This year, our first big writing unit was on personal narratives. I always look forward to this unit and for so many reasons. First, it seems like kids have an easier time writing about themselves or their lives than just about any other topic. You can typically get any student to write about himself or an experience he’s had - even those who claim to hate writing. Second, personal narratives are a great way for me to learn about my students. Narratives reveal everything from affinities, to life experiences, to information about the relationships they have with others. I think it’s a perfect way to start them off as writers!
There are a total of nine lessons in this unit and each has been written to last a day. However, when I completed this unit in my classroom, we spent a month working through the writing process. The point of each of these lessons is to identify big ideas or major steps in the process. But, you decide how the timing schedule will work for you and your group of students. You can easily extend one of these lessons to last several days.
Now it’s time to celebrate! I’ve been so impressed with students’ work this term and really want them to feel the same. The first writing project of the year can often be challenging to complete. Students are getting back into the groove of school and struggle to maintain a writing project that spans several weeks. And sometimes the writing process itself with its many steps can seem overwhelming for students at the onset of a new project. For all of those reasons and more, I want students to be proud of their accomplishments and look forward to doing it all again on the next project!
I try to plan a big celebration especially after the first project. I originally had planned to have a read-in with another class in the building. (I try to link up with another classroom at the beginning of the year so that we can have buddies throughout the year.) The plan was to spend the day with this class reading our writing together. Well, unfortunately due to time and scheduling issues, that plan fell through. So instead, students who wanted to share read their pieces aloud to just our class. And sadly, I didn’t have as many volunteers as I thought I would in either class. I had hoped that the majority of the class would want to share their work, but only about half in each class chose to share.
A few other ideas of sharing student work:
1. Partner share. I dedicate the first part of the period to having each student share their entire piece with their partner. This way, everyone gets to share and do so with a small audience. After partners have shared, I call the class together and ask about their time together. Specifically, I ask if they could pick out an area that their partner really improved in or something they knew their partner really worked hard on. This is fairly easy for them to think about since they’ve been partners together since the beginning and have worked side by side throughout the process. I have students then share about their partners’ work, not their own so that they sing the praises of someone else in the room. I feel that this encourages so much - community building, pride in work, encouragement for small successes, etc.
2. Read-ins. Partner with another class in the building to show off what students have accomplished in both classes. The older students will see how much their skills have improved since being in that other grade and the younger students look forward to being able to complete what the older students can now do. Invite parents or other special friends to join the audience.
3. Gallery Hop. In my hometown, our downtown galleries stay open late during the first Saturday of the month. People make a night of visiting multiple shops, restaurants, and other attractions all in one night. Called the “Gallery Hop,” it’s a favorite event of many each month. Set up your classroom as a sort of gallery where everyone’s work is out for display. Lay each student’s work out around the room. Give each student a few sticky notes and a pen and tell each to find a piece of work to read. After reading, they should leave a positive note of some kind. It could recognize a specific accomplishment or simply be about the entire piece. After the “hop,” students are left with a stack of praise that they can keep with them for the rest of the year.
I typically use this closure time to reflect on the entire project from choosing a topic to celebration. I gather students’ opinions and make notes to help guide choices for the next writing project and for the following school year.