Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Teaching Writing Organization

The writing process is messy. It can be unpredictable and can lead to a path that was previously unseen.

I like that about writing. I want my students to also like that about writing.

Writing is also hard to teach.

The Unknown Path

Four Square
I have my class use an adaption of the Four Square Writing Method when prewriting. I have not been trained in this though. Last year when I started teaching grades 1 and 2 for the first time, I need to revise the way I taught writing, and this was one way I found. I liked it because of its simplicity.

Four Square Writing Method uploaded to Wikipedia.org by Thespian, available 
under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

Last year, I thought it worked really well.

This year, I have seen my students have more difficulty organizing their writing. There were students who were disconnecting thoughts. They would start talking about one thing, drift to another, then suddenly go back to the first thing. Then more of them started doing it.

This caught me by surprise, but I thought it could be because:
1) I have been teaching a watered down version where the students simply write four words in the boxes.
2) I teach writing by having the students write in multiple periods rather than try to do everything in 45 minutes. We prewrite on one day, then on the next day when the write it out, I encourage them to add ideas they may have left out.

Looking for Answers
A few years back I took a correspondence course on The Six+1 Traits of Writing. So when I was looking for some answers for organizational writing, I took a look in the lower elementary version.

There are some great activities on organization, but they are more pre-activities, and they don't really deal with organizing a piece of unorganized writing.

What I Did

Day 1

I wrote some sentences similar to what some of them had written in their own writings on the board. I wrote them in a list since I want them to move beyond the list format. Next to it I wrote the same thing in paragraph format in the same sentence order.

We talked about what I had written for a little bit.
What do you see?
Is there anything you would change?

One student remarked that the paragraph on the left was not a paragraph, but a list. That was a good place to start. Some more discussion brought out the idea that the ideas were not put together well.

After discussing what was wrong, it was time to discuss how they would change it.

Day 2 

The next day it was time to break up the writing. I gave them some strips of paper on which to write each of the sentences in their paragraphs.

I remember doing this in high school with research notes. I hated it. But, this was the best idea I had.

I then asked one student if I could use her writing and I put the strips up on a white board. I made sure that they were out of order when I did this.

Then we read the sentences together.

I asked them if there was anything they wanted to change. We then discussed different ways of organizing it. Since the sentences were on strips, and I had put them on the white board with magnets, they were easy to move around.

The students had several different ideas about ways in which they could order the writing. After one student would give what they thought was a good way, I rearranged the sentences and we reread it. Then I asked another student for their idea and rearranged then discussed. We did this a few times.

Talking about writing like this allowed me to talk about beginnings, middles, and endings to writing. We will need to get back to that after Fall Break.

At the end of this session I had them arrange their strips into a way that was different from how they wrote their piece. Here again some students decided to add some more detail to their writings by adding more sentence strips. I had them rearrange three or four times until the end when I told them to put the sentences into an order they liked. I told them beforehand that they might like the way they had their writing originally and if they chose that way it was OK.

They then numbered their strips of paper.

Putting It All Together

On Day 3 they spent time writing newly rearranged writings in their writing notebooks.

How do you teach writing?
How do you teach organization?

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