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HELP! They Just Won't Write!


There is probably no problem more frustrating to a teacher than a student that seemingly refuses to write!  We try helping them to get started, spoon-feed them ideas, assign them a writing partner to help, and eventually start to threaten punishment.  We have all been there.  Following are a few solutions that might help.

1.  ACCEPT EVERYTHING THEY WRITE

Many students who won't write, have developed a deep-seeded fear of critique.  At some point, they went from a care-free preschooler/kindergartner whose drawings and invented spellings were celebrated to a third grader with writer's block.  ALL early learners LOVE to "write" and they don't know enough to worry about neatness and spelling.  But at some point, it is brought to their attention, that there is a "right way" to do things and their writing definitely looks wrong!  This is when many young writers "go dark."  They get the idea that it is better to write nothing than to do it wrong.  So, as your students are getting to know you and your classroom environment...ACCEPT EVERYTHING that they write, give lots of praise and publicly acknowledge their efforts as a writer....even if it is only one little sentence...or even just a word!!  When they begin to feel safe and trust you, then you can begin to help them to set writing goals.

2.  FOCUS ON CONTENT NOT SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION

I know..I know....it drives you crazy to see all those spelling and punctuation mistakes (and gosh is their handwriting sloppy).  However, focusing on those things will give young writers the wrong message about writing.  Writing is about CONTENT.....ideas and how they are delivered with words onto the page.  Writing is a unique activity in that it is a window into our souls.  Your students realize this and worry about showing that much of themselves by putting it in writing.  If they finally get up enough courage to write something, and you critique their spelling and punctuation.....well, you can really do some damage to a students ability to take a risk in their writing.  It may be a long while before they do that again!  There is a time and place for teaching spelling and writing conventions, but it should not be the focus of your writer's workshop.

3.  SPEND TIME ON TOPIC GENERATION

Some of our student jump right in, when they are asked to write something.  They seem to have an endless supply of stories to tell and information to share!  But some of your writers have no idea how to go about coming up with a writing idea.  All good writing units should start with immersion in whatever text type you are teaching, by looking at mentor text and allowing your students to study how to do it (i.e....How does a narrative typically go?  What do writers of narratives typically do?).  Part of this immersion process should include strategies for generating topics.  Don't assume that students can just think up a topic "just like that".  They will need ideas for getting started and time to create topic lists.  Class generated topic lists can be very helpful for students who struggle to come up with ideas.  Check out HELPING STUDENTS TO DISCOVER WRITING TOPICS for more ideas on topic generation.

4.  FLASH DRAFTING AND THE WRITERS NOTEBOOK

The writer's notebook needs to be a safe place for students to draft their ideas.  Do not read things from your students writers notebooks without being given permission first.  Do not critique, judge or grade anything from the notebook.  If a child asks you to read something they write in their notebook, give specific praise on something you noticed that they tried to do.  They will soon learn that they can experiment with writing in their notebook without fear of being judged.  This is what you want!  The desired effect is that they will start writing...a lot....and trying out some of the brilliant writing strategies that you have taught them!

Also, encourage your students to do a lot of "flash drafting".  Flash drafting is a piece that has been written in one sitting, without much planning, no revision or editing.  These flash drafts often turn into more polished pieces later on.  Flash drafting can really help your struggling writers to develop fluency in their writing.  To learn more read my post FLASH DRAFTING:  THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE WRITING FLUENCY

5.  ORAL REHEARSAL

I have a lot of success with my most stubborn non-writers by having them TELL their story before trying to write it.  It usually starts with me noticing they are staring at a blank page.  I ask, "What are you writing about today?"  They tell me their topic idea and I say, "Oh, tell me more about that."  They are usually excited to do that, and give me an animated retelling of the story.  Then I help them to get the big events onto a planner and have them orally rehearse again with a partner.  This process seems to get the wheels greased and rolling for many students who are stuck on how to get started.  They are just beginning to realize that writing is just TELLING the story...but on paper.  If they can TELL it....they can WRITE it.

