Writing with my elementary students is one of the things I enjoy most about being a teacher. Over the years I’ve selected different strategies and tools from several sources with varying degrees of success. The techniques I share over the next few months are what I use now…but check back in with me a few months from now and you’ll probably see lots of variations. So, read these posts and think about how best you can use them in your class, your way, to meet your students’ needs. One size does not fit all when it comes to writing. There are many paths that will get you where you want to go. Let’s begin!
Writing All Day, Every Day
If you looked at my class schedule, you’d see a block of time set aside for writing each day. What you wouldn’t see on that paper is the fact that I think about and teach writing all day long. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to further push my students’ writing abilities. Those opportunities begin before they ever pick up their pencils. Writing in my classroom starts with the spoken word.
“Writing” Complete Sentences
When I ask a question during a lesson, I’ve taught my students to answer in a complete sentence. Why? Well, first it’s a fast and easy way to practice “writing” complete sentences. Since asking and answering questions is something we do throughout the day, they get loads of practice at it. Also, it gets their ear use to hearing what a complete sentence sounds like. I began using this technique when it gradually dawned on me that my students were writing in a manner that was reflected in their speech. Put simply – they write like they speak. Talking is an activity we do a lot of in my classroom. Probably yours too. Make that talking time beneficial beyond just answering a question.
Setting the Expectation
At first, it definitely was not easy for me to remember to have the expectation from my students that all answers be given in complete sentences! If you go this route, give yourself a lot of grace. I really struggled with getting use to having such an expectation – perhaps more so than my students had with giving their answers. Fortunately, I have a student with a knack for remembering to always answer in complete sentences. I mean always. She never forgets. For some weird reason, I could remember to call on her at the start of my lesson more easily than reminding my students to answer in complete sentences. Once I heard her answer given as a complete sentence, that triggered my memory and prompted everyone else in the classroom to answer in a like manner.
Set Up for Success
Usually in the beginning of a lesson, I’ll phrase my first few questions in such a way so as to remind everyone about the expectation: “In a complete sentence, tell me…” or “Who can answer this question in a complete sentence,…” If a student starts to answer in a fragment, I often use a nonverbal gesture of pulling my hands apart as if I’m stretching a big rubber band. Just that simple gesture visually reminds them of the expectation without interrupting their speaking and helps maintain the pace of the lesson.
Rephrase the Question
It’s important for students to understand that a complete sentence sends a complete message. Requiring students to respond to my questions in a complete sentence is good practice at developing sentence fluency. It trains their ear to notice the difference between a fragment and a sentence. If your students struggle with how to answer in a complete sentence, teach them how to rephrase your question as the start of their response. For example if you asked, “What are the three branches of government?” The student who answers should begin, “The three branches of government are…” If you also set the expectation that students’ written responses should rephrase the question, this practice will reinforce each other.
A New Twist on Writing Out Loud
Thanks to my recent workshop in Whole Brain Teaching (see my earlier post Whole Brain Teaching: The Journey Begins!), I’ve recently introduced two new elements to this requirement. Students make gestures with accompanying sounds to indicate capitalization and punctuation. I was amazed at how quickly my kiddos incorporated it into their answers! This provides even more practice with the conventions of writing, again all without putting pencil to paper. Since this is a new development, right now we only use the gestures and sounds when we’re using the Teach-Okay strategy during a lesson. Not sure yet if I’ll expand it to all answers, but I will probably at least give it a one-day try sometime soon. That’s how I learn – give it a try and reflect on the outcome.
Your Action Plan
Okay, that’s my first bite-size piece of writing advice. Give it a try.
- Set the expectation with your students.
- Teach them how to rephrase your question as part of their answer.
- Show them the gesture for speaking in a complete sentence so they understand when you use it.
- Post a sign or write in your lesson plans a reminder to yourself to enforce this expectation.
- Cut yourself some slack when you forget!
My next writing post will continue the focus on “writing out loud” and how I use it during our Writer’s Workshop time.