academic choice · authentic assessment · celebration · collecting · lessons learned from students · writing workshop

Drilling Down into the Writing

Of the many ways I gain an understanding of my writers, my favorite and most valuable is gathering up all the writing and diving into reading ALL  the students’  work.

I am sure some of you are beginning to sigh. Yes, this task can be daunting at first, but I consider it a luxury, an indulgence even. First, I grabbed a hot beverage, found a big empty table, and then opened the folders! When I first gazed upon all the folders in one stack, papers bulging out of the top and falling out of the sides, I began to doubt the power of this indulgence. However,  I found rewards buried within these papers, no matter how crumpled!

Here’s the tale of my journey.


I gathered all the writing folders and headed to a comfortable place where I could spread out. I chose my space carefully to protect the privacy of my writers.

Setting the Table

Set the table- -Post-it-notes for jotting notes to the writers. -Writing folders -iPad and stylus for anecdotal notes -Grande Red Cup beverage

I grabbed a thick pad of sticky notes (I like to leave notes for the writers to find later. They love knowing I have read their stories), my beverage, pens, stylus, and my record keeping system (my system is in Notability on my iPad). Now, I am ready to open up a writing folder and begin my investigation.


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I wasn’t far into the writing when I spotted the simplest evidence of writing pride. Some students were beginning to mark themselves as the author and illustrator on the cover of the books they were writing.  I had to pause; I hadn’t asked the writers to list themselves in this way. These readers had noticed this on the books they’ve read, and they’ve heard me read the names of the authors and the illustrators as I’ve read books to them.  These 6 and 7-year-olds see themselves as writers and illustrators!

Class Favorites

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As I continued reading, I began to notice commonalities across writing. This one wasn’t too much of a surprise, The Dark, Dark Wood (and all it’s versions) have been a huge hit in our classroom! I love knowing writers have found writing mentors.

Beginnings of Voice and Craft

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I had a snack it was Yummy… all messy. What do you think it was?

Another unexpected find. Not only was this writer working on a personal narrative (our current minilesson topic), but she was adding voice. I love the way she stepped out and engaged the reader!  Thankfully, she didn’t  leave us hanging. On the next page she shares the yummy, messy snack was an orange!  This writer has learned to engage the writer in a fun and interesting way.

Writers Write About What’s Important to Them

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We were excited because it was a great day I felt happy, and I was very excited we were having fun

I witnessed a writer’s first try at adding feelings to a story. In our minilessons, we have talked about the power of feelings in making a story interesting for the reader. We have practiced stopping to visualize the moment we are writing about and then quickly jotting down what we see, hear, and feel.  This writer knows feelings makes writing interesting for the reader.

Making the Writing Yours

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I pretend to be… a famous soccer player. I pretend to be a famous soccer player. (end page) do you do you do you….

This piece had me beaming from ear to ear! I first noticed the patterned text modeled after an earlier read aloud. Then, I was struck by the use of an ellipsis to keep the reader waiting. I also noticed the end pages she was designing and how she was using the end page to support the story. This same writing technique had been a topic in recent reading workshop share conversations. This writer is building a tool box from the books she reads and using these tools to craft her voice and style.

Writing Mentors are Everywhere

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I am a toothless girl!

I came across these two stories with similar text written by two different authors. How wonderful is it the writers are listening to their peers and borrowing writing ideas? Writers in our workshop listen to each other, inspire writers and work to make each piece individual to their story.

As I read, I took notes on all I noticed about the writers, the work they were doing, and the work yet to be done.  I noticed my writers need to build a larger bank of known words and clean up a few conventions. But more importantly, these 6 and 7-year-old writers are developing a voice. They are finding writing mentors in the books they read and the writers who sit beside them. I am certainly not the only teacher in the room.  And with this, I rest assured, these writers have what they need to grow and develop as writers.

The week following this indulgence has been a focused and purpose driven week of instruction and sharing. I found students who need more guidance in generating topics and developing stories. I also found writing mentors who have lifted the motivation and drive in our workshop.

As a bonus, the writers have loved sifting through their folders looking for a note from Mrs. Frazier. This little note lifts the heart of the writers and offers celebration, and maybe revisions, on a story they may have long ago dismissed.

6 thoughts on “Drilling Down into the Writing

  1. As a former kindergarten teacher, I am in awe of these first graders! I love that you can see their reading connections in their writing and how they are using many examples of craft in their writing. I have been retraining my brain to look for the gems in my students’ writing instead of the conventions (or lack thereof). When I look at their writing through that lens, I am impressed by all they are doing, too! I love this post!


    1. Looking beyond the conventions (or lack thereof) takes a trained eye and a keen sense of who your students are as writers. It’s easy to look for what’s missing, but seeing what’s there is where you find the writer.


  2. Thanks for sharing your students’ work. And your thoughtful inspection and obvious respect for them as authors and illustrators. I’m going to give Notability a try as a sit down with my post-its , folders, and stack of first grade personal narratives:) any hints?


  3. I love that you think of looking at student writing as a luxury! It’s similar to that old adage: “[Y]ou don’t have to write, you get to write.” It’s “You don’t have to look at student writing, you get to look at student writing.” It’s all about perspective, isn’t it!??!


    1. Perspective is a choice and I choose to see things in a way that best meets the needs of the students and me as their teacher. Taking this time makes teaching so much more interesting. You find a need, you set out to meet the need, make learning shifts and just like that your writer is growing!
      Rinse, repeat!


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