6.  GIVE EXTRA TIME


Some students who refuse to write, may need extra time.  Give it to them.  Give them options like....you can work on this at home, or during your free class time, or during recess (by choice only).  The time constraints of your writer's workshop can be a stressor for some students.  I don't know why this is.  But some students just seem anxious when faced with a blank sheet of paper, in a classroom filled with other students who are frantically writing away.   I have noticed that these students will write much more when sitting at a picnic table during recess, or at home at their kitchen table.

7.  CREATE REASONABLE DEADLINES


Every unit that I teach culminates in a pretty wonderful writing celebration at the end.  It usually involves a polished piece that students get to share either with a peer, a small group or the whole class.  Sometimes special guests are brought in to delight in our finished writing (like the principal, parents, other classes).  It is a very special day and students look forward to it, and prepare for it throughout each unit.  Students who do not complete their final draft prior to the celebration date, do not get to fully participate.  This is very motivating...in a mostly positive way.  It is very sad for everyone, when a student doesn't make the deadline and can't participate....but a valuable life lesson has been learned and that student usually doesn't allow it to happen again.    I have seen miracles happen when a student realizes that if they don't "light a fire" they are going to miss out on our celebration.....all of a sudden their notebook begins to fill with words, and sentences...AND PARAGRAPHS!  However some also realize that four weeks of writing nothing, followed by one week of writing like mad is not an effective writing strategy and next time around they are going to get an earlier start. The moral of the story here is:  make sure to celebrate student writing in some type of culminating event AND allow the natural consequences of deadlines run their course.  Parents don't like this...but they understand.

That's all I've got!  So...what are your techniques for helping students who JUST WON'T WRITE?  I'd love to hear about some of your great ideas in the comments below!

In the next post (HELP!  They Write Too Much) I will be addressing what to do with students who just won't "land that plane" and get to the point in their writing.  You know the ones....they read their story to you and your mind starts to wander.  It just goes on and on and on and on......

Need some amazing writing resources for your students check out my TPT STORE!  This intervention bundle is perfect for your struggling writers:



{Frustrating} Student Writing Problems and How to Solve Them - A Blog Series


I LOVE teaching writing...it is really my favorite subject to teach (as many of my readers already know)!  However, it isn't always peaches and cream, is it?  Sometimes writer's workshop can be the most frustrating time of the day!  When students struggle with writing, many teachers are at a loss for how to best help them....and that leads to bad feelings about writing...for both teachers and students!

This series will address some of the writing issues that I have encountered with my students {and I'm sure that you have too} and some strategies that have worked to solve them!

I debated about making this one LONG post or several short ones, and decided that short, frequent posts would be most helpful!  So.....over the next couple weeks I will post SIX blog topics, each focusing on a different writing problem {and solutions} including...

          • THEY WON'T WRITE!
          • THEY WRITE TOO MUCH!
          • NO STAMINA!
          • I CAN'T READ IT!
          • I'M CONFUSED - WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?
          • NO BEGINNING/NO ENDING
So....stay tuned for topic number one coming up in a few days...

What DO you do, when you have a student who REFUSES to write?  I've got some great tips to offer and I hope to engage you all in some conversation as well...cause I know you've got GREAT IDEAS too!

Personal Narrative Writing


Happy summer everyone!

I am excited to share a new Personal Narrative Writing Unit that I have created that you are absolutely going to LOVE!  I wanted to create a comprehensive unit that was common core aligned, includes immersion/mentor lessons for introducing the text type to students, and some lessons on author's craft!  I even added a few lessons to help integrate language standards.  I am really excited to use these lessons with my students.

Check out some of the components:

WHAT IS A PERSONAL NARRATIVE? (IMMERSION)


The first several lessons help students to understand the text type....What is a narrative?  How do narratives tend to go?  What is the structure of a narrative text?  What are craft elements used in a narrative?

Students will explore some of their favorite mentor texts.  I have provided an extensive list of recommended narrative texts that I have used in my own classroom and have worked well in teaching the structure and craft elements narrative text (download this list here for FREE).  It is also nice to have a list of mentor texts that work well to teach a particular writing strategy...and I have included that too!


