Grade: Elementary

#875. writing mini lessons

Reading/Writing, level: Elementary
Posted Thu Mar 4 18:34:49 PST 1999 by deb smith (
coloma elementary school, south haven MI usa
Materials Required: patience
Activity Time: 5-10 minutes every day
Concepts Taught: mini lessons for writing process

Content and Ideas
Brainstorming topics
Writing workshop mini lesson generating ideas to write about Tell me what you know. Tell me what you wonder. What questions do you have about this entry? Where's the mystery here for you? One book that leads to writing is Aunt Flossie's Hats by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard. It says, "We pick out hats and try them on. Aunt Flossie says they are her memories, and each hat has a story..." The tale goes on to tell a story or adventure about each hat. After reading aloud the story, say to the students, "I suppose we each have things in our house, in our families, that hold stories. I am thinking about the dusty old animal cages in the garage that my family has. Once it was a home for a baby crow, another time, it was held a litter of baby rabbits." Send students on their way to write thinking of their own treasures in their own houses. Some more books that recall memories are: My Grandmother's Cookie Jar by Montzalee Miller, The Button Box by Margaret Reid, and Ruth Heller's The Front Hall Carpet.

Writing workshop procedure mini lesson Getting the kid to write To mobilize a student to write, have a conversation with the student. "I don't got nothing to say." Let's make a list of what you're an expert about. "I'm not an expert about anything ...........TV that's all. ..... and baseball." Maybe he mutters, "almost got a home run." In just one hit? Tell me about it. After hearing a few sentences, say, "Would you put that down on paper. Just how you described it to me?" Teacher stares at paper and repeats what he said. Wait expectantly. Do not ask or coax, just wait staring at the paper and if you feel you need to walk away and go help another child. Do not coax. He must learn to write for himself, not to your agenda.

Writing workshop mini lesson Brainstorming topics. On one color paper or a 12 inch by 18 inch paper (big) brainstorm possible topics. First the teacher lists about six broad, general topics on board and reads them to class. Then teacher has students write possible topics for two minutes. Interrupt them saying, "Raise your hand if you have ridden on a train? If you have ridden in a plane? If you have driven a tractor?" Record more topics (for two minutes.) "Have you ever done something embarrassing? Consoled a friend? Given a gift you've made?" Add to your list.

Writing workshop mini lesson Brainstorming more topics. I also ask have any of you ever been in kindergarten. What's your teacher's name, write it down. What do you remember the most. I usually tell them something I remember from kindergarten. Have any of you ever been in first grade? Etc. What about second? Have you ever had a field trip? What was the best part? Add ideas to your list of possibilities.

Writing workshop mini lesson What do you know about? Help the children list what they know about. Give them classifications (pets, family members, school kids, friends, field trips, zoo, Walmart). They can record possible writing ideas on the front of their writing notebook, on a colored piece of paper, whatever the teacher wishes.

Writing workshop mini lesson daily writing journal. Children who write in a journal tell about their lives every day are developing a ready list of topics they can then extend into a more detailed story. In second grade children write a dialogue journal with their teacher. The child writes about his/her day. The teacher writes a question or comment back modeling the correct spelling without making the children fix it.

Writing workshop mini lesson modeling how to write. Before each writing session, we did a daily news or some kind of modeled or interactive writing. This helped the children have clear expectations of what to do. I modeled what to do when I came to a word that was tricky ('stretch" the word to hear the sounds, clap long lords to hear the "chunks"), how to find words on the word wall, etc. Included in that modeling session, I did a quick McCracken lesson before I began writing. I gave them the tools they needed to get started. We started the year writing diary type journals because recalling daily events was easier for the kids than to make up a story. This way they could concentrate on writing words. Once they felt more comfortable in their writing (taking risks through invented spelling and a bank of high frequency known words including using the word wall) I began to model other types of writing. I would model for a long time before I would require them to begin writing different genres but they were always allowed to start earlier if they wished. Most did. Content and Ideas
Brainstorming Development of one topic
Writing workshop mini lesson Using the senses. Get the five senses involved. Ask probing questions that stir memories. Christmas was fun. How was it fun. Who came? What did they wear? Think about Christmas. Could you hear the sleigh bells jingling. How did Christmas dinner taste? Was the turkey juicy or dry? Did your aunt's special pudding make you gag? How did it taste? How did it smell? What sounds did you hear? What did you see? Was the present as big as a tree? Was the dinner disgusting or the best turkey you've ever eaten?

