A few weeks ago, I wrote about launching a new approach to shared writing in a kindergarten classroom. Our staff developer had shared an idea of stretching shared writing out across a week, going through the entire writing process in a week’s time, spending just 5-10 minutes on the piece daily.
Since writing that piece, I have completed another round of this shared writing in a different kindergarten classroom and done some generating lessons in a third grade classroom, in preparation for opinion writing. Tomorrow, I’m heading to first grade to launch a piece of information writing. I’m hooked, especially after seeing the value of this practice as it teaches, reinforces, and brings joy to students.
Here is what a week in kindergarten looked like:
On day one, I walked into a kindergarten classroom right after a whole school meeting. I began by telling the kids that we would be learning to write stories, just like the stories they had been practicing telling during their emergent story reading unit. I asked them to turn and talk to a partner about how their morning, before the whole school meeting, had gone. We soon had a story. I took their ideas and rehearsed a beginning. “Ms. T’s class came to school in their pajamas. They unpacked their backpacks to get ready for the whole school meeting.” I then invited the students to turn and tell the beginning of our story to a partner.
We continued like this, adding onto our story-still no pen or paper in sight. Each time we added onto our story, I invited the kids to retell the entire story, layering in additional opportunities for them to rehearse using their storytelling language. I listened and coached, voicing over as needed. “Did you say anything to your buddies when they got here?” “What happened next?”
When we had a story that had a beginning, middle, and end, I pulled out a writing booklet. Once again, we told our story, turning the pages, touching and telling as we went along.
I left the lesson that day, inviting the kids to look at their writing process chart, hanging in the classroom. We reviewed the work that we had done that day, thinking and telling. We were on our way and ready for drawing on day two!
On day two, I invited students to bring their white boards and markers to the rug. We began by touching and telling page one of our story. We then brainstormed together, the picture that would help us remember our plan for that page. I gave a few quick tips for using our drawing space and one way to draw people (using circles and ovals). I then invited the students to draw their own sketch for page one. After a minute or two, I asked the students to hold up their boards so we could all admire their work. We noticed and celebrated and then I took their ideas to sketch my own first page of our story.
We continued this process for page two. By the time we got to page three, I could tell that our time was running out and bodies were getting wiggly. I quickly gathered some ideas for the sketch for page three, sketched a quick sketch, and then directed the students back to the writing process chart for a sneak peek at the work we would be doing the following day.
To begin day three, we reviewed our sketches from day two to remember how our story went. I asked the students to retell page one to their partner and then use their fingers to list as many things from our picture that they thought they might be able to label. After a minute of talking and brainstorming, I asked the students to share their ideas in the air. I added label lines to our drawings. Then we began the work of adding labels. I invited the students to help me hear sounds, add snap words, and practice writing letters in the air and with their imaginary pens on the carpet. Everything that we practiced was something I wanted them to be able to envision themselves doing in their own writing during writing workshop.
Before working to add a sentence to the page, we used our pointing fingers to reread our labels. Then we decided on a sentence, “The kids came in.” The students practiced saying it and then we counted how many words we would need. I drew lines to represent each word and then we reread our sentence, pointing to each line as we read. I plopped a period at the end, to show that was where our sentence would end. Then we got to work writing. The kids showed me where to find snap words in their classroom and we chanted t-h-e to help us write our first word. Together we worked to stretch out words, hearing more and more sounds. After each word, I modeled going back to the beginning of the sentence to reread, so we could remember what came next. For words that we had already written in our labels, I showed the students how they could just pull those labels down into their sentences, a strategy I can imagine coming in handy in the revision phase or for students ready to write more than one sentence on a page.
Day 4 and Day 5:
On days four and five, we repeated the process from day three and continued adding labels and sentences to our book. I can imagine adding white boards to these days once students get more accustomed to the process. Since this was our first round of trying shared writing in this way, it took about one day per page. That didn’t leave us a lot of time for rereading and revising, although we did end each writing day by rereading our work. On day five, we quickly added another page to our story but I wished we had had more time for using a different color pen and adding more details to our drawings, labels, and perhaps adding another sentence. I left this work up to the classroom teacher, to do another time.
I didn’t know what to expect, going into this week long commitment to shared writing. I learned that you can layer in so much practice and exposure. Students had so many opportunities to tell and retell their story. I worried that they would get tired of the book we were writing, but when I showed up for our ten minute writing session, they were always ready and eager. The energy and engagement always felt strong. It felt fun.
As we reflected, the classroom teacher and I thought about all the ways that this work could support writing workshop. These shared writing pieces could easily be brought into mini lessons, to make some of the implicit work we did during shared writing more explicit. The story could also be used in small groups, to revisit any phase of the writing process or to brainstorm ways to push writing further.
In the end, this method of shared writing seemed well worth the five to ten minutes a day that it took.