The Writing 101 series began last week when I shared my thoughts on having students speak in complete sentences as a part of the “writing” process. Today’s post focuses on Writing Out Loud – a technique that builds on last week’s idea and applies it directly to our Writer’s Workshop. Once again, I’ve cobbled together ideas from a variety of sources and given them my own special twist. Writing Out Loud is such a fundamental part of how I teach my elementary students to write that I wonder why I didn’t start using it earlier in my career. It saves my students time and energy, which can be better spent on actually improving their writing skills. Oh, well…part of the reflective process!
Develop Reasoning Skills
I use the Four Square Writing Method: A Unique Approach to Teaching Basic Writing Skills for Grades 4-6 developed by Evan and Judith Gould. I like its step-by-step progression through the writing process as well as how it increases complexity throughout the year. Before I get too far into my writing instruction, however, I find it helpful to first develop my students’ reasoning skills. I patterned my lessons from a live webcast I watched at the Whole Brain Teaching website. You can find the video of that webcast available for free. Look on the homepage for the Video Library and click on Program 546 – “Using Because.” It takes about 45 minutes to watch, but is well worth the time. My students’ ability to write strong reasons to support their main idea sentence after I used the ideas gleaned from the webcast significantly improved.
Connecting with the Organizer
The Writing Out Loud exercises with “because”connects perfectly with completing the Four Square Writing graphic organizer. I’ve modified the authors’ original version to better match my 4th graders’ skills and to more clearly connect how reasons fit into the structure of their writing. Once my students have had sufficient practice at finishing our “because” statements, they’re ready to begin a writing project involving a main idea sentence with reasons and supporting details. Click here to download a copy of the Writing Graphic Organizer I created for use in my classroom.
Prewriting Warm Up
During the prewriting stage, I begin by asking students a question to discuss with a classmate. For example, if our topic is the weekend, I might say, “What did you do this weekend? Talk with your Writing Partner about what you did this past weekend.” I like to have the students discuss their ideas with one other person because that gives each student a guaranteed audience. Calling on only one student at a time to answer my question would drastically reduce the amount of engagement. As students talk with their peers, I am circulating through the room and monitoring their discussions, able to offer quick feedback and guidance as needed to maintain task focus. After a minute or two, I have students switch roles and the person doing the talking now becomes the listener. I follow this up with about two or three more discussion questions to help students do their mental prewriting on the topic.
Writing Out Loud Every Step of the Way
After that, we’re ready to begin articulating reasons to justify our main idea sentence. This is when the time invested in teaching reasoning skills really pays off as students are able to quickly write their reasons on the graphic organizer. Following the Four Square process, we then add our connecting words and a wrap-up sentence. While many students are eager to start writing their supporting details, I have them slow down long enough to do another Writing Out Loud with a partner. They read through the information on their graphic organizer in complete sentences, as if they were reading it from a final copy. They use the sounds and gestures I mentioned in last week’s post to further emphasize correct capitalization and punctuation. Only then do I allow them to write their supporting details for each reason.
Help for Your Struggling Writers
A teacher quickly learns which students struggle in certain subjects. No doubt you can identify your weakest writers. Writing Out Loud gives them many opportunities to rehearse their writing before it gets to a rough draft form. Without this oral rehearsal, their rough drafts often have so many debilitating errors that I’m overwhelmed with where to begin. Also, students can easily become discouraged in the face of yet another writing challenge they were not able to meet. To avoid either scenario, I have my struggling writers do their Writing Out Loud with me. It’s much easier and faster to correct a student’s verbal errors than their written ones. This serves as a quick conferencing moment where I can correct their errors and coach them on ways to transform their ideas into complete sentences before they get to the rough draft stage.
Writing Out Loud to End Each Day
As we continue throughout the writing process on a piece, we close each Writer’s Workshop session by Writing Out Loud with a classmate. Don’t be surprised if you see your students revising their graphic organizers. The Writing Out Loud technique helps students identify places in their writing in need of early revisions. It further reinforces the expectation that what students write should make sense. Writing Out Loud offers young writers opportunities for them to hear their essay out loud and verbally rehearse writing in complete sentences. It also fosters a sense of community among the students as they share their writing with one another. It’s a valuable part of how I structure my Writer’s Workshop.