Teaching the writing process to emergent writers is one of my most favorite activities to do each school year. The growth that is seen from learning how to form letters of the alphabet to writing complete sentences and stories is amazing.
In this blog post, I will share with you how I teach the writing process to my emergent writers. I also have included some quick tips you can use to help strengthen their writing skills along the way.
Quick Tip: Always Have a Highlighter
When the school year begins, I always have numerous students who struggle to write certain letters of the alphabet. For the first month or so of school, I always carry a yellow marker or hi-lighter in my pocket.
I use this to write a student’s name or letters of the alphabet while they work on their activities. The students can then trace over my yellow letters and after awhile, they have formed the letters so many times that they are able to write them independently.
1. Personal Narratives are the Place to Start
We’ve all been there… teacher asks “Does anyone have a question?”. Students raise their hands and respond with… “So, this one time…”. Definitely NOT a question!!
Our young learners love to tell us stories, especially about themselves and what is going on in their lives. It’s the best place to start with their writing, by using their oral expression and taking it to paper.
2. Books Build Up the Background Knowledge
I always like to start a writing prompt with a book on the topic or a story that aligns with the personal narrative to help my students start thinking about their writing.
This also helps to paint a picture for those students who may not have a personal experience related to the prompt, but will still be able to write about it.
Once the book is finished, have a discussion with your class, so that students hear more ideas and can practice talking in complete sentences, which later on they may be able to transfer to paper. While we are having that discussion, I create a Brainstorm Chart of their ideas on poster paper, and the kids create their own on letter paper.
3. Start with a Picture
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This quote couldn’t be truer for an emergent writer. Their messages are definitely carried in the illustration before adding text.
As a writing teacher of young learners, we have to participate in many “Think Alouds”, where we talk about our thinking as we draw our pictures, or write our words.
For example, if I am drawing a picture of myself at the park, my “Think Aloud” may sound like this… “First, I need to draw the setting of my story, or where I am in my story. I am writing about the park, so I need to draw the grass, playground with swings and a slide, and some trees. (am drawing these things as I talk) It was a nice sunny day, so I will also draw a few clouds and the sun in the sky.”
“Next I need to add myself to the picture, as I am the character in my story. I really enjoy being on the swings, so I will draw myself sitting on the swing. I need to make sure that I include details about myself, such as my eyes, nose, mouth, hair, fingers, and clothing.”
Details in the illustrations are of utmost importance when first starting out. These little things are what carry the message of an emergent writer’s story.
4. Adding Labels Brings the First Pieces of Text
The next step after your students are able to draw illustrations with a distinguishable character, setting, and event or action is to begin to add labels to their picture.
Using my park example from above, I may draw the picture and then start to label a few of the items in my picture. Such as writing my name next to me, writing the word “park” somewhere in the setting (depending on the skill level of your students, it is okay for them just to write the beginning sound “p” or the beginning and ending sounds “pk”), and lastly writing the word “swing” next to me swinging.
Really encourage your students to at least write their names to label themselves, as well as the beginning sounds of the other important items in their picture. As they gain a better understanding of letter/sound correspondence and phoneme segmentation, they will be able to write labels that are more likely spelled correctly.
5. Add a Sentence or Two
When your emergent writers have begun to understand phoneme segmentation, you can begin to work with them on creating sentences for their stories.
I always start out with everyone writing the same sentence with maybe one word changed depending on what they want to include in their picture. We predominantly use sight words to make up the sentence, such as “I like to go to the ___.” or “At ___, we can ___.”
While I write my sentences, I also use a “Think Aloud”. For the park example, it may sound like this… “First we write I, because we are talking about ourselves. Between words, we use two finger spaces, so I am laying down my two fingers and then writing go. How do we spell that word? Two fingers and next word is to. Please spell it for me. Two fingers again and now the word is the. Let’s spell that together also. Last word is park. Let’s sound that out as we spell it /p/ /ar/ /k/.” (Most will write the word as “”prk” and that is completely OK!)
If you want your students to have varied sentences, you can have them add one more detail sentence to their writing. I would most likely have them write “I can ___.”, by using one of our Brainstorm charts to fill in the blank. As explained above, I would continue my Think Aloud to write this sentence as well.
Quick Tip: Engagement is Key
Keeping young learners engaged in writing instruction can be a struggle at times. It is hard for kids to sit and listen to instruction and write. There isn’t a lot of movement during writing time, so how do we keep them engaged and not have behavior issues?
I have a routine where my students come to our classroom rug with a whiteboard, pencil, and piece of writing paper. They sit in a U-shape around the rug with the open mouth being my large whiteboard easel. This way I can “walk the U” and look at everyone’s papers while teaching and they can all see me.
My students are also writing their sentences while I am writing. We are sounding out and spelling words together. They are using finger spacing and punctuation at the same time I am. This helps to keep them on task and engaged in the writing lesson.
6. Tell Me Your Story Please
Throughout all of these stages (drawing, labeling, and writing), emergent writers should be sharing their stories. This can happen in a variety of ways…
You can conference with each individual student. So that this doesn’t take up a lot of time each day, I meet with certain students each day of the week. (Example: Johnny, Susie, Ben, and Matt may conference with me on Monday, then a different group of students on Tuesday and so forth.) By the end of the week you will have met with each child.
