Hooray! The 10 day writing challenge ended last Tuesday. It was intended to give you a feel for how morning pages could work in your classroom. Now, what can your students do with all those entries? One idea is to have them look through all of their entries and put a star next to any writing they think they could possible stretch out into an interesting piece of writing. In future lessons, they could choose one as an independent project, and work through the writing process to complete it.
When I looked through my work, I noticed that I had written about the weather changing. I could develop this into a poem. I wrote an entry about leaving money in a cash dispenser, this could be the start of a short fiction story. I also wrote a thought about the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I realized that this entry is not something that I would want to develop, but it has given me something to consider. Is the NaNoWriMo something that I want to be involved in this year? It is a creative writing project that happens every November. The idea is to try to write a novel with 50,000 words or more. Now, that is a fun challenge! If you have not heard of this project take a look at their website: https://nanowrimo.org/. I am not sure about writing a novel, but I like the challenge of writing for such a specific length of time. Hmmm . . . food for thought! Are you up for this challenge?
Once my students have completed their prewriting and have some kind of plan, they are ready to jump into drafting. This is how I teach my students in grades 3-5 to draft a personal narrative or an imagined story.
First, we meet on the carpet area for a short minilesson. I remind them that their stories should have a beginning, middle, and end; and that they should include the story elements: characters, setting, plot, conflict and solution. In case they do not remember what I mean by story elements, I will do a quick review using a familiar read aloud, e.g., Enemy Pie.
After the minilesson, students will leave the carpet area and go to their writing spots. They will have about 45 minutes to do their independent writing. They will write their first drafts in their writer’s notebooks. I like my students to write on the right hand side page of the notebook because if, later on, they want to add more to their writing they can easily do so on the left hand side page. When students are drafting the focus is on writing their stories out in full and not trying to create perfect stories in one sitting. There will be times when they will be required to write stories in one sitting, but this is not the time.
When I see a student having a hard time getting started, I will have a conference with them. I have the student tell me the story they are thinking of writing. As I listen closely, I will ask questions where I recognize they could say more in their writing. I am nudging them through telling a whole story. Next, I tell them to go ahead and write everything they just told me, and that I will check back with them near the end of the lesson. I have found that this approach has helped students to get their writing juices flowing and build their confidence.
Before students are ready to have a peer conference, I let them know what I expect to happen during that time and how they will work together. Their writing must have a beginning, middle, and end before they meet for a conference! Students will take turns being a Listener/Reader or Writer and use a peer conference sheet to help guide their conversation.
Peer Conference Sheet
(Students will meet for a maximum of 10 minutes)
- The Writer will read their work while the Listener/Reader listens.
- The Listener/Reader and Writer will discuss the questions.
Listener/Reader Responds to the Questions below:
- What did the writer do well?
- Does the story have a beginning, middle, and end?
- What are the story elements?
- Does the story make sense?
- How can the writer improve their writing?
The Writer will discuss the questions with the Listener/Reader.
The Writer will record the comments and suggestions in their writer’s notebook so that they will have a record of their conference and a reminder of what could be their next step/s in writing.
The Writer will say, “Thank You” at the end of the conference.
Once students have started drafting, I suggest giving them a reasonable amount of writing days to complete their drafts.
The Writing Challenge
5 more days to go!
This challenge is open to anyone who wants to grow their writing muscles. The challenge is to write for 10 uninterrupted minutes for the next 10 school days (September 19 – October 2). In other words, let’s spend some time doing morning pages. I am setting the challenge so that anyone who is hesitant about doing morning pages with their class, will experience it first hand, and see how their students will benefit from this kind of daily writing. Click on the morning pages link on the right hand side if you need a reminder of what to do, and for pictures that could be used for writing inspiration.
Now, you do not have to have a class to join the challenge and you can choose the time of day to do your writing. I do suggest that you write the same time every day, use a timer, decide where you will write, have a writer’s notebook, and pen/pencil/marker ready to get started.
Let’s write together for the next 10 days. I look forward to hearing about your journey.
What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada is a picture book that I discovered recently and I think it would be an excellent read aloud to emphasize the importance and value of having a good idea. It is a story about a young boy who has an idea, but ignores it because of what others think. He is tempted to let it go, but in the end he changes his mind. This book could be used to start a discussion about having different and unusual ideas, sticking with them, and how they can make a positive contribution to our world.
