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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.

1.  NARROW THE FOCUS


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.

2.  INTRODUCE "AUDIENCE"


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 mom...to 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.

3.  ZOOM IN ON THE HEART OF THE STORY


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}.

4.  REVISION - ALL WRITERS DO IT!


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 HARD...so 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).

5.  SET HIGH EXPECTATIONS


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.

6.  PULL STRATEGY GROUPS


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 yet...be sure to check out the printables in this FREEBIE to support you with your writing instruction.

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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,



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