Writing workshop mini lesson I have a topic. Now what? Once you have a topic, you have to decide what to do with it. STEP ONE: Write down everything you can think of related to your topic. Don't worry about spelling, capitalization, complete sentences, etc. JUST WRITE! STEP TWO: Write some more. Make sure you have answered the following questions about you topic. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? STEP THREE: Narrow you topic. Make sure you have enough information, but not too much. Use the following questions to help narrow your topic: What or who is affected by the topic? How? Is the topic influenced by other things? How? Why is the topic important? What is the purpose of the topic? Why am I interested in this topic? Who will my audience be? What do I want to tell my audience? What is my purpose for writing about this topic? STEP FOUR: Tie the similar ideas together. (They'll probably end up in the same paragraph in the paper.) Use a graphic organizer, or create your own. STEP FIVE: Write the rough draft. Don't worry too much about conventions at this point. Get your ideas into writing first.

Writing workshop mini lesson strong nouns/verbs. Adjectives/ adverbs make sentences weak not strong. We somehow think if there are five adjectives in front of the noun dog that dog is stronger. Is it? Rather than saying the young dog, how about puppy?

Writing workshop mini lesson adding detail. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing what is being written. I have been going around to classes and often see "I had so much fun at the party. I got lots of presents. I ate a lot of food. It was delicious." Instead I'd like to hear about the twin dolls she received with soft white blankets, beds and carriages. I'd love to hear about the walkie talkie that only has static. I'd love to see the seven layer cake and the 4 glasses of coke she drank. So when you are writing today, remember the details.

Writing workshop mini lesson M through P (middles)
List on board:
1. waking up on the day we're going to climb a mountain
2. having breakfast
3. driving up the mountain
4. climbing up it
5. reaching the top
6. climbing down
7. getting home

Ask students, "Where do you think I could begin my story?" They say #1 where else? Bring up starting in the middle. Possibly use other stories they are familiar with to give concrete examples.

Writing workshop mini lesson Rereading what they write Can I ask you to do one thing today? When you open your writing folders today, read the entire piece from yesterday. Reread the words gathering page too before you start writing.

Writing workshop mini lesson Titles Last night I was thinking about your titles. If you are writing about your dog, your title is My Dog. Think about how you might change that label to a title. Give examples of titles of books that students are familiar with. One example may be, Where the Red Fern Grows which is about two dogs. Another example is a story called The Trip which we all know as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Writing workshop mini lesson Writing points twice Did you say something twice? Showing what you mean encourages the lazy reader while telling cuts down on the interest of the piece. If your piece says "Grandma's House, Grandma this, Grandma that...can you write other descriptive words instead? Eliminate whenever possible words like and, it is that, it is this.

Writing workshop mini lesson Making the writing more interesting. Teacher writes in front of the students. For example teacher writes on board, overhead, etc. I have two dogs. I like my dogs. One is black. One is brown. The end. Then read story to class. Is this very interesting? "NO! ok help me add to my story." "Do you wonder about my dogs?" The kids ask what's it's name, where did you get them, etc... Teacher modeling of writing in front of the students is very helpful. Brainstorming descriptive words to help make writing more interesting.

Writing workshop mini-lesson honesty, details
When you write "white snow covered the world" was it really white? Or "I had a terrific time" weren't there really some sad times too? As a class model how to brainstorm all the different words that pop into your head about something.

Writing workshop mini lesson beginning to write. Drawing pictures and talking about them really is a first step in beginning to write, so you are on the right track already. Taking it to the next step would be writing down the words the children say when they talk about their pictures, so they can see that writing is actually talk written down. This Language Experience Approach (LEA) and variations of it come from Roach Van Allen's work. He said something like this: "If you can think it, you can say it. If you can say it, it can be written down. If you can write it, you can read it." Next time, have the children dictate a sentence about their pictures and write down what they say. Let them watch you write, so they begin to see that writing is a permanent record of speech. Talk informally about the letter names, sounds, and/or formations as they watch you write the words they say. Often, because they are the children's words and because they are important to them, they will begin to remember how the words look and try to trace, reproduce, or copy them. Then of course you will want to praise their efforts at writing any words, letters, or sounds they hear and their approximations. In the meantime, work with the names of the students and color words. Find names that start alike. Listen for the sounds they start with and end with. In a print rich environment, there will be lots of words around the room they can copy to get writing practice. You will see single letters standing for whole words, but that's a great beginning and deserves praise and encouragement.

