Our young students are filled with exciting stories to tell. They walk in your classroom door itching to tell you about their loose tooth and how they fell and got the smallest of cuts on their knee. Giving young children the freedom to write is scary for many teachers. My advice is to give the students the materials and trust the process. Come read a little about starting a writer’s workshop in your classroom!
When I read Katie Wood Ray’s book, About the Authors, several years ago it helped me to understand teaching writing to young students. (I highly recommend reading this book if you are working with young writers.) One of the most memorable and eye opening suggestions from it was to “fold the papers.” So often we give our young writers blank flat papers and even flat journal type pages with lines. Katie Wood Ray questions this and makes you think by talking about students’ experience with reading and writing. Our students are used to seeing and hearing stories in books. If this is the structure of writing they are exposed to, then why do we expect them to know what to do with a flat piece of paper? Why not “fold the papers” and turn it into a familiar object?
When I first read this book it was my third year teaching 2nd grade. I still remember the first day I tried this with my students in September. I was amazed! The quality of the content and the details, along with the amount of writing, would have made me happy at the end of the year. All because I told them they were authors and were going to write books just like Eric Carle and Laura Numeroff and then handed them blank papers folded like a book. The students that year, and every year since, take the role of an author very seriously. They invest so much in their writing because it is important to them. When something is important to them, they will continue to learn and grow. The results are amazing.
I start writers’ workshop with my kindergarters the first or second day of school. I tell them they are authors like David Shannon and Dr. Seuss and they are going to write books too. We quickly talk about ideas they want to write about, I hand them a folded piece of paper, and they are off. Every kid gets busy writing, even if their writing is drawing without any letters.
The most important thing is to trust the process. Allow them to draw or even scribble if that is the level they are at. Treat this as their writing and their message. Resist any temptation to write on their book or spell words for the students. This is the most difficult part.
Remember to share all students writing and make a big deal out of what is done well. This is a major teaching moment. I will do a future blog entry about the power of sharing student writing as well as mini-lessons and conferencing.
Just remember to trust the process. Even if their book is scribbles or has no letters, find the great parts about their writing. For example, look to see if they wrote the authors name on the book or used details and different colors in their drawings. Trust the process because it is okay if that is their level. I promise with experience and exposure to mentor texts, other students writing, teacher conferences, and more their writing will get better.
After you jump into writers’ workshop, you will need to start to teach students your expectations and procedures of your workshop time. Once we start off writers’ workshop and the students are all excited and into their writing we begin to make our workshop procedures. I begin a chart suggested in the book, About the Authors, called "I know I am finished when…" We add to this chart whenever I feel the need to give a little more expectations.
It begins with:
- Author’s name
- Read it to myself
We add things like the following to it as we need:
- Read it to two friends
- Details (in pictures)
- Letters, words, and/or sentences
- Date stamp
This type of chart helps with the management piece of writers’ workshop. Some other procedures we learn about during mini-lessons are where to put your book when you’re finished, where to get a new book, and where all the materials are. I try to train my students so that they are self sufficient and can run writers’ workshop even if I wasn’t there. After students are trained, this allows me the time to hold individual or small group writing conferences without getting interrupted.
I will continue writing about writers’ workshop in future blogs. I have had extensive training in writers’ workshop and the 6 Traits that I am looking forward to sharing with you. I am also looking to grow from your experiences and expertise. Please share with us how you teach writing to your students.