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Lessons to Help Students Blow the Roof Off Writing Tests--and Become Better Writers in the Process

By Gretchen Bernabei, Jayne Hover, Cynthia Candler
Foreword by Jeff Anderson

This practical teacher resource provides a wealth of crunchtime tools (rubrics, reproducibles, and samples) minilessons, and lesson plans. Organized around the writing process—selecting topics, crafting drafts, and polishing finished pieces—explicit lessons engage student writers while shoring up the gaps between learning and testing.

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Full Description

Watch an overview by Gretchen.

“Our schools should be accountable, but do they have to become joyless halls of drudgery? I’m not against measuring student achievement and learning. But can’t we develop lessons that use the best of what we know about learning and about children, lessons informed by research and results, lessons that include color, life, conversation and laughter?” —Gretchen Bernabei

In this eagerly-anticipated teacher resource, master teachers Gretchen Bernabei, Jayne Hover, and Cynthia Candler share writing lessons that are healthy for kids, promote lifelong literacy, and, coincidentally, will help your students blow the roof off of their state test scores. Organized around the writing process—selecting topics, crafting drafts, and polishing finished pieces—explicit lessons engage student writers while shoring up the gaps between learning and testing. Growing out of their own work in Title I schools, Gretchen, Jayne, and Cynthia’s strategies have proven to be especially effective in helping ESL and special education students, not only pass the test, but achieve commended performance. In addition to providing classroom-tested strategies, this practical teaching resource provides a wealth of crunchtime tools (rubrics, reproducibles, and writing samples) minilessons, and lesson plans that will help you teach strategically and position your students for success on their state writing tests and beyond.

Crunchtime includes the following downloadable resources:  4-week planner, writing prompts, and reproducibles.


PART 1: From Idea to Draft (Gretchen’s Story)

Chapter 1: Selecting a Topic
Levels of Personal Experience
The Quicklist Student Spotlight: Guadalupe

Chapter 2: Organizing and Prewriting Structures
The Talking List
Writing a Kernel Essay with Text Structures
The Flipbook
The Fake Flipbook
Student Spotlight: Esequiel

PART 2: Revision and Development (Cynthia’s Story)

Chapter 3: Writing with Style
Expanding a Sentence: Revision Stations
Telling the Story, Asking Questions
The F.I.T. Chart
Sparkling Sentences Truisms with Picture Prompts
Ba-da-bing Sentences
Student Spotlight: William

Chapter 4: The Devil’s in the Details
Great Beginnings
Common Mistakes and Quick Fixes
Preparing the Final Copy

PART 3: Crunchtime Tools and Minilessons
(Jayne’s Story: Teaching Writing or Teaching Testing?)

Chapter 5: Countdown to the Test
KISS (Keep It Surprisingly Simple): The Concept
KISS Lesson Plans for Writing

Chapter 6: Minilessons with High-Scoring Student Papers

Research on Foundations of Effective Writing Instruction
Beliefs and Experiences
Student Chart for Brainstorming “Bank Experiences”
Student Topic Lists
Quicklists for Other Genres
Connecting Life Experiences to Life Truths
A Memory Chart
The Story of My Thinking Chart
Evolution of a Term Chart
Discovering a Lie Chart
Tribute to a Person Who Taught Me Something
Backfire Chart
Metamorphosis Chart
Cause and Effect Chart
Expository, I-Search, and Literary Analysis Text Structures
Sample Pages of a Flipbook
Revision Stations
Cause and Effect (If . . .Then. . .)
Student Self-Check Flipbook
Student Self-Check Flipbook Final Copy
Scoring Guide
The Fake Flipbook
Where’s the BEEF?
F.I.T. Chart
KISS Lesson Plan
Writer’s Toolbox


Companion Resources


Crunchtime strategies are classroom tested and teacher approved

“I grabbed your ideas and ran with them….Our students earned more‘3’TAKS scores than the previous year and we were exemplary across the board in writing! ‘Crunchtime’ was exactly where we were! I know we can do even better if we use the strategies the entire year! You are contagious! We are looking forward to next year and starting the year using FIT ,the kernel essay, and lightning in a bottle.”

—Stephanie Pendola
Grade 4 Language Arts Teacher/ESL Liaison, Lamkin Elementary, Houston, TX

“After Gretchen’s workshop I jumped right in the very next day and did a kernel essay .I had students read their fifth sentence and their responses gave me chills! Today’s flip books are going well too. I have not been this excited about teaching in a long time.”

—Sarah Turner
Language Arts Teacher, Oltman Junior High, St. Paul Park, MN

“My last class just left the classroom and they were not happy. Why? The bell rang! They wanted more! Today we devolved an essay, ‘ba-da-binged’, and ‘jerk talked.’ Six classes were in the palm of my hand the entire period! They left confident and ready to write. My students are empowered!”

—Nancy Palmarchuk
English/PAL Sponsor, Springtown Middle School, Springtown, TX

“Our Minnesota results are back .My ninth graders had a passing rate of seventy-eight percent compared with fifty-eight percent schoolwide. I wanted one hundred percent of course, but I’m convinced that next year we can get close using the trail of breadcrumbs method and other strategies. Thank you so much for what you taught me!”

—Dianne Lee
English Teacher/Writing Coach, Arlington Senior High, St. Paul, MN

“I attended your workshop at the CABE conference and was excited about coming back and teaching ba-da-bings to my students. I tried your technique with first grade and above. The students loved it and they want to keep writing badabings. Thank you so much.”

—Shobha Tejwani
ELD Specialist (K–5), Dublin Unified School District, Dublin, CA

“Today in my sixth-grade class we did the memory list and the kernel story about a memory they chose. I just had to email you and tell you that it was a BIG HIT! You should have SEEN the looks on their faces. So many of them were reliving their moment as they wrote and it was apparent on their little faces! They even said, as they were leaving class, ‘Now, THAT was fun writing today!’ I can’t wait to see what these stories develop into!!!!”

—Sheila Layman,
ESL/ELA Teacher, Schindewolf Intermediate, Spring, TX

“After your training, we went back and used all your strategies. Our district benchmark scores were 89%with an average score of ‘2’ on the writing. Today we received our TAKS scores and our school scored 97%. Gwynne and I both had about 60% of our students score ‘commended.’ This is definitely something to be proud of and celebrate. I couldn’t have done it without you and your strategies.”

—Evelyn Stone Oros
Grade 7 English Teacher, Cardifff Junior High, Houston, TX

“I could not wait to share my Writing TAKS news with you. Are you ready???
• 50 students
• 100%passing
• 58%commended
• 4's ... 13

Thank you again for your brilliant teaching ideas and strategies! My students love to write and I love that!”

—Denise Smith
Grade 4 Teacher, Murfee Elementary, Lubbock, TX

“After your presentation I went back to my classroom and implemented truisms and different genres of writing, and I borrowed various other ideas from your book throughout the year .My students took the TAKS test in April and I was very nervous in that I had strongly encouraged them to be more creative in essay writing and try their hand at a genre instead of a standard 5-paragraph composition. I had a 100%passing rate! I have forty-two 7th graders and 19 of the students got commended performance. I remember the first nine weeks of school I saw most of my students as very poor writers, not able to get their ideas across in an effective and coherent manner. It has been amazing seeing the progression and growth of their writing. I am so proud of my students.”

Grade 7 English Teacher, Wolfe City Middle School, Wolfe City, TX