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Author's Craft: Leads, Endings and Details...OH MY!

Do you sometimes tell your students that they need a better start to their story or opinion letter, or that they need an ending with more pizzazz?  Do you tell them to add more details when they hand you their sparse informational piece?   Of course you do!!  Then why do your students have such a difficult time following through on this seemingly simple directive?  It is likely that they need a little more modeling and instruction on the SPECIFIC WAYS to write leads, endings and details.

Just as a woodworker uses many tools and techniques to CRAFT a piece of furniture, a skilled author uses tools and techniques of language and storytelling to CRAFT a piece of writing.  We, as teachers of writing, need to directly teach our students some of these tools and techniques.  Since we may not consider ourselves to be expert writers, this seems like an overwhelming task...but it need not be.  If we give our students some direct instruction on only a few different types of leads, endings and details, they will have the tools to drastically improve their writing in all three text types:  narrative, informational and opinion writing!

In this post I have created a quick and dirty reference for the different types of LEADS, ENDINGS AND DETAILS (listed by text type) that you can and SHOULD teach your students to use in their writing!


Narrative Leads:

  • Setting - A very simple lead that introduces the character and describes the setting in the story.  The setting description can be quick and dirty or very descriptive.
  • Action - The story starts with character actions!
  • Dialogue - The story starts with dialogue between the characters.
  • Character Description - Starts with a detailed description of the main character in the story.

Informational Leads

  • Name the topic and hook the reader - all informational leads should start with some type of hook.
  • Fact - Start with some interesting or surprising facts about the topic.
  • Question - Ask a thought-provoking question to intrigue the reader to continue reading.
  • Tour Guide - Give the reader a brief overview of what they will learn from the book, article, etc.

Opinion Leads:

  • Name the topic and the opinion - all opinion pieces should start by stating the writer's opinion (claim) and hooking the reader.
  • Quote - Start with an interesting quote by an expert or famous person.
  • Question - Ask a thought-provoking question to get the reader interested in their opinion.
  • Writer credibility - start with the credentials of the writer and why their opinion matters.
  • Feeling - start by sharing a feeling or getting the reader to feel a certain way (angry, sad, etc.)
  • Shocking Fact - share a surprising/shocking fact that will lead into the writer's opinion.
  • Plea for help - Share a plea to the reader to help persuade them to agree with your opinion.
  • Why it's important - state the opinion and why it is important.


Narrative Endings:

  • Thoughts or Feelings - Wrap the story up by sharing character thoughts or feelings connected to the heart of the story (author's message).
  • Hope or Wish - End with a hope or a wish of a character or the narrator of the story.
  • Action - End with action by the character(s).
  • Make a connection to the beginning or middle of the story - tie the beginning and ending together by connecting what happened at the beginning to the ending.
  • Character change - end the story by writing about something the character has learned.
  • Dialogue - End with the characters talking.
  • Repeat a line - connect to the heart of the story by repeating an important line or quote.

Informational Endings:

  • Why its important - end by telling the reader why their topic is important or why they should care.
  • Question - end with a question for the reader to think about.
  • Summary - summarize what the report, article, book was about.
  • Persuade the reader to take action or make them think about the topic in a different or deeper way.

Opinion Endings:

  • Repeat the opinion of the writer - all opinion pieces should end by restating the opinion.
  • Rating - if the piece is a review...give a rating (5/10, 3 stars, etc.)
  • Talk directly to the reader - Now that YOU....YOU should....Now YOU know...
  • Ask the reader to take action - end by stating what you want the reader to do now.


Narrative Details:

  • Descriptions - describe the setting or the characters with vivid details.
  • Talk - add dialogue (what are the characters saying?).
  • Action - use specific verbs describe in specific detail action from the story
  • Thoughts and feelings - add details about what the characters are doing AND what they are thinking and feeling.
  • Show don't tell - instead of naming feelings, describe what a character is doing that SHOWS how they are feeling.
  • Add more to the heart of the story - add more details and more descriptive details to the place in the story that illustrates the author's message.   

