Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I heart teaching writing.

One of the best times of my school year (when I had my own class) was the beginning of the school year when I got to do tons of community building, while at the same time, writing memoirs with my students in Writing Workshop.

I love teaching writing. Think about real do you think they do it? Real writers sit down and write in notebooks or on Microsoft Word or their blogs. They go about their daily life with a writer's eye, making notes in their iPhone and snapping pictures of things that inspire their work as they go about their daily business. They read - read lots - and become inspired by great writers. Then they sit down and write. While my students didn't express all of these ideas when I asked, "What do real writers do?" they did have lots of great ideas:

Two of my favorite ways to get kids to write like this:

is to use literature and list making.

I almost always start off writing workshop in the very beginning of the school year with Fireflies (Brinckloe). Fireflies is a story about a boy who goes out in the summer to catch fireflies with the neighborhood kids. Like all kids who have had this experience, the boy puts the fireflies in a mason jar to save them, but as they fall to the bottom of the jar as the night wears (wares?) on, he realizes that it might be a better idea to let them go.

So, I read this book to the kids, and then ask them if any of them have ever caught fireflies. Everyone raises their hands. I then ask what other kinds of things they do in the summer. We compose a list of all these ideas (you can see ours on the anchor chart at the top of this page): getting ice cream, going to Six Flags, taking a boat ride at the lake, going to Millennium Park and playing in the fountains, festivals, carnivals, sleepovers with cousins, swimming in the pool, playing in the park....the list goes on and on.

We then move into the "Rehearsal" phase of writing, where kids get to choose any idea from the list and tell a partner sitting by them all about what happened. 

Rehearsal is so important. Many kids are not a fan of writing because they think if it isn't perfectly punctuated and spelled then they are not not doing a good job, and so they may as well not do it at all. Rehearsal lets students tell stories to friends, and then the transition to writing the stories isn't so scary. Plus, you let them know that their Writer's Notebook is their "safe place" to make mistakes and just let all their ideas pour out of their minds onto the paper. No judgement, no red pens....just ideas.

At the end of the writing session, there has to be a share time. It's so important that they get to read their stories to a peer, their teacher, or the class. Without a share time, their writing isn't for anyone, just locked in a notebook without an audience. Share time is also important because it normalizes insecurities about writing for them - they think, "Oh, if Meghan wrote a story about roller skating in her basement, I can write a story about that too!" 

It takes about three weeks worth of sessions like this, and lots of great books and many different lists, but then this funny thing happens. The kids begin to love to write. You have to dedicate your time and energy, and it's best to write along with the kids and share your writing too....but it's so amazing when the kids start writing in their free time, just because they have so many stories to tell.

In my next blog, I will share my most favorite beginning-of-the-year stories that I read with my students. They mimic their daily lives - fights with brothers and sisters, friendship and bullies, stories of pets, struggling in school....the list goes on and on. Follow my blog to stay updated with great ideas for your Reading and Writing Workshops!

Have a blast as you celebrate 2014! I'm so ready for it to begin!


  1. Hey Michelle,

    I really like how you explain your teaching of writing in this blog post. The idea of calling that point before students start writing "rehearsal", I LOVE! Also, your point about the importance of sharing at the end-couldn't agree more!

    Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach

    1. Hey Kasey - Wish I could take credit for that Rehearsal, but that's Lucy Calkins. She's brilliant and I became a new teacher when I read her addition to Fletcher and a few others. I'm glad it's something you can use with your kiddos, too!

  2. Michelle...what a great post! I am so glad you linked up with me. Next week is writing for primary grades, so it may not be a good fit. Then again...maybe?? Just thought I 's give a heads up. I will be linking up for your book club too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Carla! Yes, this can totally work in primary, with a few modifications and lots more rehearsal! Thanks for the heads up - I'll be thinking about it this week at work and hopefully catch some kiddos in action around school for the post! :-)

  3. When I first started going to school, I had an excellent teacher like you. She adored children and adored her subject, so we were delighted with her and what we did with her. I loved to write! But in a couple of years, she married and moved to another city, and we had another teacher who made a completely different impression. I didn't want to write anymore. I'm lucky I found essayhave review and ordered all my essays from them. Otherwise, I would get the worst grades and felt as if I was betraying my favorite teacher.


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