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Recipes for Effective Literacy Instruction







NOTE: NJ ASK IS NO LONGER ADMINISTERED.  WE NOW USE PARCC ASSESSMENTS.  Check out the TLC "PARCC Prep" page for more information.  (I am keeping this page up just in case anyone finds something here of generic use.)

This section is devoted to writing tasks on the NJ ASK (for grades 3-8): open-ended response (which is part of the reading section), explanatory/expository, persuasive, and narrative (formerly known as "speculative"--PS, they changed the name but not the task itself; it's still exactly the same!).  For reading strategies, see READING.


NEW!  Here is THE LATEST INFORMATION FROM NJDOE ON NJASK test specs (1-7-14).  Also, check out the TLC Blog "NJ ASK Test Specs Update 1-15-14"for more ideas about how to approach the transition from NJ ASK to PARCC.

***To analyze your school's results from last year, check out the information on Analyzing NJ ASK Results for the precise breakdown in points per grade.

***Here are the NJ ASK holistic scoring writing rubrics for GRADES 3-5 and GRADES 6-8.

***Sometimes students struggle to see the differences among the different types of writing.  For assistance with how to explain this, check out Comparing Types of NJ ASK Writing for Grades 3-5 in the Download Zone. 

***See the TLC Blog "Test Prep Crunch Time Checklist" HERE.  And the free download for NJ ASK Prep Checklist is HERE.


Let's face it.  The State's rubric for scoring open-ended responses is VAGUE.  What does "clearly demonstrates understanding of the task" really mean???  In order to help schools that I work with, I analyzed the State-released scored exemplars and determined what students need to do SPECIFICALLY to excel on their responses.  Then I created a user-friendly Open-ended Response Rubric.  The schools I work with have found it very helpful.  I hope you will, too.

Here are some strategies for success on open-ended responses:

  1. Restate the question in your response.
  2. Answer ALL PARTS of the question, writing 4-6 sentences per question.
  3. Provide EVIDENCE from the text.  EXPLAIN the evidence.
  4. End with a PUNCHY, INSIGHTFUL STATEMENT.  See Punchy Insights Poster below.

Also, check out my TLC Blog, which explains how to approach open-ended responses in more depth: "Open-Ended Response Care Package."  I have also added a new OPEN-ENDED RESPONSE WRITING page!

In addition to the materials in the Download Zone, check out THIS LINK, which includes helpful State-released scored exemplar open-ended responses.  PS--Ignore the picture-prompt materials in this document; they are obsolete.

IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for NJ ASK Open-ended Responses:




For a detailed explanation of how to approach this task, go to the Download Zone. 

IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for NJ ASK Explanatory Writing:




You will want to tackle the Persuasive Writing Task from several different angles. 




  1. Make sure students understand the concept of “persuasion” and how it is not simply making a list of reasons why you’re right but also explaining why the other side is not.  Lawyers and debaters have to understand both sides of an argument in order to win.
  2. Give students examples of effective persuasive writing to read, analyze, and discuss.  They can practice their oral argument skills in Socratic Seminars (described below).
  3. As with every writing task, give students models to critique.  The NJDOE provides scored exemplars of the NJ ASK Persuasive Writing Task for grades 5, 7, and 8 (see “In the Download Zone” below).  Also see Sample 8th-grade Persuasive Writing Task and Sample 8th-grade Persuasive Writing Response (pages 1 and 2).
  4. Point out “compositional risks,” and keep a running list on a poster as the class encounters them.  For more information, see Persuasive Writing Techniques below (from p. 202, Writing to Persuade by Karen Caine (Heineman: Portsmouth, NH, 2008).
  5. Last, but definitely not least, require students to PRACTICE PRE-WRITING many times.  Pre-writing should include three steps: 1) Annotate the task to clarify what you need to know and do: think "PAT" (Policy/Problem, Audience, Task); 2) Create a T chart of arguments for both sides and then pick one, and pick one argument from the opposite side, a straw man to knock down; and 3) Use the NJ ASK Persuasive Writing Task Organizer (see below) to outline your letter/essay.  Students should spend 8-10 minutes on pre-writing for a 45-minute essay.  Use the Persuasive Writing Practice Tasks.  Here is another link to Ten Persuasive Writing Prompts.

    NOTE: The 2013 NJ ASK for grades 6-8 includes two slightly different approaches to persuasive writing ("Argument" and "Persuasive").  See the NJDOE NJASK Update 11-26-12 for details!  You should be able to use the same pre-writing approach for both variations; just make sure that students pay close attention to the AUDIENCE and TASK when annotating the prompt so that they don't accidentally write a letter to the editor when an essay is called for.  See "NJ ASK CLAIM TEMPLATE AND SAMPLE CLAIMS" to use with Argument Writing.

Socratic Seminars train students in how to conduct intelligent conversations—how to use effective habits of discussion and how to explain their ideas, supporting them with evidence.  Different educators have different ways of conducting Socratic Seminars.  In this approach, four students sit in the middle of the room, circled by the rest of the class.  Everyone in the class has read the same text or undergone the same experience (e.g., field trip or science lab); these four are responsible for discussing a given set of questions about it.  At the same time, four others in the outside circle are selected to observe the discussants and give feedback on their performance.  Everyone else in the class takes guided notes on the discussion. The teacher uses a detailed rubric to score each of the discussants.  All of the needed materials (except, of course, for the texts of your choosing) are provided in the Download Zone. 

IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for NJ ASK Persuasive Writing:





The NJDOE now calls them "narrative" prompts instead of "speculative" prompts, but they still look exactly the same.  For a detailed explanation of how to approach this task, go to the Download Zone.

For a MODEL LESSON to launch the Narrative Writing Task, you will need the following items:



For EXTRA PRACTICE prompts, click HERE.  Many thanks to Dody Barbalaco at Robert Treat Academy for sharing this lead!

IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for NJ ASK Narrative Writing:

ALSO, check out this link:


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