Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trying to Get Those Third-Grade Opinions Flowing...

Thanks to Stacey, Dana, Tara, Betsy, Anna, and Beth, the amazing writers and thinkers who host the Slice of Life community every Tuesday. Everyone is welcome to join with posts or comments at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com!
This afternoon, I got to work with one of our third-grade teachers as her students work their way through the first week of their opinion writing unit. I committed to working with a group of struggling writers for a few days in a row in an effort to jump start them. We'll see how that goes... Admittedly, this work is a deviation from the usual choice and independence that we strive for in writing workshops, but we are experimenting with gradual release of writers who tend not to produce too much.

Yesterday, the five of us (the four students and I) thought of various ideas around what they might want to change, and we tried to write a collaborative piece about having a classroom pet. This didn't go so well. They each took different reasons to work on, reasons that we had thought up together, but... J. wrote almost nothing, M. wrote very little, and P. struggled because he didn't think that we should have a pet in the classroom. T. wrote a lot, but some of his work lost focus. Because I wanted them to feel like they accomplished something big, I combined their work and made copies for each of them. They were a little miffed that the pencil didn't show up on the copies, and they were also wishing that they had written more. 

"Don't worry," I said. "We will have another chance to write a piece together today."

They were thrilled to see that I had Sharpies for them to use. (I didn't tell them that they each had different colors so I'd know who wrote what and that they had pens so that they couldn't erase!)

Today, we wrote about why they love their teacher, and their responses were heartwarming. Sometimes, we can write opinion pieces to celebrate something, and they were so happy to do this! They were much more inspired by this topic than by trying to talk their teacher into a pet.

I first had them give me a bunch of ideas about why they liked their teacher, and I wrote their reasons, memories, stories, and examples on Post-its. They discovered that the reasons, the examples, and the stories sort of "team up," and the Post-its allowed us to move ideas around into groupings. Once we sorted the Post-its, we worked on balancing the piles a little--making sure that there were enough examples and details for each of the reasons. With minimal debate, each of the four students committed to write each of the four piles.

I worked on having them verbalize what they were going to write until T. and J. were basically bursting. 

“Please, can we just get writing?” T. said. (Yes, he really did say that.)

 M. was VERY worried by spelling. The permanence of the pen was a little debilitating to her at first, but once she got going and let go of the concept of perfect spelling, she got a fair amount written.

We did not touch on introduction or conclusion, but we’ll get there. For right now, just grouping like information and including details to develop their ideas was enough. Tomorrow, I’m thinking we will write about one of their essential teachers, working through the same process but more quickly, trying to get to the concept of introducing and concluding statements. Ultimately, I want them to take the confidence they're gaining as writers and transfer the skills they are practicing to topics of their own choosing and pieces that they plan and write on their own.

Gearing up for March!

Happy writing!


  1. Love the practice of the gradual release of writers who do not produce as much as they should in their writing workshop. You're definitely on the right track and I love the hidden agenda in giving out the Sharpies. Clever teacher tool, Melanie.

  2. Sounds like you struck a chord with the prompt change. Did you pair it with a text or read aloud? I kept thinking of some of the teacher-y books that students have enjoyed: My Teacher's Secret Life, No David, The Teacher from the Black Lagoon.

  3. Melanie, the use of Post-It's here was really smart. I think I'll share your post with my primary teachers - I think this tactile and visual strategy of grouping reasons and balancing them will help a lot of young writers!

  4. No wonder these kids couldn't wait to write - love this tactile and collaborative approach.

  5. No wonder these kids couldn't wait to write - love this tactile and collaborative approach.

  6. Love that you followed their lead on topic choice -- you did scaffold them, but sensed their lack of engagement in the initial topic and used this to change. What a wonderful gift for their teacher
    Clare and Tammy

  7. It seems that working on a different topic was good, & isn't that what writers do anyway? Sometimes a topic just doesn't work, so they try again on another one. It sounds like progress was made, Melanie. I love the idea of the colored pens, & helping these young writers get past the idea of perfect spelling. Perhaps that's a wall that keeps them from writing? Thanks for sharing what happened in your work with these students!

  8. I love the use of those post-its, too. Think I'm going to borrow that for some of my college writers who struggle to match like information. I especially enjoyed T's words!

  9. Can you believe how inspiring sharpies are? And sticky notes! My kids are loving their white boards and choose to compose on them. (A grandpa made them for us.) The point it you are showing them how much they already know. They are feeling your confidence in them. Love it!

  10. There are so many things I love about this post, Melanie. Having the kids talk about their ideas before writing, the post-its, the SHARPIES, a meaningful topic...What lucky students to have you guiding them!