TRT Podcast#5: What does the writing process look like in K-2?
You know the stages of the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. But what exactly do they look like in K-2? This episode will give you strategies for helping your youngest learners become thoughtful writers.
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Hello, Anna here! Welcome to episode five: What does the writing process look like in K to 2? This episode is sponsored by Teaching Every Writer, my online course for teaching writing in K to 2. To learn more, please visit teachingeverywriter.com. This is the third in a series of Triple R Teaching episodes about teaching writing.
Two weeks ago, I shared 10 tips for teaching writing in kindergarten. Last week, I shared five things that will supercharge your writing instruction, and today we're going to look closely at the writing process in kindergarten, first and second grade. We all know the stages of the writing process. Your elementary teacher probably had a cute poster on the wall telling the difference between pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. We know those stages ,and we may believe that we're teaching our students to use the writing process, but are we?
Too often we're providing writing prompts for journals or cute writing assignments to post in the hallway. We're rushing our students to complete those journal prompts because our 10 minutes are almost up or we want them to finish those writing projects that we can put them in the hallway before the weekend. Our students have gotten a little writing practice, but they haven't learned much about the writing process. Don't get me wrong, I love those writing displays in the hall as much as the next person and there are definitely times for those fun writing projects, but I encourage you to let go of this idea that every hallway display needs to feature the exact same writing topic. Don't let those be all or even the bulk of the writing that you do with your learners. Students need time to experiment with different topics and writing projects and make their own decisions about which pieces to bring to completion for publication.
So what do I mean by all of that? In this podcast, we're going to take a walk through each stage of the writing process and talk about how it looks in K to 2. Last week, I talked about having a period every day that your students write. I stated that I believe writing workshop is the best structure for teaching writing in all grade levels. It starts with that mini-lesson, continues with that long period of independent writing and concludes with sharing time. And the writing process is what's going to be happening in that middle chunk when students are doing their independent writing work.
Let's start with pre-writing. Pre-writing in the primary grades is very quick. In fact, I've said before, if you blink, you might miss it. In fact, pre-writing and drafting are almost indistinguishable, so don't worry too much about that. In the primary grades, often, especially in kindergarten, pre-writing takes the form of oral rehearsal. So it's students talking about the writing. In fact, in the book No More "I'm Done!": Fostering Independent Writing in the Primary Grades, by Jennifer Jacobson, she talks about a kindergarten teacher named Kelsey Frost who created three stations in her kindergarten classroom. One was where students would go to talk about their writing to talk through what they were going to write about. Another was where they drew their ideas and another table was where they actually did writing with letters and words.
At first, she was afraid that her students wouldn't move through the stations. They'd just want to sit there and talk or they wouldn't want to write, but to her surprise, the stations worked really well. To be clear, she didn't require her students to go through them in order. Some students would go directly to writing. But can you see how setting something up like that can help your students understand that writing is a process? Of course, we want to remember that in the primary grades, particularly kindergarten and early first grade, the drawing may be the composition. They may not be adding letters or words to their writing yet. They can tell a whole story, potentially, through the pictures.
But eventually, you want your students to transition from pictures being the whole story to being what they do to get warmed up or to prepare to draft. So how do we help our students transition from pictures to words? It can help to ask your students what is happening in the picture; they can respond by telling you a story which can help them see what they can write on the paper. If you have a student who's really resistant to writing any words at all, you could say, "If you were going to write one word, what would it be?"
Now, what about if you've got children at the end of first grade, or they're in second grade, and they're pretty much drawing the whole workshop and they're not doing much writing -- even though it's time for them to do that? Well, some teachers, particularly in those grades , have a period of time at the beginning of writing workshop called the Quiet Ten (or maybe the Quiet Five), and they start with a little bit of music. During those five or 10 minutes when the music is playing, students know that they are writing on their own. They're not getting help from you or their peers. And you might say that during that Quiet Five or Quiet Ten, they could be doing their drawing, their rehearsal for their writing. But once you turn the music off and you transition out of those five or ten minutes, now it's time for words. So that's something you could try that was suggested by Jennifer Jacobson, again, in her book. No More "I'm Done".
If you didn't notice, we've moved into the drafting stage now. So pre-writing, again, could be very simple, just talking about what they're going to write about or sketching a little bit. Second graders could maybe make a list of things they're going to include in their story, or possibly use a graphic organizer, but we're not going to see a whole lot of pre-writing in the primary grades. Mostly what your students will be doing is drafting; that's the writing.
