Writing is a process I begin with my students in September. I start with the simple concept of creating three sentences about something. My goal is to get my students to understand that we “write the way we talk”. I want them to understand sentence structure by using it, not analyzing it. They are far too young for rules and grammar. I want writing to be a way to express their ideas. I want writing to be enjoyable.
For the beginning of each writing session my students sit on the rug and I write on the board:
I see the _________. (I start with animals.)
It is ____________. (size, color)
It can ___________. (jump, run, roar,etc.)
Students supply the words.
Here is our first story:
I see the cat.
It is yellow.
It can purr.
( I draw the animal or use a photo or poster if I have one.)
After we have written and discussed two or three stories, I write the first sentence of one of the stories back on the board. The students go to their seats, copy that one sentence on their paper, and draw the illustration to go with it. I always stress that they are writing a story.
I have several story papers that I use later, but at first I just have them fold a plain piece of paper in half. Story goes on one half and illustration on the other. (I always tell them to draw with the pencil first, then color with crayon; that way they can erase mistakes. I tell them to think about shapes when they try to draw something. Is the head a circle or an oval? Are the ears circles or triangles? Is the body a circle, rectangle, or square? Don’t let them get discouraged about this part of it.)
I try to judge the capabilities of my students at each session, and move to copying all three sentences as soon as they are ready. I also try to keep things interesting by using silly words or big words or unusual words from time to time.
Next progression is to write the sentences with the blanks and give them two word choices for each.
I see a _______________. cat bear
It is _________________. big small
It can ________________. run eat
Next progression is to write the sentences and a general “word bank” box. I usually give them eight word choices.
Next progression is to change the sentence structure to include “and”. The word bank can include eight to ten choices. I never use more than ten.
I see a __________.
It is _________ and __________.
It can __________ and ___________.
Final progression is to start writing more creative sentences at the board and making the stories up to six sentences long. Then I erase everything. I give the students the title we are going to use and ask them for words they think they might need. I write ten of them on the board and they write three sentences of their own. I never ask them to write more than three sentences. I never correct spelling. I never correct handwriting. This is about writing the story. I do ask them to read their story to me and if it doesn’t make sense I ask them “Is this what you would tell me?”
This process takes a while to master. We usually write two stories each week and we spend as long as we need on a progression. Students are writing pretty well by April. Many will ask to write four or more sentences. By this time we have also discussed and used question marks, exclamation points, commas, etc. Their best stories are saved in their keepsake folders. Some stories are given as gifts. I love it when one of my students comes to my desk and says, “here, I wrote you a story”.