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Support Your Budding Writers

Heart_map_cover_2

Perhaps the hardest thing to hear at the beginning of the year is, "I don't know what to write about!" Every year I am faced with the challenge of creating life-long readers and writers that can self-select books and writing topics on a daily basis. So when we created a class graph of our favorite subjects and writing received one vote (one vote!), I knew I had my work cut out for me.  So where do I begin?  Here are some easy methods to get your writers thinking independently:

Replacing Marble Composition Books: Ownership Matters

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Each student needs a good writer's notebook, and I am not talking about those marble composition books at Walmart. We start the year with a discussion on features that make writing easier and more inviting.  Personally, I couldn't imagine placing all of my writing in a marble composition book. When we ask students to write daily (let's say 30 minutes), we are asking students to write for 90 hours or so over the course of a year.  I believe where that writing goes makes a difference.  So before I pass out any composition books, we discuss selecting a notebook that fits us. Some of the features we discuss include:

  • The Spine- spiral vs. hard-bound
  • Pockets- Because writers often collect things
  • Size-If the notebook can't lay flat open, I suggest that it is too slim
  • Tabs- I find some students enjoy the organizational features of built in tabs. Tabs can also be purchased to put into a notebook.
  • Order- Some notebooks have a band that ties it close or has a snap. This helps the book last longer.
  • Cover Consideration-This may be the last feature you look at for selecting. My favorite notebook has a simple plastic cover. Boys seem to enjoy leather-bound notebooks.

A letter is sent home encouraging parents to help their child purchase a notebook and free versions are given out to those who do not purchase one on their own.  Unequivocally, the students that select their own notebook have more focus, care, and higher quality of writing than those who select the free composition book. Ownership is a powerful tool.

Lesson Ideas That Support Writers

What Are You Writing About Chart

Writeabout

It only takes one student to get this started. Post a blank chart on your wall and ask students to share some of the things they are writing about. Leave some markers nearby and watch the chart grow. What a wonderful resource to learn from each other. I use this chart three ways:

  • Use it as a resource for your struggling writers that can't think of a writing topic.

  • Use it as a share time wrap-up to demonstrate the many genres available for us to write about.

  • Determine what you will need to focus on in the future.  Are your kids avoiding certain genres or is it heavily geared towards one type of writing? Use this information as a springboard to future mini-lessons.

If You Can Think It, You Can Say It, If You Can Say It...

Postit

Before writing time begins, have your students stop for a moment to think about what they will write about for the day.  After this, have students turn to a partner and share their ideas.  I use this time to listen in on topics and ideas and sometimes share the ideas I am hearing with the group.  As I dismiss I say, "If you know what you are going to write about and you have shared it with a friend, go write!" The few that remain at the carpet are then lead through a guided writing session.  I do this because I'd much rather know up front who is having troubles with writing ideas rather than find them five minutes into our writing session.

Heart Map

Heartmap

What is it in your life that you never want to forget? After reading Mem Fox's Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge I model a memory/heart map from the story.  I draw a heart and include quick drawings and notations of memories that make me laugh, cry, feel warm inside, think of long ago, and are as precious as gold. I then invite my students to do the same by creating their very own heart map. This map becomes the student's personal resource, as each memory is a story to share.

Author's Share: Talk is Important

Sarahshare

Each day we have five students share something they are writing with the class. From confidence building to fluency practice, another benefit of share time is helping students hear new topics to write about. When one student writes about the time they were in a car accident, you can be sure any other student that has ever been in a car accident will write about it sometime that week. This is especially important for struggling writers that need to believe, "I can do that too."

What Are You Reading That is Like What You Are Writing?

Finally, I try to use my conference time to connect the different writing attempts with a well-known author.  So if a student decides to write the chronicles of a super hamster that rolls over the bad guys in his super wheel, I may say, "This sounds a little like Dav Pilkey. Have you looked at some of his books yet?"  The second I connect student's writing to a real writer, I can see immediate confidence build.

