Independent Writing Blog Series Starts Now!
Today launches our Independent Writing Blog Series! Join us all week long as we write about writing projects, summer writing, getting published in the real world, multi-genre projects, pulling back to let kids write on their own, and much, much more! Also join us for a Twitter chat on Monday, May 12 at 8:30pm EST with the hashtag #TWTBlog.
Independent Writing in the Early Grades (K-2)
We all strive to teach kids to be independent writers. Nobody sets out saying, “I want my students to be totally dependent on me, incapable of doing anything on their own.” At least, nobody I know, anyway! But teaching kids to carry on with independence and confidence, to work on their own writing projects with passion and enthusiasm is not easy. Sometimes around this time of year kids have perhaps grown to expect a certain amount of…well…support (hand-holding) during writing workshop. Habits have been formed, and they aren’t easy to break. If you find that your students tend to rely on you a bit more than you wish, then maybe you might make time for a unit of study on independent writing projects.
Reflecting on Our Year as Writers
You might start out by giving your kids some time to reflect on the school year. It could be as simple as turning and talking to a partner, or perhaps drawing or writing a bit of reflection. You might invite kids to think about mentor texts you’ve used this year, or different genre that they have learned to write. Maybe they’ll draw a picture of themselves with their writing partner. What worked? What didn’t work? What was fun? What was hard?
This is also a perfect time to give kids a chance to look at their yearlong writing portfolio. Hopefully you’ve saved their published pieces and their on-demand writing, and maybe some other samples of writing from across the year. I like to have kids sit with their writing partner for this, with just one or two guiding questions to think about. What do you notice? How have you changed as a writer?
Once kids have a chance to think back on all the great writing work they’ve done this year, you can invite them to set their own writing goals. I usually ask kids to think about three parts to their goal: 1) Who are you making this for, or why are you making this? 2) What kind of writing will you make? 3) What qualities of writing will you work on? The first two are completely up to the kid. The third one usually comes from our genre checklists that we use across all the units. With little kids (K-2nd Grade), they usually decide on what kind of writing, and their audience/purpose pretty quickly, then I confer with individuals and meet with small groups to help them focus on a quality of writing to work on.
Sometimes I offer up some possibilities or examples, such as:
- Keeping a journal to work on writing with voice and craft
- Writing in favorite genre that we’ve learned this year to work on writing with detail
- Choosing a topic to write lots of different kinds of writing about to work on elaboration
- Choose your own author mentor, perhaps to work on purposeful mechanics and punctuation
- Choosing pieces of writing from the year to revise into other kinds of writing to work on structure and organization
Once kids have decided on a goal, I make a class list of projects on chart paper, to help me manage all the work kids are going to do, and to help kids see in a concrete way that they are now committed to their projects.
Kids Plan their Own Projects
Even the littlest writers can create plans for themselves. Here’s an example of a planning booklet that I’ve used:
Another way to encourage planning is just to simply offer various types of paper for young writers to choose from, all by themselves, at a writing center. The act of choosing the appropriate paper encourages children to think ahead about the thing they are going to make.
I might offer paper like this:
Working on the Writing Project
As kids begin to work on their independent projects, you might want to consider seating children together who are working on similar projects. Encourage kids to talk to one another about their projects and to get ideas from one another. The more they know that they can turn to another child for an idea, the less apt they will be to sit and wait for you to come along to rescue them when they feel stuck.
You might also want to create a chart that clearly displays the steps that you expect kids to go through as they work on their projects. It might be as simple as
- Get an idea and gather the paper you’ll need from the writing center
- Sketch, sketch, sketch
- Write, write, write
- Revise, revise, revise
- Reread to make sure it makes sense
- Start all over again!
Sharing and Celebrating Our Work as Writers
Be sure to plan a publishing celebration for this unit! For ideas, you might check out this post from earlier this year. Since your kids will all be working on different types of writing, and working at their own pace, you might want to start counting down the days to the publishing party well ahead of time. Some teachers like to make it part of their morning Calendar Math, along with the days of the week, the weather, and other daily routines. This reminds the kids AND you that the end of the unit is coming!
Reflecting on the Unit and Getting Ready for Summer Writing
As the unit comes to a close, you might extend the work by inviting kids to continue writing on their own during the summer. For the last few days of school, you might even teach kids a few lessons during writing workshop about writing at home and let them practice “writing at home at school.” I recommend having kids make some plans for writing at home by drawing a place where they plan to write at home, and either talking about or writing down some goals for summer writing. Then, I give each kid a special writing kit to take home. A lot of teachers like to give these to kids on the very last day school as a special gift, but I actually like to do it about a week or two before the end of the school year so they can practice using it at school before it goes home.
Some ideas for making summer writing kits (I have also written more about this topic here, on another blog and also here, on this blog).
1. Choose a container that will last the summer: a giant zip lock bag will do, but you might consider ordering inexpensive canvas totes or lunch boxes from an online or catalogue discount supply company.
2. Choose a few key paper choices. I like to include blank post-cards with my school address already on them so that kids can write to me. I also like to give each kid a pack of post-its to write on and a tiny notepad.
Lastly, I always like to tuck a little inspiration into those summer writing kits, like a few quotes. Here are a few favorites:
Writing is like baseball or piano playing. You have to practice if you want to be successful. ~Betsy Byars
You don’t have to fight dragons to write books. You just have to live deeply the life you’ve been given. ~Katherine Patterson
There is much, much more to say on this topic. We’ll be blogging about independent writing all week long here at Two Writing Teachers. Please join us!