This week, 1st graders in my building are beginning to write “small moment” stories. This unit in our curriculum is based on a book in the Units of Study in Primary Writing series. In this unit, 1st graders try their hand at writing personal narrative stories that are bound to small moments in time. This gives students an opportunity to zoom in on the exact details of a moment in order to tell ordinary stories in meaningful ways. I visited Melanie Brock’s class as they learned a new strategy for planning their small moment stories.
Small moment stories are also referred to as “seed” stories. This comes from a watermelon analogy found in the Units of Study. Big topics are the watermelon, and small moment stories are the seeds. Ms. Brock used the chart pictured to help her students understand the difference. There are a few things that I find especially powerful about this chart. One, Ms. Brock added a watermelon slice in between the watermelon topic and the seed idea. This deepens the metaphor, and it gives students a clear example of a small moment. Also, she used a shared class experience to model each type of idea, which means that all of her students can personally relate to each example.
In the lesson, Ms. Brock referred to the chart (which had been completed during a previous lesson) as a reminder of how to choose a seed idea, and then she modeled one way that writers might plan a small moment story. She used another shared class experience for this model. After narrowing it down to a small moment, she showed her students how to touch each page of the booklet and say what she wanted to write on it. She then gave them an opportunity to think of a seed idea and plan their story by touching each page. They turned to a partner and said what they wanted to write on each page they touched. Ms. Brock listened in on these partner conversations and coached students along the way.
At the conclusion of her lesson, Ms. Brock sent students off to write the stories they had just planned. I was pleased to see how quickly students were able to get their ideas onto paper. The oral rehearsal went a long way with these 1st graders. Because they had talked through each page of their story, they were able to get right into the work of writing it. Most students were writing so efficiently that they had time to go back and add additional details to each page. Ms. Brock mentioned this to several students in individual conferences.
There are many ways to plan personal narrative writing. I have seen many effective graphic organizers and planning maps. Ms. Brock’s class showed me how powerful and effective a simple “touch and say” planning method can be.
How do your students plan their pieces of writing?