I am a big fan of Lucy Calkin’s Writers’ Workshop. I have seen it in action in many classrooms and I couldn’t wait to implement it in my own program. I started using writer’s notebooks last year with some success, but I wasn’t satisfied with my writing program. I decided to give it another go with this year’s group of grade 3s and we are off to fantastic start!
Students love having their own journals for writing. During the first few days of school, we covered their notebooks with colorful paper and I allowed students to decorate their covers. I loved seeing messages such as PRIVATE KEEP OUT and PROFESSIONAL WRITER’S NOTEBOOK written in big letters on the cover. In Calkin’s resources, she recommends that you begin the school year writing personal narratives through “small moments.” Small moments are short narratives where students write about something they did with a special person or in a special place. I have not had one student unable to think of something to write about! Students know they are to write for 15-20 minutes each day without interruption. They understand that we must be quiet so we can think about our writing. They love sharing their writing in Writers’ Circle and with their peer editor. Almost daily, I will photocopy (with permission from the author) a student’s small moment. As a group we identify strengths in the writing. I then use the student’s writing to teach a specific craft in writing such as adding dialogue or words we could use instead of “said.”
We are now focusing on “zooming in” when writing our small moment. Students are encouraged to use three types of sentences in their writing: action sentences, dialogue sentences and thinking sentences. They are starting to get the hang of it. Here is one grade three student’s small moment:
I opened the square box and smelled. “Mmmmm,” I thought to myself. “You better grab a slice before I eat all the pizza Tatiana!” I warned.
It seems so simple, but it does take students a while to get the hang of it. Three sentences that capture what Lucy Calkins refers to as “seed” ideas rather than watermelon ideas. Once students get the hang of writing these short personal narratives, they can start to write longer personal narratives. Our goal for the first week of October is for students to take one of the small moments they wrote in September and develop it into a longer personal narrative.
These personal narratives complement the reading resource I use in my classroom. The first unit in Nelson Literacy grade 3 is personal narrative or My Story. Reading as Writers, Writing as Readers…it doesn’t get better than that!