As our young writers feel more comfortable with writing, it's a perfect time to focus on the 6-Traits of good writing. I am going to concentrate on the first writing trait called, Ideas. Many people think the ideas trait is just about gathering topics to write about, but it is much more then that. I will share some lesson ideas in this post about this important trait of good writing. Also be sure to sign up for Scholastic's webcast with Ruth Culham, the 6-Traits guru, that takes place on Tuesday, March 2nd!
Typically teachers work on the trait of ideas early in the year and move into the other traits as the year progresses. I prefer to focus on a trait, but to also include mini lessons on the traits you have already worked on throughout the year. So even though I started my kindergarten year off working on many areas under the ideas trait, I often go back to refresh and expand on the trait as the students ability grows.
I like to think of the ideas trait as broken down into three important areas: 1) Seeing Themselves as Writers, 2) Gathering Writing Topics, and 3) Adding Details to Their Writing. Let’s take a look at each area and some activities that go along with them.
Hopefully you started this at the very beginning of the year. Please refer to my earlier post about starting writers’ workshop. It is extremely important that students see themselves as writers just like Eric Carle and Jan Brett. It is a good idea to go back and give a quick mini lesson every once in a while, stressing that your students are not ordinary people, they are writers. Here are a few quick and easy activities:
Reading some of the Scholastic's Kids Are Authors award books is a quick and inspirational way to show them that they are authors just like those kids. In fact, the Kids Are Authors writing contest due date is coming up very soon. Take a look at this link to find more information.
Read author biographies/ watch video interviews
Laura Numeroff’s book “If You Give an Author a Pencil” is great account of her life becoming an author. Kids love to hear about how authors get ideas to write books and can connect with the authors as fellow writers. Many authors also have video interviews that share with students their writing process and where they got ideas for their stories.
Authors’ Chair and host book sharing with parent audience
Students, especially at this age, love to share their writing. Make sure you give them time during class to share their writing in Author’s Chair. Another fun way to share is to invite parents to a book sharing event. At this event, students take turns reading their books or writing piece to the audience. It makes it even better if you have a digital copy of the book projected behind the child as they are sharing so the audience to see their work. These are a huge hit with kids and parents. I have done these in the past more efficiently by splitting the class in half or thirds and holding multiple book sharing. This makes it go faster and you don’t have to have time for 20 children or more to read their writing.
When working on gathering topics I start in the beginning by teaching my students that writers see things that ordinary people don’t see. They use their imaginations and see things a little different. Sometimes throughout the year we need to revisit this to give them better and deeper writing topics. Quick walking trips around the school or creating heart maps about things they love or know a lot about are helpful ways to give your students more writing ideas. Here are a few other activities you can do.
Watermelon Topics vs. Seed Topics
As I revisit and refresh my students on gathering writing topics, I begin to talk about watermelon and seed topics. Students will often say I am writing about (and pick a broad topic like) kindergarten. This is an example of a watermelon topic. There are tons of stories that can be written about kindergarten. I try to get them to pick a smaller aspect of their topic. For kindergarten they can write about the class trip, the 100th day of school, learning to read, or any other smaller “seed” topic. Once the students know how to pick seed topics, their writing becomes more focused and detailed.
“Zoom” written by Istvan Banyai
This is an extremely fun wordless picture book! With each turn of the page it zooms out of the picture to reveal more details. I love to read this book backwards when teaching about how writers see things ordinary people don’t see. When reading it backwards the students have to zoom in on the picture to see more details to better understand the pictures. After reading this students can create their own Zoom books.
Talking about adding more details starts with students pictures. This includes adding more colors and shapes to very beginner writers and moving to adding more details in the writing for more advanced writers. Here are a few fun and visual ways for students to work on adding more details to their stories.
This is one of the students’ favorites. It is a story about a little child that sees something that the other children don’t see- a squiggle. With her imagination she turns this squiggle into a bunch of very detailed things such as a scaly dragon. After reading this story my students use a piece of yarn dipped into red paint and drop it on their papers. Once it is dry they have to look at it as a writer and use their imagination to turn it into something. I walk around to make sure that their drawings have many details. Throughout this time I am constantly talking about how, just like your drawings have so many colors and shapes in them, your writing needs just as many details. Students love writing all about their pictures and describing them.
Bare Bones Stories
I love sitting my students down for a story during our mini lesson and only telling them the bare bones of it. Their reaction is hysterical. I typically will retell Goldilocks and the Three Bears with very little details and skip many of the parts. Students are very quick to tell me that I forgot all of the following parts. This is when I introduce the idea of bare bones stories. Together we figure out that all the details in the story were missing and without them it was not a good story. This activity makes the concept of adding details much more concrete for them to grasp. After discussing and sharing the real story of Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears, I have my students draw and write bare bone stories. We like to compare those stories without details to skeletons and stories with details to real people. Here is a picture of a student working on her bare bones story. Notice the picture on the left is just a very simple drawing of a girl while the picture on the right has a lot more details. Students share a quick bare bone story about the picture to the left and then write a detailed story to go along with the detailed picture.
I hope you can use some of these activities to help you work on the ideas writing trait in your classroom. Please look for future blogs to unwrap other writing traits with our young writers. And don't forget to register for the webcast with Ruth Culham on Tuesday, March 2nd.
I always love to hear from you, our readers. You all have so many great ideas that I would love to learn about so I can share them with others and use them in our class. Please make sure to comment back and share them with us!
Mrs. Megan Power