Writing about Teaching Writing

I had the chance to work with the wonderful staff at Rossignol Elementary in Ile-a-la-Crosse this winter. They, like many of us, have been wondering how to support their students to be more engaged writers. They wondered:

How do we engage student writers? How do we make our students feel that they ARE writers and authors in our classrooms? There are so many blogs and ideas written on this topic, but what might work for OUR students?

There are many blogs and resources that are useful when seeking out new and innovative ideas to try. Some good ones include (but are certainly not limited to!):

Each of these articles is full of lists of creative strategies. But what works for YOUR students? This is where professional conversations and thinking about what students you have in your context can help.

We often ponder the question “Why don’t our students write more?”… something to consider is how much writing we do ourselves as adults. I have to admit that prior to creating this workshop blog, I might have gone weeks without writing outside of emails or filling in forms. To give insight into some of the barriers that our students face when writing, it is important for us to consider our own writing habits (and maybe fears!). How do we encourage ourselves as writers? My epiphany when planning for this workshop was that perhaps writing professional development needs to following the same framework that we might use for our students.

Adrienne Gear (2014) suggests the following lesson framework for each nonfiction form:

  1. An introduction to the features of the nonfiction form.
    1. This can be done by analyzing published examples of a nonfiction form.
  2. Independent write and Whole-class write can be woven together in a We DO – You DO cycle.

With this framework in mind, the teachers of Rossignol Elementary worked in collaborative groups to write the following ideas for engaging their student writers:

Shared Writing About Writing

Engaging Student Writers is about the things that we can do as teachers to encourage students to write across all curricula. There are many different strategies that fit different grade levels and different content areas. It is important that we use our professional judgement to combine our existing professional knowledge, our knowledge of our students, and the new information we learn from our colleagues and research.

Drawing and Talking to Encourage Writing in Young Children

To encourage young children to write, have them group together to talk about a common experience (sliding, wiener roast, building a snowman). As children share information, the teacher can capture the vocabulary they are using.

Teachers can

  • Record on a chart or individual cards/word strips
  • Include a picture
  • Display in the classroom

Children can

  • take those word strips/cards and draw their own picture
  • describe/talk about their picture with an adult or older student
  • label the picture (either by the child or the adult/older student)

Differentiating Writing

How might we differentiate next steps? The sequence will depend on the age and ability of young writers.

Younger writers might have an older student or adult scribe a sentence for them. They can leave enough space underneath for the child to copy the words below.Older writers might use the labels on their picture to write a sentence or sentences about their picture.

If students’ oral language skills are low, they can communicate meaning through the use of point pictures or flash cards. Key ideas related to the pictures can be created in advance by the teacher.

Extra Time for Encouraging Elementary Writers

There are many ways that we can encourage our elementary-aged writers in our classrooms.

  • When we give more time to write, we encourage writers to write more often. Allowing more time to organize their thoughts and ideas, using graphic organizers, modelling writing and brainstorming together can all contribute to student confidence.
  • Deadlines and expectations need to be communicated clearly so that students understand what needs to be produced and when it needs to be produced by.
  • Use technology like voice typing for those who can’t write as fast as they think can reduce frustration and get ideas out.
  • For those students who may be shy, strategies like passing notes, chatting 1:1 with peers about the topic, and think-pair-share can help to build confidence.

With extra time and strategies to maximize the time, students are allowed to process their thoughts and make meaning. This can help to show them that they ARE good writers.

Comic Book Writing for Engaging Writers

Comic book writing is when students write the dialogue into a blank comic template. There are various templates that you can download from sites such as this one from Scholastic.

Where to start? You might start with a “We Do” comic strip, then move to “You Do” by having students write dialogue into a given template with pictures already provided. They can then move to creating independently by choosing their template, and eventually creating their own pictures, characters and words either by using clipart or drawing their own original comic.

Mentor texts can include Manga, Amulet, Archie Comics or Marvel Comics. The use of mentor texts is key to introduce and discuss examples of dialogue and how words and pictures interact.

Comic book writing can encourage all types of writers, as it is a unique combination of visual/writing skills to tell a story.

What We Learned About Teaching Writing

I am thankful to the teachers of Rossignol Elementary for agreeing to their writing going out to an authentic audience on my Workshop Blog. By experiencing shared writing as adult learners, we discovered what some of the underlying anxieties and fears might be for our students. Worry about being wrong, worry about not being good enough, experiencing how daunting a blank piece of paper is all contribute to deepening our understanding of what to do for our students.

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As adults, we experienced the power of writing to deepen our understanding of writing to a much deeper level than just reading about writing might have done. New knowledge, combined with our professional knowledge and knowledge of our students can help us to encourage our students to BE writing, not just engage in writing.

Gear, A. (2014). Nonfiction Writing Power. Markham: Pembroke Publishers.

Johanson, T., & Broughton, D. (2014). Exploring Comprehension in Physics. Saskatoon: McDowell Foundation.

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