Using Your Own Writing as a Teaching Tool

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It seems appropriate that today’s post should be related to using your own writing in the classroom. We are, after all, in the midst of the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. And what an amazing month it has already been. This year has been our biggest, most successful year yet! We have over 300 participants from all over the world, sharing their writing every day!

As a writing teacher, one of the most important things you can do is practice, practice, practice your own writing. Every time you sit down to write you are gaining insider knowledge about what writers do–so that you can share that knowledge with the kids you teach.

Here are four ways you might use your own writing as a teaching tool in the classroom.

1. Use your own writing as an exemplar for major revision.

It is incredibly powerful for kids to see that adults really do revise. Save the first, second, third drafts of some of your stories–especially the ones that have handwritten notes all over them. Click here to check out Kate DiCamillo’s drafts of Because of Winn Dixie for some inspiration.

2. Create versions of your own writing as demonstration texts in one-one conferring with kids.

Make a bare-bones version of one of your stories to share with kids. Make it really simple, just a few sentences. Plus, make several other versions, each a bit more developed than the last, so that you can match your writing to the level of the children you teach. It’s helpful for kids to see examples that closely match their own writing, or perhaps are just a tiny bit ambitious compared to their own work–but not so different from their own writing that they can’t see how to get from point A to point B.

3. Create a teaching text–purposefully leave out details, sentences, and other elements.

Create a version of your story that is missing a few pieces, so that you can add those pieces together with kids. “Kid-i-tize” your writing (like digitize, but kiditize). Make it look like a kid wrote it. Then, in a minilesson, a small group, or a conference, you can add to it. Pick and choose what to leave out based on what you plan on teaching. It helps to anticipate the same kinds of mistakes your kids might make. If they tend to leave out dialogue, then do that. If they tend to overuse dialogue, then do that!

Here’s one of my stories that I kid-i-tized. You can click on it to enlarge.

Ice Skating

I’ve used it a number of times already. The first version was just sketches (you can see that in pencil), then I used it in a conference to teach labeling (you can see that in pen), then finally I used it to teach a minilesson on using a checklist to improve my writing (you can see those revisions thicker black pen). I can continue using this story–the third page has been left unfinished, and there is plenty of room for more detail. Kids love seeing that I’ve been working on my story over time. The different pens help them to see that more clearly.

The kid-version of my story about the ice-rink is based on an entry in my writers notebook I wrote a while back; it’s one I turned into a Slice of Life Story post this week. You might decide to kid-i-tize some of your own slices!

4. Last, but not least, use your own stories to build community in your classroom.

When you share stories from your own life with students, you are letting them get to know you, and this builds a relationship between you and the kids. They see you sharing about your life, and it makes them a little more comfortable about sharing about their lives. Also, kids seem to enjoy hearing about teachers’ lives: our families, our hobbies, the ups and downs of life. Your stories become a sort of glue that binds the class together. Years from now your students will say, “Remember that year we had that awesome teacher who always told us stories about her (or his) life?”