How do you feel about teaching writing? Writing hands down is my FAVORITE subject to teach. I love the challenge. I love the creativity. I love watching those babes spread their wings, come into their own, and find their voice. The list for me is endless.
Despite my college training (I have a journalism degree), I should come clean before I go any further. I used to be terrified of the whole process of TEACHING WRITING TO KIDS. I could write . . . and write well. However, when I realized that littles were involved, my upper lip started to sweat. My very first year in the classroom I felt like I was making countless mistakes and I would often let other core subjects cut into my writing block. It was WAY out of my comfort zone, the kids just weren’t all that into it, and I was way more concerned with progressing our reading and math scores. You can guess how the outcome turned out for this crew (insert sad face). Sure . . . we were could draft a paragraph (it was second grade for goodness sakes), but these groups of sentences were STIFF and lacked serious meat. I hated that I let this crew down and I was determined to NEVER feel this way again. That’s when I slapped my big girl panties on, stepped up to the plate, and made quality writing instruction an annual focus ((((fist pump)))).
My process had been fine-tuned throughout the past decade and I am proud to say that I produce pretty dang good writers each and every year. It has been a mission of mine and will continue to be as it is now my new job at my school (I am helping support/coach writing K-5 at our campus). On that note, how about if I share a few of those tips that I have picked up over the years? These have been the key to my own writing successes and I am happy to share what I have learned 🙂
**This is VOLUME ONE in a two part series as I have SO much to say (and let’s face it . . . I’m a talker).
SELL THE SIZZLE
If I have learned anything over the years, it’s all about “selling the sizzle” of whatever you are dishin’ out to your crew. If you love it (or at least pretend that you do) . . . the majority of your kids will dive right in and follow your lead. That’s half of the battle right there. #teacherwin
I also like to chit chat about all the careers that you can snag as a writer. As we jump into sentence writing at the beginning of the year, I weave tales about script writers, magazine writers, song writers, authors, bloggers . . . I could go on for days, but you get the picture 😉 The kids always get way into it and I like to think that it helps generate a little “drive” in the writing department for a few of my babes.
PROTECT THAT BLOCK
The pressure is on to get it all in these days. I know. I feel it too. But, for the love of PETE, don’t dip into that writing block. It’s sacred. PROTECT IT. Throw elbows if you have to. I have to say that I truly believe that it’s this consistency that elevates our kids in the writing department. Practice really does make perfect . . . especially when it comes to words on paper 🙂
UP THAT DAILY DOSE
My thought here is to write outside out the block. My classes always write multiple times a day. One rotation during my morning reading centers is typically writing . . . I’d say it gets worked in 4 out of the 5 days. A prompt gets tossed up on the board, I hit my differentiated groups with a levelized template that fits their needs and they go for it. **NOTE that direct writing instruction still happens inside that writing block. This is just extra practice. Read more about this HERE.**
My levels look something like this . . . my sweet-n-lows get a dotted topic to trace as they can’t quite transfer yet. My on-level kiddos copy the prompt off of the board, give me a 1-3 sentences (depending on their ability), and illustrate their work. My hot shots get a fully-lined page and I encourage them to write their hearts out. Here it is for my visual readers.
This can be pretty easy to do on your own – especially if you have a document camera. Just switch out the expectations for each group as they rotate. However, if you want a collection of these that’s ready to rock, I’ve started to put all of my templates together. Writing in a Pinch comes out seasonally and offers 40+ topics (all with build in differentiation). Each of these topics comes with multiple read-made prompts that help further streamline the process. I don’t know how many times I have been caught by a chatty parent in the morning while I am trying to come up with the prompt that goes with the topic I jotted in my plan book. My goal was to solve this problem (GRAB-B-GO prompts my friends) while providing levelized options . . . hehehehehe. Take a closer look at these packets and the growing bundle, CLICK HERE. You can snag a free set of templates in the packet preview in my shop 🙂
Quick writing ditties can also be used as a morning warm-up or transition out of “specials,” recess, or a fast-paced activity. Again, our schedules are tighter than they have ever been. Quick is key these days. With this said, I started using a LEVELIZED sentence warm-up page as our initial daily task two years ago. My lows simply copied a highly-decodable sentence. Their focus was punctuation, capital letters, and spacing. Now . . . this was way too easy for my mid-level littles. Therefore, these writers were handed a simple sentence and asked to add details to make it better. Adjectives and longer sentences became part of the game. Finally, my top kiddos were given a word bank and had to come up with a detailed sentence using all three of these words. It looks something like this in my classroom . . .
