We have several on-going projects in our classroom, one of the most important being the development of our community of writers. To that end, each year we put together a class photo book called What Good Writers Do? which serves as our class’ documentation of the writing rules/norms we will use for the year. We refer to this book quite often, (sometimes even daily) throughout the year and add to it as the year goes on.
Materials & Things: This project requires you, your students, and lots of conversation, as well as a way to document their ideas. You will need a digital camera and scrapbooking program, although, there are templates on Word that you can use, or you can make a more traditional scrapbook. In the interest of time, I do mine digitally, then laminate the pages and bind the book together in our school’s teacher workroom.
Step 1: Before you brainstorm with your students, you’ll need to do some brainstorming of your own. What do you want good writers in your classroom to look like? You, of course, keep these in your head because the power of the What Do Good Writers Do? lesson is that it is a shared process in which the entire class takes ownership. In our class of first, second, and third graders, our basic beginning of the year writing rules are as follows:
- During journal writing time, you write.
- Write with a pencil.
- Write words how they sound. Do not worry about every single word being spelled correctly, but use your strategies (sound cards) to figure out spelling.
- As you write, if you want to change something, it’s okay to erase, but it’s not okay to erase and erase and erase until you don’t have an eraser. If you don’t have an eraser, cross the word out. (We have been known to ban erasers from our class when erasing becomes an epidemic).
- Let your friends write. This is not the time to ask them to borrow an eraser or how to spell a word.
- Reread your writing several times. It should make sense. You should be writing neatly enough so that you can read your own writing.
- Keep your writing in your writing journal. (Never ever ever ever rip your writing out of your journal because it will get lost and Ms. Crowley and Mrs. Carter will cry).
Step 2: As a group, brainstorm what good writing looks like. Many times, if given the freedom to do so, students will come up with wonderful ways of stating rules. As the teacher, you will guide and scribe the most important ideas that come up in the conversation, and write them in a positive way. These ideas will become your rules of writing engagement and, eventually, your photo-book pages.
Step 3: When the brainstorming is done and you have reviewed the writing community rules with your students, have them draw (and label if you want) what Good Writers in the class look like when they’re writing. This is a quick drawing/writing activity which should take ten minutes, maximum). Students should all draw at least one, if not several, of the rules. Afterwards, have students share (talk about and show) their pictures in small groups. (You may want to snap a few pics during this time.)
Step 4: Students are now ready to have writing time. Over the next several days, whenever you see students modeling the Good Writer behaviors you have brainstormed, take a picture of them. Make sure you take pictures of a variety of students: catch them being great writing role models!
Step 5: Often we will print out our photos first and discuss them with our students before we put them in the book. “Look at Upu in this picture. She is so focused on her writing that she doesn’t even notice it’s time for recess!” We will also put these pictures next to the rule they represent on the Rules for Great Writers chart displayed in the classroom.
Step 6: Now you are ready to make your book. The following pages show pictures of my digital What Do Good Writers Do? class scrapbook. I used the digital scrapbook program Scrapbook Factory Deluxe 4.0 to make this one, but any program will do. There will be certain topics that I didn’t mention in our book that you might want to include; conversely, you may want to begin smaller and more simply. We typically start off with a few pages, then add more as the year goes on and our writers develop.
Theresa's Scrapbook's Layout:
Title Page: What do Good Writers Do?
Notes from Theresa: I chose this title because it was our mantra for the year. You may have another idea that better reflects the writing needs of your students. Show pictures of your students writing.
Page 1: Good writers write!
Notes from Theresa: Show photos of kids writing, perhaps sketching, making a web, writing in journals, using the computer to write. It is important to photograph your students at different parts of the writing process because it’s all important writing!
Page 2: Good writers write real stories about their lives.
Notes from Theresa: We photograph our students all over the school: at our back to school barbeque, math/reading nights, out on the playground, during reading, writing, sharing, in library and music, teaching each other how to tie their shoes, working in our school garden, etc. It’s important for kids to show themselves in action. Kids might also want to bring in pictures from home to add to the “real life” writing concept). Whenever one of our students “doesn’t know what to write” our answer is “You write about your life. Do you have a life? Yes, you do. If you have a life, you have a story to tell every day. Tell me something that happened to you this morning or at recess, dinnertime, with your brother yesterday, etc.
Page 3: Good writers use a pencil to write with. They don’t expect words to just magically appear on the page. (They don’t wait for a pencil to fall from the ceiling, either!)