A big goal that I have for my upper elementary students is for them to become independent writers. By this I mean they can work independently and productively during writing time while I am doing one-on-one conferencing and working with small writing groups. For this to happen, students need to understand how they are to work through each step of the writing process. For the next several posts, I will share how I have interpreted the writing process for my students.
The first step in the writing process is prewriting. I think of prewriting in two parts.
Part 1 Students find multiple writing ideas.
In my opinion, coming up with multiple writing ideas is the most challenging part of the writing process for young student writers. They are often stomped before they have even started! So I am a strong believer in helping students learn that there are many ways to find writing ideas, and that their ideas at times will be different to someone else’s and that is okay. To get students started, I recommend spending at least two lessons focused on finding writing ideas, and how to keep track of them in their writer’s notebooks. This does not mean that they will use every idea they have, but they will have a bank of ideas at their fingertips. It would be helpful if you could give them regular reminders to grow their list.
Here are some ways students can find writing ideas.
- Brainstorm a topic
- List ideas of things they are good at, things they know a lot about, favorite places, best experiences, favorite people, Wow! Moments, Oh, no! Moments, I remember when moments
- Talk about ideas with friends and family
- Look through newspapers and write down headings that could be turned into a story
- Take the characters from a familiar story and write an original story
- Lift a line from a morning page entry and develop it
Part 2 Students choose one good writing idea.
Once students have multiple writing ideas they should choose one good idea to take through the writing process. They need to decide the purpose for their writing. Are they writing to inform, to persuade, or to entertain? Each of these will require a specific writing structure for the writing to hold the reader’s attention. Who are they writing for? Which genre will best convey the message that they want to communicate?
Next, students will choose an approach to plan their writing. They may decide to brainstorm, use a graphic organizer, do an outline, etc. Once they have written a skeleton of an idea, they are ready to move on to the next step, drafting.
How’s it going? In this post I want to take a break and give you a chance to do a quick review. I have written a variety of posts, but below are the seven key posts I think will help to get writing in your classroom moving in a positive direction. When you click on the titles you will go to the identified posts. So, get a nice cup of coffee or tea, relax, and read away!
How’s it going? Hopefully, you have laid the foundation for diving into your class writing time and writing with your students. Now let the work begin!
I have found that it is helpful to introduce the writing process to students at the start of the school year and before we jump into focused writing. When I do this it helps the students become familiar with the writing process vocabulary, see the big picture of how we will approach writing, and understand the writing process is a guide to help us tackle our writing.
Here is a brief overview of how I interpret the writing process steps and how I share them with my students. The steps are: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
Before students can begin writing they need to have something to write about. This step is intended to help them find an interesting topic through brainstorming, freewriting, generating ideas, listing ideas, talking to others, etc. Students are more willing to invest in their writing when they have chosen their own topics.
Once an idea has been chosen, I suggest that the first draft be written in their writer’s notebooks. Remember, the notebook is a place to hold the student writer’s thinking. The first draft will not be and should not be expected to be perfect. It will be a skeleton of an idea that needs to be developed. At this stage, students should aim to have a beginning, middle, and end to their writing as this will make a peer conference much more productive. Once the student writer has a draft it is time to get feedback from a listener/reader. This is a peer conference time. Students may meet as often as they need to, but the meetings should not take over their writing time, and the meetings must help the writer. If this is not carefully structured students will see this as a time to socialize. I suggest that they meet a maximum of ten minutes and then return to their writing spot.
This is the step that young student writers enjoy the least because it requires them going back and taking a very close look at the work they have done so far. Often young writers think that writing is done in one take and they want to jump to publishing as soon as possible. Before publishing, they need to ask themselves some revising questions, e.g., Did I write about one idea? Do I need to move sentences/paragraphs around? Do I need to add more details? Do I need to delete parts? Does my writing make sense as a whole? If they have had a peer conference, they should have a few ideas as to how they can move forward in their writing.
This is the time for students to focus on checking grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Students can work on their own or with a partner to check their work. For an effective peer conference, you need to give clear guidelines and model expectations. An editing checklist will help to guide conferences and student working independently.
For the final step students will publish their writing in an appropriate format. The format will depend on the genre.
Finally, keep in mind that the writing process steps can be woven together. As students work through the process, they will see that there are times when they want to revisit a step to make their writing stronger. For example, while students are editing they might recognize that there is something that they want to go back and revise. This is a normal part of being a writer and I think it shows that the student is placing value on clearly communicating their writing idea.
Keep it going!
Once you have shared the writing process steps, have them on display so your students can refer to them throughout the school year.
