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Writing Resources

Page history last edited by Dave Koppenhaver 10 years, 6 months ago

Basic Structure of Writing Instruction

The structure that we have found works very well in helping students with disabilities begin writing and over time learn to write better involves four components and takes about 30 minutes per day.  The four components we try to work into each day's writing experiences are:

 

1) Focused mini-lessons on various aspects of the writing process.

2) Student drafting (writing) and sharing.

3) Writing conferences with the teacher.

4) Author's chair or peer groups.

 

A fifth activity is frequent but but not daily, and that is regular publication of student writing. 

 

The intent of this instructional design is to increase student experience in writing, while focusing instruction on just one aspect of writing at a time that students need to learn.  Conferences enable us to assess student growth and needs, and author's chair, peer groups, and publication increase student motivation and understanding of the purposes for writing.

 

Why We Teach the Way We Do

Historically, schools have gotten students writing by assigning topics (e.g., write a letter to Santa, what do you want to be when you grow up, etc.) while focusing on writing skills thought to underlie success in writing:  grammar, spelling, and handwriting.  We take a different approach, instead trying to engage students in learning the cognitive processes required for writing: 

• planning (i.e., coming up with ideas and thinking about how to organize them for different purposes and audience);

• translating (i.e., converting ideas and experiences into words and doing so with increasing use of conventions so that others can read what we write); and

• reviewing (i.e., evaluating the quality and clarity of writing drafts and revising in order to improve a piece of writing).

 

Getting Students Started Writing

Our goal is to assist students in becoming more and more independent in the planning processes of writing, so we don't set topics or focus on skills before students have gotten into a habit of writing more and more quantity more and more independently.  To achieve this goal we suggest:

  • write without standards daily.
    • This involves having students write on topics of their own choosing with as little assistance as possible.  Teachers respond to the content of the text and with the encouraging statement, "Tell us more."  If students ask for help with spelling, we encourage them to spell words the way they sound.  The instruction we provide in word identification helps them do this increasingly more successfully.  If students cannot come up with their own writing topics, we support them with the activities described in "supporting topic choice" below.
  • choosing your own topics.
    • Much of school writing is assignment-based.  Students are told what topic to write about, what genre to pick, given a deadline, and the audience is singular, a teacher who will evaluate the written product either formally or informally. Assigning writing is not the same as teaching writing.  If we want children to learn the entire writing process, they need to pick their own topics.  Here are some ways to help students pick their own topics:
      • Can't-Stop-Writing - set a timer for 1-2 minutes and ask students to begin writing.  Tell them if they cannot think of something to write, they can write repeatedly, "I can't think of anything to write" until they do.  Often this practice of just writing enables students to come up with a topic they would like to write about.
      • Think-draw-write.  Have students think about something they like or something they have done.  Have them draw a picture.  Then have them write about the picture.  Drawing is a form of planning that helps some students think more clearly about what they want to write.
      • Gimme 5.  Have students make lists of 5, like:  5 places you would like to go, 5 friends you like to play with, 5 fun things to do on the weekend, 5 things that make you happy, 5 things that make you sad, etc.  When it is time for writing, have students refer to the lists they have made, pick on item from one list, and write about it in more detail.
      • Wordless picture book writing.  One type of book widely available is wordless picture books, books that have illustrations that tell a story but no text in them.  Allowing children to choose such a text that interests them can become a rich opportunity for writing, either the story the illustrations tell, or just an elaboration of the particularly interesting events and actions found in one or two pages. You can find a lengthy list of such books at the Goodreads site or you can download Tar Heel Reader books as PowerPoint files, delete the words from the slides (either digitally or by physically cutting off the text on printed pages), and present the illustrations as a wordless picture book.
  • no copying or tracing
    • Well-intentioned teachers sometimes have beginning writers copy text or trace letters as a way of learning to write. These practices reduce writing to a physical skill and eliminate the more important purposes of writing:  communicating and thinking.  If you feel you must do tracing or copying, it should be followed immediately by writing for communicative purposes.

 

Revision Instruction for Beginning Writers

Beginning writers often write 1-2 words or sentences, and then tell teachers and parents they are all done.  It is important that students get in a habit of writing more.  The more that students write over time the better they get at writing, the more clearly they express their thoughts, the less they resist the act of writing.  Addition is the most basic revision strategy.  Here are some ways we get students to revise by adding:

  • Tell me more.  When they students say they are finished, we ask them to tell us more in different ways.  E.g., a child write, "I like horses."  We say, "That's great!  Tell me more about what you like."  A child might label a picture, "Clown."  We say, "That is a clown.  Tell me more about the clown." 
  • Dialogue writing.  We partner with students.  The student picks a topic by one of the means described above and writes something.  We then take a turn and give the student another turn, and continue the process for as long as we can encourage, engage, cajole the student.  Here's a sample where a student would have stopped at a single word had we allowed him, but through written dialogue, we got the child to produce 7 words:
    • Student writes:  Turtle.
    • We write:  I have a turtle.
    • Student:  Smash.
    • We:  Did you see a turtle get smashed?
    • Student, nodding:  Car.
    • We: What did the car do?
    • Student:  Car smash.
    • We:  The car ran over the turtle?  (Child nods rapidly.)  Write that.
    • Student;  Turtle dead.
  • Group writing.  We put students in groups of 3-4.  We have them start a story.  It usually begins, "Once upon a time..."  Everyone writes the same beginning (e.g., Once upon a time, two boys walked into a forest.)  Students then continue writing for 1-2 minutes.  We always start small (1 minute) and work our way up.  They then exchange papers and continue writing.  In this way 3-4 children contribute to 3-4 stories related to one topic.  They benefit from one another's ideas and write more than they would have on their own.

 

You can learn more about beginning writing instruction from:

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