All year, teachers have been coming to me asking about what they should do when the students are writing or using the skills they’ve been taught in their own writing. They’re conferring and they’re working with them, but the students are still struggling. First, I remind them that it’s not a mastery curriculum. The goal is to get students’ ideas on the page and get them started through the next steps or organization, revision, and editing. Not all students will be at the same place at the same time.
I also suggesting sharing the pen with your students and do some shared writing as a group. I did this recently with my small group of 5th graders. I think the practice tends to work better in this small group, so it might be something you would do in a conferring group when you’re in the classroom.
We had been working on identifying plot elements and building stories from pictures as a way to practice some comprehension skills. The stories the students were writing on their own, however, were lackluster and simple. I decided to take the time to work as a group to write a great story all together. As a group, we developed the character names, setting, problem, and solution. Then we got started writing.
I guided students as far as where to start, what kinds of things usually come next in writing, when to add dialogue, when to include “showing” details, and when to incorporate vivid language. I reminded them of the lessons they’d learned in their regular classrooms and did think alouds to help them see why I would make the different choices in my writing. We talked about "boring" words like happy and sad and worked together to come up with a list of words that better expressed what they wanted to say. They started to see where we were headed and began to make better decisions as we moved along.
The great thing about this activity is having an ongoing conversation with students about choices authors make, the way books work, and how stories get put together. We were constantly going back and checking our work to make sure our story was interesting, realistic, and was written well. They could see that writing is not a linear process.
When we were done, I asked students to read with ENTHUSIASM so we could practice our fluency skills.
We will continue to work on this skill by writing more stories together! They aren’t going to magically be better writers after one lesson like this, but the better they become at writing together (with a coach), the better they’ll become writing on their own (with the coach’s voice in their heads).