Writing workshop Mini lesson shared writing. Beginning writers also learn a lot by watching the teacher model writing and talk about the process. Shared writing is an excellent way to model and let them join in when they can. This can be done with the whole class, a small group, or individually. You might want to use a morning message on a chart or board. Share with the students what you are thinking as you write and model that for them. Soon they will learn about directionality, spacing between words--the conventions of print. When you read the message, point to the words and let students join in on the words they know and read along. Talk about a sentence and the punctuation you use and why. Find the longest and shortest words and the words that start with the same letters. Just generally arouse their curiosity about writing and get them to look at the print and focus on individual letters and words. It used to be that kindergarten students were not encouraged to write until they knew how to form all the letters. But recent research on emergent writing shows that "writing" before they know how is not harmful. Today many students begin to write in their own journals on the first day of kindergarten, however they can. Sincere praise for their early writing goes a long way to boost their confidence and keep them trying. The best way to free beginners to try to write is to be accepting of whatever they do write--from scribbling to random letters and invented spellings--because all of these can help students remember what they were thinking.

Content and Ideas

Writing workshop mini lesson Promote listening for potential leads. Have students pair up and talk about a story, plot, or incident they are working on in writing workshop. Ask the listener to note when his interest is piqued and to share those moments with the storyteller. Those points of intrigue are all potential leads.

Writing Workshop mini lesson Teach three kinds of leads that work well to the students. I have found three kinds of leads that work well, because students must use their own writing as a basis for developing them. Teaching these leads alleviates some of the anguish of making cuts, and puts students on the road to well-crafted writing. It may help students in their revising if you share the following three kinds of great leads.
The circular lead/close: Once a first draft is completed, a circular lead/close is easy to create. I have students look at their endings and ask them if they can begin with those closing words as well. This type of lead is a favorite of many students, since it brings their pieces full circle. It's a tidy way to begin and end. Eric Carle's book, The Grouchy Ladybug, with its opening and closing image of two ladybugs arguing, is a good example of this type of lead.

The dialogue lead: Who can forget E.B. White's classic lead from Charlotte's Web? "'Where's Papa going with that axe?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." Indeed, dialogue can be the stuff of sweet beginnings. Teach students to scan their writing until they reach the first quote, and then consider moving it to the start of the piece. If the first quote doesn't lend itself to a strong lead, encourage students to look for others that might.

The climatic lead: Writer Becky Rule says it's a good idea to pick up your readers by the scruff of their necks and drop them into the heart of a conflict. Every piece of writing has a climax, which doesn't always come at the very end. I ask students to find the point of greatest tension in their writing, and then to move those words to the beginning. For example, Thanksgiving stories are typical at this time of year, and most of them start out as repetitive, sentimental slog. But who wouldn't want to read Mary Comstock's holiday story after this opener? "The remains of Thanksgiving dinner sat like an abandoned wreck on the dining room table: she had eaten it all and the guests hadn't even arrived yet. This would have to stop." Mary's words promise humor and pathos. But it's that "abandoned wreck," the climax of the story, that gives the lead immediate energy.

Writing workshop mini lesson Types of leads. The lead (beginning or introduction) establishes the direction your writing will take. A good lead grabs your reader's attention and refuses to let go. In other words, it hooks the reader. Below are some ideas on how to write an interesting lead. Not every type of lead will work for every writer or for every piece of writing. You'll have to experiment with them. Be sure to have a least three sentences in your lead,
whatever type it may be.
Question Open with an interesting question that relates to the main idea. Example: Have you ever wondered how you would survive if you found yourself alone in the wilderness? How would you defend yourself against predators? What would you eat? Where would you find water?

Riddle Open with a riddle that the reader can solve by reading further. You may want to give the answer right away or save it for the conclusion. Example: What textbook has no pages, is miles wide, and smells like a creek? It's been around for millions of years. That's right--Outdoor School.

Announcement Open with an announcement about what is to come. However, do not insult the reader by saying something like, "I am going to tell you about..." The reader should be able to figure out what you are writing about. If not, there is something wrong with what you have written, not with the reader. Example: The trait of voice is very important in writing. However, it is difficult to teach and even more difficult to learn. It is similar to athletic ability because it is more like a talent than a skill.

Bold and Challenging Statement A bold and challenging statement is similar to an announcement, but is meant to cause some people to disagree with what you say. It's like one side of an argument. It can be an opinion, but don't immediately state that it is your opinion. Example: Using horses and cattle in the sport of rodeo is animal abuse. What makes it more aggravating is that it is legal. According to the law, there is nothing wrong with chasing an animal down, tightening a rope around its neck, knocking it to the ground, and tying its legs together so it cannot move.

