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November 9, 2010 Assess, Plan, Teach! Part 2 — Strategies to Support Young Writers By Danielle Mahoney

    Last week, we looked at on-demand writing pieces. Through this process we learned a lot about what our writers know and are able to do. From this information we can begin to plan meaningful instruction that targets our students' needs. This week, I’ll take you through the planning process, giving you downloadable tools to help the young writers in your classroom.


    Plan for Instruction

    In last week's post, "Looking at Student Work," Ms. Kissag and I examined on-demand writing pieces and categorized them based on the trends we saw in the students' writing. This week we get right into some plans for supporting these young writers with the help they need.

    As we sat and discussed our next steps in planning, I had a few strategies in mind that would help students plan for and produce more writing. To address the issue of time spent erasing, we talked about the possibility of having students switch from writing with pencils to writing with pens. Pens?!? Yes, pens!! Ms Kissag was eager to try this out with her 1st graders. She planned to introduce the pens as special writing tools during her next mini-lesson. This would ultimately give students more time to write. If they made a mistake or needed to edit their work, they would simply cross out the unwanted writing and move on from there.

    After looking at student work, did you discover that erasing is a problem for your students? If so, perhaps they are producing less writing because of the time spent erasing. Try using pens in your classroom, and let me know what you think. Your writers are sure to feel very grown up while using their special pens and may be inspired to get more writing down on their papers!

    In addition to the time spent erasing, a lack of planning could also stall students in their writing. For many years I participated in leadership groups organized by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. A few years ago, I was a part of a fantastic group that focused on the Writing Workshop and on making strategies stick. We all taught mini-lessons on planning for writing and created charts to use in our mini-lessons with our whole class. However, we noticed that these methods weren't exactly enough support for children who continued to have difficulty with planning. So, we each came up with an individual planning chart (appropriate for our grade level) to help our students with planning out their writing, step by step. I knew that my chart would be a great tool to use with Ms. Kissag's class, so I offered to demonstrate the use of this chart with her students later that week. 

    Are you finding that your students are having trouble with planning? Maybe some additional scaffolding is needed to support writers as they learn how to plan.


    When I stepped into Ms. Kissag's 1st grade classroom to teach a mini-lesson on planning, I was happy to see that each child was already set up for writing. On each desk, students had laid out their writing folder, a blank booklet, and a pen. This setup was something that Ms. Kissag and I worked on last year. It's proven to be an essential routine. Setting up a work space before the lesson ensures that students will start their writing immediately following the mini-lesson. No more time wasted fumbling for papers and folders!


    I gathered the students in the meeting area. I had a large chart (see photo below) already written out and began to model the steps writers go through to get started on their writing using my own "small moment." This chart will stay in Ms. Kissag's classroom as something to refer back to during future writing lessons as well as during independent writing time.


    Here's a basic outline of how to do this with your own students:

    • Model how writers think of a topic. (During my mini-lesson, I used the strategy "Writers think of a time they had a big feeling.")
    • Model how writers touch the pages to plan out the sketches that will set up the writing. (Think about the beginning, middle, and end.) 
    • Sketch across the pages. (Be sure to include the "who" and "where" on each page. Keep your sketches simple by using basic shapes!)
    • Then, write! (I kept my demonstration piece focused and only wrote three sentences on page one. Remember, this mini-lesson was all about planning out the writing.)

    Here is a PDF of the small moment I modeled with the students during this mini-lesson. I shared a story about a time I was really scared to jump into a swimming pool. This piece will be used again to demonstrate other writing strategies, such as adding details, internal thinking, dialogue, slowing down the action, using proper punctuation, and much, much more. I sketched a thinking bubble and a speech bubble on the pages to set myself up for future mini-lessons. Feel free to adapt my demonstration piece to write a piece for your students using a real moment in your own life. Remember, start off with a blank booklet and go through the writing process with your students.




    After you model the steps writers go through to get started on their writing, have students take some time to think of a moment they want to write about while they are sitting with you at the meeting area. Have them close their eyes and think of a time they had a big feeling. Next, have them imagine that they have their booklets in their hands. They can act out the planning process as they turn the imaginary pages and think about what they might sketch across each one to get their stories down on paper. Finally, send them off to their seats for independent writing.

    Use the Individual Planning Chart

    As children write independently, you'll want to check in with them to see how they are doing. Sitting down alongside students for writing conferences and coaching, will help support writers during their independent work.

    As Ms. Kissag and I conferred with students, we were very excited to see that most of the children were getting the sketches across the three pages. Of course, there were some students who needed a little reminder. As I sat and conferred with Nathaly, I realized she needed a little help with her planning. I noticed that she sketched the first page of her story and began writing below the sketch, while the other pages were blank. Here is where the individual planning chart came in handy.

    I showed Nathaly the chart, and reminded her that we were really trying to get better at planning out our work across the pages before we actually wrote the words to our stories. I gave her an individual planning chart along with a small post-it note. Together we placed the post-it note in the first section of the chart, and she planned out the story with me, touching the pages as she spoke. When we were done, we moved the post-it note down to the second step, "Sketch." I reminded her to include the "who" and "where" in her sketches. At that point, I knew she had the hang of using the chart and could work on the rest independently. As I ended the conference, I complimented her on using the chart to help her plan. Then, I reminded her to move the post-it note down to the last step, "Write," when she was finished with the sketching.



    Do you think an individual planning chart would be helpful to your students? Depending on the number of students who need support with this strategy, it can be introduced to the whole class, to individuals during a conference, or to a strategy group. 

    Look at Student Work Again!

    At the end of the lesson, Ms. Kissag and I had a few children share their small moments. We were really proud of the students. They had been much more focused as they wrote independently. They planned out their work and produced more writing across the pages. Below are some of the pieces they started during this writing lesson.

    Example #1:




    Example #2: 




    You'll want to take another look at your students' writing to see where students have improved and where they continue to need help. Then the process starts all over again. Assess! Plan! Teach! =)

    As you can see from these examples, the students used the strategy I modeled in my mini-lesson, choosing a time that gave them a big feeling. In addition, the writing was well planned, with a sketch on each page, showing the "who" and the "where." Erasing was eliminated with the use of a pen, and when the student did need to edit, the word was simply crossed out. (I also gained some insight into the types of revision being done by being able to see the original writing. Once it is erased, it's gone!)

    Having looked at the new writing pieces, Ms. Kissag is planning work on using punctuation, adding details, slowing down the action, and showing the feeling — not just telling. I look forward to revisiting her classroom and working with her students on strategies that will help them grow as writers.

    And so, from these new pieces of writing, new mini-lessons emerge! What are your next steps in planning for mini-lessons to meet the needs of your writers? 


    Project Give Update 

    The response to Project Give has been overwhelming! I've already received many cards from children who care about spreading cheer this Thanksgiving. Thank you! There's still time to get involved. Be sure to get your cards mailed out as soon as you can. I'll need them here by November 15th. Thanks again for being a part of this very special project!






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