Organizing ideas for writing is based on the author’s purpose. Students need to be able to answer the question, “Why are you writing?” before they ever pick up a pencil. Obviously, we want them to have an answer other than, “The teacher made me do it.” I’ve often talked about keeping the Big Picture in mind when teaching students to write. Last week I tied that idea into how it affects grammar instruction. This week I’m going to focus on how it shapes our approach to organizing ideas for writing. It’s so much more than a graphic organizer.
With all the available graphic organizers in print and on the Internet, it’s easy to run off a bunch of copies and assume this is the starting point. Wrong. It’s a classic mistake that I think is taught when we’re teacher candidates at the university level. Of course, it’s easy to understand why it happens – it’s a specific and necessary action. However, too many of us begin there without realizing that the real beginning is in our students’ minds. An understandable mistake, but one that needs to be eliminated in order to develop strong writers.
Know Your Purpose
The first step to organizing ideas for writing is to understand why you are writing in the first place. Unless your students understand why they are writing, they won’t be able to independently craft a message to meet their purpose. A simple but effective quick check to see if your students grasp the purpose for their writing is to ask them, “Why are you writing this [letter, essay, report]?” Ask this question a day or two after you’ve introduced the assignment. Their answers will quickly reveal who “gets it” and who is going through the motions. Writing and thinking are inseparable!
Thinking About Writing
To develop this thinking about writing, teach your students to ask these questions before they begin writing:
- Why are you writing?
- What are you writing?
- How will I organize my ideas to best meet my purpose?
This is when knowledge of text structure comes in handy. It’s important for students to grasp text structure not only as a reader but especially as a writer. Then you can guide them through the effective use of a graphic organizer.
Organizing Ideas for Writing
As for graphic organizers, I have used the Four Square method with great effectiveness. Its progressive approach is easy to understand and gradually spirals upward in complexity. The graphic organizer can easily be modified depending on the purpose of your writing. Towards the end of the school year, I try to “wean them off” of a printed version of a graphic organizer by having students create their own in their Writing Notebooks. For more information about the Four Square method of writing, I recommend you read the book Four Square Writing Method; Grades 4-6.
Some students require more scaffolding at the beginning of the school year with the Four Square. I began introducing them to organizing their ideas on a larger format with colored sticky notes. (See the photo at right.) Students write directly on the sticky notes. When it’s time to write a rough draft, they can remove the sticky note after they have transferred those ideas onto paper. Using this strategy really helps struggling writers understand how to group similar ideas together and when to break their thoughts into different paragraphs. Eventually we can transition to a paper copy before asking them to create their own.
Organizing Leads to Success
Organizing ideas for writing enables young writers to express their thoughts in a logical, cohesive manner that clearly communicates to their audience. In order for students to write focused essays, stories and letters they need to understand the basic concept that their writing needs to be organized.