February 2, 2016

Writing a First Draft - 6 Helpful Tips

I love to teach writing to kids. Indeed I do! I realize I'm in the minority so want to pass along 6 helpful hints that will hopefully get you inspired as well.
Tip #1: Require that students ALWAYS write from a plan -  Graphic organizers are key to producing organized and focused pieces. It sets the stage, gives kids a plan and makes a longer writing piece manageable. On the left an older student has planned out the answer to a writing prompt. I blogged about the importance of planning on a personal narrative piece HERE. On the right a younger student has used a graphic organizer to begin writing a non-fiction piece about penguins.

Tip #2: Share a model before allowing kids to write - they will produce better quality work when they see what you have done, listened to you think out loud about your writing and observed you make the transition from graphic organizer to writing draft. This does not have to take long. I write as authentically as possible. When modeling a personal narrative I choose a story that happened to me when I was roughly the same age as my students. When modeling animal research I choose a critter that interests me. When modeling a how to piece I choose something I've done which I believe my students can relate to. Unless you change grade levels you can use the model year after year.

T #3: Break the writing into chunks - I promise you'll be happy you've done this. A graphic organizer lends itself to natural breaks and makes the process easy. We recently wrote a short story. One day we drafted the beginning. The next day we drafted the middle. The last day we drafted the end. Yes. This approach takes a couple more days of instruction, but the benefits are worth it. Kids work with manageable chunks and don't get bored. You can circulate and support much more effectively. It's easy to do a quick check in, pull a few kids with similar errors and teach a targeted mini lesson before they get too far. On the flip side, I often will project student work to the class (with permission) highlighting something well done along the way.

Tip #4: We use regular 3-hole notebook paper for our drafts. Nothing fancy. The first thing my students do is put their name at the top then put an x on every other line. This reminds them to skip lines so editing is really easy. Sometimes, especially at the beginning of the year, a kid realizes s/he has forgotten to skip lines (despite the x in the margin....) tell them not to panic or erase - just begin skipping lines right NOW and continue.

Tip #5: Students need some sort of spelling resource (that they have been trained to use!) and must have it out. I have a mini economy going and when it is writing time I walk around and pass out 'money' to those who have out their spelling card. No words. No conversation...and you'd be amazed how quickly those cards come flying out! If you need something really handy check out the one my class uses. It's ideal for grades 2 and up and has made a huge difference in student accountability.
Subject-specific Word Banks are helpful too. They do take some time to create but not only do they serve as a great resource, but as inspiration as well. Either project the word bank or make a copy for each kid. During the draft stage some kids will want to use a word that is not on any of their resources. In that case I instruct them to write the word as well as they can - then circle it. This allows them to move on.

Tip #6: I have an electric stapler. I can't live without my electric stapler because kids have to staple their draft to the back of their plan. Guess what -no more loose papers AND kids love to staple things so they do the job. So simple yet so genius. No more, "I can't find my writing." Here is the staple mess at the end of our animal report project, but isn't a problem. An electric stapler does a tidy job. If you don't have an electric stapler, don't worry. A regular will work too - but you may want to invest in an electric one.
Leave a comment if you found any of these tips helpful and I'd love to hear your tricks too! Happy drafting!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let me know what you think!