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Recipes for Effective Literacy Instruction




NOTE: NJ HSPA 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 HSPA (for grade 11): open-ended response, expository, and persuasive.  For reading strategies, see READING



See these links for more information: 

 NJDOE Information Bulletin on HSPA Expository Writing


NJ HSPA 2012 Writing Handbook  (Thanks to Allison Miller for this link.)


This 30-minute writing task closely resembles the SAT Writing task, and it makes sense for you to prepare your students using similar strategies.  Unfortunately, the NJDOE Website does not provide much useful or current information, but the NJ HSPA 2012 Writing Handbook should help.  Check out the following links, too:

SAT Essay Prompts @College Board 

SAT Essay Tips @Major Tests.com

SAT Essay Prompts @Major Tests.com

 NOTE: This task, like the Persuasive Writing Task, is scored with the NJ HSPA Writing Rubric.


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.
  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 THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for NJ HSPA Open-ended Responses:



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. Teach CAUSE AND EFFECT.  The HSPA Persuasive Writing Task typically presents problems that require solutions.  In order to evaluate proposed solutions, students need to understand their potential consequences.
  3. Give students examples of effective persuasive writing to read, analyze, and discuss.  They can practice their oral argument skills in Socratic Seminars (described below).
  4. As with every writing task, give students models to critique.  The NJDOE provides scored exemplars of the NJ HSPA Persuasive Writing Task in the Criterion-Based Holistic Scoring Writing Handbook (in the Download Zone: see below).  See also the NJ HSPA 2009 Criterion-Based Holistic Scoring Writing Handbook, and the NJ HSPA 2012 Writing Handbook should also help.
  5. 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).
  6. 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 on the opposite side, a straw man to knock down; and 3) Use the HSPA Persuasive Writing Task Organizer (see below) to outline your letter/essay.  Students should spend 8-10 minutes on pre-writing for a 60-minute essay.

Additional resources:
NJDOE explains the Persuasive Writing Task, gives several sample prompts, and gives scored exemplars on-line in the 
"HSPA Language Arts Literacy Tutorial Cluster 2: Writing to Persuade."

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 HSPA Persuasive Writing:



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