12 Tips for Supporting K-2 Writers

This year I made big changes to my writing instruction.  While my beliefs about writing haven't changed, I've learned some practical ways to support making my instruction match those beliefs. Reality is the hardest part of writing instruction.
12 practical writing tips to support your beginning kinder, first grade, and second grade writers.
This post contains affiliate links which means Amazon tosses me some change whenever someone makes a purchase through one of these links and allows me feed my book habit!

A Teacher's Guide to Getting Started with Beginning Writers K-2

A Teacher's Guide to Getting Started with Beginning Writers K-2 (a mouthful-I usually call it That Writing Book) is a REALITY book. I know what my beliefs about writing instruction and workshop are. Actually implementing those beliefs with 7 years olds with a wide variety of needs is another matter.  It's a short, easy read and helped me change my approach to teaching writing.

I initially felt this wasn't really a K-2 book, but I decided to go ahead and try it.  I've never been super happy with how I got writing workshop going in the classroom, so I really had nothing to lose.
Having used the start up recommendations from the book, our workshop time is running more smoothly that I've ever had in the past.  And the kids are SO HAPPY.  The authors present it as the first five days of workshop.  I'll be honest, I broke each day down into smaller pieces, and took about 3 weeks to use all the suggestions.

Paper Choice

Sooooo many years I went straight to lined looseleaf or notebooks.  Writing is hard.  Allowing choice in paper type is important.  There are so many lines on looseleaf, it's intimidating to writers that aren't sure if they have anything to say, much less 20 lines worth.  Moving from writing to book making has allowed students the flexibility in how they will tell their story.
Bonus? I'm also seeing much better quality revisions and editing.  With less writing on the page, it's less overwhelming and also easier to add text and make changes.
**Go to File-->Make a copy for your own. You will not be able to edit the original file.**

Dictionary

I've tried a ton of options for supporting commonly used words.  This one is the best so far.  I knew the kids would use it because a student came up with the idea.  I use these sight word books from Lucky to Be in First, and I noticed one of my students had it out during writing time.  When I asked him why he was reading his sight word book during our reading time, he showed me that he was using it to spell a word.  It was an awesome way to use the resource, except it was not exactly efficient.  He knew the word was in there but wasn't sure which page to find it on.
**Go to File-->Make a copy for your own. You will not be able to edit the original file.**

I put together a dictionary using a similar format.  I made it in Google Slides, so it's editable.  You can add, take out, whatever.  It's formatted to be run front and back.
PS Molly from Lucky to Be in First is also the one that told me about this GEM of a stapler.  The stapler part swings out so you can staple a book spine.  How genius is this????

Pretending like everything is fine

So, kids were not all doing what we'd talked about in the lesson or using their time really well.  I noted everything that I saw and addressed it in a small group or a mini lesson.  Over and over and over.

Me in my head: Are you kidding me? You've drawn two pictures for the entire week?? That's it???
Me out loud: I see you've gotten two sketches done this week.  What do you think is keeping you from getting to your writing?

Me in my head: One sentence.  Is this for real?  That's all you've gotten done in 20 minutes??
Me out loud: I see you've done some writing to go with your sketch.  What do you think would help you get more words on the page tomorrow?

And you know what? It finally sunk in. I've in the past corrected kids and told them what to do. That never stuck very well. Giving students the time to work through it with my support means they've stayed engaged the whole time, and I haven't lost any writers.

Visuals

Words. Words everywhere. For students that are still learning to read, we have a lot of important information that is available only by reading.  Adding visuals (symbols or real student pictures) as an anchor for our charts has helped kids make a connection and made our charts more accessible for students that aren't yet able to read all of the words.

Rubrics

I never realize how much we ask of writers until I put it down on a rubric.  Creating student friendly rubrics with visuals makes the learning expectations concise.  I usually base the rubric off the chart that we create of expectations for the type of writing we're doing as we're learning it.  The language is familiar and gives students a visual tool to discuss their writing with their peers and parents and with me during conferences.