Most importantly, don't forget to give your budding writers time. It takes hard work, a lot of guidance and support, lots of reading, and talk before your writers can really take off. I am hoping your year takes off as well.

To learn more about launching the writer's workshop in our room, visit us at our web page here

Comments

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Angela Bunyi

Hello!

So nice to hear from someone attending UT! I think the year-long internship is hard financially, but such a good thing in the long run. I almost forgot about the action research requirement. I love that you are addressing reader's workshop for your action research. If I were in your position, this is what I would do:

Locate some classes that are using reader's workshop vs. rooms that are not (ex-basal instruction). From there, complete a base running record (ex-Rigby or DRA) on selected students in RW rooms vs. non-RW rooms. You could then complete (or collect) running record findings at the end of the period to see if more growth was evident under one style of teaching. In between, you can conduct your action research by meeting with individual students for reading conferences to see if particular strategies are being applied in their reading. It would be interesting to find a base of kids with the same reading "level" from different classes. Would growth be more evident with one style?

Of course, a billion things can affect that. The number one factor is the teacher, not a program, not a philosophy even....but I think this would be a lot of fun to research!

I hope that helps!

Also, once you get your own classroom please consider placing daily writing into your schedule. My brain is convinced that we can't afford to not have it in or schedule, and I am a huge supporter of The Daily Five because it gives me the time to "teach it all".

Best to you...

Erin

Angela,

I found your classroom webpage while searching for information on Reader’s Workshop. I LOVE your page! It is so encouraging to see a teacher who is implementing so many great things into her classroom. I am in my internship year working toward my masters at UT Knoxville, and I am teaching in a 4th grade classroom. For my Action Research, I would like to do something with reader’s workshop, focusing on comprehension skills. I would also love to do Writer’s Workshop, but don’t think my school’s schedule will fit it in. I took a course on Writer’s Workshop this summer and fell in love with it! Do you have any suggestions for readers’ workshop?

Thanks SO much!
Erin

Angela Bunyi

Hello again,
I just looked at your post again. I THINK you are talking about my unit plan written for Scholastic. I think the publishing is behind, but it should be posted shortly. It is a mini-unit and last 3-4 weeks. We are currently finishing up the food review writing right now. If this is what you are looking for:

Unit Overview - Exploring the Genre of Review Writing
http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/unitplan.jsp?id=308
All other lessons should be linked on this page. Bonus- 13 printables or so, I believe.
Lesson 1: Writing Food Reviews- Food for Thought

Lesson 2: Writing Movie Reviews-Lights, Camera, Publish!

Lesson 3: Writing Book Reviews- Online and Beyond

Anything I post on Scholastic is compiled on my site for reference in the future. That direct link is (without the scroll bar on the side):
www.bar.rcs.k12.tn.us/teachers/bunyia/sblog.html

Happy Wednesday...

Angela Bunyi

Hello!

So my site might need some organization tinkering. I think it has grown so much, it needs some trimming now.

Okay, you can find the Writer's Workshop overview on the Writer's Workshop link (left scroll).

Here is the direct link:
http://www.bar.rcs.k12.tn.us/TEACHERS/bunyia/writers_workshop_overview.pdf

For a day by day plan, we use Lucy Calkin's Units of Study. Visit this site that has all things related to Calkin:
http://www.psd401.net/learningteaching/curriculum/literacy/teachers/making_meaning/default.asp

Let me know if you need anything else!

Angela

Annette

Hi ! I just love your website. I've been trying to find your Writer's Workshop plan that you posted on Scholastic. Help!

Angela Bunyi

Hello Victoria!

No, you are fabulous! And again, thank you for letting me use your descriptive food word list that I found on your-you make me jealous- website. It was exactly what I was needing for my unit plan on writing food, movie, and book reviews for Scholastic. It should be posted any day now. Oh, and I am really using my plans at the moment. You said you might be interested using them with your class. I highly encourage you to try it out if you have 3-4 works available in your plans. So far, my students have really loved it! Who thought writing reviews on food would be so well received by 4th graders?
Much respect,
Angela

Victoria Jasztal

You are doing fabulous, Angela! I love reading your ideas, which I'm sure you already knew. :)

Angela Bunyi

Erin,

It makes SO much sense to have everyone on the same page at the same time...that sounds a little like one size fits all to me. Where has the common sense gone? I am not even sure where to start with your situation...

