As a first grade teacher I know that writing can be very demanding on young children. The little guys come in talking, reading or on the cusp of learning to read, and they can count and add a little; but, for many of them, first grade is their first experience writing even a sentence on their own. The thought of having an idea and having it go from their brain, through their arm, and onto the paper is almost magical. This is scary, too, because First graders do not like to make mistakes. So how does one take a little person who is quite good at verbally relating real and/or imagined experiences or events in a structured sequenced manner and get him to put those ideas on paper? Or get a student who has very little English language abilities and help him not only feel comfortable speaking, but writing as well. The answer to both questions is very slowly and patiently. I always try to include a journal writing as part of my student’s independent work to demonstrate they understand the concept we are learning in reading. However, the block of time designated to writing is much more structured. We start slow, with a of lot modeling, guided practice, edits, re-writes, and finally a published piece.
Common Core Connection:
In the past I taught writing a personal narrative as an one day event in my students lives, which they grasped fairly quickly because they were writing about themselves. When I saw that CCRW.3 (Write narratives to develop real or imagined experience or event using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences) allowed for writing about an imagined experience I took that opportunity to combine what my students had been working on with informational and literary texts about snails to have my them write a personal narrative in which they imagine themselves as a snail. My hope is that this will 1) engage them in the task by combining their work in our snail unit with a creative, fun writing task, and 2) allow them to practice a critical part of W.1.3,
Although this is an imaginary narrative writing piece, to demonstrate that my students learned new facts about snails this past week I am also asking them to include three facts about snails. Due to time and commitment to other subjects, I began this lesson on the last day of our snail unit and will continue it during our writing block over the course of a week or more.
I began this lesson by asking my little ones, “What did you learn about snails?” Before calling for answers I instructed them to partner share. When they were finished I called on individual students to share with class. When they were finished sharing I said, “Wow, it sounds like you learned a lot about snails ... Where did you learn so much?” Several students called out, “From books.” "Ok," I said, "what kind of books?" This time they chorused back, “Informational books.” “Informational texts,” I repeated. Then I asked, “Were informational texts the only books we read this week?” They answered back, “We read about Clementine.” “That book was different. What type of book was it?” I asked. “A literary book,” they chorused back. I reminded them, “A literary story is a book we read for fun, entertainment, or adventure."
I then told my students we were going to change things a bit today. I explained today we are going to begin a fictional narrative story about a snail … “and you are going to be the snail!” (Teacher Introduction). I further explained that even though this will be a fiction story, they will have to include three real facts about themselves as a snail.
Because this was my students’ first experience writing a narrative I wanted my students to listen to another fictional narrative to help to them understand using ‘I’ meant they were writing about themselves, even though they were going to pretend they were a snail. I began today’s lesson by reminding my little ones they were writing a fictional personal narrative about themselves as a snail. I then read Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin, explaining as I read this is a story about a worm telling about himself. I also pointed out that even though Diary of a Worm is a fictional literary story, it still had some real facts about worms.
When I finished reading I directed their attention to the large poster of the Writing Web Graphic Organizer and modeled how to fill each circle out. Starting in the middle I began by telling my students, first I needed to think about who I am in the story, reminding them this is a narrative about me being a snail. “So, here in the middle, I am going to write ‘Ms. Collins the Snail’”. This brought on a lot of laughter. I focused them back by explaining this might look silly, but it is very powerful. I explained, “From just this one statement, you can tell the name of the main character and she is a snail”.
When modeling writing I like to get my students ideas. For this story they had to include where the snail lived, who its friends were, two to three real snail facts, and one thing the snail did. I explained to my little ones to help write the story we would put ideas on the large graphic organizer circles and use those ideas to add details and finish writing. I used the magic cup (Demonstration: Magic Cup) to select students help fill in the circles on the large graphic organizer.
When we finished filling out the poster graphic organizer (Large Writing Web Graphic Organizer) we read each circle together.
From there I asked if they thought they could start their webs, they all answered yes.
As my students move to their desks, I showed the Writing Web Graphic Organizer on the Promethean board. After passing out their graphic organizers, I had them all put their finger on the middle circle and reminded them this was the start of our personal narrative. As mentioned this was our first time writing a personal narrative, but not our first time using this graphic organizer. By the time of this lesson my students were fairly familiar with this graphic organizer and how to start it. I further reminded them this could be the idea for the main idea or title of their writing. I had them think about the narrative they were going to write, “Remember this is about you as a snail, so what would be a good idea for a title or the main idea if you were a snail?”
Once they finished filling in the beginning central circle, I had them look at the circle in the upper left corner and write the word live, in the lower left corner they wrote friends, in the upper right corner they wrote real facts, and in the lower right corn they added the word adventure. Once they finished labeling the circles I had them think about their snail character and fill in the circles with the details they wanted to include in their personal narrative. The student in Getting Started was right at the beginning of her ideas, while the student in Snail Facts was nearly finished. And then there's this guy, Developing an Idea, he was done before he started.
While they were working on the graphic organizer, my students who were able to write their answers by themselves did, for my students who are not that confident I either had them sound the words out, if they could be sounded out, or I wrote the word on the board.
I have found with first graders it is better for them to chunk their extended writing into small chunks. The next lesson will include organizing the paragraphs and adding some detail.
For a sticker my students showed me their writing web graphic organizer and told me one adventurous thing their snail character was going to do.
From the three samples: Little Writing Ability, Middle Writing Ability, and High Writing Ability it is important to pull small groups during the writing block to work at their level to bring to the next writing level up. Working in small differentiated writing groups is just as important as working with leveled reading groups.