Starting the year with Slice of Life writing.

As I mentioned in my post last week, my students’ first day of school writing surveys revealed a strong aversion to writing and a sense of “I have nothing to really write about.”  So, we have spent most of our writing workshop time collecting writing ideas and storytelling; my sixth graders have learned, much to their surprise, that they actually have a LOT to write about!

To further challenge their assumptions about their writerly selves, I also rolled out our  Slice of Life Writing Project in our very first full week of school…and what a great experience it has been! Now, I wonder why I haven’t launched this project this early in the school year before.

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Here are some ways in which this early launch has enriched our writing workshop:

We are immersed in mentor texts of our own making, noticing even more closely how writers (our own classmates) write:

We began our project by studying slices from years past, taking note of everything from topic selection to craft techniques.  We made note of  the  “writerly stuff “ in these slices that made us really sit up and pay attention:

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Our weekly slices now give us a chance to pause from time to time and examine our own mentor texts.  Here’s one we read together , made observations and notes:

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and then had a chance to interview the author about how she had made the writing choices that had led us all to fall in love with her particular slice.  As a class of 44 slicers, writing a Slice of Life every week, we are creating a rich source of mentor texts we can return to and be inspired by.

We’ve already become a writing community, helping each other fine tune our craft:

44 slicers also comment on each others’ slices.  My kids love receiving comments, and have learned early on (as in the first week!) that comments beget comments – if you are a generous reader, taking the time to leave a thoughtful and appreciative comment, you are more likely to receive them in return.  Best of all, fellow writers notice what we are aiming to achieve with our word choices and how we structure our slices.  And, fellow writers also note where we can improve – albeit in a gentle and constructive way:

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We’re learning how writers find their ideas in every day moments:

Our slices range from fender benders on the way to softball practice and the moment we discover that science class can be interesting.  My kids are always making note of each others’ topic selections, they are realizing that writers pay attention to the world around them and are always on the alert for new ideas to write about.  We seem to be moving from a class of “I have nothing to write about” to “Hey, that’s a slice of life moment!”.

We’re discovering that writers are always trying new ways of storytelling – writing can be fun!

I’m noticing that my kids are learning different ways of storytelling just by reading each others’ slices.  In this slice, for instance, we noticed how J. began right in the moment – there was no need for a lead up to explain that she was at a cross-country meet, you got it simply through the power of her writing:

J: “Thud thud,” my feet hit the ground rhythmically. The leaves swirled around us like a mini tornado. We flew by, running, running through the streets. It was wonderful to be running. I felt like an eagle soaring. It felt like the world stopped and it was helping me run. I watched around me as the land zoomed by. I heard the football players off in the field grunting as if they were pigs eating their slop. I could smell fresh barbecue in the distance. Then I saw the clearing. I mustered up all the energy inside of me, and then I exploded like a bison charging. I crossed the finish line, victorious. I did it!

In our writers’ circle, J. spoke about how this slice started out as a “regular first I did this, and then I did that” piece, which she was unhappy with (“It was so boring!”) and decided to zoom in on her best moment at the meet – the fabulous feeling of running.  Ta-da! And a great slice was born. 

We are now in week three of our project – writing, learning from each other, and looking forward to a whole year of slicing together.  Beginning this project early on is proving to be a wonderful thing, after all. 

Have you begun Slice of Life in your classrooms?  We’d love to know how this writing project is launched and grown through your school year.

More about Slice of Life in the classroom:

A Year of Slice of Life in the Classroom