One problem I have always encountered when looking at mentor texts is determining what exactly students should be looking for...and finding...as they notice and name craft elements.  That is why I included Author's Craft Task Cards, which define several important craft strategies that author's use, and give your students the opportunity to scavenge for these in their mentor texts AND try them out in their own writing.


The set that comes with this unit includes the following craft task cards:


  • Dialogue
  • Internal Thinking
  • Show Don't Tell
  • Character Details
  • Setting Details
  • Sensory Details
  • Power of Three
  • Precise Details
  • Repetition
  • Hyphenated Words
  • Dashes & Ellipses
The task cards have an accompanying student workbook so students can record their thinking and ideas!


TOPIC GENERATION -- WHAT SHOULD I WRITE ABOUT?

Probably the most challenging thing about writing for many students is coming up with a worthy topic.  It seems easy for students to come up with a small moment idea from their own lives...doesn't it???  But it just isn't easy at all!!  If you have read Georgia Heard's book Heart Maps, you have discovered how powerful Heart Mapping can be in helping students find their voice and their topics!!  I have included two lessons on using heart maps to help students select the perfect small moment, seed idea for their personal narrative stories!


GOAL SETTING - WHAT DO I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH AS A WRITER?

You will show students how to set appropriate writing goals for themselves using learning targets in the form of I CAN statements.  I have even included a goal-setting worksheet!  If you use Lucy Calkins Writing Pathways, this unit aligns beautifully!

REHEARSING AND PLANNING - HOW WILL MY STORY GO?


Pre-writing is arguably the most important step in the writing process.  In this unit, students will spend a few days making a solid plan for their story.  This includes oral rehearsal, which is a planning strategy that is very much ignored by many students (and teachers).  All writer, and especially young ones, need to TELL their story before, during and after drafting.  I encourage my students to go back to rehearsal throughout the writing process to help them to find their place again when their story gets a bit lost.  Students can rehearse with themselves, in their head, or with a peer.  I have included graphic organizers for planning, including completed teacher examples for modeling with your students.  

DRAFTING - HOW WILL I WRITE OUT EACH SECTION?


There are several lessons on drafting including how to write the events of your story in paragraph format, drafting introductions and conclusions, using transition words and phrases.  The drafting and revision steps are where students will have the opportunity to try out some of those great craft elements they studied in the first lessons!  

Students will use their planner (or story mountain) to begin drafting their stories.  They will have "tried out" their story ideas during the immersion phase of the unit with flash drafting (for more information on flash drafting...check out THIS blog post).  I like to have students write main events of the narrative on sticky notes and then use these events to elaborate each section/paragraph.

HEART OF THE STORY - WHAT IS THE AUTHOR'S MESSAGE?


Yes, even third graders need to have a point to their stories!  It is best to get them thinking about this early on in the process.  I have included a lesson on finding the heart of your story and some additional resources to help your students with this.

ENGAGING INTRODUCTIONS AND SATISFYING ENDINGS


In this unit students will explore the different ways to approach beginning and ending their narrative by looking at how their mentors do it!  I have included some task cards that will guide students in studying great leads and endings and then trying it out in their own stories.

TRANSITION WORDS AND PHRASES - WHAT WORDS WILL I USE TO SHOW THE PASSAGE OF TIME IN MY STORY?


Students will learn how to effectively use linking words and phrases that can be used to indicate the that time is passing in a story.  Students will have access to a comprehensive list of transition words and phrases to use as a reference.



FINISHING UP - HOW WILL I POLISH UP MY STORY?


I have included lessons on editing, and some optional language lessons that work well with the editing steps of the writing process.  I love integrating those language standards with my writing lessons whenever possible!!  You will love the student editing checklist that is included!  


CELEBRATE - HOW WILL I SHARE MY STORY WITH OTHERS?


There is nothing more motivating for young writers than knowing that their writing will be shared with others!  I have provided some fun ways for your students to celebrate and share their writing at the end of this unit.

TEACHER RESOURCES 


I have created some teacher tools that align nicely with the unit including a conferring checklist, status of the class sheet, strategy groups, and more.


