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Coaching Your Child        < Previous        Next >


Preparing For a Writing Assessment:

A Star Chart for a Star Writer


Q. Our fourth-grade son's teacher is freaking out, because the statewide writing assessment is coming up next month, and she is having trouble getting our son and some of his classmates to get their thoughts down on paper. We don't want him to let her down and bomb that test! What can we do with him, and for him, at home for the next two weeks, to encourage his writing?


Fortunately, there's one thing that kids love, that doesn't cost much and works like a charm. We're talking STAR STICKERS. Yes, they're humble and low-tech. But coupled with your willingness to encourage your son to do better, a plain and simple Star Chart is one of the best investments of your time that you could make, to help your child improve at just about anything.


Here's all you do:


1.       At the dimestore, buy a set of star stickers in five colors. Usually, they'll have red, green, blue, purple and gold, or some combination. Also buy a spiral notebook.


2.       Next, print out the chart below, cut it out, mount it on cardstock or cardboard, and let your child decide what color star goes with which of the traits of good writing your son is supposed to be working on in fourth grade. Place the different colors of stars next to the trait. For example, if your son wants to place the red star next to "Conventions," he should do so. When he is finished assigning the five different colors, you take the rest of the stars.


3.       Then print out the list of 15 "writing prompts" below the chart. Cut them apart. Tape one to the top of each page in the spiral notebook. Add more prompts if you wish!


4.       Finally, give your child the spiral notebook and the chart. Your child should write a 5-paragraph essay based on the prompt on each page of the notebook, and give it to you. As soon as you can, read his work and give him one or more stars based on the traits he displayed well. For example, if he misspelled just a few words, or had no misspellings at all, give him a red star for "Conventions." Always give at least one star, and try not to give all five at once. You're trying to guide him to the areas where he needs work. Most of the time, when students are really struggling at writing, at least they have interesting ideas. So that's a star most students deserve right off the bat, if they at least list them. If the handwriting is so poor that you have trouble reading all or part of the paper, start with some penmanship practice and help your child practice until he or she can get a star for "Organization & Presentation."


5.       If your son will do one writing "prompt" per day between now and the assessment, that will be as many as 15 practice sessions . . . and you don't have to wish upon a star that his writing will improve - you KNOW it will! Afterwards, let him keep the rest of the stars to use as he wishes. And he'll have the notebook, evidence of his effort and your interest, as a keepsake of good parent-student teamwork.




Double-check grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc.



Clear? Unique? Interesting? Details? Focused on others, not self? Good insights? Responds to the "prompt?" Is it easy to "see" these events because of good description?



Does it "sound" like you talking? Are strong opinions, beliefs and feelings shown?



Are the words colorful and expressive? Verbs active? Are some sentences short and some long? Are there some questions, exclamations, quotations and other variety?

Are there complete, coherent sentences? Does each sentence start a different way?



Is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Transitions? 5 indented paragraphs?

Is it written in cursive, and easily readable?






Describe something your grandmother or grandfather, or anyone who's a lot older, has taught you.




In 10 years, I can see myself . . .




One morning, I woke up and found that I had SIX ARMS!!! Here's what was good and bad about that.




Write about what you would do with a magic wastebasket that would get rid of anything you wanted to get rid of.




What if we didn't have telephones? Here's what the world would be like.




If I were a fourth-grade teacher, I would. . .




Tell about a time when you had to be patient, but you were glad you did.




Describe something memorable that happened to you when you were little.




Write about a time when you changed someone else's mind.




Write about an event in your life that seemed bad at the time, but turned out to be good.




Name something that has changed in your home, school or neighborhood, and how you feel about that change.




If you had to live without one of your five senses - seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching - which one would it be, and how would it change your life?




Let's pretend that one student in your class has misbehaved, and the teacher punished the whole class for it. How do you feel about that, and why?



Tell a story about your favorite piece of playground equipment and the day it "came alive" and did something heroic.




If you were in charge of the world for one whole day, what would you do?







Homework: For more at-home writing activities, see the "Writing Improvement" category on our sister website,



By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 29 2009


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