writing workshop

Take off the Top of Your Head!

After all of the writer’s notebook work and the storyboard work and the oral storytelling, it sometimes seems as though students don’t realize how they then need to craft their draft.  I’ve found that explicit teaching of this idea is important.

Today I did just that with some third graders.  I showed them my storyboard and then “took off the top of my head,” as Nancie Atwell suggests and drafted in front of them.  The “taking of the top of my head” refers to how I shared my thinking with them as I drafted.  I let them peek inside my brain, so to speak.

In the name of honesty, I must tell you — I WAS SO NERVOUS!  I wasn’t expecting to teach this lesson, so I had done little thinking before hand of the actual words of my draft.  It was a story I haven’t done much writing on in the past, so it was new and fresh to me.  Although nerve-wrecking, I think these things made my lesson more powerful.

Because I draft regularly and I understand the words will come as I go through the act of writing, I was able to trust the process.  My lesson involved breaking down the thinking I did to get those words.  I shared with them how I hoped to have a repeating line, but I wasn’t sure what that line might be, so I’m just going to start with:  My dog was crazy and funny and lovable.  I wrote it.  Then I reread it — I explained to them why I reread.  Then I wrote the next line, sharing the inner-thinking happening as I wrote.  I continued this for a few more lines.

Albeit this is brave teaching, I mean — Hello!  What if the words don’t come? — it is also the most powerful kind of focus lessons we can give.  In order to help our students become stronger writers, we must “take off the top of our heads” and show them how writers think.  By teaching that writers make intentional and purposeful decisions & then showing the process in raw form helps our students do the same.

3 thoughts on “Take off the Top of Your Head!

  1. How funny! I just read this post today and guess what my lesson was? I honestly had not read this until tonight and our lesson was already over. I planned using storyboards a story “off the top of my head”. You’re right…I was amazed at how nervous I was too. It took me a while to get the flow going, but then I did notice many of the kids used the storyboard plans too and then began drafting (which they had to turn something in so I can see where they are with their punctuation). It was good…but a little nervewracking.

    I’m trying to be their mentor…

    BTW, I’m glad that we having writing workshop!!! It allows us to teach for what the kids need, not necessarily what we should do in 10 days. 🙂


  2. Hooray! This is the stuff I teach to teachers. I love that you’re doing it! It works for reading, too. I’ll never forget the top-of-her-class student (HS Junior, but the process is the same for anyone) who told me “I’ve always been a good reader, but I never interacted with the text like I do now.” When you do it as you’re reading, you’re modeling what the writer was thinking. That, too, gets them thinking as writers.


  3. I can see how much you have grown as a coach. To open yourself up like that in front of not only kids, but adults too, and then write about it. WOW! You are getting so brave, girl! I am going to be working with training about 40 3rd-5th grade teachers tomorrow and I’ll share a Think Aloud using comprehension stratigies. I had forgotten the “take the top off my head” thing. I will use it! Great sharing with you Monday, too. I miss our talks. I always gain so much from you!!


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