In Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms, Paula Bourque states, “We write for so many reasons, from practical to poetical. I want my students to embrace writing as a way of being human.” Not to raise test scores, not to get a point on a rubric, not to earn a certain grade on a report card. There is writing for the game of school and there is writing as a path to better self-knowledge, writing as a bridge to connect with others, writing as a means to understand the world and our place in it. What do you want for your student writers?
When we want more than formulaic writing, more than answers filled in a graphic organizer, we need to establish writing as more than something done for an assignment.
In my third grade classroom, here is what I plan to do to start the year with passion and purpose for writing:
Teacher as Writer:
I’m going to gather a collection of pieces I’ve written through the years: a poem for my son, the eulogy for my grandmother, the speech for my sister’s wedding, blog posts I’ve written, an A-Z book I made for my husband when we were dating, my writer’s notebooks, etc. I plan to share how writing has meant so much to me and has allowed me to remember important moments, communicate my love for people, and understand my thinking and feelings. I want my students to know I have a passion for writing and it is a meaningful practice in my life.
In the classroom, I’ve used surveys to learn about my third grade students as readers. Typically, I give the same survey at the beginning of the year and the end of the year, which allows me to see if students changed their thinking over time. I’m not sure why I never thought to give students a survey about writing, but this year I plan to find out what they think about why people write, what people write, and how they feel about themselves as writers.
In Kelsey Corter’s post, “When Writers Choose the Genre: Nurturing Independence From the Start”, Kelsey says, “Writers in the world find reasons to write, drawing upon inspiration in everyday occurrences. Then, they think flexibly about how to bring ideas to life.” I want my students to understand that writing takes many forms and there are so many reasons a person might choose to write. So before we begin our year together in writing workshop, I want to know what students already think about writing. Do they feel like writers? Do they know why people write?
After reviewing student surveys, I want to make a display of the answers to the questions “Why do people write?” and “What do people write?” (I will fill in any missing ideas from student surveys.) Kelsey’s chart about the reasons we write is an excellent one to share and adapt for this purpose. Students need to know there are many reasons to write and many possible ways to express themselves via writing.
One Topic, Many Genres
It is important for students to know the terms narrative, persuasive, informational and poetry. I plan to show them how you can write about a topic in any genre. I am going to pick the topic “Roller coasters” because my family took a vacation at an amusement park this summer with many roller coasters and I think it is a topic that third graders will enjoy. I plan to model a personal narrative, a persuasive piece, a “how-to”, and a poem about roller coasters. My idea is to model one genre a day and briefly talk about the structures we commonly see in that genre.
I wrote about territory maps here and plan to bring them back this year! Heart maps are a great tool to help students brainstorm topics, but territory maps are another possible way to go. My social studies unit in September is about geography with a focus on maps, so creating maps in writing workshop is another way to layer meaning and understanding. The map students choose is one way of expressing a topic they love. The goal is to uncover important people, places, and events that a student might want to come back to again and again when thinking of a writing idea.
Each year, I use Kidblog as the platform for my students to become bloggers. This year, I am considering interactive blogging on our class website before students start to blog themselves. In this way, I can model the parts of a blog, considering the audience and the purpose, and revising and editing before publishing.
Personalizing Writer’s Notebooks
I usually reserve a Friday afternoon for this activity! Students bring in photographs or any memorabilia they want to add to their notebooks (ticket stubs, postcards, etc.) I always have magazines and stickers on hand for students who do not bring in anything from home. Students can share their notebooks with a partner and the class can do a gallery walk to view all the personalized notebooks.
Read Alouds That Celebrate Writing
One other way to show my passion for writing is to share beautiful books with students and notice what the author did to make the book so special. Some books that I plan to share with my students include:
How do you start the year of writing workshop with passion and purpose?