Monday, December 13, 2010


by Jacqueline Jules

In many schools, writing workshop, like math or science, has a scheduled time that must be adhered to if all the elements of the curriculum are to be covered before the spring testing season. The schedule insures that writing will take place a certain number of times per week, but it also limits the amount of time students spend writing. This makes maximizing writing time all the more important. How do you get your students ready to write? Mary Quattlebaum provided some wonderful transition tips in her November 8th post. I’d like to add to this by offering some tips for structure when you have a specific goal in mind.  

BEFORE YOU GO OUTSIDE: A direct experience is easier to write about than a dim memory, so going outside to write is always helpful for seasonal descriptions. However, before you walk outside with clipboards, take a few moments to discuss what the students might encounter, and encourage them to use imagery to describe it. Last month, I accompanied a group of second graders on a leaf hunt. Before we left the classroom, I asked the students to consider the following:
Listen to how the leaves sound when you step on them.
Be aware of how your cheeks feel outside today.
Compare colors. Is that leaf as red as an apple or as yellow as a lemon?
Look for shapes.
Think about how the leaves feel on your fingers.

We were only outside for twenty minutes, but during that time, the second graders came up with wonderful imagery. Here are some of the things they wrote: “The leaf feels silky.”“It sounds like crunching newspaper.”“This leaf is shaped like a star.”“There are orange veins in the red leaf.”

BEFORE A GROUP ACTIVITY: Class writing projects can be excellent models or uninspired disappointments. Structuring the time into three parts can help produce more creative results. I recently helped a third grade class write an acrostic poem to honor a retiring custodian. We gathered on the rug with our writing notebooks in hand. First, we brainstormed, writing a list of specific memories such as “Mr. B helped save a sick bird.” “He started the lunch stars program. He helped us open juice boxes and thermoses.” After listing specific memories, along with some adjectives to describe Mr. B, I asked the students to open their notebooks and work on an acrostic poem silently before we created one together. For ten minutes, the students did a quick write with open notebooks in their laps. Then we looked up at the board and worked together again. Since each student had written a possible line for the acrostic, we had several delightful choices, some of which were easily combined. My favorite lines to describe our wonderful Mr. B. were: “Magnificent with kids” and “Nice to everyone, even sick animals.”

To be honest, the three-part structure of the lesson--brainstorming, silent writing, and group work--was a spur of the moment decision. But the technique worked so well, it will be part of my lesson plans from now on.    

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