Informational Details

  • Facts - All informational pieces should include lots of facts about the topic.
  • Definitions - the writer should give definitions of key words and include them in a glossary.
  • Details and Descriptions - include descriptive nouns, verbs and adjectives to help the reader to understand and visualize the information about the topic.
  • Steps - write directions in steps.
  • Tips - Give special tips when sharing how to do something.
  • Numbers - add number-related facts such as statistics, sizes, speeds, ages, years, etc.
  • Names - give specific and proper names for things (animal breeds, countries, states, etc.)
  • Examples - support the facts and ideas with examples. 
  • Text Features (charts, photos, headings, etc.)
  • Text Structures (Compare/contrast, cause/effect, pro/con, etc.)

Opinion Details

  • Reasons - all opinion pieces should state reasons that support the opinion.
  • Examples - share examples that support the reasons.
  • Quotes - quotes from experts that support the opinion and reasons.
  • Micro-story - a short story that is slanted to illustrate the opinion of the writer.
  • Survey Results - share survey results that support the opinion.
  • Interview - share information from an interview of an expert that supports the opinion.
  • Facts - Share facts that support the opinion of the writer.


Print this post so that you can reference the different types of leads, endings and details for each text type as you are ready to teach them.  Make sure you have examples to show students.  You can use mentor texts, student exemplars or teacher-created examples.  I collect these year after year, and file them away so they are ready to pull out when I need them!  Create anchor charts and keep them up all year so that students can refer to them as they are drafting and revising their writing.


If you want to learn a whole lot more about author's craft, I strongly recommend the following books:


You might also like the following from my TPT store:



I hope you have found this post helpful!  What reading or writing topics are you interested in reading more about?  I'd love your feedback on ideas for future blog posts!

Thanks for visiting!
Love and peace,

Guided Reading or Strategy Groups? - What to Know!

There is a lot of discussion in my school district around small group instruction.  We keep hearing that best practice includes "a variety of grouping strategies".   As a teacher, I would sometimes get confused about the different types of "reading groups" and when to use each type, so I thought I'd post about it today, and hopefully clear up some of the confusion!


So, what types of small groups would one expect to see in an elementary classroom?  Here are some great ways to group students:

  • Guided Reading Groups
  • Reading Strategy Groups
  • Writing Strategy Groups
  • Interest-based Groups
  • Book Clubs
  • Partnerships
You have probably used all of these types of groups in your classroom and they each have their own benefit.  Interest-based groups, book clubs and partnerships are fairly self-explanatory and should be used regularly in your classroom to inspire great conversations around books and other classroom learning.


So what about guided reading....and what the heck are strategy groups??  Aren't they the SAME THING?  Well...not really.  Let me explain.

Guided reading is just that...reading that is done with a small group of students under the watchful eye of the teacher.  Students in the group are at roughly the same reading level, and will be reading the SAME leveled book, that was carefully chosen by the teacher based upon her planned teaching points.  The teacher often prompts students as they read, helping them to use the three cuing systems (meaning, syntax & visual cues).  But over the years guided reading has grown in to a very strategic way to teach a variety of skills to emergent and early readers, and is not only a way of guiding readers but also a way to differentiate reading instruction so all students can be successful.  Guided reading often includes reading with prompting AND direct teaching of reading skills including decoding, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Most teachers find that guided reading lessons usually take about 20 minutes.  Jan Richardson wrote a whole book about how to rock out guided reading with your students:

I highly recommend this book if you want to get really, really good at guided reading!  If you have the book and would like some reference cards to simplify your life, I created these:

You can get the whole set at my TPT store!  

So what about strategy groups?  Why do I need strategy groups if I am already doing guided reading with my students every day?

The first time I heard about strategy groups, it was from the Two Sisters (you know Gail Boushey and Joan Moser).  I read their book The Cafe Book:  Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment & Instruction, and was blown away by the idea of reading strategy groups.

A strategy group is basically a reading conference...but with a small group of students instead of just one.  Mind-blowing, I know!!  It is different from guided reading because your students will all have a different book (one of the just-right books from their book box), and you will be teaching them one very specific strategy.  You teach and model, then students practice the strategy with you in their own book, one at a time.  A good strategy group lesson should only take about 5-10 minutes.  You can see the amazing Jennifer Serravallo teach a strategy group here:

She's got some great books to help you get started:




So the conversation we have been having in our district is when to use guided reading and when to use strategy groups!  The answer is not really simple, but let's take a stab at it!