And one thing that always rubs me the wrong way is when I hear people talk about drafting as being the time to make a sloppy copy. They talk about how we don't want to worry about spelling or punctuation or anything, we just want to get everything on paper. Well, that makes me a little uncomfortable ,because I want my students to do what they can do all the time. I don't want them to be sloppy. I know for some students if you tell them that they will take it as an excuse to be sloppy and they won't spell the words they know how to spell; they won't think through what to do. They won't worry about capital letters and periods. That creates a whole lot of work when it comes to editing later on, and we don't want to set ourselves up for a big editing job when that can be avoided.
However, on the other side, we don't want our students to be worried about having everything be perfect. That's why I recommend having your students use pencils with the erasers broken off during writing time. They need to learn that this is not a time to keep erasing, fixing, erasing, fixing. They do the best they can do. If there's a mistake, they draw a line through it and write above it or next to it, but we're not trying to be perfect because that will slow us down too. There's this art channel on YouTube my kids love, it's called Art for Kids Hub ,and they're just obsessed with it. What I love is that this dad who draws with his kids uses permanent marker on paper. This has helped them so much to stop being little perfectionist as they draw and just accept what comes onto the paper. There are still sometimes tears and starting over, but overall, it's really taken care of that. Breaking those erasers off the pencils can help with this in writing time.
As your students are drafting, you are moving around the room and helping in those one-on-one conferences that I talked about last week. You can help them as they decide what to write about, not giving the topic, but supporting them, giving them tools, looking at the resources in their folder to help them come up with the topic. You can guide them as they spell; certainly help them stretch out words or use a reference in the classroom. You can help them use the elements of writer's craft that you've talked about in mini-lessons, but you don't want to spell every word for them. In the words of Jennifer Jacobson, that would transform you from a writing instructor to a human dictionary.
As she writes, when we spell words for them, our students are simply taking dictation. This is not how spelling is learned. Just the opposite. Students best learn to spell by approximating the spelling and then seeing the conventional form. So spelling, yes, I believe it's important, absolutely, but we don't hand spellings to students all during the writing workshop. We teach them ways to come up with spellings the best they can do and then we fix some of those spellings in the editing later on, which I'll get to in a minute.
Now, I recommend having students keep their writing in a folder. You've probably seen this many places. The left side of the folder is where they have work that's in progress and the right side is the work they consider finished. So everyday when they start writing workshop, they open up that folder, go in the left side and take out a piece of writing they were working on the previous day. I always recommend having them read to themselves what they wrote the previous day before they begin. That's what I do as a writer and I think it's a really good practice; it gets their brain flowing and helps them remember what they were doing the previous day. If your students are drawing pictures and not writing words, they can still talk out loud about what they see in the pictures, what they drew about the previous day. Drafting, I would say, is the simplest thing to talk about when it comes to writing process in K to 2.
We're about to get into something a little trickier, and that is revising. Revising means to look again and make changes to a piece. Revising improves the quality of the writing, so it includes things like making changes, crossing out, adding, moving things around. It's improving the writing itself. Many children are really resistant to revising because they feel their writing is good enough and it feels like an insult to them when we insist they revise.
Here's some things you can do to help revising feel more natural. Number one, remember that it happens all the time. The writing process is not perfectly linear. Maybe you were taught that, or maybe you have taught that way, but we need to remember that we're moving in and out of the stages all the time. So, if a student is drafting and the following day they go back to the piece of writing they were doing the day before and they read it to themselves and, "Oh, I forgot a word," and they add it, they're revising even though they're not finished drafting the whole piece. Or maybe I'm writing something and I'm three quarters of the way through and I think, "Oh, there's a whole section I want to add," and I go back and put it in, I'm revising even though I'm not done with my first draft technically. That's okay. That's to be expected. That's a good thing.
We want them to be thinking about their writing all the way through and making changes whenever they think of them, so don't insist they move through these stages in a particular order. You can teach different ideas for revising in your mini-lessons; they may be things like adding a detail to a picture or reading their writing to make sure it says what they want it to. Let me tell you about something called magic headphones. I've mentioned these before, if you haven't heard of them. It's very, very simple, but I heard it at a conference years ago and it stuck with me. And that was to have your students cover their ears with their hands as they read their writing back to them. It's like magic because it's very loud in their ears all of a sudden. They can hear themselves and it blocks out the rest of the noise in the classroom. And even better, it means they can read more softly and they're less likely to bother the students near them. So have them use magic headphones as they read their writing back to themselves and hear what doesn't quite sound right or where they might make a few small changes.
