Mr. Sketch marker in hand, my little students helped me compose piece after piece through shared writing over the course of my ten years as a kindergarten teacher. We wrote lists, drafted letters, made signs, composed stories and went through the writing process together, as I wielded the marker to show them how sounds became letters and letters became words and words became sentences. I understood and utilized shared writing as a kindergarten teacher, in whole class lessons.
In my seven years as a third grade teacher, I hadn’t considered using shared writing as a teaching tool for small group instruction. I wish I had sooner! The beauty in effective teaching techniques is how they can be tailored and used flexibly across grade levels and groupings.
This is the year to pull out all the instructional stops to help students. My third grade class of 23 children includes children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) and children who learned remotely for 18 months. It includes children who learned behind plexiglass and children who missed chunks of schooling due to quarantining and family issues related to COVID-19. Writing, in particular, feels like an uphill battle this year. These are challenging times, but teachers are naturally solution seekers. We want to help our students take the next steps towards progress, learning and growth. Small group instruction tailors what students need and shared writing can be an effective tool for many students.
In her book Teaching Writing in Small Groups (Heinemann 2021), Jennifer Serravallo writes, “Shared writing is a great choice when you aim to offer students a lot of support, almost as much as a demonstration, but in an interactive, engaging way…you hold the pen the whole time so that the writing (and the session) moves quickly, and you end up with a strong exemplar piece that students can return to as a model to study as they work on their own writing” (92).
Shared writing is commonly used in the primary grades to help students see the connection between oral language and writing. This school year is challenging me to find new ways to reach my students. Using shared writing in small groups is one way I plan to expand my reach this year.
Real teacher moment: I haven’t tried shared writing in a small group yet. I’m not sure how it is near the end of October already. As I get to know my third grade writers, I know shared writing will be an effective way to help students who need language support, confidence and writing stamina. Here are some ideas I have for shared writing in small groups.
I love Georgia Heard’s “Recipe for Writing an Autumn Poem.” I often ask students to brainstorm words related to Halloween and create a Recipe for Writing a Halloween Poem. I’ve had students in the past who have loved this structure and have made their own “recipes” for all different holidays.
In a shared writing session, the teacher and students can create their own version of “Recipe for Writing a _____ Poem”. If a holiday isn’t appropriate, it can be a school poem, a birthday poem, or a seasonal poem. Cynthia Rylant’s beautiful book In November could be a powerful mentor text for shared writing about the current month. The small group can brainstorm a list of words that relate to the topic and then decide collaboratively the best way to write the poem. This type of small group will especially be beneficial for EAL students who would benefit from the structure of the poem and the vocabulary development.
Funny class experiences are the perfect small moment for shared writing in a small group. The conversation can include retelling the small moment and then planning how to write it, sharing the beginning, middle and end. Strategies to tuck in could include dialogue, an effective hook, and closing with a big feeling. This type of small group will be especially beneficial for students who have difficulty generating ideas for stories.
With a packed scope and sequence for all subject areas and time on short supply between push-ins, pull-outs, fire drills and more, weaving cntent area into shared writing small group sessions can be a powerful solution. As a group, you can compose a recap of what was learned in the content area that week for a classmate who might have missed the lessons. Other ideas:
- Compose letters to historical figures
- Write the steps of a science experiment
- Draft part or all of an essay on a content related topic
This type of small group might be beneficial for students who miss content lessons due to pull-outs. It could also be a good fit for students who are looking for their writing to be very purposeful.
Quick Tips for Shared Writing
- Jennifer Serravallo suggests, “Consider making a duplicate of whatever you create in the small group for each child to keep with them to serve as a model or mentor text for them to return to as they work on their own pieces” (100). I think this would be really helpful for students who sometimes just don’t know how to begin or feel stuck.
- Use the shared writing copies for future writing lessons.
- Set a timer! Be intentional about how much time you want to take to create the piece of writing with students. Less can be more!
While there are several different types of small group writing instruction that are effective, shared writing is a way to support students who need more of a demonstration but can benefit from adding their ideas to the conversation. As you look at the strengths and needs of your students, consider who might need the structure, model and language that a shared writing session can offer.
Have you utilized shared writing in small groups? What are your best tips and strategies for making it effective?
Giveaway Info :
- Many thanks to Candlewick Press who is sponsoring a giveaway of ten books. TWO readers will receive FIVE of these books each. The books are A Child of Books, Grow: Secrets of Our DNA, Hoop Kings 2: New Royalty, How to Have a Birthday, If You Take Away the Otter, Mi Casa Is My Home, Rain Before Rainbows, The Barn, The Stars Just Up the Street, and Walrus Song.
- For a chance to win these five books, please leave a comment on any of this blog series’ posts by Sun., 10/31 at 6:00 a.m. EDT. I will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce at the bottom of an ICYMI Post on Monday, 11/1.
- NOTE: You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Candlewick will send five picture books to each of our winners.
- If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SMALL GROUPS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.