Teaching writing to my first graders is one of my favourite parts of the day.
Most of my ideas about effective writing instruction are gleaned from years of reading Regie Routman, Lucy Calkins and Katie Wood Ray. These women don’t know it, but they are my cherished, personal mentors.
I strongly believe (as do the authors above) that the single most important thing you can do for your class of young writers is to have them write every single day. It’s necessary for creating sound writing habits and for developing fluency.
In my class we write from 9:15 to 10:00, four to five days a week. I try very hard not to miss this time and consider it almost sacred.
Most of our writing is journal writing. I don’t often assign topics because I want the children to write what’s important to them, not what’s important to me. I want them to write about the excitement of losing their tooth that morning, all the delicious fun they had at a birthday party on the weekend, or the crazy dream they had that woke them in the middle of the night.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is the importance of modeling. Model, model, model! It’s almost impossible to do too much.
Sometimes I share my thinking aloud, sometimes we share the pen, and sometimes I demonstrate how to write a piece. We practice together, we practice with friends, and we practice alone.
We also read lots of high quality picture books and try to notice writing techniques such as repetition, alliteration, similes, circle stories, patterns, beautifully descriptive language, or simply great beginnings, middles and endings.
And then we try our best to use those techniques in our own writing.
While the children are chatting, drawing and writing I circulate and have mini-conferences with about half the class. My goal is to comment on an author’s content first and to always say something specific and positive. Then I focus on one or two areas that need attention. This way, my instruction is individualized and I’m teaching most of the mechanics and conventions of writing within context.
To round out the writing session, we finish with a celebration of sorts — Authors Circle. We sit on the rug in a big circle and several students read their writing to the class.
At this age, usually the only thing we do is clap loudly to show our appreciation while I comment on one or two things I thought the author did really well!
My biggest wish for my students is that they look forward to writing each day. I hope they will find joy in the process, even in the midst of the inevitable struggles.