It’s the time of year when our classrooms are full of students who are as eager to know us as we are to know them. Getting to know our students and building a community, is the most important job we have in our classrooms. As teachers who write know, we understand the power of connecting through writing.
At this time of the year, when the classroom community is new, collaborating and sharing with others can be intimidating for students. Creating unique ways for students to share stories and connect with peers allows for writers to generate topics, develop story details, and find a writing community.
Gathered at my feet, 25 scared and timid faces look up at me, I ask students what they like to do. We talk about sports they play, their pets, hobbies, vacations they took over the summer, and any other idea that will get students talking. The goal here is to get students thinking (and talking) about their lives and finding classmates who share their interest. It’s not long before our chart is full of ideas from sports, to baking, to games, and ideas I would never have imagined.
As our chart fills, students can’t help but shout out when they hear a connection.
“I think I played you in soccer!”
“I have a goldfish, his name is Five.”
“My family went to the beach, I got stung by a jellyfish.”
Students share and I add their ideas to the chart, creating a web. (The web shown here was created in Google Docs using the drawing feature.) Once the topics are recorded, I begin adding the student’s names, connecting students who share interests.
This is the start of a new writing community.
Once the chart is bursting, unable to hold another word, I begin moving the students into small groups by interest. As the students settle into their groups, I give each group a sentence strip and markers. I encourage students to add their names to the strip and illustrate their shared experiences as they talk.
While students work I confer with the groups, feigning excitement, telling them I can’t wait to read their stories. The room is a buzz of clamoring voices as each storyteller competes to captivate the audience. I am making a note of these tidbits, I know these will be the story ingredients needed to engage readers.
I pay attention to the noise level of the room. As it begins to rise, I know the work is done, and conversations are veering off task. I start to collect the now decorated sentence strips created by the writers. Each group now a writing community with shared interests who students can turn to help build future stories.
We gather on the carpet again. Communities share the product of their time together, still, each member jostling to spin their tales. The audience watches interjects, adds their narrative, and extends the writing community with each voice.
As each piece is shared, I staple it to the bulletin board. Creating a border that will frame our future writing. The work of today will remind writers of topics, of friends who can support them, and the details they’ll use to capture readers.
No longer scared and timid, our work has forged a community of writers.