Sunday, September 22, 2013

A new (for me) technique for planning writing

I am grateful for creative teammates.  My new buddy Cyndy tried this in her classroom and told me about it, and then I gave it a go, and I have decided that (for now anyway) this is the best thing since sliced bread.

I struggle with the following when teaching second graders to write:
1.  They think once they put it down on paper- it's done.
2. I feel bad asking them to redo it completely, when clearly they have spent a million hours on the illustrations. (also part of the reason why they think they are done- because they are all "Don't be messin' with my artwork, lady!")
3.  They freak when they are handed a booklet stapled together.  They think I've asked them to compose War and Peace.  And they shut down and maybe write a page or two.
4. They tell a different story on each page.
5. When you're trying to get them to the seed idea, as opposed to the watermelon- they don't like it when you rip the booklet apart and hand them the one page they need to work on expanding.
6. They don't believe you about revising and editing.
7.  They never believe they "forgot" a part of the story. And even if they do get around to admitting it- they aren't going to actually add it in- because the story is finished.  There's a staple in the top corner that proves it. "Dang, lady, what is your problem already?"
8. The fifth page says THE END.  Even if the story isn't done- they ARE.NOT. going to get another piece of paper.

Anybody else out there?  Am I seriously the only person who has kids like this?

So here's Cyndy's magic:
Tell a story orally.  Do quick stick man sketches on index cards.  Tell the story again while pointing at the cards. Let your audience ask you a question about that story.  IF they ask you something, it probably is a detail that you left out and need to add a card for.  Tell the story again while pointing at the cards.  No more questions?  Time to write what you said OUT LOUD on the back of the card.  Forget what you said?  You have the person next to you that you told the story to that can probably remember. Spelling doesn't matter.

And I had listened to Cyndy tell me this is what she did and I was like, yeah, ok.  Cards.  I've got cards.  Shoot, kittens, I have everything in that closet of mine.  It's a teacher's black market in there.

I sat down with a small group and told them the story of a time I went sledding and fell down a hole.  I made ridiculous stick figures with no detail at all, except for a frowny face and tears on occasion, and a big speech bubble that said "HELP!".  I labeled the tops of the cards with ordinal numbers (ooooo-math tie-in) and then said "What do you think?".  They kids asked me A LOT of questions actually.  And it turned out, that three of the questions they asked actually were important details to the story that I had left out.  So I added in three other cards and renumbered them.  This was within ten minutes.  It doesn't take that much time to  draw really, really, bad stick figures. So then I said- "Do you think you can do that?" And they were ready to go!  One kid asked "Can I use as many cards as I want?" Right there, I knew this was going to work.

They had about thirty minutes to work on the cards that first day.  All but two of them finished drawing on the cards.  And, they made more detailed drawings as they always do- but they weren't in color, it was obvious that they weren't "finished". I was able to go to each of them and touch base and have them tell their story to me while touching the cards.  I was able to ask them a question that drove their story in a new direction.  I was able to point out a moment that I thought was really interesting and would like to hear more about.  And nobody got miffed because it was just on cards.  They hadn't even "written" anything down yet.  They did not mind at all going to get another card or two to add in to their story.

The next day, I brought my cards back out, and had them bring their cards as well.  I retold the story again.  In fact, I found that I even changed my wording a little as I told the story.  They noticed. 
"Hey, you said it differently yesterday!"
 "Well, which sounds better?  Which way did I tell it and make it more interesting?" 
"Oh, today sounds better, definitely."
So I told them that the goal today was to finish their card drawings if they hadn't yet, and tell their story again to a partner while touching the cards and see if their partner had questions that would point them in the direction of adding new cards. They had really only done the drawing the day before, so I wanted to make sure they told the story to someone other than me today. And off they went, happy as clams, and worked the entire time.  Did a couple of the girls get together to chat off topic?  Yeah, Cheesy Pete, it's not like that is ever NOT going to happen.  But I did notice that some of my kiddos actually chose to move away from the distraction- they were definitely into creating their stories.

Third day, I got out my cards, and they got out their cards, and I told my story again.  Touching each card as I went, changing my language up a bit again on the third day.  And I even realized a part I had forgotten- as it was a true story and happened to me twenty years ago- telling it three days in a row had revived my memory. So I added in a card.
"You can still add in a card?!"
"Sure, why not?"
"But, aren't you done?"
"Well, I thought I was, but when I told the story again I remembered a part.  Do you think it's ok that I add in the card?"
"Yeah, ok, since you forgot."
Then I showed them how now I was ready to write on the back of the cards.  I wrote exactly what I had told them as the story for each card.  When I got to my third card I said, "Hmmm, how did I say this part again?" And So I wrote it down.  So here, on this third day, I had them go out, tell their story again, add if necessary, and then begin to write on the backs of the cards.  I told them that it was OK if they didn't finish that writing part today.  I said the important thing was to get the story down the way they wanted it to sound when they touched their cards.  And off they went. To actually CARE about their writing.

Why am I getting more excited about these cards when they haven't even finished yet?
This is why:
1. It's not a finished looking product.  They will not believe that it's "a book" until we put it into one. which means...
2. They will be willing to revise and edit on these cards. 
3. I don't have to mess with their pictures.  We write ON THE BACK of the cards- so even if we end up crossing things out and adding things in, if they really want to keep their picture, they can, it's untouched on the other side.
4. When they lay out their cards and tell me a story, I can pick the card or cards that contain the seed idea, pull them down, and tuck the other cards in a paper clip in their folders for another time and have them add cards before or after the seed idea to zero in on that smaller moment.
5. Because the card is small, and they get to sketch first, they don't freak out about length.  Some of these kids I worked with had only written me two sentences when I gave them the Lucy Calkins stapled booklet.  When I had them work with the cards and I didn't put any limitation of the story, they drew out a ten page story.
6. Plus, they are saying more than one sentence when they point at the card, and since the writing part of the assignment asks them to write exactly what they said out loud on the back of the card- they don't blink.  They have probably already told the story five or six times to someone before they get to the writing part, and they have another person able to remember what they said- so they don't forget what they wanted to say.
7. So far, not a single one of these cards say "the end" on them.

My plan is to let them create three or four of these card stories for their folders before we go to the next step and I have them pick ONE that they like a lot and would like to take to the next level.  I plan to hook them into this part of the process by saying they create colored pictures.  I'll have them concentrate on the words they wrote on the back of their cards, and look at their quick sketch to see if they should add or change the picture to go along with the words.

I let go of the idea that they constantly need to finish a story.  You know what, folks- they have to be able to write a finished piece AT THE END of the year.  I have 170 more days to get them there.  I'd rather spend the time getting them to be able to tell a story, and LIKE (for heaven's sake!) telling a story, so that I can completely trick them into becoming authors.

Whatcha think, kittens?

post signature


  1. Wow! This is brilliant! Your write up of this idea is excellent - I am thinking how I can eventually tweak this and use it with my kinders. Thank you for sharing and please thank your teammate!

  2. Can this be published in a TIP OF THE YEAR FOR TEACHERS book? This is brillant!

  3. I'll tell Cyndy that she should submit her idea- she was the mastermind! So thankful she's joined the team.

  4. This is a FABULOUS idea! Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Mindful Rambles

  5. This is a FABULOUS idea! Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Mindful Rambles

  6. Consider this idea stolen to try in my classroom. :-)

    It's great. Thank you for sharing!