Getting Off to the “Write” Start

In many writing classrooms the year starts off with children sharing personal memories and writing stories and teachers modeling how to find stories if stuck, how to tell a story sequentially, and how to elaborate a story using step by step actions and descriptive details. There are a few key charts you may want to consider making with your students to support this ambitious work – a writing process chart, a strategy chart, an exemplar chart, and a conventions chart.

Helping children understand that writing is a process is important work, especially at the beginning of the year. Donald Murray, author of A Writer Teaches Writing (1968, 2004), first described this process as a way of breaking down writing into understandable steps, to show how writing is made so he could teach others. Writers collect ideas, draft, revise, and edit. While there are many variations of the writing process this is a good basic one to teach our young writers. It lets them know that writing is not perfect the first time pictures and words are put down on paper, that it takes lots of starts and stops, trials and errors, before it ends up published. We typically show the writing process as a circle to emphasize its endlessness, although we know that that there are many times writers jump around for example from revising to editing, then back to more revising. The most important thing we want our student writers to know is that when a writer finishes one piece the cycle starts all over again. Below is a chart that Kristi made that continues to be a favorite of many teachers.

Kristi's writing process chart.

A possible writing process chart.

Another chart you will definitely need is a strategy chart, or what we now refer to as a repertoire chart. As we described in Smarter Charts, this kind of chart records a list of strategies for a big skill, which allows children to self-select the strategy that matches what they need to do. It also typically grows over multiple lessons. Increasing children’s skill of elaboration is one goal that encourages revision.

strategy chart

Setting clear expectations for what a well-written story looks and sounds like is best accomplished by showing children examples of books written by other children their same age. Then, by looking at the exemplar piece of writing together and naming what the writer has done to make it so good, can really underscore all that you have been teaching and even provide ideas for other things to teach and for students to learn. Once the piece of writing is annotated it becomes an exemplar chart that children can compare their own writing to or refer to when looking for other things they could try.

A writing sample that has been annotated with the students' noticings.

A writing sample that has been annotated with the students’ noticings.

Editing is an important part of the writing process because writing is meant to be read by others. This means that writers work hard to make their writing easier to read by trying to make their pictures clear with enough details to show what is happening and where. They also write in a way that makes the words easier to read, like using spaces, punctuation, and the best spelling they know how to do. Creating a chart that highlights strategies for these types of conventions will be a useful tool for all your students. This is the type of chart that is often turned into an editing checklist to be used regardless of genre.

This is a typed version of a chart that encourages children to make their writing easy to read.

This is a typed version of a chart that encourages children to make their writing easy to read.

When deciding which charts you will need it always helps to start with the big goals of your unit and to use these as your guide for selecting which charts might be needed most. Too many charts can be overwhelming and become more like print pollution than helpful scaffolds. And, as with any chart, make sure you and your students refer to each chart often, celebrating their use by all.

Happy charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

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Answering Readers’ Questions

Hello Dear Readers,

We here at chartchums are developing more consistent features to our blog. To support the requests of all of you we will be approaching each month in the following way:

– one post addressing a popular reading or writing unit

– one post that highlights relevant work from our archives

– one post that addresses readers questions

– and one post that looks at charts in a classroom setting

This week we are tackling some of the most popular reader questions of the past two weeks, which we have collected from comments, @chartchums, and chartchums@gmail.com. Here are some answers to those wonderful questions…

Can Kristi share her chart font?

As much as Kristi would love to, the whole idea of the chart font is that it match the pictures you put on your own charts, otherwise it becomes another form of clip art. If you are intimidated by drawing your own chart font, we suggest taking a look at our previous posts about drawing, found here and here or by looking at Make a World by Ed Emberley. Another idea Kristi tried was to have the students make some of the symbols.

Do you do seminars?

We do! We have presented from Texas to Connecticut and many states in between! If you are interested in having us work with you, please direct inquiries to chartchums@gmail.com.

Here is sample of what you can expect when you get a day with the chartchums:

Want the secret to jump-off-the-wall charts that stick with kids? Then you’ll want to meet Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli, co-authors of Smarter Charts, who will share not only ways to create great charts, but the best practices that will make your charts more powerful and effective than ever. In this one-day workshop Kristi and/or Marjorie will share tips on design and language, instructional use, and self-assessment. You will learn strategies that deepen engagement, strengthen retention, and increase independence—all by involving students in chart making. And you will even learn how to draw!

I am swimming in charts! How many charts should I have up?

