Thinking about Writing Strategies-Inspired by Jennifer Serravallo

Last week, I attended the Connecticut Reading Association’s convention, and I was lucky enough to hear and see some of my literacy heroes. Jennifer Serravallo presented about writing instruction, and her presentation made me that much more excited for her new book, The Writing Strategies Book, due out in February 2017.

Jennifer began with a definition:

A writing strategy is a series of actionable steps that help the writer and not the writing.

She then asked the entire room (and there were probably 100 people) to write just the beginning of a story that mattered to each of us.

After 5-10 minutes, she stopped us, and she pointed out that almost everyone in the room had been writing, and then she asked us to think about:

  • How were you doing it?
  • What kept you writing?
  • Could you articulate your strategies?

She gathered our responses, and she extrapolated the following writing strategies:

  • Choose a moment that is fresh in your mind, and break it down like a movie.
  • Pick a story that you’ve told again and again in your life.
  • Do a little lying. Remember the moment and the feeling, and when you don’t remember exactly what happened, make it up a little.

Jen went on to show us a short passage from  After the Error by Jerry Spinelli, and asked us to think about why the writing was so effective. When someone said that he used strong vocabulary words, she demonstrated how to think about that phrase as a strategy with actionable steps:

Actionable Steps for Using Strong Vocabulary

So HOW do we use strong vocabulary?

Step 1: Circle a word that doesn’t seem precise.

Step 2: Generate a list of synonyms.

Step 3: Go back into your writing and try out some different words.

Step 4: Replace the vague word with a more precise one.

I have written about the importance of teachers writing before, and today, ironically, I have professional development planned where teachers will be–you guessed it–writing. Inspired by Jen, I will also be asking teachers to articulate the strategies they use, not as we talk about story beginnings or using strong vocabulary necessarily, but as we talk about essay writing.

The beautiful thing about Jen’s demonstration is that it can be used and transferred to all types of writing if we just think about the strategies and the sequence of steps we use to complete a writing task. I can’t wait to get her book!

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-7-51-24-am