Saturday, December 31

Status of the Class for Writer's Workshop

Volume of writing is important for beginning writers. There are MANY reasons that writers may not produce a high volume of writing. The best method I've used to increase the volume and quality of writing in my classroom is taking the Status of the Class. It's been a game changer in my classroom. Taking Status of the Class helps me know where each writer is at in their current piece of writing. It's a couple of minutes worth their weight in gold.

I take a few minutes at the beginning of each writing work time to have each student report which stage they are at in their current piece of writing. We meet at the rug and all students have their current piece with them and I have the stages posted on our projector so they can easily name their stage.

You might have seen this Writers Workshop post chock full of writers workshop tips

It's important to teach writers to balance their volume of writing with the quality of their writing. When I track writing status, it gives me information for that day as well as patterns of their work habits. It helps me know which students need some extra support and what small or whole group lessons might be beneficial.

Here's an example of my notes, including a tracker I use for their writing topics.
Status of the Class Writers Workshop

I love knowing quickly where each writer is at with their writing, which students might need support and what small or whole group lessons would be beneficial. If your writers are struggling for personal narrative writing ideas, it's important to spend time nurturing their writing ideas.

Here are some more pictures and info about what I use to track the status.
Status of the Class Writers Workshop

Status of the Class Writers Workshop

Status of the Class Writers Workshop
I have two options available for you if you're looking for a way to take the Status of the Class - this one is free (not editable) and this version is editable.

Put your questions in the comments or shoot me an email at lisa@growingfirsties.com - I love to help teachers!

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Saturday, November 5

Ideas - The HEART of Writing

My firsties have SO much fun writing personal narratives during Writer's Workshop. In order to help my writers see themselves as writers that see stories everywhere in their lives, I invest extra time in building their mindset around choosing topics to write about. Writers Workshop is one of my favorite things to teach and I sharing teaching tips for teaching writing.


While launching writers workshop and throughout the school year, it helps all children to view their lives from a writers lens. This is true for writing personal narratives, poetry, friendly letters, and any unit of study for writing. For some writers this takes longer, so it's important to keep marinating in idea building all year long.


We build writing ideas in many ways in my first grade classroom, mostly in these ways. 

  • Orally tell the beginning, middle and end of stories about what has happened in our lives that very day (such as recess, lunch time, gym class, a fire drill, or waking up that morning), as well as in the past (such as a place they've been to and loved, a time they got hurt, the first time they did something that was hard, a time they've been afraid, etc). 
  • I post the front side of our Writer's Details chart on the big tv and we refer to it to ask questions about each others' orally shared stories. Questions like, "Who was with you?" and "When did this happen?" and "How did you feel?" and "What did you decide?"



Once your writers are ORALLY primed to tell stories, picking up a pencil and writing them down is SO.MUCH.EASIER. Especially if you've normalized how to sound stretch unknown words and using tools for checking sight words, letter formation or including more details. Once a writer can make a really good movie in their mind about a time they did something or something happened to them - where they can picture the beginning, the middle and the end - picking up the pencil and writing their personal narratives should feel easy, not hard.

When writing feels easy and their approximations are celebrated and honored, your writers want to do more and more! This leads to a higher volume of writing, which builds automaticity, writing skills and FUN.

It's even EASIER when you observe your writers writing and see what is slowing them down....it might be fear of spelling a word wrong or how a letter looks or spending time deciding what word should come next or not knowing letter sounds automatically. 


Once you diagnose the reason(s) why various writers are stuck and why they aren't producing/finishing work during the time you're giving them, you can teach whole and small group strategy lessons around those areas.

Can you tell I'm passionate about teaching writing? I love, love, love it!


In case you're interested in working on building ideas in your writers, my Personal Narrative Writing pack is a great start! It's predictable, kid and teacher friendly, and can be used on its own or as a supplement to your writing program. It includes the Writers' Details chart mentioned above, so do NOT buy that separately.
Happy Writing! 



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Saturday, July 2

Friendly Letter Writing


Even though many writing curricula no longer include a unit on writing friendly letters, I find that spending a couple weeks on a friendly letter unit is a fabulous way to build student understanding about author's purpose and to practice writing conventions like capitalization and punctuation. Plus, I also love that writing a letter is typically not intimidating to writers just beginning to develop their writing confidence.
Writers Workshop Unit

This friendly letter unit is set up to run for about three weeks long. Based on the needs of your writers, you might go longer or shorter. Different groups of students have different needs, so the length of the unit could easily vary from year to year.

