You Can Teach Writing

Writing terms and better alternatives.

Over the years, I've built a glossary of writing terms that English teachers use that bewilder our students unnecessarily, such as subject, conclusion, and argument. Those are terms students know and use, but which ELA  teachers use in specialized ways that makes learning unnecessarily hard for our students.

There are very few writing terms that students must know before they can begin learning to write. Rather than teach terminology, we can use familiar synonyms or circumlocutions until students have enough writing experience that they are happy to learn the proper term for then-familiar processes or elements.

The glossary below defines traditional writing terms and, where necessary, offers alternative language to use with students who haven't reached writing competence.

Writing terms A – E

admission slip or admit slip  Informal writing prompt submitted to gain admission to class. Often used as daily report on homework.

anecdote  A short narrative, usually true, often about famous people or people the audience will know. Anecdotes are often used within a larger document organized in some way other than narrative.

argument  Expository nonfiction writing characterized by acknowledgement and attempted refutation of an opposing  opinion by showing it's either illogical or that the evidence against it is stronger than that for it. [Logical argument is a better term to use with students, who usually associate arguing with fighting. ]

assessment.  An examination of what students have and have not learned. An assessment may done during the learning process (formative) or after learning process (summative/terminal assessment.) See also evaluation.

authentic learning.  Learning in practice conditions what closely resemble the conditions in which learners will have to demonstrate their knowledge.

basic English.  The minimum standards of English writing which should be followed in all informal and formal writing: 1. No incomplete sentences are allowed. 2. All sentences must begin with a capital letter. 3. All sentences must end with closing punctuation. 4. No texting/shorthand abbreviations are allowed. 5. Proper nouns should be capitalized.

boundary markers  Indicators that a group of words should be considered a sentence. A capital letter is a starting boundary indicator; sentence-ending boundary indicators are a period, question mark, or exclamation point.

C-level  Short for competence level

competent writing  Nonfiction prose that presents adequate information clearly enough that the reader can decide how to respond.

complete thought  A complete thought is  grammatically an independent clause.

complete plan  A writing skeleton modified by adding below each body paragraph's point a summary of its supporting evidence and indication of its source. Also, full plan or comprehensive plan.

competence level a description of the performance quality required for a person to be considered competent at writing.

conclusion  1. the final section of a piece of writing; [Use ending instead of conclusion for meaning 1.] 2. the last step in a reasoning process; a deduction. 

direct quotation  exact reproduction of what a source said including the original spelling and internal punctuation.

edit to prepare a written text for publication.

editing Correcting errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage and usage in a text and making the text easier to understand by choosing more precise words

essay  a vague term for short, nonfiction texts, often those written expressing a personal opinion. [Nonfiction text or is a better generic term to use with students.]

exit pass or exit slip a response to an informal writing prompt, usually about questions/difficulties with that day's content, submitted as students leave class.

explanatory text  1. a type of expository writing built on the thesis and support pattern; 2. one of the three types of nonfiction writing classifications used in the Common Core State Standards. See also informative text.

evaluation a determination of what students have learned.  Assessment and evaluation are used interchangeably.

evidence  opinions, examples, data, anecdotes and other information that can be traced to a specific source. Evidence is the opposite of what "everybody knows."  See source.

evidence waltz  an expository writing strategy for presenting supporting evidence for a topic sentence of a body paragraph.

exit slip informal writing prompt completed in class, usually to identify problems respondent had understanding class material,  and submitted on exit.

exposition. Setting out/exposing  facts, ideas, explaining. [Avoid the term. Exposition can appear in either nonfiction or fiction.]

expository writing. nonfiction writing that develops a working thesis statement; arguments, informative or explanatory texts, and narratives. [Say expository nonfiction writing to distinguish it from expository passages in fiction.]

expository writing prompt. an assignment that asks students to explain something in writing and which iincludes all the information students need both to get started and to finish writing, having meet all the assignment's requirements.

Writing terms F – H

feedback.  response given to a speaker or writer during or after the message is delivered.

five-paragraph essay.  A planning process for developing nonfiction writing using the thesis and support pattern.

formal assessment or formal evaluation.  post-learning determination of accomplishment

formal writing  1. writing for other people to read, as opposed to writing for one's own pleasure or for learning. 2. writing that employs very high standards of writing mechanics such as you'd find in serious publications.

formal writing prompt. A writing assignment that can be completed only by going through the entire writing process.

format  the appearance of published pages, including the layout and style guide that determines the physical arrangement of elements on the page.

formative assessment  a determination of students' progress in learning essential material used to guide teachers' adjustment of instruction.

full plan  a writing skeleton modified by adding below each body paragraph's point a summary of its supporting evidence and indication of its source. Also complete plan, comprehensive plan.

fused sentences.  Two or more complete sentences marked by a single set of sentence boundaries. Typically called by the misleading term run-on sentence.

genre  a type or category of writing, such as poetry, short stories, novels.

higher-level learning.  Learning that goes beyond rote memorization to analysis, synthesis, interpretation of material, evaluation, and ultimately to creation of new ideas or new expressions of ideas.