Definition Open with a definition of the term you are discussing. It can be your own or come from a dictionary or textbook. If you take it from a dictionary or textbook, be sure to use quotation marks and give credit to the source. Example: According to Webster's Dictionary, a government is the authority that serves the people and acts on their behalf. How can the government know what the people want if the people do not vote? If we do not vote, the government may act on its own behalf instead of on the behalf of the people.

Opinion Open with your opinion about the topic. This is similar to a bold and challenging statement, but you let the reader know that it is your opinion right away. Example: In my opinion, the driving age should be lowered to fourteen. Most teenagers are more responsible than adults give us credit for being. Just because we are teenagers does not mean we are irresponsible and dangerous.
Well Known Quotation or Quotation from a Famous Person Open with a quotation that is well known or from a famous person. Be sure to put quotations around the quotation and give credit to the person who said it. Of course, the quotation must be directly related to your topic. A good source is a book of quotations. Look in the library or ask your teacher. Example: President John F. Kennedy once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I think today's Americans have forgotten Kennedy's message. We expect our country to take care of us, but we are not taking care of our country.

Quotation Not from a Famous Person Open with a quotation from a person that is not famous. It could be a character from the story or someone you know personally. You still must put it in quotation marks and give credit to the person who said it. Example: When I was a child, I was given the "mother's curse" by my mom. Oh, it is not anything mean or evil. She just said, "When you have children, they will act just like you." I laughed. Well, now that I have children of my own, I am not laughing anymore. The "mother's curse" really works!

Personal Experience Open with something that has happened to you, or a personal experience. It could be a part of the story, or it could be something that is not a part of what you are writing about but still relates to the topic. Example: Although I did later in my room, I never cried at my grandfather's funeral. I guess that is why I felt so sad for the little girl standing next to her grandma's coffin. She looked so lost and afraid.

Figurative Language Begin with a simile (comparison using like or as), metaphor (comparison saying one thing is another thing), personification (giving something nonhuman human qualities), or hyperbole (exaggeration.) The figurative language must relate directly to your topic. Example: The pencil sharpener was always hungry. It ate my pencil every time I went to sharpen it. It never seemed to do this to anyone's pencil but mine. What was so special about my pencils?

Enumerated General Statement Begin with a general statement containing three or so ideas about your topic. The information given in the lead is general, not specific. The specific details that support the general statement will appear later in the paper. Example: There are many characteristics that a good teacher possesses. However, the three most important characteristics include being a good listener, being knowledgeable about the subject, and having a kind heart. All of the teachers who positively influenced me had all three of those characteristics in common.
Writing workshop mini lesson Encourage kids to use one another's leads and conclusions. This mini-lesson involves freeing writers from the burden of writing beginnings and endings. Have each student give a classmate just the first line of something he or she has been working on. The recipient has to write something starting or ending with that line. If the student likes what she writes, she deletes her classmate's line, and replaces it with something original. This activity reduces the struggle of finding leads or endings, or of being overly invested in them in first draft.

Writing workshop mini lesson First grade awareness Fostering an awareness of good beginnings and endings may be developmentally more realistic, and therefore more effective, than demanding revision from primary students. A first grade teacher I know found that out the hard way. She was continually frustrated because her students could spot good leads, as well as extraneous words in their endings, but still opposed revising their work to bring them out. "I finally realized how hard physically it is for some of these kids to grip that pencil and put any words on the page-of course they refused to cut!" she explained. After much thought, she decided to have students underline or star strong potential leads and endings in their writing, using bright colored markers; she didn't require them to begin or close their pieces with those words.

Writing Workshop mini lesson beginnings and endings definition
A kiss hello...a wave airplane fading in the sky. Our lives are marked by beginnings and endings. In the things we do every day, we look for starting and ending points. We hold those images their sight, smell, taste, and feel-close. It's no wonder, then, that writers take such care to develop strong introductions and conclusions: introductions that grab readers and conclusions that leave them feeling satisfied. The best leads and endings don't just happen; they are crafted. This can be a painstaking process that, as any experienced writer knows, becomes somewhat easier with practice. When we teach children how to generate leads and endings using their own drafts, and expose them to good models, they become better craftspeople. If you take some time to make leads and endings the focus of your lessons, you may be surprised at how quickly students' overall writing skills improve.