Morning schedule

One thing I noticed is that your reading block goes from 8:50 to 9:30. That's not enough time to me. What time does school start? This is sometimes the largest time taker that can be better reorganized. The way we start our morning is- unpack, complete the agenda (required), grab a book or writer's notebook, get comfy. I don't need to keep the kids busy, because they are so excited to start this morning in this non-stressful manner. Every morning there is a really nice, comfortable feel in the room...and it just feels right. I cringe at those years that my board was filled with busy, isolated work for my kids. Even if your day begins at 8:30, those are 20 minutes that can be used for independent word study or reading or writing. A teacher friend of mine is really good at using this time for conferences and small group instruction. I am required to sign agendas at my school, so this option is not possible for me.

My schedule

Have you looked at my schedule yet? It can be found on my site and is near the bottom on the left scroll. The biggest compromises I have taken is teaching social studies for 3 weeks and alternating science for 3 weeks and providing a rotating schedule on our third reading/writing block for our mandated AR requirements. However, I have really tried integrating content areas into our reading lessons and give an alternative to non AR books as well (successful conference and book reflection). For example, today I read a big book called The First Americans. We discussed context clues and replacing the unknown with words that made sense. Two birds with one stone.

If I Were in Your Shoes

My biggest step would be to ask why. To me, nothing seems to be supported by any research I have looked for regarding supporting readers and writers. When you know better, you can't go back. I call this educational malpractice and would ask for a rational explaination for the fixed schedule. My guess is that you are in a Title I school where teaching scripts and programs dominate the day. I would suggest sharing the book Smart Answers to Tough Questions with administration. I gave this book to my principal because it summarizes all the things I know in my heart with the research to prove it (not a hint to my recently nominated principal of the year for the state-I just love this book).

And the schedule is so fragmented. I'd want to know why I once read from Donald Graves (founder of WW) that a teacher had asked for his suggestion on teaching writing if she only had time to teach it twice a week. He responded, "Don't bother." I don't think I could agree anymore. Your students need daily time to read and write, just like a baseball player needs time to practice.

So, with all this said I think I would try to conduct my mini-lesson BEFORE 8:50 and leave 8:50-9:30 to independent reading. Then, I'd make my writing lesson 10 minutes long, providing 30 minutes for the writing "block". I would then add 10 minutes into my schedule somewhere (end of the day?) to build in a book talk and author's share. Then I would find 10 MORE minutes somewhere in the schedule to have an isolated writing/grammar/spelling lesson. Then, DEAR time would become my individual conference time with my students. And finally, I would be miserable all year long. Teacher autonomy counts to me.

Anyway, I hope this helps you!


Erin

Hi Angela!

All I can say is, wow!! I am so happy that I somehow stumbled across your class website - I am really impressed with not only the activities you do with your students, but the fact that you post your reasoning, research, etc. to explain & support your instruction.

I have been teaching 5th grade for the past 3 years, and I am moving to 4th grade in a new school this year. Classes start next week! I am very excited, but I am slightly nervous about scheduling and fitting in everything I want to do. My schedule is rigid, & I am required to follow this schedule to a T...but I really want to continue using Reading/Writing Workshop & I don't know how I will be able to do this within my new school's required schedule for 4th. My required schedule calls for Reading instruction from 8:50-9:30 M-F, & Lang Arts 9:30-10:10 M-W (Lang Arts would encompass Writing Workshop, Word Study, Grammar & Spelling)...I understand the importance of providing daily writing instruction, but I'm not sure how to "fit this in" given my fixed schedule - especially when my schedule is set with only 3 days of writing/week (the other 2 days students have SS). In addition, the entire school participates in a DEAR session from 1:00-1:20 daily. I'm not sure how to manage and balance a Reading/Writing workshop program, along with Word Study, Grammar & Spelling within this schedule. What would you suggest to make the best of this situation???

