When teaching children how to do long division, teachers show students the steps over and over. The class practices problems together on the board over and over. They may even learn fun songs to memorize the steps – divide, multiply, subtract, bring down!!
Students learn long division because teachers model for them how to do it over and over. They rarely get it right the first, second or even third time.
Writing is the same.
For some reason, teachers often just assign a writing topic and tell the students to get started.
Imagine saying, “OK, Johnny, the problem is 23 x 45. I am not going to teach you different strategies to solve it. Just get started and good luck!”
There are many strategies and skills involved with writing a good paragraph or story. As a teacher, our job is to teach and model these strategies for students over and over until they get it.
When teaching, I find the best way to model is to use an overhead projector or to write on a piece of chart paper with students sitting near me. Students need to see and hear you thinking through your ideas. For example, if you are writing a summary of a book you read, you might say aloud:
Hmmm, what would be a great opening sentence for this summary? I want it to grab the reader’s attention. How about:
Charlotte’s Web is a very good book. It is not too exciting but it sums up my feelings. How can I change this to make it better? Maybe:
Charlotte’s Web is my favorite book ever. This sentence has a bit more energy. Let’s remember different ways that authors start a story – 1. start with an exclamation: Charlotte is such a cool spider!2. start with a question: Can you imagine a spider that talks and spins amazing webs?start with a phrase:
On a small farm lived many animals and one amazing spider.
Which starting sentence do you like best?
The above mini lesson has taught students several writing strategies. First, and most importantly, it taught them that writing takes time and effort and that this extra time and effort can be fun, challenging and it can lead to a more interesting story. Most students assume that authors write impressive stories in a short amount of time – that they “just get it right the first time.” Students need to realize that writing is about revising and rethinking and working with words. Authors are often called “Wizards with Words” because they spend so much time pinpointing an exact word to use in a sentence. Authors enjoy the challenge of finding the right word, combing through books and dictionaries to locate the precise word.
The second lesson taught during the above mini-lesson is how to create an interesting opening sentence. Students need to learn all the different strategies for forming opening sentences. This strategy is not naturally known – it needs to be taught. When reading aloud books with students, watch for interesting opening sentences and keep a list of them on a board in your classroom. As a teacher, model for students how to become an “active searcher” for successful writing strategies. Looking for creative sentences or transitions or precise words in books and articles becomes a game for students once a teacher models how to do it.
Lastly, during the above mini-lesson, the teacher might have even discussed and pointed out parts of speech and punctuation. Mini group lessons offer many teaching opportunities and because the teaching is directly related to the on-going writing, it is easily understood and absorbed by students.
As a teacher, remember that writing doesn’t always have to be individual. It can be taught as a whole group lesson. As students watch you model writing strategies and brainstorm ideas, they learn how to think like a writer. They learn that writing is sometimes like a puzzle that one keeps working and working on to improve. Most importantly, students learn that creating, revising and improving writing can be fun, challenging and shared with others.