The Skill of Writing Words and the Crafting of Ideas

Topic Progress:

Writers need opportunities to learn about how to construct written language. Skills like letter formation, letter identification, sight word knowledge, spelling, and punctuation, are just some of the things that I know I want 5-8-year-olds to have experiences with. I also know that writers need opportunities to consider the craft of their writing. Things like using descriptive language, adding details, rereading for meaning, considering text structure, and using mentor texts to explore different genres of writing are just some of the things I also know I want 5-8-year-olds to have experiences with. My biggest intention for Story Workshop is nurturing proficient writers. I know that for this to happen, during Story Workshop we will pay attention and have experiences with both the skill of writing words and the crafting of ideas. Although these two things can be connected, I often find myself feeling tension between the two.

This year, I’m wondering about that tension as I work with Lucas. Lucas began Story Workshop writing about things he knows and loves. Experiences he’s had with some of the people he loves most was all the inspiration he needed to get started in Story Workshop this year. Lucas is someone who already knows that authors write about things they care about. He is a beginning writer, just starting to explore the rules of written language and still building his stamina for writing.

During his first week of Story Workshop, Lucas wrote a story from his summer, about going on vacation with his family.

Vacation by Lucas

One day Luke, Mom, Dad, Parker, and Alex went to the airport.

My family are going to the airport. 

We went to the airport. 

We are on the plane. 

Go to Chapter 2. 

As he was working on his story, Lucas asked questions of his peers when he didn’t know how to spell a word and this strategy was one thing that prompted a discussion with the whole group on strategies to use when you don’t know how to spell a word. Together, we’re all building our toolboxes as writers – no matter where each individual lies on developmental continua.

As you can tell from Lucas’s vacation story, he is working hard to focus on the skill of writing individual words. And I might say the craft of his story is something he hasn’t paid much attention to yet. I’ve heard Lucas tell stories. His ability to orally create and tell stories greatly exceeds his skill as a writer at this point in time. He’s struggling to match the two up; to have his hand keep up with his ideas; to consider the craft as he laboriously works on the individual skills. And I know that without time to practice writing, he won’t grow as a writer. He needs to write. But I also know that without an invitation to consider how he’ll craft his piece, he may lose interest. The intention of Story Workshop is to nurture strong writers, so as a teacher, it’s my responsibility to support Luke to pay attention to both. And I’m always trying to figure out what conditions I can create so that Lucas (and his peers) have practice and feel successful doing both.

Right away, I have a couple of hopes for Lucas as a writer. To build confidence and not be afraid when he feels like he doesn’t know how to spell a word. To persist, even when it’s taking a long time to get his ideas down. I want him to know that he’ll grow as a writer by writing – and that he has a whole community of authors here to support him along the way. I want to invite him to attend to and care about the craft of his writing, to care about engaging his readers, and to support him with strategies for how he might do that. I want him to take risks and try new things as a writer.

I’m not really sure yet how those hopes will play out for Lucas this year, but here are some of the things I’m considering including as we move forward in Story Workshop and as I continue to work to find a balance between skill and craft.

  • I want to be sure that there is time in our daily schedule for word study. I want children to have experience playing with and noticing patterns within and between words and I want them to apply what they learn from this kind of noticing to the writing they do in Story Workshop.
  • I want to be sure that children have access to tools that support them when constructing written language. Within their Story Workshop folders, I want to provide them with tools they can use during Story Creation that will support their individual needs as a writer (i.e. alphabet chart, personal word walls, etc).
  • I want a place for children to be able to refer back to what we discussed during our conferences at Story Workshop. Whether we talk about leaving spaces between words, beginning with a capital letter, including punctuation, adding details, or sequencing, I want children to have a place to refer back to that conversation. My hope would be that having a record of their work both supports them to remember and refer back to this work and supports me to hold them accountable for implementing strategies we’ve already discussed.
  • I want to invite children to pay attention to how mentor authors are crafting their writing. We’ll continue to use mentor texts to explore how other authors have crafted their stories. I might ask, what do you notice about the way this author wrote this book? What did this author do to make you laugh? What would that sound like to try it in your own writing?
  • I wonder if finding quotes from some of the children’s favorite authors about those author’s processes of crafting their stories and sharing those quotes during Provocation would connect the children with those mentor authors in a deeper way and offer them new strategies to consider that they hadn’t before.
  • I know any kind of genre study, where I bring in a set of books of a particular genre and together we study the principles of that specific genre before having the children try out writing in that genre themselves, is one strategy to support children to look closely at the craft of writing. A few examples of possible genre studies include poetry, literary nonfiction, how-to books, slice of life, or graphic novels.

What do you notice about Lucas? What might be your next steps in working with him? 

Course Discussion