I am super excited about this unit....the lessons have been tested out in my classroom and I couldn't be prouder of the amazing narrative writing that my students have produced!  I know you and your students will love it too!

To celebrate BACK TO SCHOOL.....I am putting this unit on sale for a limited amount of time.  Don't miss out....get it HERE today!


Please feel free to leave comments and questions below...I always love hearing from my readers!!

FIVE THINGS that Should Be on Your Classroom Agenda - EVERY DAY!


How do you spend your minutes each day?  As teachers, our time seems so very limited.  There is never enough time to accomplish everything that needs to get done.  Each teacher, each day, makes choices about what stays on the plate and what goes.  That's just life as a classroom teacher.  That being said, I have found FIVE THINGS that should be a PRIORITY every, single day....


This is so simple but so HUGE!  The very best way to help your students to start their day off right is to give them a SMILE, make EYE CONTACT, and greet them BY NAME.  Some teachers like to add a little sparkle to this routine by asking a question, or giving a compliment!  I just read about this teacher from North Carolina who has a special handshake that he uses to greet his students each morning!  Check it out HERE.  When you physically SHOW UP for students each morning...they know that you care and this instantly relaxes them, and allows them to start their day in the frontal cortex of their brain....that special place where the most amazing learning can happen!


After our morning meeting, I like to give students the low-down on "what's up" today.  I go through our agenda by talking about the day's learning targets, and always try to throw in a tidbit that will get them excited about what's to come..... "And IN SCIENCE....we will learn about a VERY SPECIAL property of the mineral calcite!!!!"  OMG...their eyes get so big and their mouths open wide.  All of a sudden they are looking forward to the learning ahead, instead of thinking about lunch and recess.  Brain research supports this too....brains tend to remember the FIRST part and the LAST part of things.  This overview is one of the BOOK ENDS that will help them to retain what they learn during the day {see the other BOOK END toward the end of this post....REFLECTION}.  Finally, doing this at the front end of the day will help your students to organize their thinking and plan ahead and set goals for new learning throughout the day.


I cannot say enough about the importance of STORY TIME in our classrooms.  I don't care what grade you teach...it is ALWAYS worth the time.  The benefits of reading aloud include {but are not limited to) modeling fluency, exposure to challenging texts, great book discussion, creates excitement around books and reading, models the craft of great writing, etc., etc., etc.!!  My favorite thing about reading aloud to my class is how it helps to build a sense of classroom community.  When you read a GREAT STORY to your class, you are all IN IT TOGETHER...sharing the ups, the downs, the bumpy ride of the characters and their emotional ride through the story. There is nothing better than the collective sigh of agony that you hear when you close that book for the day....because they want you to keep reading!  Or when I hear them whispering to one another their predictions for what is going to happen next (Did they just practice a reading strategy without me asking and without a worksheet??).   There really is nothing like it!!  It is my favorite part of every day that I teach.


Some call it snack time.  Some call it inside recess.  Some call it free time.  Some call it a brain break.  Whatever you call it...your students need it...that is, some time to just be with their classmates, shooting the breeze, not thinking really hard and just being FREE.  In my class, I try to give my students down time twice per day for about 10 minutes.  Sometimes we do a fun activity together to get everyone laughing.  Sometimes I just let them get out a snack and chat with their friends.  Other times, they can play a game or draw.  This down time allows my kiddos to exhale and get ready for another bout of thinking and learning.....kind of like hitting the reset button.



The best time for students to reflect on their learning is....AT THE END OF THE DAY!  There are so many ways to help students to process their daily learning, from the simple to the complex.  Some teachers like to have students do a written reflection in a daily reflection journal.  They might even have students include a goal {or a wish} for the next day.  I keep it very simple.  I gather my friends on the carpet and have them close their eyes {my comedians in the class like to strike a meditation pose}.  I then go through all of the important learning concepts from the day....."Today we learned that the mineral calcite reacts with cold acid, which was so helpful in helping us to identify calcite in our rock samples.....We also learned that writers find a way to "hook" their readers at the beginning of of their stories..to make us want to keep reading."  You get the idea.  It usually takes about five minutes or less, but my students love this and I believe that it helps them to process and retain their learning.  Sometimes, if there is time, I will then have them turn and talk about their favorite part of the day and what they would like to accomplish as a reader/writer/scientist/mathematician tomorrow.