They might add a few words or details, add labels to pictures, or make sure the pictures match the story. It's possible they have repetitive words all through like the word and at the beginning of sentences; they could cross some of those out. As students get older, they're ready to do more advanced forms of revision like changing the beginning or the end or taking out details that aren't necessary or distract from the main idea of the piece. They can use a thesaurus to make their word stronger or add specific details.
With revising, we start small. With kindergarten and first grade, it may often just have to do with altering the pictures. And then as they grow as writers and learn to look at their writing with new eyes, we help them see all the different things they can do. Remember to model revision in your own writing that you do in front of your students and to help them see that everybody revises, not just kindergarten, first or second grade writer.
The next stage of the writing process is editing. And just like with revising, we don't have to save it to the very end. It's possible that your students may be rereading their writing one day when they start the writing workshop and notice they spelled a word wrong the day before and today they decide to fix it. That's great. It does not have to wait until the editing stage. They can fix something whenever they see a problem. We usually recommend not starting editing checklists with kindergarteners until the end of the year, if that. And these would be very, very basic. For a kindergartner an editing checklist could be leaving spaces between words, putting a capital at the beginning of a sentence, a period at the end.
Something you don't want to do is expect your students to fix every little thing on their own. Something I read about in Regie Routman's book Writing Essentials was that you can tell your students, "I want you to fix three misspelled words and I'll fix the rest for free." And that's not so strange, is it? That's what professional writers do. Their editors fix their mistakes for them. So we want our students to be able to do as much of it as possible on their own, but not to the point that they're frustrated or start to hate writing. We want them to do what's within their reach, and then we help them. And what you expect from them is going to vary from student to student.
One thing you might be wondering is, are my students revising and editing every single piece that they write? The answer is no. You definitely don't need them to be doing that. If they're making books, which I've talked about before, where they staple pieces of paper together and write about a part of the story on each page, they may collect several books by the end of the week depending on how long your writing period is. Remember those pieces they consider finished should be in the right side of their folder and at some point, maybe every two weeks or so you would say, "We're going to take one of those pieces and finish it. We're going to publish it. So let's work to find your best favorite piece of writing." This may require some input from you or maybe they get to choose two of their favorites and you help to pick the final decision. And then after that piece of writing has been chosen, they're going to move it through revising, editing as you've taught them.
How this ends up looking is going to depend a lot on you and your structure. So you may have a small group revising/editing conference where you have a particular group of students that are all about the same level and you want to teach them one specific revising thing to do. Or this may be something you cover more in your whole group mini lessons, but the point is your students want to gradually build up their revising/editing toolbox so they're getting better and better at making their writing better as the year goes on.
The last stage of the writing process after editing is publishing, and that just means we're getting the piece ready for an audience. This can feel very stressful to primary teachers because you're thinking, "Oh, they have to recopy it? It was so much work for them to get this on paper in the first place." No, they don't have to recopy it. Not usually. Maybe in second grade sometimes, but what you would do is if you're putting something in the hallway, it could just be putting it on a really nice piece of paper, like a piece of construction paper. It's also possible that after they've done their best editing work, you type it for them. I did that as a teacher. Now, I was single and had time in the evenings to do that, but if that is not something that you can find time to do, you can certainly ask a parent volunteer to help out. Maybe someone like me who's a former teacher and can read primary kids' writing. Then you can put those pieces together into little books. Your students will love it. I can certainly promise you that. And the cool thing is, when they're typed and printed like that, you can put them in the class library and everyone else can read them too.
Publishing can be even simpler. It could just be putting their name on it and sticking it in the class library in kindergarten for other kids to enjoy. Another thing you could do for publishing is to print (maybe once a month) a class literary magazine, which could be just front and back typed of one piece of writing from each student that you send home on a piece of colored paper in their folders for their parents to enjoy. I can promise you that as a parent, I would love that ,and kids would be very proud to see their name and their piece of writing on a piece of paper that all the families get to enjoy. So, publishing is just the idea of getting the writing ready for an audience. It does not have to mean days and days of recopying. You make the decision about what's the best use of your time and what's going to teach your students the most about writing.
That was a whirlwind look at the writing process and K to 2. I do have some blog posts that will tell you a little bit more. I have a post about revising and editing. It has some charts in there and some other resources. So I will be sure to link to all those in the show notes, which can be found @themeasuredmom.com/episode5. I'll also provide a link to Teaching Every Writer, which has a whole module about the writing process in K to 2. Thank you so much for listening, and I look forward to sharing more writing tips with you next week.
- Teaching Every Writer, my online course for teaching writing in K-2. Learn more here.
- Blog posts
Resources for members of The Measured Mom Plus
- Quick video training: How to get started with writing workshop in K-2
- Printables for teaching writing
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