Last week, I received a request from Sarah Columbus to help her fifth-grade students get started with plan boxes at the end of the mini-lesson. Sarah had heard me tout the benefits of plan boxes during a PD session I led last month. I questioned the timing since we’re approaching winter recess and it often takes two weeks for students to get good at crafting plan boxes. (By the time two weeks would roll around, the kids would be ready for winter recess.) However, Sarah wasn’t concerned about the timing since she’s the kind of teacher who will reteach something if she knows it will maximize instructional time.
I didn’t have much time to plan before teaching Sarah’s fifth graders about plan boxes. I needed to connect the plan boxes to something students would understand. I recalled a photo of a to-do list I created for myself in early November. I projected it onto the interactive whiteboard to show students that people make plans to help use their time efficiently.
Next, I explained plan boxes. I told students these tools could be used to help self-manage their independent writing time. I explained how they could take the information provided in (the link of) each day’s minilesson, along with all of the strategies they’ve learned about writing well, and they could create a plan each day to help them determine the order in which they would complete their work. Next, I provided students with a sample plan they might create. Finally, I turned it over to students so they could have-a-go creating their first plan box.
Sarah and I reviewed every student’s plan box before they went off to their focus spots. (We did this to ensure each student’s plan was specific and robust enough to occupy their entire independent writing time.) As expected on the first day of something new, many students’ plans were sparse. Other students created plans so similar to the sample I created on the easel that Sarah and I sent them back (to revise their plan) so it was specific to what they were working on as writers.
Plan boxes are game changes since they allow students to have some ownership over their work time. They’re also excellent for managing the class since kids who make plans regularly know exactly what they need to accomplish. In addition, if you notice a student off-task during independent writing time, you can ask the child: “What’s your plan? Are you working on it?” or “How’s it going with your plan?” Usually, that’s enough to get an off-task student back to work.
Interested in implementing plan boxes in your classroom so you can maximize the amount of time you have to confer and meet with small groups? Here’s a chart you can use with your students to help them get started with plan boxes:
Would you like more assistance getting started with plan boxes? Below are two excerpts from Day by Day (Used with permission from Stenhouse Publishers.), which will provide you an overview of plan boxes, a challenge, reflective practice questions, and student samples of plan boxes:
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).