I have found modeling to be the most effective way to teach writing. I have modeled the brainstorming and planning steps in the writing process. Now, it is time to model writing the draft.
I referred students to the wall poster and asked them which steps we have completed. I did this to focus them on the writing process and determine the next step. I asked what came next and they all said the draft. I told them they were going to actually get to write today which garnered squeals of delight all around. After all, they had been planning for two days. I told them I would model the drafting process and they could help me write the story.
I made a show of pointing at my brainstorming chart to show where it all started. Then I placed my story elements graphic organizer on the document camera and read it aloud. I replaced it with a lined sheet of paper on the document camera. I modeled thinking aloud about an interesting opening sentence. Should I write a statement or a question? I decided on the question: Do you know why I don’t like the nasty dog next door?
I deliberately made mistakes as I wrote and discouraged students from stopping to correct me. I wanted to show that this part of the process is the time to get all of my ideas on paper. Editing for corrections is for another time. Emphasizing this is important because students can get bogged down trying to spell words correctly while they’re writing. They’re up grabbing a dictionary or interrupting their neighbor to ask how to spell a word. Next thing they know, writing time is over and they only have a few sentences written.
Students helped me as I wrote. I stopped after ten minutes and said I was done. They were surprised because the story wasn’t complete. I told them good stories aren’t written in one day. They take time. I’ll write more tomorrow. I told them they would have ten minutes to write and we would continue writing tomorrow.
I gave each student a lined sheet of paper. They pulled out their graphic organizers, read it over, and started their stories. As they wrote, I circulated around the room to help students who needed help getting started. Few students needed assistance because they’d planned so well. My special needs student had not created a graphic organizer and he kept saying he didn't know what to write. I told him to use his imagination and make something up. That didn't work. I decided to remove any barriers he may have had surrounding handwriting and spelling and write for him. I told him to tell me the story and I would write it. He didn't begin right way, so I prompted him with the tried and true, ‘Once upon a time...’ That got him started. When he was done, I gave it to him to read over. He was able to read it because it was his story. Other students were still working, so I sent him back to his seat to illustrate it. I saw the smile on his face as he sat at his desk and read it again to himself. I passed by later and noticed scribbling at the end of the story. He decided he didn't like the ending, so he’d erased my writing and written in a new ending! It didn't matter that it was difficult to decipher. What mattered was he’d picked up the pencil on his own and started writing. It is okay to write for students in the beginning if they are struggling with getting started. You won’t have to do it for long. Through modeling one-on-one, students see first-hand how to get thoughts on paper. Writing becomes demystified and eventually, they take ownership of the pencil.
I stopped students after ten minutes. Writing for short periods of time takes the pressure off students to continue when they have run out of ideas or try to write an entire story in one sitting. It makes writing more enjoyable for third graders. Most wanted to keep writing. I assured them we would continue tomorrow. Some asked if they could write if they had free time. Mission accomplished.
Since students were still writing their stories, I just did a few brief reads. My greatest concern was to make sure students had gotten started. It is difficult to assess or place a point value on whether or not students can start writing without prompting. After all, even professionals get writer's block sometimes.
The day's closure activity was to simply review the writing process. I randomly pulled Popsicle sticks with students' names on them and asked them to name the steps in the writing process we've covered so far. I want the steps to become second nature to them.
Side note: I find it interesting that with all of the shifts in education over the years in reading, math, science, etc., the writing process has remained the same. It is a solid process that students will use for the rest of their lives as they write, revise, and proof everything from research papers to emails.