There are options for instruction in whole group and small group, as well as independent practice.

As a teacher, it's so important to scaffold our writers towards success. That's why I love to include helpful word banks, samples and anchor charts!

The mini-lessons outline is logical and easy to follow. 

Parents can be powerful partners, so I've made sure to include parent communication.

Something my firsties absolutely LOVED is writing friendly letters to favorite book characters...so I've included a word bank with the character names.

There are three student letter writing paper options - single line, double line with dash in the middle and handwriting without tears style, as well.

These writing workshop tips can help you tweak your writing workshop.

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Saturday, June 25

Helping Readers Read Carefully Across Words

Readers develop at different rates and in different ways BECAUSE they're all different. Regardless of where you stand on the Science of Reading, I'm guessing we can all agree that we need to do our due diligence with each individual child. This means lots of things...especially that we get to know each child's learning modes and adjust our instruction flexibly and accordingly. 

For some students, rote memorization of sight words works...but not for all students.

Some readers can easily see known word parts inside of unknown words and decode across the unknown word automatically...but not all.

For some, learning and applying knowledge about syllable types feels natural...but not all.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. As teachers, I strongly believe that we need to use a variety of techniques and strategies to reach our various learners. 

FYI: This post contains some Amazon affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.
Self-Monitor reading by looking across words from beginning to end

7 Instructional Tips to help Readers Look Closely Across Words

In order to help readers build habits of looking closely across words from beginning to middle to end, here are some instructional strategies I try.

Tip 1

My copy of Patricia Cunningham's oldie but goodie Making Words is dog-eared because it's such a treasure trove of word work and when you use magnetic letters, it's terrific for building the understanding that the position of the letters or word parts within a word make a difference. I don't use paper letters, though...I always use magnetic letters because they are so much more interactive and handling the actual letter has a great impact than a piece of paper with the letter written on it.

With magnetic letters, I highly prefer using the red vowel & blue consonant type because it helps readers see the vowel more clearly and vowels can be so so tricky for young readers.

Tip 2

When doing any sort of word work, I strongly "enforce" an important habit: slide your finger under the word as your eyes look closely at each part at the same pace as your voice is saying those parts. I find this really important in "training" a readers eye to slow down a bit and notice the parts. I use this technique when students are writing sight words on white boards, when they're using their finger or thumb to slide across a word in a book and when they're working with magnetic letters on Making Words. I demonstrate and we practice this technique in whole group, small group and in one-on-one conferring, as well.

Tip 3

"Catch Me" is a student favorite to build self-monitoring and reading across words! In whole group during shared reading with enlarged text using the document camera, pocket chart, whiteboard or Smartboard, I challenge the students to listen to me very closely and track their eyes across the text to figure out what I've read incorrectly and to whisper-shout "CAUGHT YOU" when I've made an error. We go one line at a time and I'll make an error or two each time, often substituting a word that uses similar letters at the beginning and end of the actual word. For example, the text might say, "She saw some blue candles." and I might read it as, "She was a blue candies." Or, if the text says, "He made apple juice from concentrate" I might say, "He made apple juice from concrete." In addition to the giggles and smiles these kinds of errors can create, it provides an opportunity to instruct how to look closely at all the word parts so they match. Then I model using the all important technique described in Tip 2 above. 

Tip 4

For readers who get stuck at the beginning of a word and aren't looking through the rest of it efficiently, I use a cut up piece of card stock or index card to cover up the part they've read to nudge their eyes to move across the word.

Tip 5

Paper-pencil work can help parents know what kind of strategies you're working on at school. I love the kind of paper pencil work that slows a reader down enough that they have to look at all the parts of the word. There are many ways you can incorporate additional practice into small group, whole group, differentiated morning work, homework and one on one. This Self-Monitoring Reading bundle of bundles contains packs that have proven tremendously helpful with many of my readers. Click to see more details and easily get links to everything that's included.



Tip 6
Puzzles and memory games like concentration are a fun way to practice tracking skills. So are games like Spot It,  Blink, Set, and Seek and Find books such as Where's Waldo?


Tip 7

My class is always crazy about it when I get out the laser pointer during shared reading, reciting sight words on our class word wall or counting on our number line. With the word wall and number line counting, I encourage them to be watching very carefully because I change directions...sometimes we count up and then count back or sometimes we'll read all the words under a letter top to bottom or sometimes one word from each of the letters going A to Z. 

Leave a comment below with your favorite tip for helping readers look closely across words!





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