Writing workshop mini lesson beginnings
Write a story. Or find a story in process from your writing folder... Write three totally different beginnings to your piece. Each beginning has only three concise sentences. Make them interesting but different. Choose one. How am I gonna get people interested in my writing? Make sure students understand that the time to write stellar beginnings is after they've completed their first drafts. At that stage they can return to their original beginning and be merciless, hacking off as much as necessary to find a good lead. Tell them that even the most accomplished writers have to dig through a few bad sentences and paragraphs before they get to the good stuff. After your students have done this a few times, and learned the power of a strong introduction, they are more likely to make cuts willingly.

Writing workshop mini lesson read different books with great beginnings
The teacher could introduce the idea of beginnings by reading several beginnings of books available in the room. Some examples are: The Big Seed, The Chicken House, The Cellar, Gilly's Secret, and The Circle of Giving. Content and Ideas
Endings Writing workshop mini lesson Types of conclusions The conclusion (ending or closing) of your writing is what wraps it all up for the reader. Stop writing when you have said it all, but the conclusion should tie up all loose ends. Do not leave the reader hanging. Leave him/her with something to think about. Do not insult the reader by telling him/her what you have written about. Also, do not use the lead as the conclusion; you can restate what you wrote in the lead, but do not just repeat it. NEVER end with "...and it was all a dream." That has been overdone. Below are some ideas on how to write a good conclusion. Remember that not every type of lead will work for every writer or for every piece of writing. You'll have to experiment. Be sure to have a least three sentences in your conclusion, whatever type it may be.

Question: Close with a question that involves the reader. You can answer the question, or leave it for the reader to decide based on what you wrote. The question must relate to the main idea. Example: It was the worst experience of his life. Andrew decided that it was the last time he would ever go on a roller coaster. Who can blame him?
Strong Statement Close with a statement that forcefully states your opinion. Example: A criminal, no matter his/her age, should be dealt with according to the crime. The legal system is too lenient when it comes to juvenile offenders. Laws need to be rewritten immediately so that no more hard core criminals go free just because they are juveniles.

Summary Close with a summary of your main ideas. However, do not repeat yourself word for word; say it in a different way. Also, remember not to insult the reader by saying, "I wrote about..." The reader is smart enough to know what he/she just read. Example: As you can see, it is not important to know everything, but it is important to know how to find the answer. There will not always be a teacher nearby with the answer. You have to learn how to research, how to dig through sources to find what you need to know.

Personal Comment Close with a personal comment or response to what you have written. It is not the same thing as an opinion. It is more like a personal conclusion you have reached or a lesson you have learned because of the experience you wrote about in your paper. Example: Riding a roller coaster with someone who is a "chicken" is something I will certainly never do again. I should have listened when Sheila told me she did not want to ride it. I should have let her take the "chicken exit." Next time I will know better.

Mystery Close with a statement that shows some things will never be resolved. However, be sure to do this in a way that the reader does not think you just forgot to end your story or paper. Example: We watched Adam walk down the road until he became just a tiny speck and then disappeared altogether into the dust of twilight. Just as he appeared, he was gone. That was the last time any of us ever saw him.

Beginning of New Story When writing a story or personal narrative, you can close with a hint of things to come, or the beginning of a new story--a sequel of sorts. Example: He was exhausted. It had been a long and difficult week. Javier closed his eyes and thought of the many other adventures that lie ahead.

Well Known Quotation or Quotation from a Famous Person Close with a quotation that is well known or from a famous person. Be sure to put quotations around the quotation and give credit to the person who said it if you write it word for word. Of course, the quotation must be directly related to your topic. A good source is a book of quotations. Look in the library or ask your teacher. Example: According to Senator Bob Dole, in order to be a citizen, all Americans must be able to speak English. In theory this seems like a good policy. However, what will become of the citizens who never learn to speak English?

Quotation Not from a Famous Person Close with a quotation from a person that is not famous. It could be a character from the story or someone you know personally. You still must put it in quotation marks and give credit to the person who said it if you write it word for word. Example: "You're going to regret this." Those were Sheila's last words as I pulled her into the roller coaster seat. I now know she was not kidding.

Open Conclusion Close with an ending or statement that lets the reader draw his/her own conclusion. It is like a "fill in the blank" type of conclusion. Remember to give the reader enough information in the body of your paper that he/she can draw a conclusion. Example: Some statistics show that drivers under the age of 16 are more dangerous. On the other hand, some statistics show that they are no more dangerous than drivers 16 to 25. Therefore, whether