Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
We are going to spend time drafting personal narratives. We have read and analyzed narrative writing and it's time to begin drafting so we can apply those qualities to writing. This will help students work towards the goals of the Common Core relating to writing narratives.
One of the biggest complaints (and that's putting it nicely) that I hear from students is that they never know what to write about. To combat that, we will review our ideas/topics list before we begin drafting today so students have an idea of what they can write about. We will review a list of ideas and topics as a class, which is on poster paper I have in my classroom. This list came from the various quick-writes we have done in class and the narratives we have read. This list is not new to the students as we have been slowly adding on to it for a few weeks.
I will share my own personal examples from the list. Giving them specifics helps them see how they can use these ideas. Once students are familiar with this list, they will then jot down a few specifics in their notebook to generate some ideas. This list will help serve as a jumping off point for the writing. They may not use all of these ideas but it gives them an idea to internalize so they can begin writing.
I will move around to see what students are not able to come up with ideas. This is usually rare since the list can be comprehensive. For those that can't come up with ideas, I try and ask them to think of something more recent. Since I have known these students for a few months already, I have a good grasp on them at times. I try and think of what I know about them and this helps them think about narratives to write.
Students will write for the bulk of class today so I can monitor their writing of a solid narrative, which is one of the genres listed in the Common Core. It also gives them practice to write during a short period of time, a skill the Common Core also asks for. This video explains the qualities of the Common Core: Narrative Qualities.
Students need guidance when they are writing, no matter the stage in the writing process. This time shows me why I decided to teach. When students are able to make meaning of the writing they are doing with my help, shows me that I made the right decision to become a teacher. Some students will be able to write for hours on their own. Others can barely get a word on paper. I use this time to make sure each student is working towards that end-goal of writing a personal narrative.
As students are writing I will go around the classroom and meet with as many students as I can to see what they need help on. I start with the students that are not writing. It will be hard for students to work on a narrative if they don't have anything written. Here is where teaching can be tough. I have to figure out if they are not writing because they don't have an idea or, as they say, nothing to write about. Another possibility is that they don't know where to start. Two very different issues when it comes to writing. For those who don't have an idea, I ask questions, probing questions, to get them to think about their life. These questions usually come from our ideas/topics list or we review together any writing they have done in their notebook. I find that it's not a matter of not knowing what to write about but knowing how to start. By talking to them about topics they are able to begin to formulate an idea and that usually gets them off and writing. They may not be ready to start writing as they have not fully thought out their ideas or their life experiences. Getting them talking about it first helps them think about it more which in turn helps them be able to write about it. For those that have too many ideas, I tell them to simply bullet all those ideas. Just write everything down and don't worry about order or structure. That will come later.
One strategy that works is to share my own writing with students. By sharing my own writing, they can hear ideas, topics, and so on so they can draft their own pieces. Here is an example of my writing I share with them: True Confessions of a Former Child Star
Once I meet with those students, I then get to as many as students as I can. I make sure the time I meet with the students is short enough so I can meet as many students as possible. The time also needs to be effective. I want to walk away from each student with a clear understanding of what they are working on and why. I usually ask every student the same question: how's the writing going? This gives me my teaching objective for that conference with that student. I can figure out exactly what the student needs help with and why. We are not revising yet so it's a matter of just making sure students are writing.
Students need to make sure they have certain goals when they are finished writing. I use this time to have students list specifics that they need to work on. Since students are at different stages in the writing process the goals are very different. We share our examples and they come from this list:
I want to make sure students have a clear idea of what they need to do when they leave class. Since I will not be walking out of the class with them, I want to make sure they are still writing. Creating these goals helps them to focus on what they need to do.
Here are two examples of student goals: Examples of Goals For Student Narratives.