Writing terms I – N

idea. One complete sentence.

informal assessment or informal evaluation.  A test or other activity, usually short, used as a rough gauge of whether students understand the material they are supposedly learning.

informal outline.  A synopsis of the main points of a text arranged on a grid so the order of items and their degree of indentation indicates their relationships.

informal writing.  1. exploring ideas by writing without going through the entire writing progress.  2. relaxed standards of writing mechanics that may include using contractions, using spoken grammar conventions, etc.

informal writing prompt. a writing assignment that can be completed without going through the entire writing process.

informative text.  1. A type of expository text built on the thesis and support pattern. 2. one of the three Common Core State Standards nonfiction writing classifications; it is usually called informative or explanatory text.

linking device.  technique for knitting sentences together by picking up a grammatical element of one sentence and repeating it either directly or through a synonym in the following sentence.

mechanics.  See writing mechanics

narrative. a story-like text, usually organized chronologically, told to inform or persuade.

nonfiction. writing that is grounded in ordinary experience and factually true, even if it expresses opinions with which other people may disagree.

Writing terms O – Z

objective. a statement that describes specifically to whom a goal applies and the conditions and standards by which attainment of the goal will be determined.

oral communication. communicating through spoken words. Compare to verbal communication.

paraphrase.  a summary of an argument or the plot of a narrative that presents the information in the same order in which the points appeared in the original.

pattern.  a model or guide that reveals the components of an object and their general arrangement without explaining how to assemble the components.

plagiarism.  using someone else's words or ideas, including the order of their ideas, without giving the author proper credit.

plagiarize. to use someone else's words or ideas, including the order of their ideas, without giving the author proper credit.

process. a series of actions performed systematically to achieve some specific goal.

publication.  1. a written document that is distributed to readers, such as a newspaper; 2. the act of distributing information.

purpose.  what a piece of nonfiction writing, broadly speaking aims to accomplish: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. A specific purpose is normally given nonfiction writers as part of the writing assignment.

quotation.  exact reproduction of what a source said including the original spelling and punctuation.

revise. make a draft document substantially agree with the plan for that document.

revision. re-examining a completed piece of writing to make sure it substantially agrees with its plan. Revision should not be confused with rewriting a poorly organized a document for which the writer initially lacked a clear vision; compare to rewriting.

rewriting. repairing a disorganized document.

run-on sentence.  a misnomer for run-together sentences

run-together sentences.  Two or more complete sentences marked by a single set of sentence boundaries. See sentence boundary.

skeleton outline.  see writing skeleton.

source. a person, group, institution, etc., that originate or publish an idea which a writer uses as evidence.

strategy.  a set of procedures for achieving a specific goal, such as a strategy for presenting evidence.

summarize. to distill the gist of a piece of evidence without using the same order of ideas as the original. A summary is typically a tenth or smaller than the original.

text. 1. organized ideas responding to a writing prompt; 2. a short piece of expository prose; an essay; 3. The words in a piece of writing; 4. the principal matter on a page, distinct from the headings, illustrations, etc.  [In teaching writing, text can be substituted for essay.]

thesis. 1. an unproved statement used as the premise of a written or oral argument; 2. a proposition defended by oral or written argument, especially a  long, formal, research paper used in partial fulfillment of a master's or doctoral degree

thesis and support.  an organizational  pattern traditionally called the five-paragraph essay.

topic. a subject about which something could be asserted. Topics are usually non-sentences.

topic sentence. a statement of the main point of a body paragraph. It supports the thesis statement and is supported by the evidence in its paragraph.

verbal communication. sharing information using either written or spoken words.  Antonym:  non-verbal communication. See also oral communication.

working thesis statement.  a declarative single-sentence response to a writing prompt drafted before the writer has done any significant thinking or research into the topic. The working thesis statement/sentence provides a focus for planning and research.

writing. Using words to fix ideas on paper or in some technological equivalent of paper.

writing across the curriculum.  The academic practice of requiring writing in all courses. The term is usually used in reference to college and university programs. synonyms: writing in the content areas, writing in the disciplines

writing mechanics. a catch-all term referring to grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, appropriate word choices, and correct use of idiomatic expressions. The term may also be used to include formatting.

writing process. a series of activities necessary to turn a topic into an text.

writing prompt. a writing task or writing assignment.

writing skeleton™. a special sentence outline in which the topic sentences of each of the body paragraphs are created by combining the working thesis with a reason for believing the thesis to be true.

write-to-learn activity. a set of informal writing prompts developed to lead respondents to learn some content or skill as they complete the series.

writing process. a description of the ideal order of all the physical and mental activities writers go through to produce a finished piece of writing. 

writing template. a visual planning device that includes a writing skeleton™ and single sentence summaries of supporting evidence proposed for each of the three body paragraph topic sentences.

Content on this page was published 2018-01-01 by Linda Aragoni at yctwriting.com.