Next week marks the beginning of the school year for many of us. The beginning of the year is exciting, nerve-wracking, and yet there's no other part of the school year quite like it. To help ease those "back-to-school" jitters, here's how I help my students get back into the writing routine.
Begin Writing Instruction on the First Day
On the first day of school, I introduce my students to Writer's Workshop by asking them what they know about Pre-Writing. Their responses usually include things like Idea Webs, Free-writing, or Brainstorming. I tell them, "Today, I'm going to show you 2 new Pre-Writing strategies and our goal is to begin drafting by the end of class."
I start my lesson by introducing students to the Topic T-Chart (see Helping Kids Choose Topics Worth Writing About). Here, I've created a Typical/Unusual T-Chart. In my classroom, I like to use a Post-It Easel pad. As we move through the writing process, I can display these Post-Its on a wall in my classroom to remind students of the writing process.
Once I've finished writing my T-Chart, I read both lists out loud to my students. Kids immediately begin asking questions about the topics I've listed, but now is not the time to go into detail about each topic. I simply say, "If I choose that topic to write about, I'll answer your questions later."
After I've shared, I give them a few minutes to fill in their own Topic-T-Charts. Because sharing is key to making Writer's Workshop run smoothly, I have a few students share their T-Charts as well.
I then explain to students our criteria for choosing good topics. I place this on a new Post-It Note and title it What makes a good topic? and ask students to do the same. I list the criteria like this and explain what each one means:
- Strong feelings
- Lots of detail
- Interesting to others.
On my T-Chart, I circle 3 topics that I think meet our criteria. I try to pick one that doesn't meet any criteria and two that do. I then re-read the criteria to myself and ask my students if they agree. Once I've picked my topic, I ask a few students to share 3 topics from their T-Charts. I list these on the white board. I choose 3 and assess them using our criteria. I cross out the ones that don't meet all of our criteria and place a star next the ones that do.
Once kids have an idea of what makes a good topic, I have them narrow their choices down to their best choice. Sometimes they struggle a bit so I have them introduce themselves to their group members and share their T-Charts. Using the criteria we've just talked about, I have them help each other pick good topics and place a star next to the best one.
Continue Pre-Writing with Action-Feeling-Setting
Once we have selected our topics, I grab a new Post-It Note and set up our next Pre-Writing strategy--Action-Feeling-Setting, or A-F-S for short. Briefly, I talk about how a good story has Action, Feelings, and a Setting in it. I pick a place to start and list ideas that go with my topic. When I've finished, I share this as well.
I then give students 10 minutes to write their own A-F-S. I tell them they can start listing their ideas under the part that feels the most comfortable to them (Action-Feeling-Setting). When they've finished, again, I ask a few kids to share.
I then go back to my A-F-S, quickly skim it over and talk about how to get a draft started. On a new Post-It Note, I begin drafting. The beginning of my Draft would go like this:
A day at the lake with friends was supposed to be relaxing. But things didn't turn out that way. Instead, what was supposed to be a daredevil move turned into the worst injury of my life.
I'd continue drafting until I reached the end of the page. When I finish, I'll talk about how when we're drafting, we need to keep our pens moving. A Draft is simply a FIRST Draft. Mistakes are okay. Right now, we're only worried about getting our ideas down. We can make changes and corrections later in the Revising and Editing stages.
I'll give students the remainder of the class period to start their Drafts. During this time, I can go around and assess their A-F-S work, or show them how to get started.
Pace Pays Off
This may seem like an ambitious first day of school, but it's worth it for many reasons. First, I've shown my students 2 Pre-Writing strategies they may have little or no experience with. I've also shown them that I believe Pre-Writing is important because our Pre-Writing allows us to quickly get our ideas down, which makes Drafting that much easier. If we run out of time, we'll continue our work the next day of class.
Aside from writing, we've done a lot of talking about ourselves, which gives us the opportunity to get to know each other. On this first day, I've set the expectation that students will have to talk about their work in this class. This helps create a safe learning environment where it's okay to share ideas--a key component of Writer's Workshop. And finally, I've modeled everything I expect my students to try, which shows them I'm willing to work hard, too. We'll be working hard from this day forward...
For more info. on Topic T-Charts, Action-Feeling-Setting, and Writer's Workshop, see The Writing Teacher's Strategy Guide.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.