At this time of year there are so many charts for routines, it can feel like you are going to use an entire chart pad by the time the month is over. One suggestion to minimize the “print pollution” is to take your routines charts and bind them together with a simple binder ring. Another is to use a sketch pad for these routine charts. Both these strategies allow you to flip to the chart you need at the time you need it. Unlike a “Stretching Words” chart that children may use across the day, a “Setting up For Writing Time” only needs to be seen in that brief window of set-up time. On average, most classrooms have 3 or so charts up for each major subject area.

Book shopping is a routine that needs only the occasional reminder.

Book shopping is a routine that needs only the occasional reminder.

What is “chart-a-day”?

Chart-a-day is an initiative we have started on twitter (@chartchums) to tweet one smart chart every school day. Send us one of yours and we will retweet it to the world!

Feel free to send us your questions, we will answer them again next month! Until then, happy charting!
Kristi and Marjorie


“I’m done!” Planning for the Predictable

We know from experience that teaching revolves around the seasons like the earth revolves around the sun. At the start of each school year we resolve to make it the best ever, using all we have learned over the summer and the years past. The challenge is knowing what to continue and what to change. What seems to work year after year? What seems to need revising based on each new group of students entering our classrooms? These questions are what make teaching so invigorating and challenging. It is what keeps us going forward with energy and excitement.

As we began this new school year we found ourselves anticipating some typical scenarios that happen during a writing or reading workshop each and every year. Very quickly we came up with the standard lament heard across the world, “I’m done!” How many of you have already heard this lament? How many times so far? As teachers we have two choices. We can tear our hair out at the instantly greying roots or we can take a breath, smile knowingly, and pull out some full proof plans that have worked again and again in years past.

Well, that is what we have done here. We have taken a breath, smiled knowingly, and pulled out a previous post that deals with this very predictable dilemma that occurs each and every year. “I’m done!” Well, to quote Lucy Calkins and Leah Mermelstein, “When you are done, you have just begun!” Specifically, when it comes to writing it is important that children understand that writing is a never-ending process. This week we revisit Tricia Newhart’s workshop classroom where writers think and plan, sketch and write, and revise with joy! She shows that charts are never static, but grow and change over time. Thank you Tricia for continuing to inspire us all!

Charts, like all living documents, need to be created with your classroom community and grow as you teach more, or as classroom needs change. Below is a series of photos from a first grade classroom that records how the writing process chart grew and changed over the first few days of school. These photos come from the incredible Tricia Newhart, who teaches in Orinda, California. A word about Tricia- when we close our eyes and imagine the ideal “workshop classroom”, Tricia’s room comes to mind. Her responsiveness to children, knowledge about reading and writing, and her absolute fearlessness and bravery in trying new things makes her an inspiration to all!

The Writing Process

Here is Tricia’s writing process chart at the very beginning of school. You will notice that she has photos up of children actually doing each part of the chart. Like concrete samples, photos are a great way to capture complex ideas in an accessible way. It also makes the chart tailor-made to each classroom and much more engaging to children. We all tend to look more closely at things when we have been ‘tagged’ in the picture!

Children’s Names Added

At this point, each child has his or her name on a post it, so that they can mark which step of the writing process each child is on. This is a great technique for any chart. Children can put their names on post-its for strategies they want to try, or as Tricia did, to keep track of where they are in a multi-step process.

Students Making Plans

Here we have that very idea in action!

Student Samples are Added

Here you can see the chart in its final stage stage. Now that children are close to revising, Tricia has added some student work with the actual revisions highlighted in yellow and annotated with sentence strips. If you have been looking close, you will see that the bulk of children moved from planning into the sketching and writing. Tricia is well aware of where they are and taught the next thing that MOST children would need.

Slowly building the chart as needed makes each part more accessible and memorable for children. It also keeps students from getting overloaded from day one. Tricia painted the big picture of the process on day one, but introduced parts more specifically (using post-its to make a plan, ways to revise) as the children needed it.

And one last lovely idea from Tricia:

Story Idea Spot

Here Tricia gives some space for children to put story ideas that pop into their heads during the day. Children can go back to access this during writer’s workshop. Again, the interactive nature of Tricia’s room shows the amount of independence she expects of children and the honor she gives to their thinking and writing.

Enjoy the week ahead and let us know the ways you deal with the expected and the unexpected challenges of teaching and learning!

Until next time, happy charting!

Marjorie and Kristi