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READING/WRITING CONNECTIONS: If you want to teach writing really well, know a few picture books really well and use them when you confer.

On the final day of the Writing Institute, both Carl and Lucy spent some time reiterating the importance of knowing a few texts REALLY WELL so you can use the same book with many students (rather than needing several books for each unit of study). That is, figuring out how a text, such as a picture book, can teach many different qualities of good writing.

Lucy stressed that “If you wan to be clear, use more words” when describing what a writer does well in a text. Here are a few examples of how I did that with London’s book Hurricane!. (NOTE: The members of Lucy’s Course, “Teach the Reciprocity of Reading and Writing: Envisioning in Reading Aligns to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ in Writing, Interpretation Aligns to Focus,” collaborated to create a document that can be used to teach 26 different things from the book Hurricane! What follows are some of my contributions to the document, which I’m unable to share online… sorry.)

Instead of saying to a child “use strong verbs like London does,” one could say:

London uses strong verbs in a purposeful way on this page. Words like loomed, scrambled, flapped, slapped, and waded are in the past tense and convey the strong actions the boys are doing as they’re “threading the needle,” or getting ready to start their adventure. (2nd page of text)

Again, the author uses strong words, some in present and some in past tense, on this page. When authors use strong verbs it allows them to eliminate the adjectives and adverbs in a sentence, therefore making their writing stronger. (3rd page of text)

Instead of telling a reader to add dialogue to his/her story, one could say:

The dialogue on this page is one-sided. Only the mother is speaking. The young boy is thinking in-between her words, but he doesn’t say anything. Perhaps he says nothing so that we can see what he’s thinking or perhaps it’s mom’s sense of urgency that doesn’t allow him to interrupt her bursts of speech. Either way, these short bursts of speech from the mother signal that something is wrong… terribly wrong, which is causes the reader to pause upon reading each burst of speech the mom utters. (5th page of text)

Instead of telling a young writer to “show, not tell,” one could say:

London paints a picture with his words on this page. The image of rain slamming into them like a crashing wave is strong. He paints a stronger image when he uses figurative language, a simile, when he says: “We drove through rain so solid, it was like driving underwater.” When writers use similes, which are one kind of figurative language, it helps the reader to get a better picture in his or her mind. (9th page of text)

Essentially, by talking longer about what the author is doing helps a child to better understand what it is the author did so they can do the same thing in a purposeful way.

Carl suggested having two to three texts you know well for each unit of study. He suggested doing something like what we did in Lucy’s class with the book Hurricane! for each text you want to carry around to point out reading-writing connections during your conferences. You can the reading-writing connections you make based on the qualities of good writing and also figure out which pages/books will help struggling writers, mid-range writers, and sophisticated writers.

Looking for book lists to use? I can help if you’re an upper elementary school teacher. Just click here to see the books I used last year, which might help you envision the texts you want to get your hands on before school starts.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

12 thoughts on “READING/WRITING CONNECTIONS: If you want to teach writing really well, know a few picture books really well and use them when you confer. Leave a comment

  1. http://www.debrennersmith.com/2008/07/writing-specific-teaching-points-craft_15.html

    I am teaching a writing class for second grade next week on one day. I am also teaching a writing class for grades 3-5. I decided to try my hand at this idea using an upper grade book too. I have linked a few of the craft ideas for The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. I am passing out my handouts at my workshops. Thanks for letting me share a few ideas.

    I am looking forward to the collaboration with another book.

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  2. As of now, I think we’ve narrowed it down to Fly Away Home or What You Know First.

    Let’s wait a few more days to see who else would be interested in doing this and what they’d vote for.

    My best,
    Stacey

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  3. I would prefer Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting or What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan if I can vote. If we want to replicate this for grades 1-2-3, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon would be great. I will participate no matter what the book is though. I am excited to move forward whenever we are ready. http://www.debrennersmith.com

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  4. Hi there,

    Thanks for that fantastic resource list of children’s books you used for minilessons. I find this to be a very effective way to study quality examples of writing–and a way that students always seem to enjoy, no matter how old!

    The TC writing institute sounds so wonderful!
    I spent 5 days in Boothbay Harbor, Maine at a literacy retreat hosted by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. Nancie Atwell and Chris Crutcher both held an evening session. It was unbelievably enriching–what a way to start a career in teaching, no?

    Oh, and my blog will take a turn for all things teacher soon enough. Right now it’s a random collection of interests, but in September I plan to start documenting my first year :]

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  5. What a great idea! I love the idea of having all of these things in writing. Sometimes as I read – depending on my mood, focus, etc great things come out of my mouth. Other times… welll not so much. I’d love to participate if you decide to do a book here. My vote would be for What You KNow Firt by Patricia MacLachlan.

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  6. Deb:

    I wouldn’t mind doing it here at TWT. I’m trying to think of a book that will work for grades 3 – 6. Any suggestions? Here are a few ideas I had:

    A Frog Thing by Eric Drachman
    What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan
    Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look
    Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting

    LMK what you think.

    SAS

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  7. Thank you for your generosity, Stacey! I love it . . . in teaching writing, less is not more. My architect husband will be shocked! I like this idea a lot. I think I have tended to throw out catch phrases like “show, don’t tell.” If that phrase isn’t carefully and thoroughly explored and taught explicitly . . . does it have any meaning whatsoever? Nope. Thanks for the advice which turned into a gentle bonk on the head for me. 🙂

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