Writing From a Picture

I got my paperwork for my first observation of the year, which was a serious bummer. I knew it was coming and was honestly not feeling too concerned about it, but I’m feeling really busy this year and it kind of felt like ONE MORE THING to add onto my plate. On top of that, my principal indicated he’d like to visit on a Wednesday, which is my writing day, which is the thing that’s brand new and different than what I’ve been doing forever. Cue irrational anxiety… now.

I decided to have him come watch me in a fifth grade classroom while I taught a lesson on writing “bit by bit.” This is something that’s taught with the little kids, but these guys haven’t had a lot of practice with it, so they’re not really diving into their actions and stories.I posted a question on the Writing Units of Study Facebook group looking for tips on how to adapt the first grade lesson to fifth grade and LUCY CALKINS HERSELF REPLIED. She basically said to do just that: adapt the lesson from first grade to fifth grade, which was an acceptable idea, but came too late for this lesson. I will, in fact, be adapting a lower level lesson like this for fourth grade this week, so stay tuned!

I decided to have students write from a picture. I thought the visual would help and the common picture would organize our ideas better than asking each student to practice on his/her own. Unfortunately, that means we’re not writing a small moment that really happened, which I was a little wary of. Nevertheless, I had committed and was barreling through those helpful hints on to the task I made up!

I started students off with a discussion of observations about the picture. I mentioned how the woman was in the rain but didn’t have an umbrella and I wondered why. I noticed that she was smiling so I was thinking about why she might be smiling. I used clues to tell me it was taking place in a city. I saw a person behind the woman who I wondered about and how she might or might not be connected to the woman in the foreground. I asked students if any of them had these same observations and then I opened up the floor to any other observations they had. I just took a few suggestions so that we didn’t take up the whole time talking about the picture. We needed to get writing!

I asked the students to think about what must have happened right before this picture took place. I told them that I was going to use our observations to help me start writing and I was going to use our storytelling techniques to make sure I wasn’t just reporting. I wrote the first two sentences on my own:

“‘I knew I should have brought an umbrella,’ she thought to herself as she pushed open the door of the coffee shop and stepped outside. She looked up at the darkening sky and felt raindrops hit her face.”

“Writers, now I’ve told my reader what’s happening and told them the exact next step. I want you to help me figure out what would happen right after this. Think about what we talked about in our observations.”

The students came up with a couple more sentences, which I added to the chart paper. Once we did, we had a quick discussion about what might happen next and we focused on why she might be smiling. I had the students work with their writing partners to write the next few sentences that would answer that question. Students shared when they were done and then went to their own writing.

In conferences, I was asking students a lot of questions related back to their work in whole group. I felt like I was better able to help them based on what we had discussed in my lesson (I kept asking, “what happened right after that?”).

Overall, I think it was a successful lesson, but I am planning to do it again for another fifth grade class and I’m going to do it differently based on a suggestion from Mrs. Schiess (thanks, girl!):

  1. I am going to give students individual copies of the color photo.

  2. I’m going to put the photo into a graphic organizer with a section for what happened before and section for what happened after. As a group we will write what happened before (I will type) and then I will print out the filled in graphic organizer and pass it out to students so that they can work on what happened after.

Click on the picture to head to Google Docs for a copy!

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