Well..there your have it...my FIVE MUST-DOS for each day of the week.  What are yours??

Thanks again for visiting and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it for you!!

Oh...If you are looking for some great "read aloud" ideas, check out my TPT store:

Because of Winn Dixie Literature Resource Kit

The Tale of Despereaux Literature Resource Kit

Patricia Polacco -- Literature Resources for 6 Favorite Books

Kevin Henkes -- Author Study Tri-folds

Common Core Writing - In Hand!!


Whether you're a fan of the common core or not, it has definitely defined three different text types and how we need to teach our students to structure their writing pieces.

The common core outlined the following text types:  Narrative Writing, Opinion Writing and Informational Writing.  Within each of those text types, you can find a great variety of writing genres including narrative poetry, informational books and articles, fictional narratives, opinion letters, essays and literary essays.  But the structure generally stays consistent for every genre.

I have found that if students know these structures, literally like the back of their hand, they are well on their way to becoming successful writers!

ALL text types have this basic structure:

INTRO - BODY - CONCLUSION

The intro and conclusion are consistent in all text types but the body will vary.  I like to use a graphic organizer to help my students remember the structure of each text type....one that is always with them wherever they go...THEIR HAND!

Here are the basic structures that I teach for each text type:




I look for these structures when I analyze their on-demand writing prompts, and will form strategy groups based upon who demonstrates these structures in their pieces and who does not.  During every lesson, I will have students put up their hands and tell me these structures by pointing at each finger on their hand and stating the parts.  I print out enlarged versions of these hand posters and post them in my classroom.  

It seems redundant and even silly, but my kiddos KNOW THESE STRUCTURES, and they have become much better writers as a result.  When they are asked to write something, they know how to set it up and they can then focus on the "good parts" of their pieces....the details, dialogue, reasons with evidence, examples, facts, etc.  

Knowing these structures (like the back of their hand) sets them up for successful paragraph writing as well!  They realize early on that each "finger" represents a new paragraph.  I use this same "hand" to teach them how to write a good paragraph...after all, the organization is the same in a good paragraph...topic sentence, supporting sentences, concluding sentence. 

In the past I have used a similar teaching strategy...using a hamburger (you know the one).  But this is so much better...because they ALWAYS have their hand....but the hamburger...well it just makes them hungry!  

If you would like a copy of these posters, you can grab them for free HERE!  Also, you can find them in my Common Core Writing Mentor Text Kit, which also contains some great examples of each text type, along with some really helpful graphic organizers to put in your students' writing folders!



Daily Five Reading Rotations


Math Workshop Rotations have been a huge success in my classroom for the past two years.  I love that I have time to work with the whole group on new math concepts, but my rotations have also given me the much needed time to meet with small groups.  See HERE for more information about how I do math rotations.

This got me to thinking about how I could incorporate this same structure with reading.  I know literacy work stations and Daily 5 are not new ideas, but I have never been able to make them work for me....until now!  In this post, I will outline reading rotations that allow me to teach whole group lessons and meet with small groups EVERY DAY!

First, I thought it would be helpful to outline my daily schedule, to give you an idea about how much time I spend on each subject area.  At our school, we have a weekly intervention block that takes 45 minutes, three days per week.  Because of this, we are forced to "integrate" our science and social studies content.  On the two days per week that I do not have intervention groups, I will do hands-on science, or a social studies activity.  Spelling, which used to be in in its own block, is now integrated into my new reading rotation schedule.  Here is my current schedule:

8:30-9:00        Attendance/Morning Announcements/Bell Work/Morning Meeting
9:00-9:45        Science/S.S. (M&F); Intervention Groups (T-W-Th)
9:45-10:55      Math Workshop
11:00-12:00    Lunch
12:00-12:20    Math Workshop (Continued)
12:20-1:10      Writer's Workshop
1:10-1:15        Snack Break
1:15-2:30        Reader's Workshop/Reading Rotations
2:30-2:45        Sharing and/or Read Aloud w/Accountable Talk
2:45-3:25        Gym/Art/Music
3:25-3:35        Daily Reflection/Read Aloud
3:35-3:45        Pack Up

I usually have some wiggle room in there, just in case I need more/less time for a subject, or we just need a bit of breathing room.