In an earlier post, All About Me in Pictures, I shared one way that you could get to know your students at the start of the school year. I would like to share another fun way, this time in the form of poetry. This activity is based on George Ella Lyon’s poem, Where I’m From and can be done by all the different skill levels in your classroom. Students will write poems that capture places, people, events, things, experiences, etc. that have helped to shape who they are.
I introduce this writing activity by first sharing my I’m From poem.
I’m from rice and peas and chicken on Sundays,
I’m from fish and chips and sometimes gravy.
I’m from reggae music and everything’s gonna be alright,
I’m from pop music and the BBC.
I’m from concrete and gray,
I’m from green and lush.
I’m from English and Patois.
I’m from grandparents and parents with grit.
I’m from determination and perseverance,
I’m from hope and ambition.
I’m from handclapping and hallelujahs,
I’m from God, chosen and blessed.
I’m from coffee and coffee shops,
I’m from tea and biscuits.
I’m from here and I’m from there.
Next, I explain my thinking that went into deciding what to include in my writing, e.g., I wrote “I’m from fish and chips and sometimes gravy” because I grew up in London, England eating and loving fish and chips. When I went to study in Manchester in the north of England, I learned about eating chips with gravy. At first, I was not keen to try it, but by the time my studies ended I was a happy convert!
To help students get started with thinking about where they are from and to help structure their thinking, I give them an I am From graphic organizer that I created. If you think your students do not need this they can start brainstorming places, people, events, things, experiences, etc. and move in to crafting their sentences for their poems.
For the graphic organizer, I decided on nine categories based on my writing. You can decide your own number of categories and headings based in your writing. In each category students write two items related to the category heading. Once all the boxes are filled in they can create their own sentences or you can provide sentence frames.
Sample Sentence Frames
I’m from _______________ and _______________.
I am from ______________ and _______________.
After students have completed a neat version of their poems, have a poetry reading lesson where they can share their work. In addition to the poetry reading, each student can be asked to contribute their favorite line from their poem to a class poem. All of the poems can be displayed on a poetry wall.
I am such a fan of our closing circle time. In my opinion, it is a good bookend to our morning pages time. I introduce closing circle and morning pages at the start of the school year. For our closing circle time, my students and I meet and sit in a circle on the carpet area with our notebooks. To end our writing session, we share a part of our writing that we have done that day.
When I first introduce sharing in our closing circle, I start with having the students share one sentence from their work. I do not call on the students, but after I have explained what we will be doing, students are encouraged to jump in when they are ready to share. I will start the ball rolling (the first couple of times), and then wait for the next person. Now, I will warn you, if you intend to try this, that in the beginning there will be long gaps of silence while you are waiting for someone to start sharing. Do not be alarmed, there is always at least a couple of students who will confidently share, but others will be a little bit shy and hesitant. Students will also look at you, the teacher, waiting for you to prompt them, do not. Your goal is for students to take the lead in their sharing! I avoid making eye contact until students are sharing their work. Slowly, students will gather their courage and share. Not everyone will share and that is okay. Keep going! After a reasonable length of time end the lesson, and try again the next day.
Once a student has shared, the group responds with snapping their fingers. I suggested snapping four times to my 5th grade students once I realized there was a tendency for some to keep snapping when the others had stopped! No other comment is made. We simple show our appreciation to the writer by snapping our fingers, and then give others the opportunity to share.
The more you do a closing circle and students get comfortable with sharing, you will have more participants. I do pay attention to who does not share on a consistent basis and will during a writing conference encourage them to share. I will give them some suggestions if that will help them.
The three things I like about our closing circle are:
- The quiet and shy voices find it easier to share one sentence.
- Students lead how the sharing will flow.
- More voices are heard when sharing one sentence.
For me, a closing circle is not a time to assess how my students are developing their writing skills, but a time for them to have an audience listen to something they have written (no matter how short) and for them to hear other student writers. Sharing one line is far less intimidating than sharing a long piece of writing! There is a place for sharing longer writing and those times can be created at a different time.
I have seen the quietest student pluck up courage and share their sentence, I have seen ELL students with limited English share their sentence, and I have seen a challenging student focus once he knew he would have an opportunity to share a sentence. A closing circle is worth trying if it helps to build the confidence of each writer.
In my previous post I wrote about morning pages. If you did not get a chance to read it, please read it so that you will understand the purpose of the pictures in this post. In case you are wondering, I do not mark or grade morning pages. This writing is intended to get students’ creative writing juices flowing!
Here are some more pictures you can add to
your collection of morning pages pictures.