Guided reading is an way of packing the direct instruction of many skills into one compact, 20 minute lesson.  Emergent (Levels A-C, and Early Readers (Levels D-I) HAVE A LOT TO LEARN ABOUT READING!!  They especially need to learn decoding skills.....phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling patterns, etc.  Guided reading is THE BEST way to differentiate this learning for these readers.

Transitional readers (Level J-P) are much better at decoding and need a strong focus on comprehension strategy instruction.  But.....they are still learning to decode longer unfamiliar words.  So, they may still need guided reading, but the lessons will be much more focused on comprehension than decoding.  Strategy groups could also be a great way to address the needs of transitional readers, because they will focus on one, very specific, strategy that the students need at that moment to move forward with their independent reading.  It might be a decoding strategy, a fluency strategy or a comprehension strategy.  Since strategy groups are shorter, you can do them more often, which is AWESOME!  So, they are at a tricky level, where you might have to decide which type of group is best for them based upon what they need most.

If you have fluent readers (Levels Q and beyond), you should really be using strategy groups and not guided reading.  They are really beginning to spread their reading wings and need comprehension and vocabulary strategies to help them to comprehend the much more complex texts they are reading.  This is best addressed through short, very focused, strategy groups.

Here is a quick chart to see the difference between Guided Reading and Strategy Groups:

I wrote a whole blog post about guided reading:  Guided Reading Made Simple.  

Also, here are some resources I created to help you with guided reading.  I hope you find them helpful:

Hope you found this post helpful...thanks for stopping by.  Please feel free to start a conversation in the comments below!

Love and peace,

Writing Time is NOT Over! How to Increase Writing Stamina During Writer's Workshop

"I'm done!"  During the early weeks of Writer's Workshop, these cringe-worthy words echo through my classroom.  "Really?" you think to yourself.  "We're only about five minutes into our workshop!"  Then I remember that every fall it's the same students have not yet built up a healthy stamina for writing.  I take a deep breath and relax, because I know that in a few short weeks, they will be utilizing every moment of their writing time, and begging for more!  How do I accomplish it?  Here are some tips that have worked with even the most resistant writers...

1.  Set a class goal and work daily to achieve it.

Decide how long you want your students to be able to write in the long-term.  I usually expect my third graders to be able to write independently for 30 minutes (or longer) by the time workshop is in full swing.   But I build up to that amount the same way I do for independent reading.  I might start with five or ten minutes, but that usually depends upon the needs of my group.  It is fun to celebrate each day by coloring in a chart that shows their progress, and looking forward to their goal for the next day.  It is such a simple idea...but it really works!

2.  Create an atmosphere for writing

When you walk into my classroom during writer's workshop, you will notice that soft music is playing (usually the non-lyrical kind...research shows that is best) and you will hear the soft chatter of students working.  Supplies are readily available including sharpened pencils, loose-leaf paper ready on shelves, writing folders loaded with student tools and strategies, a writing board that has topic ideas and other resources.  The classroom becomes a cozy space that is safe for writers to put their thoughts into words.  I like to give students the choice of where to sit as well.  This may not work for all students or teachers, but I found that when students can choose their writing spot....their writing stamina is much better.  I know that as an adult writer...I am quite picky about my writing space.  If I'm not stamina suffers.

3.  Allow for collaboration

I love a nice quiet classroom...I think most teachers do.  But it's time to face the facts...the BEST learning happens when students collaborate.   They need to TALK about their reading, their math thinking, and yes, their writing!   When students share and talk about their writing with peers, magical things happen.  They get topic ideas from one another, they offer friendly suggestions, they help with editing, they give compliments, and they lend a listening ear when the adults are too busy.  There really is no end to the benefits when writers collaborate.  I'll share a little secret too...when you allow students to talk during writing makes it go by faster.  Nothing will kill your students' writing stamina quicker than demanding that the classroom be silent.

4.  Chunk your writing time

If many of your students are struggling to write independently for 30 minutes or more, you might try building in short breaks.  For example, Lucy Calkins has "mid-workshop teaching points", which are a great way to have students stop for a breather, while you offer them a tip to keep them going for another few minutes.  Another idea is to stop and have a few students share what they are working on, which can help students who are stalled out to get their juices flowing again.  I will often have students do their partner work in the middle of workshop instead of waiting until the end.  This bit of collaboration is often just the little brain break that is needed to keep students writing for another 15 minutes or more.

