I have collected quite a few ideas, activities, and strategies to improve student writing. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Some of our children are not very interested in writing. We have been really trying to give the children many opportunities to write about things that interest them. It is amazing how much better some of the children write when they get to choose the topic. One of the things my mentor did to introduce and make writing meaningful to the children really stuck out to me. She talked with the children about their favorite movies and TV shows. After talking for a minute or two she asked the children if they knew that all of their favorite movies and TV shows started out as writing. Most of the children did not, and they responded with questions and excitement for their new found knowledge.
- The 4-square method. This is a method that can be adapted for any level and is really easy to teach the children. Here is a link to a ppt. that explains the method: http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/taylorse/About/Writing%20for%20Everyone.pdf
Right now we have been using the four square method to make 4 page books. The children pick a topic to put in the center. Then, in the first three boxes they write something about the topic. Then they go back and turn the thoughts in their boxes into complete sentences. The next step is to add an ending. We are trying to discourage them from saying "the end" which is a difficult concept. (I mean, if I look at my own writing and my experiences tutoring at the collegiate level, the conclusion is always the most difficult thing to do. We, as more experienced writers, can always fall back on a summary, but children writing four page books cannot really summarize their pages again). After the children write their sentences, we have them go back and add details to their sentences. The details can be descriptive words or additional sentences or related thoughts. Next the children go through their four squares and make edits to their squares. Then they read it to a partner and make any additional edits. At this point, they sign up for an individual conference with one of us and pull something out to work on. We call the children for conferences one by one and go over their four-square with them. We make sure they can read their story, help them edit (on their level), and help them spell any words they circled (a writing strategy we have taught them so they focus on getting out their thoughts rather than spelling) or essential words. After their conference, they are ready for their final draft! They take each box and put it on a book page and illustrate that page. Finally they make a cover and put it into their writing portfolio. What's next? They start all over again! I know that sounds complicated, but it really is a great way to teach writing, and it is really simple once you see it in progress. I plan on using it not only as a teacher, but also with my student-athletes. You might even see 4 squares on my next paper outline!
- Mini Offices: Mini offices are a file folder with writing resources glued onto it for the children to use with their writing. Prior to school starting, we fill the mini offices with different resources (which I will list below) and then have the children take their folder home and decorate the cover with labeled pictures of their families, things they like, special places etc. The covers serve two purposes. The first is that it has a lot of words that children want to use in their writing, but that teachers may not be able to help them spell (names especially). It also was a great way for us to learn about the children, and the children to learn about each other early in the year. Here is what else is in the mini office: Child's name, ABC chart, story words, color words, blends, shape words, money words, order words, the "5 W's", bossy'R words (-er,-ir,-ar,-or,-ur), vowel dipthongs, and word families. The children keep these with them in their desk bags and as a result have all of these wonderful resources at their fingertips for writers workshop or independent work throughout the day.
More to come! I am learning as much about writing as the children!