Notes from Theresa: A little pencil joke goes a long way! At the beginning of the year, some of our students don’t realize that they are responsible for getting out their own “tools”. Once Richard the first grader stood beside a table for 10 minutes because he couldn’t reach the pencil basket in the middle of the table. All he had to do was ask someone to pass it to him, or walk to the other side of the table to reach it, but he just froze.
Page 4: Good writers do not waste time writing fancy letters or drawing cute little boxes around their writing. Nor do they use writing time to trace and re-trace words they’ve already written. These are writing no-no's.
Notes from Theresa: At times, students find creative ways to look like they’re writing, but are, in fact, wasting their time. Use any bad habits that may be rearing their ugly heads in the classroom during writing time.
Page 5: Good beginning writers don’t freak out about spelling every word correctly. They use their sounds and go on with their story.
Page 6: Good writers check to make sure their letters match their sounds. Sometimes they use the sound cards to help them.
Notes from Theresa: Trying to spell everything perfectly can become a severe hindrance to beginning writers. On the one hand, you want them to spell correctly the words you know they know. On the other hand, if they waste all their time worrying about spelling, the content and creativity of their writing truly suffers. The important thing here is to be specific about the strategies you want them to use during rough draft-type writing. Sound/alphabet cards or word walls should be easily accessible to all students from their seats.
Page 7: Of course, as you get older, spelling better on the first draft becomes more important. Right, [insert kid’s name here]?
Notes from Theresa: We added this page because some of our more advanced writers were not paying attention to spelling. We wanted them to make more of an effort to spell words that we knew they knew. We put in photos of students who needed to work on their spelling, with their approval. Any time we make silly examples of kids, we ask for their permission. We are rarely turned down. Some kids will want to pose to model writing no-no’s even if they really don’t have that particular issue. Let ‘em!
Page 8: Good writers think about what they want to say.
Notes from Theresa: Place pictures of serious thinker(s) here.
Page 9: Good writers do not do fake thinking. ([Teacher's name] knows what fake thinking looks like).
Notes from Theresa: Put face thinker pictures here.
Page 10: Good writers reread their writing to make sure that their stories make sense. Great writers reread and reread and reread!
Notes from Theresa: Place photos of students rereading their writing. Multiple rereading sessions are critical components to the writer’s development.
Page 11: Good writers know when to ask for help.
Notes from Theresa: Some students really have more than a spelling or an eraser question. This page is for those students who really have a need for a teacher-student conference.
Page 12: Good writers use tools to help them.
Notes from Theresa: You may want to show other tools that you use such as graphic organizers, pencils, erasers, book-making materials, etc. Whatever you use in your classroom as part of a writer’s workshop.
Page 13: Good writers may use a thesaurus to help them think of juicy words.
Notes from Theresa: You may want to show other tools that you use such as graphic organizers, pencils, erasers, book-making materials, etc. Whatever you use in your classroom as part of a writer’s workshop.You may have your students use a word wall, poster, dictionary, or other resources and will want to list/show them here.
Page 14: Good writers share their writing and ask for helpful responses. Good writers respond to each other by telling what they liked, asking questions, and sharing their own ideas.
Notes from Theresa: I chose students from different response groups that were totally absorbed in their work. We do several lessons brainstorming and documenting – as in Steps 1-3—successful response groups.These pages are examples of pages we added to our book as the year went on and we expected more and more from our writers.
Page 15: When we share our predictions, we learn from each other. We ask questions to clarify our thinking. Sometimes, we change our own thinking after we hear our friends’ comments. We love to share our writing!
Notes from Theresa: The ability to respond to others’ writing is a skill that must be taught early and often. It takes years to develop, so talk about giving and receiving feedback from the beginning.
Optional Page: Authors are real people who write about the things they love. Good readers discover their favorite authors. Kris loves books by Barbara Park. Lucky Ms. Crowley got to meet two of her favorite authors this year! Marc Brown and David Shannon.
Notes from Theresa: Although this page really appeared in my What Do Good Readers Do? photo-book, I’ve included it here. Get pictures of students reading books by their favorite authors. You could also take pictures of your faculty members reading their favorite authors. The more you can refer to writers as real people just like us, the more likely it’ll be that students will see themselves as authors themselves. You can find pictures of authors all over the Internet, but if you have anyone of yourself –or someone at your school—pictured with an author, even better!