This quick daily activity proved to be a game changer in the quality sentence drafting department. In addition, it was a great way for the kids to work on that handwriting. You can put this one together easily on your own as well. All you need to do is create little half-sheets. TPT has some great lined fonts (Fonts 4 Teachers is my favorite). You also could have your kids roll with this in a composition book. Simply, type out the levels on a sheet and stick them under a document camera. I suggest color coding them so your kids can quickly identify which level they are to tackle.
Now, if you want a collection that’s ready to go, I have one to offer. Each monthly set comes with 25 sheets at each level (that’s 75 templates in all). It’s a quick copy and cut. Check out these files and the bundle HERE.
I know most of you are all over this one, but it bears repeating. Weaving writing into our core subjects is essential. Not only is it great practice, but it often taps into those higher-level thinking skills. If you are a new teacher, think about slipping writing into your homework assignments, incorporating it into science experiments, and using it to boost your social studies lessons.
But, WAIT!!!! I missed a critical subject . . . and it’s one of my favorites to incorporate writing into . . . MATH 🙂 Not only do I have my kiddos explain their answers in writing from time to time, but I also love to have my kids write their own word problems. Usually they get attached to a fun little art project that we complete on a Friday afternoon and they are displayed on our math board.
Over the years, I have found that if a kid can draft a math story, they are able to solve them much easier. Here are a few examples of how I have rolled in the past with this one.
Since you are here today, how about a free set of generic word problem templates? CLICK HERE to snag a set of ready-made addition and subtraction sheets.
SET THE MOOD
Another key to creating stellar writers is to set the mood by creating the optimal atmosphere. Learn what makes your crew tick. Do they respond well to calming background music ? Do they write better when following a break, math, or a special? Are mornings or afternoons better for your crew? There are so many factors that play into it. My thought here would be to just pay attention to how your crew responds during writing time from here on in. If a lesson doesn’t play out, think critically about all of the elements that factored into this less than desirable outcome. Following a rotten writing activity in my room, I was often able to connect the dots to figure out where my missteps were with a certain crew. Maybe I put my write too close to another rigorous activity or I tried to run the dang thing in the afternoon. Maybe I didn’t provide an example or frontload my expectations enough. Although every group of students is different, patterns will arise if you look closely.
Okay, so I mentioned this one above, but it deserves it’s own category. It’s like Costco . . . EVERY ONE loves a SAMPLE!!! This pertains to writing in the primary grades too. So many of our kids these days need to know VISUALLY what we are asking for. Not only does it help them to see an end goal, they are able to evaluate their work easily and critically. Some years you will only need samples at the beginning of the year or when you change the game in writing (lucky you). Other years, you will have to post a visual all flippin’ year ((((sigh)))). Although it can be a pain, providing a visual sample showing exactly what you want is one of those ingredients that you don’t want to forget to put in that big ‘ol bowl.
GO SLOW TO GO FAST LATER
It may seem like a turtle’s pace, but I am telling you . . . go slow up front. The pressure is on to get going and reach that end goal, but the old adage comes to mind. Pay me now or pay me later. Pay now, my friends . . . PAY NOW. You will build much stronger writers if you lay a solid foundation up front. **I will get off of my soapbox now.**
TALK IT OUT
My final thought today is to reach out to the teachers that sandwich your grade level. Talk about writing and expectations. What should our kids know coming in my door and what should they know going out? Where are the holes? What are we doing right? What do we struggle with? Collaboration is key here my friends. So, offer to make a coffee run or show up with a bag of chocolates and make time to chat with your fellow teachers. It can be such an eye opening experience.
Alright . . . so there you have it. Volume One of a two part post highlighting thoughts on keeping it real in the primary writing department this year. Join me in a few weeks for the second installment. Looking for other primary writing ideas? Check out my blog posts on pacing and engaging writing activities HERE. Thanks bunches, gang. I’ll see you soon.