5.  Warm up with quick-writes

A quick write is a set amount of time (5-15 minutes) that students will write without stopping.  The idea is for students to write as much as they can without planning first.  It is generally done to build writing fluency, but also helps with stamina.  Once or twice per week I like to start writer's workshop with a quick write as a warm up.  It is a great strategy for extra-squirrelly students (after a day of recess drama for example).  I will give them a very general topic (winter fun, a scary time, my hero, etc.), set a timer and zip my lips while they write.  You will be surprised at how much students love this...and they always want to share what they wrote, so choose a few volunteers to share or have them share with their partners.  This quick writing warm-up will get your students focused on writing very quickly and really helps to extend their writing stamina throughout the rest of workshop time.  (You can find some great Quick Write topics in my TPT store).

6.  Model strategies that writers use

All writers struggle with stamina....we have all spent time staring at the blank page or screen, wishing we were doing something else.  As a writing teacher, I like to share with my students strategies that I have used to get back to the task at hand when I am distracted and just can't seem to write.  If I find that my students are struggling with stamina, I will model these strategies as mini-lessons, within the context of whatever unit I am teaching.  Some examples of these include:
  • Revisit a mentor text to get an idea for something I want to try in my writing
  • Stretch - Fingers, arms, neck, etc.
  • Focus on one tiny part of my writing piece and working to add descriptive words and details
  • Take a break from a certain piece of writing to work on something different
  • Sketch - a new writing idea, a part of a piece I'm struggling with, a character, etc.
  • Share my story with my partner to get feedback, or read my partner's story stamina is starting to dwindle...time for a coffee!  I hope you find success with these strategies and hear your students singing, "What?  Writing time is over already?!!  I'm not done yet!!"  Be sure to check out the other posts in this series:  {Frustrating}Student Writing Problems and How to Solve Them.  

If you enjoyed this post and would like should BECOME A MEMBER.  You will have the benefit of receive new posts via email...and I am known to send out little surprises to my followers to show my love and appreciation!  You get this awesome free (and very cute) plan book just for signing up!

Love and peace,

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Land that plane! When students write TOO much {and a FREEBIE}

If you have been following this series...I have to start with an apology.  I got off track big time.  I started a new role in my school district, and I have been learning the ropes.  I have been a classroom teacher for 26 years and decided to step out of my comfort zone and accept a position as a literacy coach.  It has been quite a ride so far, and I can tell you that learning something new is both rewarding and extremely challenging!    I was very comfortable (very, very comfortable) teaching third grade.  One could say that I was too comfortable and needed a challenge, so I took the leap!  Not sure how this will all pan out for me, but the change is refreshing and I am so proud of myself for taking a risk.

I have been thinking about this blog series {Student Writing Problems and How to Solve Them} A LOT, but have not had the chance to sit down and write it!  Finally it is winter break and I am ready to hunker down and get back to it!

My last post was about students who just won't write...a very common, and frustrating problem.  However, just as problematic is the student who writes pages upon pages and just can't seem to land that plane!  You know the ones....they proudly run over to you with their "chapter book" and say, "Hey, want to read my story?"  Your heart gets real happy for a moment when you see all those pages.  Then they start reading to you, and they keep going....on and on and on.  Their story has no real beginning and no ending in sight...and the body of their story has no real point at all.  They finish reading to you {you stopped really listening about 10 minutes ago} and you are suddenly rendered speechless as they ask you what you think of their story.  Ugh!  What do you say?

Third graders are notorious for equating quantity with quality.  They have somehow gotten the message that writing A LOT is what makes them a good writer.  Where did they learn that?  Of course, they learned it from YOU!  You have been working so hard to build their writing stamina, trying to get them to write MORE, MORE, MORE!  Now it is time to give them some strategies to add to their tool bag....strategies that will help them to focus their writing and yes, shorten it up a bit.


