For many writers, myself included, completing a piece of writing is a major accomplishment. For some writers, it’s hard to even envision a completed piece of writing. A lot of these writers are the focus of conversations around attention and executive functioning, and an effective strategy is to make sure that they know what a completed piece of work looks like. That’s tricky business when time on task and work completion and challenging. That business is especially tricky when school is remote!
Recently, I worked with a remote third-grade class, and because I was concerned that some of them weren’t getting a whole lot of writing done, I leaned into shared writing to jump start them. They were productive, they were proud of the work they completed, and their feedback was that they were now ready to get back to their own pieces of writing and continue the energy.
Here’s what I did.
- Ahead of time, I created slide presentations that I shared with them, creating two groups of three students.
- I chose topics that I was fairly certain they could all write about: things to do in winter and all about pizza.
- With the students, I suggested some sub-topics and let them choose which one they’d be willing to write. I tried to have MORE sub-topics than students so they had some choice in the matter. I filled those topics into the header of a slide with the student’s name on it. For things to do during winter, sub-topics were sledding, snowball fights, and snowman making. (We live in Connecticut.) Kevin was quick to choose sledding, so his slide title was Sledding- Kevin.
- I inserted charts of transition words to serve as additional scaffolds as they wrote their slides.
- I set them off with the responsibility of getting their slides completed for the team.
Here is an example of how I set up one of the presentations.
Yes, there are some drawbacks for shared writing. It’s a pretty strong scaffold in that it’s removing choice for writers, and it’s only asking them to write a part of an overall piece. However, the positive side is that they get to see a piece of writing get completed quickly, and they feel that they are a part of it. Sometimes that kind of experience is the jumpstart they need in order to get moving on their own piece. “If I can do it in this environment, then I can do it in that situation, as well,” is a powerful thought for writers.
Truth and Tip: Nothing hinders information writers like not having knowledge to write about. It’s tough to write anything substantial about a topic you know very little about! Take some time to consider the students and what common interests and knowledge they share.
Some possible topics that I’ve used successfully:
- All about pizza
- All about cooking
- Things to do in the winter (or the summer– we’re just currently in the middle of February in New England!)
- Things to do at the _____
- All about Target/ the local grocery store/ theme park/ any common place
Truth and Tip: Some writers will get their sections finished before others. Offer a virtual high-five and enlist them to write the introduction or conclusion. Even if you have multiple introductions or conclusions, that’s okay!
While this post centers on information writing, shared writing is a strategy that you can use in opinion writing or even narrative writing.
If you’re doing it with opinion writing, the dividing lines are clearer because a lot of the times all of the co-writers can take a specific reason or counter-argument and go from there.
Truth and Tip: it’s trickiest with narrative writing because you have to make it VERY clear where one story teller will leave off and the next one will pick up. You also can’t control some of the details storytellers choose to include that help or hinder later parts of the stories. If you use this strategy with narrative writing, be sure to have students verbally rehearse how the story will go a few times.
As I wrote earlier, shared writing is a scaffold, and any scaffold that’s put in place should have a plan for removing it.
Plans can change though! For two of the boys I worked with, they reflected that they do better with the accountability of a partner. They agreed to each help the other complete their (originally) independent pieces… and they did! As their confidence grows, I am looking forward to hearing about their learning growth and competence!