When I started teaching I owned a handful of picture and chapter books. I came armed with this handful and my love for Judy Blume. I knew I liked to write, but really had no idea how to help a child become a stronger writer. Over time, with a lot of guidance and professional development, I learned more about children’s books and became more adept at teaching writing.
One of the many things I learned along the way was that you can use one book for many purposes. While it might seem helpful to have lots of books at your fingertips, to teach from, having a few, well-crafted texts you know really well also works. Last year, there were a few texts I used for Interactive Read Aloud and as mentor texts for Writing Workshop. While it may seem like overkill to keep coming back to the same text again and again, it’s really helpful for kids to learn how to write better from a book they have discussed in-depth with their peers.
When I took Lucy Calkins’s Course on reading-writing connections at the Summer 2008 TCRWP Writing Institute, our class spent a week dissecting Hurricane so we could use it as a teaching tool. By the week’s end, everyone in the course worked on describing craft moves we noticed the author of Hurricane make that we could teach to a student. We followed Lucy’s advice, when we did this, which was:
1. Talk about your experience about your interaction with a particular part of the text in a step-by-step way.
2. Point out what kinds of writerly choices the writer made and why you think the author chose to write/craft in a particular way.
3. Name the move the writer made in a way that will help the writer understand what this craft move is beyond the piece of writing you’re looking at together (i.e., teach the writer, not the writing).
—–> This should be stated in a whole sentence, not just with a term or some buzz words (e.g., “Show, not tell”).
This process is very similar to what Katie Wood Ray wrote about in Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom:
The Five Parts to Reading Like a Writer
- Notice something about the craft of the text.
- Talk about it and make a theory about why a writer might use this craft.
- Give the craft a name.
- Think of other texts you know. Have you seen this craft before?
- Try and envision using this crafting in your own writing.
(Ray, 1999, 120)
Last fall, I began creating craft tables, which were essentially my attempt to organize my thinking about books I wanted to hold up to my students as mentors. Since I’m a bit of a planner, I like to think through my teaching before I get in there and teach. Therefore, a craft table was an effective way to help me plan for instruction. The left column was the craft move I noticed (i.e., the buzz words for it) in the text. The center column contained the pages where I noticed the author making a craft move. As per Lucy’s advice, I only listed things I noticed the author do in two or more places in the text. In the right column, I wrote out an explanation of each craft move I noticed an author make. Essentially, this was my way to think through why the author might be writing in a particular way. As I fleshed out my thoughts about why an author chose to write in a particular way, I made sure I was hypothesizing rather than telling since it’s not possible to know why an author makes craft moves without actually speaking with him/her.
However, before I created a craft table, I developed my own process when working with texts. I found it useful to read a selected book, like a writer, several times. As I went through a book I liked, I would sit with sticky notes in hand, marking all of the craft moves I noticed on each page. By the time I was through with a text, I had loads of sticky notes. I went back, sorted through the sticky notes to find the most important craft moves the author made that would help a student lift the level of his writing. Then, I would try to explain the craft move on larger paper, keeping in mind something Lucy had said, which was, “If you want to be clear, use more words.” I found that if I had a lot to write about (a given craft move), then I deemed it worthy of placement on the craft table I was creating.
Here’s a blank copy of the master I use to create craft tables:
I’m working on a craft table for the Scaredy Squirrel Books by Mélanie Watt right now. As soon as I obtain permission from the publisher to reprint lines from her texts in this forum (i.e., inside of a craft table), I will post it here for you to download as a Scribd Document.
Next week: Finding books you love that students will be interested in for more than just one read.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).