The solution to this problem actually starts BEFORE they start writing their story...when they are brainstorming topic ideas.  If they are working on a narrative...they need to be taught how to choose a SEED idea, rather than a huge "WATERMELON" topic.  You know the ones...."My trip to Disney" or "My Camping Trip."  Those large, all-encompassing topics can get out of control really, really fast.  If they are writing expository text (non-fiction), it is a bit easier to keep their writing focused, but I still encourage students to narrow their topic as much as possible.  For example, instead of writing about "dogs", they could focus on "beagles", or "dog training" or "choosing a dog".  Third grade is a perfect time to start showing young writers how to do this.  You will have to model for them, as much as possible, by choosing your own "watermelon" ideas and showing students how you can mine many smaller, more focused ideas from that larger idea.  {Check out this FREEBIE for a resource to help with this).  Create class topic charts that are organized by a large writing territory (i.e., Vacations, Pets, Family Stories, etc.) and then add bullets for smaller ideas underneath.  Students can use this as a reference when selecting writing topics.


Teach a few lessons on audience and writing purpose.  Students need to have an idea about WHO will be reading their story and WHY they will read it.  Is it a "how to" book where they will teach their classmates to do something?  Is it a story intended to teach their younger sibling a lesson?  Or is it a letter for their convince her to buy a hamster for them?  Your students need to decide who their audience is during the planning stages.  This will go a long way to give their writing more focus.


During the prewriting stage, as students are rehearsing their story ideas and creating their story mountains, have them decide what their story is REALLY about...what is the message or "heart" of their story that they want their reader to take away?  Maybe they want their story to teach a lesson about honesty, or send a message about the importance of family.  Maybe the point of their book about snakes is to convince their readers that snakes are not so scary after all.  We spend a lot of time during our READING lessons, teaching students about the author's message, but too often we don't connect this with our writing lessons.  You need to constantly insist that their writing ALWAYS has a point or a purpose.  It is worth spending several lessons modeling and practicing how to go about planning the "heart of the story" or the purpose of their opinion/information pieces, and it will help students to weed out the unimportant details and focus on the ones that really matter in their writing. {Check out this FREEBIE for some ideas}.


Let's just say you did all of the above....and it just didn't sink in for a few students and they came to you with their really long {and pointless} stories.  It's not too late to help them to revise their writing to give it more focus.  It is really important to start the school year by creating a community of writers that value the writing process...and that REVISION plays a huge role in that process.  In fact, it is the part of the process where writers should spend the longest amount of time.  If students have jumped in and written a lot of pages...that's great!  Now encourage them to find the point, purpose, focus, message, heart of their piece.  Have them decide what it is REALLY about and then have them highlight all the sentences that support that idea.  This is don't expect perfection....experiencing this process is what's most important.  They can cut up their story and re-write certain parts to make it more focused on their message.  Make it fun by providing tools like highlighters, colored pens, scissors, tape, etc.  Model this process for them with your own story or a class story.  They will soon learn that revision is SUPER COOL because it gives them the freedom to take risks in their writing (because they can always change it later).


The most important thing you can do for your young writers is to always expect their best work.  Too often, we listen to that long, boring story and just let it go because it is too exhausting to deal with.  "Well, at least they are writing a lot," we say to ourselves.  If we don't take the time to teach them new strategies for making their writing better, and then EXPECT them to to use those strategies, they will continue to do more of the same.  This takes time and patience...and it does not produce overnight results, but eventually you will see your students using many of the tools you have helped them to acquire.


Usually, you will have a handful of students who need to work on a particular strategy....such as narrowing their writing focus.  Make it a habit to read your students' writing on a regular basis, so that you know them as writers.  Use this knowledge to form strategy groups to build upon their strengths and address their areas of need.  Pull them together and review a single strategy that can help them to move forward in their writing.  If you notice that all of your students are struggling on one particular thing...then make it a whole-class strategy group!

I hope this post helps give you some ideas for how to help your students to "land that plane."  Please feel free to post your comments and questions below...I'd love to hear how your year is going!  If you didn't have the chance sure to check out the printables in this FREEBIE to support you with your writing instruction.

Feel free to pin using the image below:

If you need some great resources for teaching your fledgling writers...check out my TPT store.  My latest unit on Personal Narrative Writing has some great lessons including choosing seed ideas, how to find the heart of the story, revision strategies and much, much more.  This was a pet project of mine and you just have to check it out!!

Love and peace,

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.


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.


I know..I 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.


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.


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


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.


Some students who refuse to write, may need extra time.  Give it to them.  Give them options 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.


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 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 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...

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:


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 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!


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!


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!


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!  


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.


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!! If you loved this post, pin it using the image below!