choice · conferring · elaboration · illustrations · narrative · writing workshop

How to Write

This past week I’ve had several conversations with young writers about how to write something. Not the logistics of making letters or spelling words, but how to craft their writing in order to make the reader feel or know something. With our youngest writers this conversation has centered around illustrations. With intermediate writers it has been about craft — working the words to make your message clear.

Often we give students strategies to generate a topic or strategies for spelling or strategies for how to revise. It’s also important we give them strategies for how to write their stories (or share their knowledge) in meaningful ways. Katie Ray has talked for years about the importance of giving kids a vision for what they are making. I agree with her…the stronger vision writers have for the kind of thing they are making, the better their writing.

Here are some of the ways I’ve helped kids think about how to write:

  • Consider the distance perspective of your illustration. Does it make sense to show the story from far away or to zoom in extra close. How do you feel when you see an illustration of something far away? How do you feel when an illustration zooms in on something?
  • Consider the way people are dressed and the way they style their hair. What do these things tell us about a person? How can we include character description in our words or illustrations?
  • A character doesn’t have to always be illustrated from the front. A writer considers the perspective of a character before illustrating him or her. How should the reader see the character in your story?
  • If you want to pass time, you can divide the page into frames and make each frame a different time in the story. One student did this by making the snow get deeper and deeper as you move across the page.
  • What is the most important part of your story? You can stretch this part by thinking of specific actions people were doing. Often times it is a small action, like tucking a strand of hair behind your ear or rolling your eyes or pursing your lips that tell the most about what a character thinks or feels.
  • Read several dedications in the books in your book box or around the room, then think about how you want your dedication to go.
When we shift our thinking to helping kids have a vision for how to craft meaning, our teaching becomes richer. I love how many teaching points bubble up from the work that is unfolding during writing workshop. The longer students are expected to develop their own vision for how a piece of writing should go, the more concrete this vision will become.

4 thoughts on “How to Write

  1. Your post really made me reflect. Sometimes when I confer with kids, especially little ones, I walk away thinking, “I didn’t teach that poor kid anything.” Maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad if all I did was get them to talk about their thinking about their writing or help them pause to consider possibilities from another reader’s point of view.


  2. So many times you have written about the actual teaching “how”, like this time, using the time to teach the possibilities that writers know about, and then that they get to choose, as you want student writers to do, too. I loved that you are saying that you had success in this even with younger writers, because I agree that this is what makes writers. As I don’t have as much experience there, it’s so interesting to learn.


  3. I had a great teaching point bubble up today during a read aloud! I was reading aloud “Max’s Words” by Kate Banks to a third grade class trying to inspire and build excitement about words and word study. The illustrator does many phenomenal things with the pictures and words. As I was reading this book, one student caught a glimpse of an illustration that the illustrator drew from above looking down on the characters and pointed out this unusual angle. We had a great conversation about how authors and illustrators make many choices when they create a book. We talked about point of view. We talked about the craft. It was an amazing conversation that I hope leads to future experimentation during writing! We shall see!


  4. Ruth, this style of teaching takes the developing writer below the surface of the text. This is teaching that recognizes that learning to write with competence and confidence requries a knowledge that moves beyond structure and form. You can;t teach writing to some kind of recipe. It takes a deeper more sustainig knoweldge involving a shared vision between writer and audience. Your post makes my heart sing!


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