Writing in Choice Time: Not Just a Center

Children become better writers in writing workshop.

Children become writers in play.

In writing workshop, children write because they need to.

In play, children write because they need it.

In play, children need writing to inform.

In play, children need writing to convince.

In play, children need writing to observe.

In play, children need writing to create.

In play, children need writing to connect.

In play, children need writing to remember.

The Ideal Condition for Learning

In Engaging Children, Ellin Oliver Keene’s student-centered definition of engagement is captured through four pillars:

Four pillars of engagementWhat a child might say or show
Intellectual
urgency
“I have to know more.”
Emotional
resonance
“I react to an idea and get into it with my heart as well as my mind.”
Perspective
bending
“Other learners affect my thinking. I affect thim.”
The aesthetic
world
“This [idea or experience] is mine and I’m drawn to it. It feels like it was created just for me.”

(p. 62)

When considering these pillars, it’s no wonder that children often are most engaged at play. With each of these engagement activators at work, play becomes an opportune time to integrate literacy and nurture identities. When offered meaningful, urgent, emotional, and purposeful opportunities, children approach writing with greater optimism, stronger persistence, and more care.

Finding Purpose

For children to see the purpose of writing in play, we must also see it. We can think of play like a community in the world — it’s what children are making sense of, after all!

As described above, people in the world (generally) write to:

  1. Inform
  2. Convince
  3. Observe
  4. Create
  5. Connect
  6. Remember

How do people rely on writing for these purposes in construction or architecture? In art? In science? In STEM fields? At hospitals and vet clinics? At stores, restaurants, and other places that attract visitors?

Click image to enlarge

It’s helpful to keep an anecdotal note-taking tool at hand during play. While observing each center, think, How is writing needed in this center? How would it be needed in the world? These notes can be helpful when making plans for choice time conferences and support throughout the week.

Inviting Children to Write

Once a purpose is established, extend an invitation to children to write. This can be done several ways:

  1. Show children real pictures of what they are playing in the world (i.e. a nail salon, a pizza restaurant). Better yet, bring them to one if it’s a topic the community is particularly invested in. While they are observing the photo or place, have them notice any kind of writing (i.e. signs, menus, directions). Discuss why that information is needed and make a plan for adding similar information to the classroom center.
  2. Lead with wonder. Visit the center and ask lots of questions as an observer or a participant. This might sound like, “What flavors of ice cream do you serve? Where do the passengers sit? What movies are you showing?” Then those questions can be followed up with coaching: “One way people at a _____ show this kind of information is by making a (sign, menu, etc.).”
  3. Offer writing as a problem-solving tool: Conflict happens in play every day. Perhaps children are arguing about who gets to play what, or which center gets the pretend money, or a tower gets knocked down. These are all opportunities to take a break from play to write a plan, an agreement, or a sign. Some children even make apology cards during play after a big problem as a way to fix it with a friend.

Write Together

Once children in a center are invested in the idea taking a break from play to write, it’s an excellent time for small-group interactive writing. Let kids use big paper, chart markers, or even paint to write. Once they see several students working with a grown-up, more will want to come join. Knowing which stage writers are at for spelling will allow you to differentiate for when to share the pen.

Supporting Transfer

What we do to support children in their play can support them throughout all content areas.

Information writers label their pictures just like we label our choice time centers. Stories have characters just like we do in play. Signs can become student mentors during a persuasive unit. A recipe for play-doh can be used to launch a how-to unit.

Take this tool, created by Katie Lee’s class of kindergartners, for the block center: “We make a plan. We build. We add details. We play.” Experiencing the block center in this way allowed Katie to make connections to writing books (and procedural writing).

Katie’s partner chart supported children at choice time and during each content area.

Throughout the year, kids will begin noticing reasons to write during play on their own. They’ll need less support as they grow more confident with writing words. Families may even share that signs and directions are being posted all around home. With ample time for playing with writing and writing with play, a true writer’s mindset will grow.

My Favorite Places to Learn about Play

Purposeful Play, by Kristi Mraz, Alison Porcelli, Cheryl Tyler

Kristi also shares resources for play at kristimraz.com

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Dr. Stuart Brown

Choice Time: How To Deepen Learning Through Inquiry, by Renee Dinnerstein

Renee blogs frequently about choice time, including about journaling after choice time at https://www.investigatingchoicetime.com