Sunday, November 18, 2012

Writing Workshop: Planning Writing Pieces

One of the most important aims in the Common Core Standards for writing is to make sure that our kids know how to plan their narrative writing pieces so that each section transitions to the next and that there is a purpose to the piece as a whole:

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined
experiences or events using effective technique,
relevant descriptive details, and well-structured 
event sequences.
a. Engage and orient the reader by establishing 
a context and introducing a narrator and/or
characters; organize an event sequence that
unfolds naturally and logically.
b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue,
pacing, and description, to develop
experiences, events, and/or characters.
c. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and 
clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts 
from one time frame or setting to another.
d. Use precise words and phrases, relevant
descriptive details, and sensory language to
convey experiences and events.
e. Provide a conclusion that follows from the 
narrated experiences or events.

Planning is a learned process in writing workshop.  And I think our kids need lots of guided practice in this process before they are ready to take off on their own and fulfill the stands on their own, in a timed, test-taking setting.  
Most of my sixth graders struggle with launching their ideas from notebook into longer writing pieces.  And yet, many of the ideas in their writing lists and heart maps are things they would like to transform into longer pieces for their writing portfolios. When I first began teaching Writing Workshop, I let my kids choose their own planning tools - our mini lessons covered webbings, and timelines and any b-m-e charts, and then I left it to each student to pick a tool that worked best for them.  Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not - and we usually discovered problems halfway through the drafting process when the student was stuck: where  should I go next? what should I include? something is missing, but I don't know what.  At this point, there were many writing conferences and I left each feeling that something had gone wrong in the writing process and we should have fixed whatever it was long before the drafting even began.
 Obviously, I needed to go back to the planning stages and figure out a better way to plan, to create a framework to guide the writing.  Now, every student must create a three-part "plan of action" in their writer's notebook before they can begin drafting on their yellow writing pads:
  • they must choose three ideas from their writing lists for every genre piece we do (we're working on memoir now) and create purpose statements for each: "I am writing about _________________,because I want my reader to know___________________.  I feel these statements really force my kids to focus on their topic and ensure that there is a point to this writing piece - it's not random, they are clear about the "so what?"  This purpose statement serves as our anchor as we confer as well, which helps me guide my students through their drafting/revising stages.  
  • They must create a timeline of events - sometimes this can be detailed, and sometimes not (as in the example below - Eric's notebook), but this timeline also serves as an anchor and a tool for me to offer advice in our conferences.  In Eric's case, for instance, we conferred about the timeline itself - he needed many more specifics in order to be sure he knew where he was going with this piece.  Once he'd done that, he was ready to move on to the next stage.
  • Using the timeline, each student also charts a beginning-middle-end sketch: three columns (b,m,e) with specifics from their timelines sketched out in the appropriate column.  

We meet again to confer and make sure that all questions are clarified and that the student is really ready to begin drafting...and then they're off!

All this pre-writing work lays the groundwork for a more independent drafting process.  We still meet to confer everyday, but both the student and I are so anchored in the "so what?" of their piece due to all that planning work, that the conference is more about improving the writing from a technical and emotional point of view that what it used to be:" I'm stuck, I don't know where to go next!"
Last week, after working on these plans every day, I am happy to say that each of my kids left workshop feeling armed and ready to begin drafting tomorrow, Monday. Hooray!


Kathy Olenczuk said...

I think teachers tend to forget how important this step is. I teach third grade and require my students to ave a plan, or skeleton, for every piece that they begin. It reduces some of the roadblocks students encounter when starting a mew piece. They figure out lickety split when their idea isn't going to work. Also, as you said, when the outline is in place they can focus on the more important elements of their writing.

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