Teaching primary writers starts with engagement. It’s about allowing students to construct their own meaning in the writing they do by building a writing mindset. When you do that, students are more engaged. Too often, writing is seen either as just a collection of skills or a writing prompt. Teaching writing can be a large, and complex process, but it doesn’t have to be. Today, I am going to talk about teaching a writing mindset by using mentor texts and interactive notebooks.
The Big Picture of Engagement
The big picture is that we want our students to be literate. Being able to read and write are lifelong skills students need to make friends, have successful relationships, get jobs and live productive lives.
So what’s changed? Creativity and critical thinking are forefront in education these days. Empowering students through their own ideas and wonders and building from what they already know is really important. Using formative assessment, teachers are learning from their students what they need to move forward in their learning and writing is no different. In fact, learning to write well is a huge confidence boost for students. It spills over into other areas of the curriculum. We are moving away from isolated spelling lists that don’t help our students spell because one size does not fit all as far as spelling goes (but that is a whole other topic!).
One way students are learning to read and spell in the early years is through constructing their own writing. How many of you see high reading levels and very weak writing skills? I’m guessing there are a lot of hands up right now. It’s time to change that.
An Engaging Literacy Program
One way I have found to help my students learn to write is by having a very robust program. My literacy block generally goes for about 120 minutes on days when I have no interruptions. The time includes using mentor texts in a shared reading format but with added writing elements.
It is important to scaffold your writing instruction so that students are receiving lessons on elements of writing that build upon each other. As we teach letters, then words, then sentences, we must also teach other elements of writing. Idea building, organization of writing and adding the right word to paint a picture in the reader’s mind to name a few.
Effective Writing Instruction
Effective writing instruction also involves lots of discussion and oral language development, using black line masters to help students plan out their ideas, the creation of anchor charts together where students can refer to when they are in the process of writing.
Lessons do not need to be long. Short, explicit lessons help students to make connections to previous learning. Students then begin to form a visual in their minds of how writing actually works. In the past, lessons were long and time to write was short. Giving students more time to write, results in students being able to put more thought into their work, and helps to improve their writing skills. This knowledge transfers all across the curriculum.
Creating the Writing Mindset
In order to create a writing mindset, you need to really know and understand your students. I wrote about different kinds of writers here. Take a look at your class and see if you can pinpoint the different kinds of writers that make up your classroom.
So what’s a teacher to do? You have so many different needs in your classroom and everyone has a different entry point into writing. It’s important to teach your students where they are at but where do you start? Let’s take a look at a curriculum set designed for all 2nd and 3rd grade learners that will help you to “hook” all your writers – no matter where they are at right now.
2nd & 3rd Grade Year Long Writing Unit
While curriculum standards differ in many places, the majority of writing skills are similar. This Writing Unit is a year-long program that was developed out of the need to not only have a comprehensive and scaffolded writing curriculum for later primary but also one that is engaging to students and meets a wide variety of standards. I also wanted to address the vital aspect of any effective writing program: developing the writing mindset. This resource aligns to the CCSS, most outcomes in Canadian curriculum and also includes The Write Traits!
Beginning a Writing Program
This set starts with an overall writing assessment so that you know where to begin and what your students’ strengths are. A self-assessment is also included so that you can see what your students’ attitudes and perceptions are about writing. The first unit is all about getting to know the writers in your class and developing a positive writing mindset. This is done with the help of 2 mentor texts. The following 9 units scaffold learning and have 4 mentor texts with each set and 5 lessons for each book. These lessons are easy to teach and your students will be learning actively through discussions, collaborations, drama, black line masters and writing. Students learn about reading and writing in these lessons.
This writing unit incorporates many grade appropriate Social Studies and Science concepts too through the use of mentor texts. This will help you to integrate other curriculum areas (such as research and topics like weather and Earth Day) into your literacy block! This curriculum is not a unit full of writing prompts. It is a detailed and comprehensive curriculum with opportunities for choice, collaboration, and offers a growth mindset for writers.
★ Beginning a Writing Program (Where the mindset begins!)
★ All About Sentences & Conventions
★ “How to” Writing
★ Author Studies and Learning About Voice
★ Fiction Practicing Voice
★ Opinion Writing, Conventions: editing and revising
★ Poetry (oral language and sentence fluency)
★ Publishing and Presentation
After recess is a perfect time to go deeper in to author studies to showcase quality writing with your students using a more concentrated look at mentor texts with a certain author in mind. Some of my favorite authors are Kevin Henkes, Nina Laden, Robert Munsch, Laura Numeroff, Doreen Cronin, Todd Parr, and so many more. You can even feature authors like Tom Roth and Julia Cook and integrate your social and emotional learning into your author studies. I am all about integration for maximum learning!
The Writer’s Notebook
One of the best way to deepen students’ awareness of quality writing is to practice the Write Traits by showcasing them in mentor texts and then practicing that skill in a Writer’s Notebook. I use this set to go through the Write Traits with the students so that they can see what makes an author a great author.
Teaching each trait separately is one way to teach the traits which is what is done in this notebook on purpose to pay attention to each specific trait and learn it well. However, when I introduce the trait and read books by that author that I think is really good at that trait, I always ask my students what other traits they can see him or her using in the book. Students sight text evidence of the trait or point out picture evidence.
How to Use a Notebook
The Writer’s Notebook set includes mini lessons for each trait and a matching graphic organizer that students glue into a regular notebook. Here they practice that trait. For example, if students were learning about WORD CHOICE, one lesson is about color words. The teacher reads a book of choice (or a suggested book) and points out the different words being used in the book that helps readers to visualize a setting or person or thing. Then, the teacher may choose to create a simple anchor chart matching the graphic organizer and have students provide ideas of what might be a good example of something that is…red. (an apple).
Students love their notebooks and really enjoy short mini lessons and follow up practice as it empowers them to know that they are authors too and capable of coming up with good word choices, ideas, voice etc too. While each resource here is great on its own, pairing up the Year-long Writing Unit and Writers Notebooks also works nicely together to deepen the learning, exposes students to even more published authors, and further nurtures the writing mindset.
For more information on either one of these resources, please click the pictures below.