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Engaging with Preschool Writers

I am not a primary person. Sure, I’ve spent time working alongside kids in first- and second-grade classrooms when I’ve done consulting work, but my comfort zone lies in the upper elementary grades. Despite that, I’ve been volunteering in my daughter’s mixed-age preschool class on most Mondays this school year. I offered to volunteer for two reasons:

  1. I wanted to learn more about emerging writers.
  2. I needed to fulfill volunteer hours with her school (and didn’t want to serve as a class parent during the Halloween and Valentine’s Day parties).

My real motivation for restructuring my schedule to provide classroom assistance, as opposed to volunteering in another capacity, was prompted by my desire to better prepare my daughter for Kindergarten. I knew Isabelle would be more apt to accept my assistance if she saw me working with her peers.

I started in September doing journal writing with the kids. By January, I realized they needed oral storytelling practice in order to enhance their ability to draw and tell stories so I modeled this. After reading Engaging Young Writers: Preschool-Grade 1 by Matt Glover, I encouraged all of the children to step out of their journals to create short books filled with their true, one-time stories. Once I noticed Isabelle and her peers extending themselves beyond three pages (i.e., a beginning page, a middle page, and an ending page), I realized it was time to step things up again.

I thought about nonfiction writing, but was unsure what to do first. I consulted Betsy Hubbard and Kathleen Sokolowski, both of whom have years of experience teaching Kindergarten, who gave me some ideas. I also referred back to Glover’s book and considered two other entry points for the young writers in Isabelle’s class. I could capitalize on the children’s experiences and on their interests in topics (2009, 133). However, I had to decide which one to try first. I opted to go with experiences.

I went into Isabelle’s school last week, armed with charts and two self-created books about my own experiences. I planned a minilesson and hoped the kids would be interested in writing something other than stories. [Click here if you’d like to view the minilesson.] However, I didn’t want to assign the kids to write about their experiences. Thankfully, once many of them reached the writing center, I discovered they were willing to write something other than stories!

Kathleen encouraged me to have the kids who were willing to write about their experiences use a sentence stem (of sorts) to help them organize their writing. Having a repeated phrase to start off their writing helped since they have been used to sequencing their writing on each page beginning with a transition word like first, second, next, last.

Day one went better than I expected. I was pleased with how the kids who attempted to write about their experiences, rather than stories, did. Here’s a sampling of what two of them wrote:

My daughter chose to write about what happens at synagogue, which is something she felt she could teach others about. Click on the image to enlarge.
My daughter chose to write about what happens at synagogue, which is something she felt she could teach others about.
Click on the image to enlarge.

 

One of the boys in the class recently got a new bike. He felt confident he could write about what he does when he goes out on his bike. Click on the image to enlarge.
One of the boys in the class recently got a new bike. He felt confident he could write about what he does when he goes out on his bike.
Click on the image to enlarge.

As you may have noticed, the kids whose writing I shared are not writing words yet. They’re providing me with the words and I scribe their oral stories onto sticky notes. I don’t write directly on their papers since it is my hope they’ll go back and add the words themselves once they’re ready.

Next Monday (since my schedule precluded me from volunteering this past Monday), I’m planning to use the children’s play for inspiration since I don’t think some of the kids believed they could write a book to teach others about something they know well. Betsy suggested using the children’s play as an inspiration. Therefore, I might encourage the kids to write a step-by-step piece about what they do in a given center (e.g., sensory table, block station, dress-up area). It’s my hope the kids who stuck with stories today may realize they have personal expertise with centers and will be apt to write about those experiences. And if they continue to write stories, then that will be acceptable too.

This year in preschool has been a lot of trial and error since I am far out of my comfort zone. I would welcome the expertise of any early childhood educators who read this post. What would you suggest for the remainder of the school year?

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

3 thoughts on “Engaging with Preschool Writers Leave a comment

  1. I have also had the opportunity to work with our amazing preschoolers for the first time this year. Prior to this experience I had never worked with four year olds. Each week I would choose a book to read that would spur a writing opportunity. I had so much fun! I made a “writer’s notebook” (sketch book) for each of them and encouraged oral storytelling. As always, I learned more from them than they learned from me. Every week I would also tell them a personal story, they are the most attentive listeners! I even had a parent contact me after telling a story of how my husband got “stuck on the roof” she wanted to make sure he had been rescued!

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  2. I love the writing samples from Isabelle and her friend! When I was a kindergarten teacher, I always felt like there were two different purposes during writing workshop- one was to have the students develop ideas, find their voice, tell a story; the other was to teach students that words are made up of sounds and those sounds are written down as letters. Students had to learn how to stretch out words, listening for the sounds at the beginning, middle and end. Students also had to learn to draw in more conventional ways, such as drawing a person and using details that match the way the person looks (blue eyes, brown hair, etc.) As the year went on, they learned to write their sight words as part of their sentences (“I like cookies” as an example- if the student knew “I” and “like” then he/she only had to stretch out the word “cookies”- perhaps written as “ckez”). Kindergarten teachers have to balance those important conventions and beginning writing skills with storytelling, idea development, and learning craft. It’s hard work! So as far as next steps, I think it would depend on your goal. Do you want kids to start putting words on the page? Do they know any sight words? Or is the goal more for language development- storytelling and expression of ideas? One idea I have is to try poetry with them with simple list poems. Perhaps with a group that has a solid letter/sound knowledge. You could pick an object- something in nature or a plate of cookies (clearly on my mind!). You could talk about all the ways to describe the object, from size, color, shape, texture, smell, taste, etc. You could share the pen with them and do interactive writing as you write some of the words and invite them to write a word or a sound in the word they know. Then, after your shared poem is composed, you could have them illustrate it. One idea would be to type it up or take a picture of it and have them illustrate it on their own. One other idea I had would be to have students tell a rich story around the work they draw and then record them. Some apps easily make a QR code right from the recording and that could be placed on the student’s illustration. Maybe for those who are not ready for letter/sound work but are still developing their oral composition? I would love to know what you do next!

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    • There are two kids in Isabelle’s preschool class who are writing sentences. The rest of them are working like she is: drawing and telling oral stories, but not doing actual writing. Seeing as I’m only in there once a week (max.), I’m limited with what I can do. You’ve given me so many great things to think about, Kathleen. I’ll be in there on Monday so I’ll Vox you know what I decide to do (and how it goes).
      THANKS!

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