Thanks in advance; you truly have been an inspiration to me and your website is one of my favorite places to visit! :-)

Erin

Angela Bunyi

Hey Stacy,
Well, you are right on for your perspective on supporting and creating readers and writers. With so many scripted programs and "quick fixes" it is easy to fall for the hype and believe "something" will fix our kids, when the most important thing is creating an environment where students can write, reflect, and share their world.

Regarding the balance of teaching skills, process, style, etc.:

I have made time to have 3 large reading/writing blocks and 4 mini-lessons in my schedule each day. Sample- #1 Nonfiction features lesson #2 (RW) a "skill" like problem and solution (required at my school) #3 (WW ) narrative unit study, focus on style #4 (WW) a more isolated skill such as looking at a grammar convention throughout our notebooks for revision. Personally, I love being able to mix in the creative portion of my brain along with some of the nuts and bolts. This might be a possibility for you. Please visit my site at www.mrsbunyi.com and once you enter, just look for our class schedule to get a better idea of what we teach each day. I also have my general unit of study layout posted under my writer's workshop link. It is geared for parents and let's them know what we are covering.

Starting Writer's Workshop:

First, I will say where I am now, 3+ weeks in. At the moment, today marked the intro. to our review writing unit. This unit was just posted today under Scholastic, and I am honestly following all the steps I included in the unit plan. It will last 3.5 weeks and includes a detailed step by step approach as well as 13 or so printable resources. For the last 3 weeks I have created my own personal mixture that almost seems logical to me know, but I have a great suggestion for you. If I was new to the WW scene, I would purchase Lucy Calkins Units of Study kit. It should NEVER be used as a script, however, it includes a day by day, sentence by sentence summary of teaching 3-5 WW. This could be a great way to get you situated and confident with what you already know works best for your kids. There are a few other sources available as well, but Lucy and Katie Wood Ray are sooo good. A super easy read that includes the first 30 days is The Daily Five by the Sisters. They focus A LOT on management and procedures. This might address some of your other questions...

Management without becoming overwhelmed:

A few things are critical to me. #1 the ideas talked about in this article/blog- you have to give that support to get started #2 Don't get fixed on a set time for writing. Wait until you start to see movement of fidgety bodies. Workshop time is up and quietly move the class to the carpet for share time. I use something like a rain stick. It sounds beautiful and is very soft. I don't say a word and the class moves quietly to the meeting area #3 Make increasing writing stamina a "cool thing". "Wow, I can't believe everyone looked so focused today. Do you know how long you wrote today? You are not going to believe it!" #4 Post-it notes! My students know not to "disrupt me" during workshop time, so they place comments/questions on post-it notes. I answer them (quietly) inbetween conferences. #5 Like I wrote above, get the don't know what to write about writers upfront. When you dismiss, get them on their feet one on one...that way you can concentrate on meeting with the kids you need to meet with. #6 Have a class meeting on WW progress. Ours was on Monday. What's working? What's not? We just sat down and created a plan of action. For example, a few have been moving around too much. As a class, they decided that we should be allowed to move one time to help everyone focus. This was decided by the class, not me, so their is more ownership this way.

What do I need to focus on to help students stay focused?

Again, Calkins has a unit of study approach, and I'd recommend that. It doesn't dominate or control what students are writing about, but allows your students to have a common thread for assessment and publication. For example, for my created unit of study on review writing, students will not be expected to write food, movie, and book reviews every day for the next 3.5 weeks. That would be boring! But having that as an overall unit of study aids students in a direction and gives you focus to concentrate on specific components of writing related to that study.

And one more thing. Accountability! I not only look at the amount of writing for the week, I ask students to date their entries and follow up with any suggestions given during our conferences. If you have a few that are not taking the workshop time seriously, you can use that conference time to address it. I use the worried mom approach and try to come up with an approach that will help (ex- let's do some book research on those snakes you talk about so much.)

