Helping Little Writers Develop Writing Stamina

Welcome to Literacy Land!  It's Lauren here today from Teacher Mom of 3 to talk about writing, specifically writing stamina.  If you use a Daily 5 model in your classroom, you most likely are working on reading stamina right now. Writing stamina is also something that students need to work on, especially at the beginning of the year.

 Students need large chunks of time throughout the day to write across the content areas.  For some of our students writing stamina can be even more difficult to develop than reading stamina. Throughout the years, I have had numerous students who had difficulty "draining their brain" of ideas to develop a topic. After writing a sentence or two, they would proclaim that they had nothing more to write.  I am sure that you can relate!  I have found some ideas that have been successful with my students over the years from grades kindergarten through eighth grade. And now, I am using these ideas with my little writer (third grade) that I homeschool!

Whether you use a workshop approach, a Daily 5 model, or another curricular framework,  the following ideas can help your writers (K-5) develop their craft and strengthen their writing "muscles".

1. Use Journals Instead of Worksheets

 Use journals as “morning work” in place of a worksheet or a DOL type of activity.  Have students apply and practice the concepts and teaching points from the previous day's mini-lesson instead of completing a worksheet.   Teachers have varying opinions of writing prompts, but I like to use them for developing writers.  I have found that using prompts that include fun and thoughtful topics encourage students to write.  Another perk with using prompts is that they provide scaffolding for the writers who are having difficulty selecting a topic.  Once or twice a week I give students a freewrite where they select their own topic.  This gives me another opportunity to observe, “kid watch” to see who is having trouble selecting a topic or maintaining their writing stamina.  At the beginning of the year, we brainstorm as a class possible writing topics. I record ideas on chart paper and we continue to add ideas on a weekly basis. The journal can also be used to “harvest” writing topics for Writer’s Workshop. Through modeling and practice, students will learn to start writing in their journal as part of the morning routine or at the beginning of your ELA block, for example.

2. Use a Timer

At the beginning of the year, I set a timer for each "formal" writing activity such as journal writing or during writing workshop, for example.  As a class, you can chart progress being made with writing stamina and students can monitor their own progress.  Are students drawing and writing the entire time?  Are they quietly working? Who has put their pencil down and is about to tell you, "I'm done"?  Praise students for any progress they have made and challenge them to beat the previous day's time. Click here for a free chart you can download from Teachers Pay Teachers

3. Quick Writes

I try to provide as many opportunities as possible for students to flex their "writing muscles" throughout the day in all content areas. Quick Writes can be used for so many different purposes. I like to use them for students to express in writing their reflective thoughts they have during a lesson.  For example, in the middle of a science lesson, I may have them list three things they have learned so far and one or more questions they have.  Or, I may have them define an important vocabulary word from math and show an example. 

4. Entrance and Exit Tickets

I have used these for over ten years and love them!  They allow for a quick formative assessment that you can use before or after a lesson.  There are many fancy templates available now, but I usually just use a sticky note or an index card.  Again, just another way for students to develop their writing muscles.

5. Reader Response

Use reader response in all content area reading for students to develop and demonstrate their understanding of the text as well as to show evidence of reading strategy use.  I also like to remind students that they not only read in all subject areas, but they also write in all content areas. Writing is a tool that we use many times a day, not just in language arts class!  Emphasize that they are to use and apply their writing strategies in all subjects.  Even now as a homeschool teacher, I have my third grader keep a reader's notebook.  The first part of the composition book is for the interactive notebook and the remainder is for reader response (for all content areas) and additional reading mini-lessons.

6. Writer's Notebook

I use the writer's notebook to house writing mini-lessons including interactive mini-lessons and for all stages of writer's workshop. The journal could be a part of this, but it will not fit in the composition notebooks we are using. However, the two notebooks are often used together, as the journal can often be used as the source for writing workshop topics.  Similar to the journal, I use the writer's notebook as the place to practice and apply what we are learning.  For example, we were reviewing a complete sentence a a week ago.  Instead of using a worksheet to practice identifying subjects and predicates, my son wrote a few sentences about the topic "summer" and then identified the subject and predicate for each sentence. Another example is I will have him return to a draft he wrote in his notebook to search for all the nouns, if that is the teaching point for the lesson.

7. Personal Dictionary/Portable Word Wall

One of the most difficult things to get across to my writers is that they do not have to worry about spelling correctly in a first draft. It's ok if not every word is spelled correctly. They are to stretch the sounds, make a good try, and circle the word if it doesn't look right. Then later, they can go back and correct spelling (the words they circled) during editing.  On the other hand, there are times when you only have one chance to work on a written piece before it is "published", either being turned in to the teacher or to a classmate.  In either case, the personal dictionary is a life saver for you as the teacher and for your writers.  Students keep the personal dictionary or portable word wall in their desks and can access them anytime they need to know how to spell a word.  This teaches them independence and can increase their writing stamina because they are stopping only briefly to check the spelling of a word.  During editing and/or conferencing, I will have students write the words they had difficulty spelling in their dictionary to consult during future writing.

8. Boost confidence!

This, this is the most important tip, in my opinion, for helping writers not only develop their stamina but to develop as a writer as a whole. Many times students don't write for very long because they do not have much confidence in themselves.  They may feel that they don't have "good" ideas or anything important to say.  We as their teacher (or as their mom, in my case!) know better!  From day one I refer to my students as writers, as authors with creative, important, and worthwhile ideas and pieces to write.  I tell them, YOU are writers!".  I do what it takes to nudge them toward risk-taking and to look at mistakes and "failures" as a opportunities for growth and as a learning experience.  This is one reason why I don't assign a grade to every piece of writing at every stage of the writing process.  I want to give meaningful and targeted feedback that students can use to become better writers.  

In addition, I share my experiences as a writer, as I write when they write.  I use mentor texts a lot, but I also find it meaningful to my students to read my writing, to see me struggle, and to watch me find what works for me.

There are many other great ideas that we as teachers can implement to help develop our students' writing stamina.  What works for you and your students?  Please share in comments.

No comments