Today we offer you a checklist of instructional strategies for teaching writing in preK-2. Obviously, these will vary based on grade-level, but as core writing instruction (no pun intended) they should form a consistent thread throughout elementary writing instruction. THIS IS NOT AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST, but rather a place to start. We have not addressed student choice, writing across days, writing on demand, revision, editing, conferencing, etc. Let these six essentials offer you a place to start, especially in preK and kindergarten, grades which are often left out of conversations about standards.
1. How much are you letting students write?
Students need to write every day. Even in preschool and kindergarten, students need daily time to put something on paper. This builds stamina and fluency and encourages students to think about their writing outside of formal instruction. Writing daily is the single-most important aspect of writing instruction. We are not referring to answering comprehension questions, but rather to composing and crafting.
2. How are you developing student independence as writers?
Beginning writers need to write by themselves as much as possible, even if their writing is mostly approximations in letter formation and spelling. We find that anchor charts and familiar, co-authored messages posted around a classroom are a better scaffold for students than teachers taking dictation. Students dictating while teachers write is a practice that builds dependence and communicates that we should only write when we know how to do it the “right” way. Any writing for students as they dictate should be interactive, sharing the pencil with the students as much as possible nudging them to take risks and responsibility. Basically, “dictation” should be an individualized interactive writing session.
3. How are you showing students how to write?
Students need to participate in interactive writing for 10-20 minutes 3-5 times per week. There is no more efficient and authentic way to teach children the letter names and sounds. It is critical that all the products of these interactive writing sessions hang in the classroom so that students can refer to them when they write independently.
4. How are you helping students develop voice and a sense of audience?
Young writers need regular opportunities to share their writing with an audience, whether reading it to a partner, sharing with a group, or recording on a webcam to send home. Audience response is one of the best ways to encourage students to write more.
5. How are you teaching young writers how to form the letters?
While there is dissent in the field about handwriting and its relevance in the technological age, for us handwriting is a vehicle for writing fluency. While obvious developmental limitations apply to four-year-olds, even they can engage in large motor practice of the shape of the letters, such as drawing them in shaving cream or running their fingers over sand letters. Children who learn how to make the letters without thinking about their formation will have more attention to give to what they are writing. Children who write fluently tend to write more words more often. Of course, we are not espousing reams of handwriting worksheets. We are suggesting, however, small doses of practicing handwriting for its own sake can lead to better writing products during writing workshop and make such authentic writing practice more meaningful.
6. How are you exposing students to quality writing models?
Students need to hear great writing read aloud daily. Whether in read aloud, writer’s workshop, or shared reading, you can explicitly point out the author’s craft as you share great books. The more you show students options for their writing, the more you will see these tools organically translate into the pieces they develop.
These are our six, “pay-it-forward” essentials for writing, but they are not all you need to teach writing in preK-2. Most importantly, for third-graders to meet the demands of the Common Core writing standards, we must begin early, even though the standards don’t explicitly include the youngest writers in some of their most important expectations.
Tomorrow, we will share our “pay-it-forward” essentials for reading instruction.