So, I hope this helps, and I hope you have someone else to collaborate with at your school. I had one teacher when I started, and that made all the difference. The hardest part is to have the mindset for the philosophy. It sounds like you are ready to tackle it and jump off the cliff (so to speak).

Let me know how things go and post any questions you have in the future.

Best to you...

Stacy D.

Hi Angela,
I think you have wonderful ideas! I believe that reading and writing are some of the most important things that we teach our students. I want my students to be successful readers and writers and sometimes become frustrated by the many surface level prompts that are thrown at them. I want them to want to write, but to also learn the necessary tools that it takes to become a great writer. I definitely believe that students should spend time writing and that it only becomes a more valuable experience when they share their writing as well.

So, with that said - here are my questions. I am a beginning teacher (2nd year) and would like some advice about how to set up a writing workshop. What do you do starting from Day 1? How do I manage students during this time (conferences, etc.) without becoming overwhelmed? What do I need to do to establish writing workshop as a routine in my classroom? What do I need to focus on so that students stay focused in their writing? I know, lots of questions. But, I am a willing learner!

Thanks,
Stacy D.

Angela Bunyi

That's great to hear! If you are looking for another great book to read by Mem Fox, I highly recommend Radical Reflections. It is my back to school read every year.

Another book that I forgot to mention that aids for ideas is, I'm in Charge of Celebrations by Bryd Baylor. After reading this book, we create a list of things we can celebrate in our life. This list also becomes a resource to build on for writing topics throughout the year.

Hope you are enjoying your class this year...

Karen Bukovan

Angela,

I teach 3rd grade in Florida. I wanted to thank you for your writing lesson idea on the heart map with the Mem Fox book. I did it Friday and the kids loved it! We're still trying to come up with ideas to write about so this was the perfect lesson.

Thanks for your ideas!!! I hope my class website may someday be as inspiring as yours. :)

Have a great weekend,

Karen B.

Angela Bunyi

To "My Amazing Sister" RoseAnn,

You know there is a method to my madness, even if you can't comprehend it.

I am glad you like the boxing picture of Eli. His auntie placed funny photos (including the boxing one) on top of all his Christmas presents to us two years ago. I can't remember a single present, but I remembered and saved the photos.

Anyway enjoy your life of beaches and relaxation in Hawaii. I am not ashamed to say I am very jealous.

Your incredibly awesome sister,
Angela

Your Amazing Sister

I actually read all of this. Aren't you proud of me? I can't say I understood half of it. But I liked the picture of Eli boxing...

Eve Ottavino

Thanks so much Angela!

Angela Bunyi

I ordered mine from Really Good Stuff. It is more expensive, but they look brand new still.

To order the book bins for organizing student's personal books, visit:
http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/product_details.aspx?item_guid=89a797ab-9e61-4239-9643-007c4daa12fe
This year each bin contains 1) a personal spelling dictionary 2) personal books for RW 3) a small math manipulative kit. Our reader's notebook hangs behind each desk.

To order the bins our library books are placed in, visit*:
http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/product_details.aspx?item_guid=fb6b15e6-38c1-469b-970c-a98e14bb2436
* I recently saw the exact bins at Dollar General for a much better price than I paid.

Best,

Angela

Eve Ottavino

Hi Angela,
Thanks for your great classroom tour! I was wondering if you ordered your great student book bins on line?? I have been looking for them but can't find what I need.
I teach 4th grade in NYC and I'll be checking in on your site. Thanks!

Ro

Hi Angela!
Thanks for your support and great advice! I'm definitely going to take your Daily 4 plan into consideration and try it out. We have block days 2x out of the week, so maybe this would work on those days? I will definitely keep you updated on how things go. I'm sure I'll be contacting you for advice and suggestions again! :)

Thanks for your quick response! Keep your ideas coming... they're great!!

Angela Bunyi

Hello!