My reading block includes a whole class lesson and three rotations.  Here is how it plays out:

1:15-1:30        Whole Class Reading Lesson
1:30-1:50        Rotation 1
1:50-2:10        Rotation 2
2:10-2:30        Rotation 3

As you may notice, each rotation is 20 minutes, which gives me just enough time to meet with a small group for guided reading or spelling.  I usually have no problem meeting with three groups during this time.

I started by grouping my students, using information from various data points including Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessments and NWEA RIT scores.   I do not meet with all groups every day.  In fact, I only meet with my three groups that are performing at or below grade level.  That leaves two groups that do not meet with me during the week.  Of course, I do check in with them from time to time to ensure that they are choosing just-right books and keeping up with their daily reading requirements.  I do meet with all groups for spelling, one day per week, usually on Monday.

When I created the rotation board, I wanted to incorporate the different components of the daily five, including read to self, buddy reading, write about reading, word study, and listen to reading (for my lowest readers).  Since our reading block is long, and comes in the afternoon (our hardest time of day), I knew the rotations would need to keep students engaged.  Reading silently for an hour would definitely NOT work!  Therefore, each rotation offers students a reading activity that is engaging and differentiated to meet the needs of the particular learners in that group.  Here are the boards that I created (I display this on our interactive white board during reading time):








Because I have five groups, but only three rotations, it is necessary to have a different board each day so that all students can do each of the available rotations throughout the week.  You can download all of my rotation boards HERE.  These are Powerpoint files and can be edited to meet your needs!  (Keep in mind the clipart that you see in my version is not included due to copyright protection.  The font also will not transfer but you can download it for FREE HERE.)

Group 4 and 5 are my highest groups and have an extra rotation space because they do not meet with me for guided reading.  You can see that on Monday and Friday they have a literacy work station activity.  The numbers represent the labeled bin that contains the game that they are assigned.  These games are common core aligned language and vocabulary games that I purchased from Lakeshore Learning that work great with my more advanced readers.  Task cards or another engaging and fun activity would also be great to use here.  

During the Word Work rotation, students complete tasks and games that go with our Words Their Way program.  They are responsible for practicing their word sort, writing it out, and writing the words in sentences before Friday.  They also have some other choices for working on their words during this twenty minute rotation.

Twice per week students write about their reading.  I use Reading Response Menus which work perfectly for a quick 20 minute writing choice.  You can pick those up at my TPT store...they include 12 different menu boards (7 fiction; 5 non-fiction) and are common core aligned.  I have even included a rubric for scoring them.  I simply have students write out their response on plain loose-leaf paper and turn it in at the end of their reading time.  I love reading these and always give students feedback on their response.


For Reading Response, you might also like these THINKMARKS:


or this comprehension menu system RISE:


During Read to Self, student are reading silently from their self-selected books.  They keep a book box filled with books, and they can "shop" for new ones each week.  During this time my lowest readers have the opportunity to read on Raz Kids and other sites where they can "listen" to reading, which is critical for those reading below third grade level.

When students have Buddy Reading, they get with their (pre-arranged) reading partner to read together or to discuss a book they are reading.  Many students choose to read the same book as their reading partner.  I have a mini-library of partnership books (sets of two) that students can pick from, which is very popular with third graders! 

It is very important that I am prepared for each of my daily Guided Reading Groups by having a lesson and books prepared in advance.  I like to plan for the whole week in advance...just like I do for all of my other lessons delivered throughout the week.  For more information about Guided Reading, please visit my recent post GUIDED READING MADE SIMPLE.  I have also created a Guided Reading Planning Kit that you may find helpful:


I hope you enjoyed this post!  How do you manage your reading block?  Please feel free to respond with any questions or comments below...I love to hear from YOU!