Small Writers, Writing Small

As my students develop as writers, they’ve learned writers write stories about what’s happened to them. Stories can continue past the assigned writing time. They also know it’s acceptable to take a break when a story becomes laborious.  They are developing into writers who write with voice and craft making their writing personal to the writer and interesting to the reader.

Watching the growth in the workshop has led to a new focus of instruction, writing small. As the students are writing stories that are important to them, some drift from the intended focus, some are beginning to attempt craft techniques while others are working to showcase feelings and important details. Just a quick glance through the writing in our classroom and you will feel the call for more craft, more voice and more drama in our lessons.

I grabbed my favorite mentor texts for small writing, Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements, Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino, In My New Yellow Shirt by Eileen Spinelli, and When I Was Five by Arthur Howard. We reread these books; we discussed the author’s message and the evidence supporting our thinking. Uncovering the evidence was the key point in our lesson, the evidence is where we discovered the key to zooming in and writing small.

For two weeks we explicitly charted our thinking. I demonstrated how to write small moments and small stories. We learned the freedom of a quick writes (the freedom to just quickly write down your ideas without worry of spelling, punctuation, or spacing). It was clear the students were developing an understanding of writing small. Students were seamless at locating evidence of small writing in their reading. Students clamored to offer small moments for our story when we wrote small moments together.

Our workshop was all abuzz about small moments and fun language. Then one day, as I was charting our thinking from Night of the Veggie Monster, “G” said, “Oh, I get it. So when you write small, you make something really big.” YES!  “G” understands writing small!

The next day, as we all gathered for our minilesson, I asked the writers, “What do you want to learn about writing small?” I jotted their questions on post-it notes and posted them on our chart. I was so happy to see questions relating to how writing small adds interest to the story, but a few questions left me wondering if “G’s” language of writing small had confused some writers.

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While most are asking about small writing a story, a few are asking about the LITERAL size of writing small.

After the class and I had read through the questions, I sent them off to write. I gathered a few books, each using a variety of print sizes to show meaning. Then, I sat down with the students who asked this question and I handed them the books. I asked them to reread the books, talk about the size of the print and why the author used the different print sizes. When I returned to the group, they reported, “Writing small can be any size print. What matters is how you’re feeling, and that’s how you choose your size print.” I was so proud of these writers; they worked together to build an understanding of writing small. Of course, this was shared with the class!

A Working Understanding of Writing Small

To help clarify the students’ understanding of writing small we created a Frayer Model. We discussed characteristics, examples, and non-examples of writing small. Considering what writing small is, alongside what writing small is not, provided an excellent opportunity for the students to understand better writing small. We added visuals to sort out our thinking on print sizes and pictures of the books where we found small writing. The pictures, as well as the chart, will support writers as they work to write small. As the chart filled, a class definition began to surface. Our classroom definition of writing small became: writing a lot of things about one thing. 

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Before pictures were added- Under Construction

Amber and Hayley’s stories show their understanding of writing small in their illustrations and words. If you’ve read Night of the Veggie Monster, there’s no doubt you can see how they’ve leaned on this text as a mentor. They are well on their way to controlling this new writing tool!

Amber- The Hate of Brussels Sprouts

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Hayley-  My Bad Day

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