Warning- You have won a small novel response...

Great questions and mindset. I too am a firm believer of a balanced literacy/workshop approach. The great thing about this philosophy is that there is not a "one size fits all" outlook for anything. Everything is about individualized attention and working with students one on one. It sounds like you are totally on the right track and will be a huge help to your students. As far as 6th grade...it ranks #2 on my list of favorite grades to teach! I also taught reading.

Regarding working in reader's workshop in middle school...I am hoping you have block scheduling! Assuming you are working with a block schedule, I would use the workshop model alternating your time with individual conferencing and small group discussions. With the limited time you have, and the support you will provide, time spent reading is a top priority in my head. As far as literacy centers, I have not used this approach because it seems to fragment reading into parts too much (instead of providing time to read). So, if you have a 2 hour block to work with:

Mini-lesson #1- 10-15 minutes
Reading block- 40 minutes
Mini-lesson #2- 10-15 minutes
Reading block 40 minutes
Wrap-up- 10-15 minutes, book talk

And you probably don't have the time needed to think about this, but I use the Daily 4 approach to teach reading and writing (modified). You may find it useful to see how my reading/writing schedule works in my room. In essence it looks like this:

Mini-lesson #1 (10-15 minutes)- Reading
ex- Read-aloud demonstrating making connections
Workshop block- Students read/ I conduct small group or one on one conferencing-35-45 minutes.

Mini-lesson #2 (10-15 minutes)- Writing
ex- Read-aloud demonstrating show not tell.
Workshop block- Students write/ I conduct small group or one on one conferencing- 35-45 minutes

Mini-lesson #3 (15-20 minutes)- This is reserved for my more isolated skills
ex-word study, grammar conventions (although we may look through our notebook for the lesson), spelling patterns.

Mini-lesson #4 (15-20 minutes)- Reading or Writing
ex- nonfiction features
Workshop block- Students read, write, or complete a literacy like activity such as word work, etc./ I conduct small group or one on one conferences-35-40 minutes

Book Talk/Author's Share (10-15 minutes)- Students come to the carpet to share what they have been reading and writing. 5 students share each day.

Let me know if you have any other questions! :)

Angela


Ro

Hi Angela!
WOW! What an amazing blog and website! I'm so excited that you'll be blogging this year for scholastic and can't wait to hear about your great ideas. You are an amazing teacher!!!
I am a 6th grade teacher and will be teaching struggling readers/writers for a part of the day. This is my first year doing this. I'm a firm believer in balanced literacy and r.w/w.w. I don't want it to be a "remedial reading" time. I'm really hoping to bring in a lot of the reading/writing workshop model and also include literacy centers. I was wondering what your take is on this and what your experience was like in 6th grade?

I'd appreciate any feeback! Thanks for all of your help!

Angela Bunyi

Hey Lisa,

Wilfrid Gordon has served me well from grades 1-6. Actually, I can read that book without looking at a single page. I am glad it is becoming part of your classroom collection.

Regarding educating parents on selecting a writer's notebook:
I have information on my web site at- http://www.bar.rcs.k12.tn.us/TEACHERS/bunyia/writers_notebook.html
I just copied and pasted part of the information into a letter (you are free to do the same). I will also go over this information this upcoming Tuesday for our Open House session. In essence, students need to find a notebook they look forward to writing in. Glad I have been of some help to you...

-Angela

Lisa McCarthy

I'm planning on using your excellent heart map idea! I already bought Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (what a great book!). I also LOVE the idea that the students should pick their own writer's notebook. It totally makes sense. How do you explain the writer's notebook selection process to the parents? Thanks again, Angela!

Angela Bunyi

Wow. That is a huge compliment. Thank you!!!
I'm just happy that you took the second to write me on this blog. Please feel free to ask me anything in the future, and I hope your school year is going well.
Much respect,
Angela

Charity

Angela,
You have many great ideas and ways to implement things. I look forward to reading more from you. Thank you so much for being an inspiration to me.

Charity Boren

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Angela's 4th Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.