Can someone tell me what a transition is?
Can you think of some examples that you've used in your writing before?
As writers, why do we need to use them?
What do they help our readers do?
They come up with a variety of answers, that include:
- Tell us (readers) where we're at
- Like the time?
- They keep our writing in order
Examples My Students Came Up With:
- To start, first, second, third, last, next, then, basically, finally, in conclusion
Their answers help me assess what they already know (prior knowledge), which gives us a foundation to build upon. It also helps me connect what I'm about to teach them to what they already know.
As I transition into my lesson, I add to what they've shared by having them write down these "guidelines" for using them in our writing (we title them Transitions Notes):
- A transition moves one idea (or one part of a story) to the next
- Transitions help us organize our ideas.
- Sometimes transitions come at the beginning of a sentence (or paragraph), in the middle, or at the end.
- You don't need a transition for every idea/event in your story.
We then talk about how different types of writing call for different types of transitions. I go back to the list they generated and explain that the majority of the transitions they came up with work best with essay writing. Since, we're working on narratives, we need a different set of transitions altogether.
To help us determine what these transitions should sound like, I've choose a couple of excerpts from high-interest novels (think Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers or Parrot in the Oven: mi vida by Victor Martinez), which I display on my smart board using the Look Inside feature from Amazon.com. I then pose this reading task to my students:
As I read this excerpt, I want you to search for transitions used by the writer. Add them to your notes.
Our list looks something like this:
Transitions Used By "Real" Writers
Last summer, when I was eight, a few weeks ago, six months ago, last winter,one afternoon, later that day, when the sun rose, after sundown, the following day, after all, evenutually, a month later, suddenly, finally, back then, right away, unfortunately, all of the sudden
After I've finished reading, we have a quick discussion about the transitions they noticed and why they work so well in this part of the story. Once we have a list, I go back and re-read the text without transitions and pose this question to my students:
How did it sound when I read the text without tranisitions?
Their responses range from: "weird, confusing, hard to understand, hard to follow" among others.
We then look at a second excerpt together and follow the same steps as before. Doing so allows me to point out that different writers use different transitions for different ideas/ purposes/ reasons. With them, readers are able to clearly follow the events in their story (or ideas in an essay). Without them, our ideas sound like a jumbled list of ideas.
Once we have a decent size list of transitions we can use for reference, I give them some time to work on their drafts while I walk around the room pointing out places where they may already have transitions that work well or places where they may need to add them in. After a good chunk of work time, I have each student copy and complete this Sentence Starter at the bottom of their Transitions Notes.
A transition I'm using in my narrative is_______________.
After a couple of minutes, I have every student share with the entire class. I advise them to add any new transitions into a new section of their notes entitled More Transtions. By the time we've finished sharing, we have a nice size list of 20+ transitions that other writers (in class) are using that we may also consider using in our own narratives.
If time allows, they continue working on their drafts, which provides me the opportunity to check their understanding of the day's lesson. As I walk around to each student, I spend a minute or two reading what they've written so far offering them feedback on their use of transitions. If I see a transitional word/phrase I like, I add it to our master list of More Transitions, which I display in the room. If a student's struggling, this is my opporunity to re-teach in a one-on-one writing conference.
Today's only our second day working with transitions, and I'm pleased with the results I'm noticing. Instead of forced transtions, students are naturally adding them into their narratives in the right places where they will help readers progress from one event to the next.
At the beginning of our next day of class, I'll choose a few students from each class to share a paragraph or two, and we'll identify the transitions each writer uses to determine how their placement helps (or confuses) us as readers. If there's a problem, we'll suggest a different transition or where the transition should be placed instead.
The Reading/Writing Connection
What I like best about this lesson is that the explicitness involved in Reading Like a Writer helps us notice what other writers are doing to clarify their ideas for their readers. When I can make a direct connection between reading and writing, I feel like the point of my lesson is best clarified for my students.
In this lesson, showing my students how writers use transitions to help readers understand what's happening in one part of the story (beginning, middle, end), will help them "hear" the organization of the writer's ideas as he/she wanted us to "hear" them. If we can practice working on this in our own writing, hopefully, our readers will be able to follow our ideas as well, which makes for an enjoyable reading experience!