Unwrapping the 6-Traits with Primary Writers: Ideas

By Megan Power on February 25, 2010


As our young writers feel more comfortable with writing, it's a perfect time to focus on the 6-Traits of good writing. I am going to concentrate on the first writing trait called, Ideas. Many people think the ideas trait is just about gathering topics to write about, but it is much more then that. I will share some lesson ideas in this post about this important trait of good writing. Also be sure to sign up for Scholastic's webcast with Ruth Culham, the 6-Traits guru, that takes place on Tuesday, March 2nd!


Typically teachers work on the trait of ideas early in the year and move into the other traits as the year progresses. I prefer to focus on a trait, but to also include mini lessons on the traits you have already worked on throughout the year. So even though I started my kindergarten year off working on many areas under the ideas trait, I often go back to refresh and expand on the trait as the students ability grows.

I like to think of the ideas trait as broken down into three important areas: 1) Seeing Themselves as Writers, 2) Gathering Writing Topics, and 3) Adding Details to Their Writing. Let’s take a look at each area and some activities that go along with them.

1) Seeing Themselves as Writers

Hopefully you started this at the very beginning of the year. Please refer to my earlier post about starting writers’ workshop. It is extremely important that students see themselves as writers just like Eric Carle and Jan Brett. It is a good idea to go back and give a quick mini lesson every once in a while, stressing that your students are not ordinary people, they are writers. Here are a few quick and easy activities:

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Scholastic's Kids Are Authors award books

Reading some of the Scholastic's Kids Are Authors award books is a quick and inspirational way to show them that they are authors just like those kids. In fact, the Kids Are Authors writing contest due date is coming up very soon. Take a look at this link to find more information.

Read author biographies/ watch video interviews

51PQWNAC5YL__SS500_ Laura Numeroff’s book “If You Give an Author a Pencil” is great account of her life becoming an author. Kids love to hear about how authors get ideas to write books and can connect with the authors as fellow writers. Many authors also have video interviews that share with students their writing process and where they got ideas for their stories.

Authors’ Chair and host book sharing with parent audience

Students, especially at this age, love to share their writing. Make sure you give them time during class to share their writing in Author’s Chair. Another fun way to share is to invite parents to a book sharing event. At this event, students take turns reading their books or writing piece to the audience. It makes it even better if you have a digital copy of the book projected behind the child as they are sharing so the audience to see their work. These are a huge hit with kids and parents. I have done these in the past more efficiently by splitting the class in half or thirds and holding multiple book sharing. This makes it go faster and you don’t have to have time for 20 children or more to read their writing.

2) Gathering Writing Topics

When working on gathering topics I start in the beginning by teaching my students that writers see things that ordinary people don’t see. They use their imaginations and see things a little different. Sometimes throughout the year we need to revisit this to give them better and deeper writing topics. Quick walking trips around the school or creating heart maps about things they love or know a lot about are helpful ways to give your students more writing ideas. Here are a few other activities you can do.

Watermelon Topics vs. Seed Topics

As I revisit and refresh my students on gathering writing topics, I begin to talk about watermelon and seed topics. Students will often say I am writing about (and pick a broad topic like) kindergarten. This is an example of a watermelon topic. There are tons of stories that can be written about kindergarten. I try to get them to pick a smaller aspect of their topic. For kindergarten they can write about the class trip, the 100th day of school, learning to read, or any other smaller “seed” topic. Once the students know how to pick seed topics, their writing becomes more focused and detailed.

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“Zoom” written by Istvan Banyai

This is an extremely fun wordless picture book! With each turn of the page it zooms out of the picture to reveal more details. I love to read this book backwards when teaching about how writers see things ordinary people don’t see. When reading it backwards the students have to zoom in on the picture to see more details to better understand the pictures. After reading this students can create their own Zoom books.

3) Adding Details to Their Writing

Talking about adding more details starts with students pictures. This includes adding more colors and shapes to very beginner writers and moving to adding more details in the writing for more advanced writers. Here are a few fun and visual ways for students to work on adding more details to their stories.

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“The Squiggle” written by Carole Lexa Schaefer

This is one of the students’ favorites. It is a story about a little child that sees something that the other children don’t see- a squiggle. With her imagination she turns this squiggle into a bunch of very detailed things such as a scaly dragon. After reading this story my students use a piece of yarn dipped into red paint and drop it on their papers. Once it is dry they have to look at it as a writer and use their imagination to turn it into something. I walk around to make sure that their drawings have many details. Throughout this time I am constantly talking about how, just like your drawings have so many colors and shapes in them, your writing needs just as many details. Students love writing all about their pictures and describing them.

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Bare Bones Stories

I love sitting my students down for a story during our mini lesson and only telling them the bare bones of it. Their reaction is hysterical. I typically will retell Goldilocks and the Three Bears with very little details and skip many of the parts. Students are very quick to tell me that I forgot all of the following parts. This is when I introduce the idea of bare bones stories. Together we figure out that all the details in the story were missing and without them it was not a good story. This activity makes the concept of adding details much more concrete for them to grasp. After discussing and sharing the real story of Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears, I have my students draw and write bare bone stories. We like to compare those stories without details to skeletons and stories with details to real people. Here is a picture of a student working on her bare bones story. Notice the picture on the left is just a very simple drawing of a girl while the picture on the right has a lot more details. Students share a quick bare bone story about the picture to the left and then write a detailed story to go along with the detailed picture.

