I visited Kelly Sherbo’s 1st grade class for the first time days before winter recess. That’s a TOUGH time of the year to teach since the kids are nearly bouncing off of the walls due to their excitement about the holidays. But Kelly’s class ran like a well-oiled machine. They turned and talked to share their thinking. The kids transitioned beautifully from the meeting area to their tables. They wrote diligently in their notebooks.
And that’s what I want to talk about: her students’ notebooks. I knew Kelly was doing writing workshop, but she was having her students use Kidwriting notebooks. I bit my lip. After all, it was my first time in her classroom. I wasn’t about to tell her what kind of paper I thought her students should use.
I went back to Kelly’s classroom in late January, a little over a month after my first visit. She was ready to teach the ninth lesson from the TCRWP 1st grade personal narrative unit of study. However, she was concerned about the volume of her students’ writing. She didn’t think they were writing quite enough and wondered how to get them to do a better job of telling a story across pages. As a reflective practitioner, she wondered if the kids were getting to the end of a page in their Kidwriting notebooks and thinking “That’s it. I’m done.”
I was eager to try out a different kind of paper. However, Kelly didn’t have any of the part-picture/part-lined paper I’m accustomed to seeing in 1st grade classrooms. For this reason, we quickly made a paper template and had her instructional aide make 100 copies of the paper we created.
Next, we co-taught a minilesson together. She did the connection (since I hadn’t been there in over a month), and I led the teaching demonstration, active engagement, and link. I modeled a story about going to a trampoline park with my daughter. First I said my story aloud, touching each page as I thought about the parts of the story. Then, I sketched each part of my story. I told the students that later I could go back and write the story on the lines of each page.
For the active engagement, I asked her class to think of a true story that had happened to them that had a beginning, middle, and an end. Once everyone had an idea, Kelly and I disseminated the new paper to the kids. The students laid out three pieces of the new paper in front of them. Then, they talked with their partner and orally told their story across pages, touching the pages as they spoke. Then the partners switched. By the time the minilesson was over, the children had rehearsed what they were going sketch and write.
While conferring with students, there were a few things Kelly and I discovered:
- We needed to teach students what to do when they finished a book. In fact, once we noticed this issue with two kids, I decided to do a mid-workshop interruption. I wanted to make sure the kids knew where they could find more paper so they could start another story.
- We realized we should not staple the booklets until the kids were finished with each story. When stapled, the kids had to have us remove the staples to add or omit pages from their stories. I suggested Kelly allow them to staple their booklets as a way of finishing a book before putting it in their writing folder and starting a new one.
- We needed to provide kids with different kinds of paper. For instance, some kids needed sheets of lined paper (without a box for a sketch) so they could elaborate. We pulled some lined paper out of a cabinet for that purpose and stapled those pages into their booklets. That said, as soon as I got home, I searched online for free, printable story paper templates Kelly could download and duplicate so she could provide a variety of paper choices to her students the following day.
- Speaking of paper choices, go to the All Kids Network for a variety of free, primary, lined paper templates. Also, ABC Teach and Donna Young have some free, blank-top paper templates.
Sometimes making a small change can produce big results. Shifting from notebooks to lined paper was a game changer for Kelly’s students. Having the ability to write across pages allowed them to tell longer stories. Having a space to sketch a picture for each part of their story enabled them to add more details to their pictures. Sketching a picture for each part prepared them to elaborate more in their writing when they reached the lined part of the page.
Kelly’s students were engaged in independent writing for about 50 minutes prior to the share session. The amount of writing they produced during independent writing time was significant. AND, their enthusiasm for making books was a delight to witness! I cannot imagine how many books each child will be in their writing folders by the time I return to their classroom later this month.
Two student work examples on the new paper:
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades 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).