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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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10 thoughts on “Small Writers, Writing Small Leave a comment

  1. I echo Dana’s thoughts! I am so impressed by your teaching and your students’ writing. I didn’t know some of the texts you referenced but I am adding them to my list! I love your use of The Frayer Model and it makes me think I need to do that type of thing more often. If these first grade writers are writing this way now, I cannot even imagine the amazing writers they will be in time! You are giving them such a gift, and all of us as well. Beautiful post!


    • Kathleen,
      Being a part of this team is incredible. With each post, I doubt I have the grit or the knowledge to be a member of this group. I write from my classroom and my heart. My thoughts are the hard, honest truth. Writing about my practice is an amazing way to clarify my beliefs and keep me focused on what’s important.
      Thank you for reading and leaving your thoughts! So proud to be on your team!


  2. I admire the process you engaged in, with your young writers, to uncover what it meant to write small. The work you did, gathering examples and non-examples, will surely stick with them.

    I feel compelled to send you some delicious Brussels sprouts and cauliflower recipes for Amber and Hayley. Sounds like they’ve been “tortured” by vegetables at home.


    • Stacey,
      I have found time and time again how important explicit language is in teaching. Maybe this will be a post for another day! Frayer models are a GREAT tool to clarify definitions.
      Send those recipes and I will send them to the writers parents!


  3. I’ll admit, I was a bit confused about the term ‘small writing’. Initially, I assumed it was to be something like flash fiction–determined by length of the story. From what I could gather, it is writing that is focused on a subject? Why not use the word ‘Focus’ instead of ‘Small’?


  4. Please tell those young authors of yours how much I loved listening to them read their books!

    Deb, your work is here is a wonderful example of what we mean when we say teach something to depth. You did so much more here than just a surface introduction of what it means to write small. You provided mentors, explored the definition with a Frayer Model, allowed them to ask questions about the concept, retaught the idea one-on-one to those kids who still had misconceptions. You’re not kidding around!

    Every time I read your posts, I just think how honored I am to be on the same team as you. 🙂


    • Dana,
      Thank you for your kind and generous words. I feel strongly about working in a manner that will enable all students to believe in themselves. I hope others will see the importance of teaching in layers. Catching all learners on their level and giving them what they need to move forward matters.

      Dana, your closing line means so much to me I have been reading and admiring your work and this blog for a few years. I am still pinching myself that I am working with you and this amazing team! I am truly honored!


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