engagement · writing workshop

Pump Up the Volume!

photo by woodleywonderworks
photo by woodleywonderworks

I recently had a dream about teaching writing. In my dream the kids wrote and wrote and wrote for hours on end as I floated effortlessly from student to student. You could hear a pin drop. When I let kids know that I was very sorry, but there were only a few minutes left, they cried out, “No! We want to write more!” “Oh, all right,” I said to them in my dream. “Let’s write all day long!”

Then I woke up.

In real life, we might not have the luxury of allowing kids to write all day long (we do have to teach other subjects, after all…), but that doesn’t mean we can’t create an environment where kids want to write for extended periods of time, and can pour words out on to the page freely, without worry, with high volume.

So, what do I mean by “volume”?

“Volume” simply refers to “how much” writing children do.  Most people agree, the more kids write, the better writers they will become. Writing for extended amounts of time, writing a lot (of pages), and writing every day all contribute to high volume.

When kids focus on writing the best they can, instead of being perfectionists, they can write more. When kids are writing independently, writing all by themselves, instead of waiting to be told exactly what to do, they tend to write more. Also, when kids know that as soon as they finish one story, or notebook entry, or bit of writing, she/he should start a new one, this helps them to write more.

Here are a few fairly simple tricks of the trade that get kids writing with higher volume:

1.    Dates

Don’t forget to teach and remind kids to date each piece of writing so that you can assess their volume. You can look at the dates to see how much each child is writing, each day. Take note of how many lines/sentences/pages most of your children are writing. This will help you and the kids set realistic, attainable goals for volume.

2.    Try Your Best and Move On!

Teach and remind children to try their best spelling and move on so that they don’t spend too long worrying over a spelling that they can come back to later once they choose a story for publishing. They can always circle or underline words they aren’t sure of and then check them with a partner later.

3.    Start a New One

Teach children how to know when they are finished a piece of writing, and show them how to start a new one on their own without wasting a minute in between. A quick guideline: If a students has 1) drafted as best as they could, 2) reread  3) revised as best they could to improve it — it’s probably time to move on.

4.    Writing the WHOLE Time

Coach children to keep their pen in hand while thinking, rather than putting it down in between ideas. Take a few minutes to observe your kids at work from time to time. You might be shocked at how many kids (of all ages) put down their pen in between each word, sometimes even in between each letter. This makes it very hard for them to write fluently and slows them down their volume, big time.

5.    Coloring Takes Time, Coloring is for Publishing

Save color for just one special published piece, so that children can spend time on it when the time is right, rather than in the midst collecting notebook entries or drafts in their writing folder when the goal is probably to generate as much writing as possible. The one exception to this might be for children who are not yet drawing representationally — the color can help emergent writers/drawers remember what they’ve drawn when they haven’t yet mastered drawing with shapes and lines (i.e. the blue is probably water, that yellow splotch at the top is probably the sun). But if your kids can draw representationally, or can write, then they probably can save the color for later.

6.    Teach Time Management

Make sure to periodically let children know how much time they have left to write each day, so that it’s clear to them that time is limited, giving them a reason to stay focused and to write as much as they can.  Also, make publishing dates clear to children from the start of the process, so they know how many days they have to collect enough writing to choose from for publishing.

7.    Partners

Teach writing partners to monitor each other, to keep each other focused on writing. Perhaps start a chart that lists a few friendly prompts that they might say to each other. “Keep going,” or “Stay focused,” are a good start for language that partners might use to encourage each other (as opposed to announcing loudly that, “He’s/she’s not writing” in a  tattle-tale voice).

8.    Charts

Teach children to use the charts around the room as tools for making plans for their writing, making decisions about what to do, and to keep their writing going, without having to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do.

9.    Midworkshop Interruptions and Teaching Shares

Make a point to regularly remind your children about strategies they might use to keep themselves writing, and to write even more. You can use midworkshop  interruptions and teaching shares to highlight volume and stamina. You can interrupt kids at certain points in the workshop to say, “Wow you probably have X amount of writing by now!” You can ask kids to bring their writing to the meeting area to the share and sit in a circle with their writing in front of them so that you can quickly assess how much they wrote that day.

Hope you find these tips helpful! How else do you support high levels of volume in your classroom? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

6 thoughts on “Pump Up the Volume!

  1. These are great tips, Beth. #6 is so critical, I think, and the hardest to teach. I know my workshop has reached a turning point when this finally happens (after all that modeling and teaching) – it’s a real hurrah moment, right?!


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