Borak’s kindergartners also created self-portraits of themselves at 100, with cotton-ball hair and crumpled paper-bag faces to simulate wrinkles. Hannah at 100 was sporting stylish blue eyeglass frames. Grant’s were orange, plus he wore a Star Wars shirt.

“They did really, really well” incorporating their how-to writing into the 100-day assignment, Borak said. “It was a happy accident we were at that point in the unit so we could bring them together.”

A Dog Named Kevin

Joanne Anderson sat on the floor of her classroom with a foursome of third-graders who were studying persuasive writing. Everyone in the class had written letters — which many delivered to their intended recipients — to practice the skill.

“Third-grade writers, what are you working on right now in your persuasive writing?” Anderson asked in a quiet tone, reflecting her 34 years of experience bringing out the best in her students’ wordsmithing.

Mikey Wolford, who wrote his dad to advocate for wireless headphones, said he was working on “the power of three,” a writing technique, and on adding detail to his writing.

A close-up of kindergartner Hannah Gerkin’s self-portrait at age 100

Lyndon Turnage expanded on that, saying he used the power of three as well in his appeal to Principal Caroline Cannon to have safeties remain at the doors until after the second bell.

“I actually made each of the three their own paragraph,” Lyndon told Anderson. “I stretched it out to more than three words and explained better.”

Reading her students’ assignments, and listening to what they had to say about honing their skills, was music to Anderson’s ears.

“Every child believes in themselves as writers,” she said. “It’s a gift to be able to help them bring that out.”

How successful is Anderson’s persuasive writing assignment? Just ask Principal Cannon, whose daughter, Anna, is a former student.

“We have a dog at our house because of that assignment,” Cannon said.


Units of Study Writing

The Power of Three in Writing

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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