During the first week of school, I like to give my students a writing prompt without warning or time to prepare for it. The purpose of this is to see where my students are as writers so that I can better plan my writing instruction. Since I am starting with narrative writing, I chose a prompt that every student would be able to relate to.
Think of something that has happened in your life that you want to remember for years and years. Tell about it in such a way that if you read it 50 years from now, the memory would come flooding back.
I purposely chose a vague prompt to see if students are able to choose a focused topic instead of telling me every last detail of their week long trip to California in 4th grade.
Our school uses Thinking Maps which are great for organizing writing. By sixth grade, all of our kids know how to use them to prewrite, and they all basically do it the same way which is so nice.
I tell them to start out by brainstorming ideas in a circle map. Once they choose an idea, organize it in a flee map. The flee map basically is a combination of the flow map and tree map, so they are choosing their main events and elaborating on them with details. The next step is to write their rough draft.
I don't answer a lot of questions like: How long does it have to be? How many sentences are in a paragraph? I really just want to see what they can do without my guidance.
I don't ask students to revise, edit, or write a final copy. Here is my thinking. After each strategy I teach. the students will revise their work for that particular issue. This way, they will have the practice of directly applying their new learning to their own work. I have never taught narratives this way before, but I am excited to try it out. My students, like yours I'm sure, don't understand how to revise their own work. It's already perfect, right? I figure this will be more bang for their buck. They will learn the strategy while learning how to revise at the same time.
I am really looking forward to using my writing as formative assessment this year. I know from conversations with the 5th grade team that many of my students are struggling writers. I want to be able to pinpoint those issues early on and design lessons to help my students become better writers. I am hoping that this first writing experience will give me a picture of individual students as writers and also an idea of where the sixth graders are as a whole group.