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I hope you can use some of these activities to help you work on the ideas writing trait in your classroom. Please look for future blogs to unwrap other writing traits with our young writers. And don't forget to register for the webcast with Ruth Culham on Tuesday, March 2nd.

I always love to hear from you, our readers. You all have so many great ideas that I would love to learn about so I can share them with others and use them in our class. Please make sure to comment back and share them with us!

Happy writing,

Mrs. Megan Power

Comments

Do you have any ideas on teaching kids how to revise their writing? My grade 2s hate to do it. They love what they have written and don't want to change it. They also don't seem to be able to see/hear the changes that need to be made. They get grouchy if I make suggestions during conferences and some of them really fight me on making changes. I tried to teach them that all authors have Editors and that although authors do edit and revise their own work, the Editor in chief has the ultimate say in what gets changed. If they don't make the changes they risk their readers not understanding their information or being misinformed because their information (for non-fiction writing) is incorrect. They still grumble!

Any ideas????????

Editing and revising are difficult concepts for students to grasp the benefit of. I have done an art play dough lesson to help with this. I buy the set of small containers of Play Dough from Target and have each student use one color to make a sculpture. They then show it to a friend and explain it. The friend gives a suggestion that they can or cannot take. The next step is using a color from their friend and adding it to their sculpture. This type of work goes on as they share with friends, add to it with different colors, and even take something away. When this process is finished we name our sculptures and then share it with the class. The big focus is that it is better now then it was at first.

Other fun ways to edit are to have them look through their writing backwards to find spelling errors. When a person looks through it as they are reading it they get stuck on the content instead of looking for spelling errors. It is amazing what happens when they read through it starting at the end.

Try having your sttudents cut up their paper and add paper if they are adding a new sentence or detail into their writing. This is a great way to beging because then they don't have to write the whole thing over again.

My favorite way for teaching revising is through video and making movies. Students have no problem going back and revising and editing their writing when it is meaningful to them. I make sure to always connect what they are doing with making movies is the same as if they are writing stories.

Trying to get young students to see the importance of editing and revising is key. If they are just told to do it because that is what writers do then they will not have buy in and will not see the reasoning.

I hope these quick suggestions help. I think this will be a great future blog post! Smiles, Megan

Hi! Megan

I love your 6 traits ideas. In my case I teach in Puerto Rico public schools. Many of my third and fourth graders are still struggling with their writing skills.Although I don't have a lot of time to teach good writing I still do it.

So I can use these wonderful ideas. Just like you I always tell my students they can be young authors. I have many great writing ideas to share with you. Such as walking into the classroom, giving every student a letter they write a word with that letter and then write something about that word. I encourage them to use the letter and write about a favorite subject, use details, describing words and illustrations.

Nancy

Nancy, Thank you for that great writing idea and I am going to try that out with my students. It is so nice to hear from teachers all around the world and have so many connections with them. I am glad that you will be able to use some of the ideas in my post for your young writers. Please continue to share some of your other wonderful writing activities! Smiles, Megan

I am a grade 2 teacher and my biggest bugaboo with my class is their lack of detail in their writing. Through your blog article I now have several ideas to try with them. I am very excited about returning after March Break and trying them out! Thank you!

Erin Mudie (Canada)

Erin, Teaching students to have more details in their writing is so important but can be challenging for many kids. I am glad that you found these ideas helpful and I hope they will help your kids to add more details to their writing. Take a look at my post on the organization trait. This is another area kids typically have difficulty with. I hope to hear from you again! Smiles, Megan

Megan, I noticed that your students are using Netbooks. I teach technology for grades PreK-2. Can you give me any feedback on the pro's and con's of these computers?

Thanks, Carrie

Carrie, Thanks for your question. This is our first year with the laptops. We are using Dell Latitude 2100. They have been working great for the students. The keyboard is just the right size and the screen is a decent size. If it was slightly bigger websites would fit better for the students to see. That would be one thing I would change. Students are able to go on the web and typing using Word works well. We are just starting to push them to see the ability of creating movies on them. Since the screen is smaller it is not as ideal for this type of thing as our desktops are. It all depends on what you plan to use them for. I love them for what we are using them for. If we need to do more complex things I have 5 desktops in my room and access to a computer lab. I hope this helps. Please let me know if you want any feedback on areas that I didn't address. Thanks again for your question. Smiles, Megan

What a fun and interactive way to get young students involved in the writing process. I too agree that we should encourage students "think" as themselves as authors.

Thanks for your nice comment. You said it well. They need to think of themselves as authors and writers and you will be amazed at what they can do. Smiles, Megan

Hi Megan, I want to thank you for all of the wonderful ideas you have shared since you became Scholastic's PreK-K Teacher Advisor. I check your posts frequently and have shared many of your ideas with my fellow teachers. I can tell that you really love what you do. Thank you for sharing and keep up the EXCELLENT work!!

Thank you so much for your kind words. It was really nice to hear and you made me smile.I am so glad that you are enjoying my posts and you are finding them helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I hope your class is treating you well this year. Smiles, Megan

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