Adventures in First Grade Writing

When you love writing, and love teaching writing, and when you blog often about the teaching of writing, it’s a wee bit awkward when your own first grade son refuses to write in school. Alex’s wonderful and caring teacher let me know that he was having a difficult time when it was time to write. For a little boy who hates to be wrong, writing when you don’t know how to spell the words can be paralyzing.

As a former kindergarten teacher (before moving up to third grade), I always felt I wore several hats when I taught my students to write. I had to teach them about purpose and desire for writing and writer’s craft, as I do now, but I also had to teach them about letter/sound correspondence, and letter formation, and left to right on the page, and representational drawings, etc. Teachers of emergent writers need to teach the why, what and the HOW of writing in ways that upper grade teachers usually don’t. Building confidence and encouraging young writers to take risks is another aspect of teaching emergent writers and some children are not as okay with approximations. Like my son.

After talking to Alex about writing and how it is better to put something on the page than nothing, I tried to show him that his approximations would be understandable and readable by many. That it was okay if the word was not spelled exactly right but he wrote it as he heard it. He was skeptical, so we made a bet. I told Alex to write the word “turkey” as best he could and I would post it on my Facebook page. If people could read the word, without any picture clue, I would win the bet (but more importantly, show Alex that others can read his writing.) He was sure no one could read his writing, but 70 comments later, he saw that EVERYONE knew he wrote turkey!

This little bet seems to have given Alex a shot of confidence when it comes to writing. His teacher told me he approached writing with more enthusiasm after this experience. I was excited to see him grab a notebook this weekend to record the first day’s adventure of our new seasonal visitor, The Elf on the Shelf. (I resisted this guy for quite some time, but decided to try it this holiday season.) Here’s what Alex recorded, and here’s the inspiration:


Recording the whereabouts of our elf, Smiling Max, was completely Alex’s idea. He didn’t ask me how to spell any words and his growing sight word knowledge is helping him as a writer. Seeing Alex grow as a writer, and acknowledging the struggles and difficulty that writers might face, is illuminating for me as a mom and a teacher. My third graders are just two years away from where Alex is now and they are crafting personal essays this month. Just two short years ago, they were maybe struggling to sound out words, too. How much we expect of young children and how amazing it is to see them develop in all areas of writing, including confidence, which is quite key, in my opinion. Believing you have something to say, believing you are capable of expressing it, and knowing that others will want to read your writing.. and be able to read it are essential beliefs for writers to develop.

What are your experiences with emergent writers who lacked confidence or were reluctant to spell unfamiliar words?