At the beginning of each school year, I find that I’m always thinking the same thing… “How the heck do I get these fresh-faced six-year-olds to write a story??” All I can think of is my first graders at the end of last year — how mature and insightful they were in June. Now they’ve moved on to second grade and I’m back at square one with a new group of students.
My Writer’s Workshop consists mainly of personal narrative writing (later in the year we write nonfiction and poetry). Asking to children to write about their own lives is sometimes a challenge — they tend to want to write I love my mom….Rainbows are pretty…. ideas without a lot of “meat”.
One activity that I always stick with to jump start Writer’s Workshop is a “Memory Heart”. I can’t take credit for this idea – it’s been passed down to me from many teachers – but it’s a solid lesson that can be manipulated to fit any teacher’s agenda. We talk about our own special experiences, memories, and people/pets/things that are special or unique to us. I always model my own first:Many times I’ll ask the students to complete their heart at home with a family member. Very often they’ll glue in photographs; this becomes very meaningful for them when they look back at their hearts. I discuss with the students that they can then use these hearts to help them generate ideas during Writer’s Workshop.
A book that I’ve come to love reading before our first independent writing block is The Best Story written by Eileen Spinelli:
About a young girl who struggles to figure out what makes “the best story”, it’s a perfect introduction of how to choose a topic. In the end of the story, she finds that “the best story” is one that comes from the heart. It fits in perfectly with the hearts the students created and lends itself to pulling writing ideas out of our own lives.
This year I’m trying something new: instead of just writing folders I’ve put together writing binders. A colleague suggested trying this to help keep the students more organized. So here’s what I came up with:
I let the students draw a picture on the front label to give them ownership of their binder. Then I included a pocket for extra paper followed by their heart. Next is a folder that all of their writing will stay in: a “work in progress” pocket and a “finished work” pocket. In the back I included a pocket for an individual conference log. This particular part is something I’m excited about. In the past I’ve kept all conference notes in one big binder for myself. This year I’m hoping that keeping it in the back of the student binder will keep me more up to speed with where I left off after each conference.
The past few Writer’s Workshops have now been spent on teaching the students how to write a personal narrative independently. We are working on drawing pictures with labels and writing several sentences to tell the story. Now that our class is set up and ready to write, I’m feeling that usual sense of excitement to see where their writing takes us! I’ve already read personal narratives about swimming lessons, going on an airplane, taking care of a pet, and more…!!!