Sunday, April 12, 2015

Working With Strong Writers

Throughout the year, I have had several teachers ask me about working with their stronger writers. I am always happy to talk about this topic. Here are a few ideas for working with this population of young writers:

  1. Use mentor texts. Develop a cache of go-to writing for your units and mark them up so that students can study craft moves. Specific annotate pieces, either in the margins or on the pages with Post-its so that students have a visible representation of what the craft move is and what it looks like. Challenge these students to try out the craft moves in their own writing. Some go-to mentor texts, broken down by genre include:
    1. Narrative:
      1. Anything by Cynthia Rylant, Patricia MacLachlan, Eve Bunting,or Kevin Henkes.
      2. For small moments, Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee, Fireflies by Julie Brinkloe, and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
    2. Information:
      1. I love the nonfiction books that Nicola Davies writes, because she includes such beautiful language and craft moves for hooking and interesting readers.
      2. Any of the National Geographic publications because they all feature catchy introductions and conclusions with an assortment of text features.
    3. Opinion
      1. I am constantly on the hunt for editorials and debate examples that I can share with students. Lego’s recent debate about whether to market pink Legos spurred some great writing of strong opinions about this topic.
      2. Youtube videos of persuasive speeches. Whatever craft moves work in speeches typically works in writing.
      3. Martin Luther King’s speech, I Have a Dream, is full of powerful strategies for opinion writers--repetition, images, personal stories, emotional references all appear in this historic speech.


  1. Develop or obtain grade level checklists for each genre- narrative, information, and opinion/argument-- and make them student friendly. Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins is an incredible resource for student-friendly, genre-specific, spiraling checklists.

If you don’t have access to this book, study the Common Core State Standards and develop some checklists that show progressions for students. For each type of writing, subtle difference ramp up the level and sophistication of writing.
Once students learn to use these checklists or progression ladders, they can study the nuances that exist between grade level, as they move of the ladder of writing sophistication. Students who excel at writing will be inspired to set and meet goals in their written work.

  1. Set up seminars for students. Even students in lower elementary grades will like the concept of signing up for seminars, since even the name sounds collegiate and high level. Better yet, enlist some of your strong writers to become “experts.” Perhaps they can apply for expert status, by demonstrating the skill or presenting evidence of the skill in their work. It’s never too early to teach students skills that are involved with job applications. The picture below is of a bulletin board in a third-grade classrooms. The “experts” are thrilled to continue to develop their skill and feel a strong sense of responsibility to do so, while their peers enjoy learning from other students. Meanwhile, the classroom teacher is freed up to work with more students.

Lisa's wall.jpg


4.   If you teach genre-specific units, encourage strong students to try to write in a different genre. For example, students can write a story to illustrate an opinion or  to prove a point. Here’s a potential example:
One day, I was left at the soccer field. All around me, my friends left, but no one realized that I didn’t have a ride home. If only I had a cell phone...

Narrative is also a powerful genre for teaching readers. High functioning writers who have met the standards of information writing might really enjoy the challenge of embedding information into a narrative piece along the lines of a biography or a Little House on the Prairie episode. If you are comfortable with poetry, encourage writers to use poetry for any of the genres.


Hopefully, somewhere in this post, you will find an idea that inspires you to challenge some of the children in your classroom who are brimming with writing enthusiasm.

Happy Writing,

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