Students can partner share their stories. While they are meeting with each other, walk around and listen to their conversations. Ask probing questions of those students who are not giving much information to their partner about their writing.
Hold an “Author’s Chair” each day and ask a few students to “share” their writing. At the end of each author’s reading, I will allow the audience to ask a question or two of the author. The students really enjoy this way of sharing their writing.
7. Publishing with Pride
Once a piece of writing is done, it is ready to be published. I do this in two ways… either conferencing with each student and having them carefully write their work again without any spelling errors, or I keep their writing and write below it in pen with the phonetically spelled words written correctly.
Example – Student work = “I go to the prk. I can slid.”
Teacher work = “I go to the park. I can slide.”
It is important for emergent writers to feel this sense of accomplishment. I also like to keep examples of their writing along the way in a portfolio. Students and their parents are then able to see the growth made over time.
Quick Tip: Take Your Time
As a mental note, do not try and rush the writing process. I do not get through all of these steps in one day. It usually takes me a week to complete the process based on one prompt. A typical week of writing in my classroom may look like this…
Day 1 – Read a book to build background/Complete Brainstorm chart
Day 2 – Review Brainstorm chart/Draw illustration
Day 3 – Write sentences/Complete illustration/Conferences or Author’s Chair
Day 4 – Finish sentences if needed/Student partner sharing, Conferences, Author’s Chair
Day 5 – Conferences, Author’s Chair/Publish/Journal Free Write
8. Build on These Basics
I stay in this realm of writing a couple of sentences (2-3) based on one idea/topic for the first semester of the year. During this time, emergent writers should be learning how to spell and write more high frequency words, as well as gain a better understanding of phonetic spellings of words.
When the second half of the year begins, we are ready to begin writing “short stories” with transitional words. Staying in the genre of personal narrative, we take our experiences and sequence them into a story.
Using the same brainstorm chart on a topic, we all draw the pictures from our discussion, but this time the students go back and number 3 of the components (1/2/3) in the order in which they happen in the narrative.
9. Story Boards to “Tell” the Story
When drawing their illustrations, we now use what I call a “Story Board”. This paper looks different from before, because there are 3 boxes for the illustrations and then the lines below for the written story.
After illustrations are completed, we begin writing our story. As before, I try to stick with basic sentences built upon sight words, only changing a word or two depending on the items each student numbered on their brainstorm chart. Besides the 3 sequenced activities, we also include an opening and closing sentence. For our zoo example, the sentences may look like this…
Opening – I like to go to the zoo.
#1 – First I looked at the monkeys.
#2 – Next I walked by the lions.
#3 – Last I ate some ice cream.
Closing- I had fun at the zoo.
* This may take more than one day of instruction to complete!!
The use of sequencing cards, such as our Interactive Story Sequencing Center, is a great way for students to practice writing with transitional words to tell a story. I use these as one of my small group centers during reading block throughout the second half of the year.
10. Change Up the Genre
It’s important to teach emergent writers different types of writing, such as opinions, research, and explanatory pieces, as well as friendly letters.
Opinion papers are another easy one to do with young students. They love to tell you what their favorite things are and whether they like something or not. I usually try to stick to one sentence with these, such as “My favorite ___ is ___, because (one solid reason).” If I want to add another sentence, I usually use the frame “Also, it is ___.” (another solid reason)
Research papers are fun, especially when you want to link science or social studies with writing. We have to teach a unit on Arizona, so we read books on desert animals and each week choose one to write a short paper about. The lay-out of that paper may look like…
Opening sentence – A ___ lives in the desert.
Maybe … Fact #3
We also have a unit on weather in science. We study all of the different types of weather and then combine opinion with research. Students write about their favorite weather and why by giving facts about their chosen weather.
“My favorite type of weather is___. I like the ___, because ___. Also, I can ___ in the ___.”
Explanatory pieces are otherwise known as “How To” papers. An easy “how to” coming up is to write out the steps of “How to Carve a Pumpkin”. Students will identify all of the steps in carving a pumpkin and then number them in order on their brainstorm chart. We would start with an introduction sentence… “This is how to carve a pumpkin. First ___. Next ___. Then ___. Last ___. Enjoy your jack-o-lantern.”
One of the best times to write a Friendly Letter is around the holidays or special events. We write letters to Santa, notes to Mom for Mother’s Day, and thank you’s to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.
I hope that this information helps you to continue strengthening your writing instruction. Teaching writing to emergent writers is an astounding feat, but one I know we are all capable of. 🙂
-Written by Janessa Fletcher
At Education to the Core, we provide done-for-you curriculum that is simple, fun, and effective! We want you to be the very best teacher you can be, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In order to be an effective educator, you have to take care of you first!
We strive to make a healthy work-life balance a reality for you each and every day.If you enjoyed this blog post, be sure to join our email list to get exclusive FREEBIES, exclusive content, updates, deals!