Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Guest Blog Posting: Giving Writing Purpose: 3 Ways to Get Beginners Excited About Writing

Giving Writing Purpose: 3 Ways to Get Beginners Excited About Writing
By Alexandra Berube, bostontutoringservices.com

After teaching Pre-K, Kindergarten, and First Grade, I’ve had the opportunity to watch writers from the very first solitary ‘m’ (“Look, I wrote a story about my mom!”), to chapter books about dinosaurs and princesses. The key moments are those times when children have the opportunity to make meaning of writing, to take writing out of a task or a worksheet and put it into the world. 

Comic Strips
When children are beginning to understand that letters carry meaning, they will use one or two letters to convey an idea--usually the first letter and/or the last. It is very tiring for children to try to write long ideas if this is their current skill capacity. 

Children love to draw, whether it’s representational (“That’s a tree with a rainbow”), or symbolic/action-based (“That’s how I run around and that’s where I jump from...”). If you give them a comic book template (blank squares side by side, large enough that they can draw in each one), they can ‘write’ out their story. 

Once they’ve drawn in each square, they can narrate what’s happening. Depending on their ability, you can either write for them, sounding it out as you go (modeling); you can help them sound out key words and then write the other words yourself; or you can help them sound out all the words to their best ability of invented spelling. 

This builds meaning into the process of writing, because it serves the purpose of narrating their story. Young children often forget what they are trying to write about as they go, because they are so focused on the letters. This gives them the chance to first put down their story in pictures, and then write the best they can without losing their idea. 

Labeling the Room
Children love to make their written work visible, out there in the world for all to see. With just a pad of sticky notes, have them label everything they can. Again, their abilities will vary--some will be able to just write the beginning sound of t for table; some can write beginning and ending sounds; some can add in medial vowels. It’s a great assessment tool of how much they can do. They can run around the house and label everything they can see. It gets them up and moving, interacting with their world, and showing the purpose of writing--to inform, or share meaning.  

Scavenger Hunts
First, they have to hide something somewhere--this gets them up and moving and is just fun. There are a few ways to do this. For a simple treasure hunt, they would write a clue and you would use the clue to find the item. This can just be a letter, a word, or a sentence, depending on the student’s level. 

The next step up is having them write a clue to one spot, and then write another clue from there to the item. It’s going to depend on the abilities of the student--a Kindergartener should only do one or two steps, but a 2nd or 3rd grader could do much more elaborate scavenger hunts. 
For older students, this is a great opportunity to introduce rhyme and poems--for each clue, they need to write a simple rhyme. You can take this up through every grade level. 

If there is a parent who can join in, you can have the student write out the clues, help them place them in each location, and have the parent follow the clues. This is a lot of fun for young kids, and again gives them purpose for writing. 

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

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