Meaningful Charts

Less is more.  I've really started limiting the number of charts on the walls and making every word on the charts matter.  If walls are a see of words and charts, they all start to blend together.  Our best writing chart is our Writers' Workshop chart.  The authors of A Teacher's Guide to Getting Started with Beginning Writers start the year by adding pictures of students doing the work of writers' workshop.

Fingertip Charts

So, now that I'm now wallpapering my room in anchor charts, the reality is most kids aren't going to get up and use them.  I used the CamScan app (it fixes distortion) to take a picture of our most used charts and printed two to a page.  There are several copies in each table cubby ready to use at any time.

Phonics instruction that bridges

Oh, Secret Stories.  I love you so.  I've shared before (read here) about how much I love using the Secret Stories to support students sound/letter knowledge.
(Visit The Secret Stories website to read more.)
The time teaching the stories is a complete waste though, if we don't help kids learn how to use those stories in writing and reading.  Having kids skim their books for words that match the pattern, word sorts, looking for places to use them in our writing, playing word detective with our morning message and look for words with those patterns are just some of the ways we bridge the learning between a story in isolation and using that knowledge in text.

Responsive minilessons

Yeah, I know many of us have a book that tells us what lessons to teach in what order.  However, I need to teach MY students. A big mistake I made last year was continuing on with the minilessons when we had glaring needs to be addressed in the classroom.  I'm not saying abandon the minilesson units that you have, but they are written for every single student ever for your grade level.  All second graders in the world do not have the same needs.

That might mean we have a minilesson on using the stapler and using tools responsibly. (They're seven and stapling is fun.  It takes a little work to get there.)  We've had a minilesson on the difference between a sketch and a drawing.  We've had minilessons on how to use the I'm Done chart.

One flaw in the curriculum we use is that it doesn't start with establishing workshop.  So, when the pacing guide starts with lesson one, we're setting our kids up to fail.  The curriculum guide is a general guide.  Pause when your students show you their additional needs.

Flex groups

Yep, conferring is super important, but that doesn't mean flex groups aren't powerful.  The nice thing about flex groups is they're so darn flexible.
1. If I see some pretty common needs, I'll offer students flex groups after the minilesson.  "You have two options for groups today.  If you want to work on adding details, stay with me.  If you want to work on getting sounds in words, come see for the second group." (What if they want both? No. Kids need to be writing first and foremost. If they're not writing, there's nothing for a lesson to lift.)
2. Check ins. Sometimes I'll call table groups for a check in.  "What do you want to work on next to grow your writing?" **They have no idea what to do with this question at first.  We use language from our lessons like adding details, adding beginnings, getting sounds in words, etc.  Do you have a lot of kids with the same answers? There's your next flex group or minilesson.

Talking about our readers vs rules

Fun fact-when I moved from 2nd grade to 4th grade for a few years, I thought I was never going to have to tell a child to capitalize a sentence again.  Hahahahahahaha.  Wrong.

By using a language shift from talking about rules to ways we help our readers, capitalization and punctuation have value beyond just a random school rule.

Start by talking to students.  But don't stop.  Go on and on and on without stopping to take a breath. Their eyes bug out, and they look at you like you're losing it.  Once they've all agreed that was terrible, I tell them that's exactly what they're doing to their reader when they write without stop signs.  We speak using stop signs to help our listeners, and those need to be in our writing to help our readers.

Honestly, we don't do any complete sentence activities.  Prompting students to respond with sentence stems in class discussions makes a huge difference.  If it's not happening in verbal expression, it's not happening in written expression.  We sometimes reading our morning message by making our hands spread tall to show a capital letter (our signal to our readers that a new idea is starting) and holding our hands up to show stop for periods.

Teaching writers is HARD work.  I hope you've found a few practical tips that you can easily take back to the classroom and make life a little easier for everyone! I'd love to hear some of your favorite tips!

1 comment

  1. Excellent post! Thank you for sharing all of the information and for the resources!

    ReplyDelete