Although Jody works with elementary kids, I think her approach to early writing, described below in a comment from last November, is a great way to get some writing going on in any classroom. Many of us have not yet this year seriously turned our attention to writing in our level one classes, as it should be, but now, over the next four months or so, we will probably be doing more and more writing, even though it still should be very limited and low key in level one classes. Jody suggests (in a comment here last November):
How about doing a 4-6 panel cartoon drawing of the reading they did in class? Have them write a descriptive phrase in each box with the drawing or write labels all over their pictures. This also helps those kids who just can’t seem to get a story into six panels (I always have kids who want to draw more or kids who don’t want to draw at all.) With elementary ones, sometimes I don’t even know what it is they drew, so the labels/phrases can be very helpful.
Here’s what I find: Kids, who are ready to write, write up a storm on these cartoons. Kids, who aren’t so ready, stick with the shorter labels. I encourage my kids use their “word cards” and, of course, the reading, to copy words or phrases. I notice that my “faster acquirers” don’t copy and easily use original language on their assignments. My lower kids use the readings/cards to help scaffold themselves to writing.
When I come back the next day, I am greeted with (by several): Read mine. Show it to the class. With their permission, I show them on Elmo and we have another review round of CI with our structures.
Thoughts and advice on elementary free-writes:
If I am smart (not always), I can ask one of the kids, whose drawings are stellar and cover the story well, to do a “blank” drawing–no words. Next we have a session of modeling:
With that drawing on the overhead, I ask the class, “How can we start this story?”. This is really important to do. Many kids actually get stuck right here, when they first begin free writes on their own, choke, and then believe–”I can’t do it. I hate this, etc.”. We come up with a beginning: “There is a girl. Her name is Tuti.” (simple, simple). I write this on another piece of paper, skipping lines (on the doc projector). After I write it, I read it aloud. Someone says what it means. Back to the drawing. More discussion about Panel #2. I write on the writing paper. I read it aloud again–from the beginning. Someone tells me what it means. Panel #3, etc.
The next time we meet, I give them a copy of the drawing. Not all kids are good at far-point observation (on screen). The constant shifts from paper to screen to paper, and back, are difficult for a number of kids, so having their own copy can help them get the task done more efficiently. Now, they just write the story from the drawings.
Interestingly enough, not everyone’s story looks the same when they turn them in. Some write much more than others. The spread is all over the map–even on the first writing. They are not permitted to ask for any help during the writing period. I encourage the “whipper snappers” to be creative, add descriptive words, change the ending, add a scene, etc–with a little whisper in the ear. I don’t time it–way too stressful for 10-11 year olds and unnecessary. I write the current structures on the board. Most don’t even look up there–but some do. I want the first several (4-5) writing events to be successful for every kid. The first couple of years (grades 5-6), all writing is done from picture prompts which reflect our target structures. I have to remember what I am assessing: their language, not their ability to make up a story.
I don’t correct their writing. I read it. The next day, each kid folds the paper in half and we paste it into a flimsy, cheapo, composition book of about 20 pages. Every writing they do goes here. It is very instructive to see their progress in this way. I can pull that book out for phone calls, conferences, team meetings, narrative grade reporting, etc. I have found it invaluable.
The last writing of the year, we count words. Then, THEY count the words from their first writing and compare. It is ALWAYS a joyous moment as you can imagine.
Elementary kids are still acquiring so many basic skills, I hesitate to use “high school” templates, like timed free-writes, with them. What I do now has evolved over the years and will probably continue to evolve.
As the kids get better at this, during the “pre-composition” writing on the doc projector, I also write augmented ideas on the skipped lines. For instance: There is a girl. (I ask for a word to describe the girl and write “intelligent” with a ^ underneath between “an” and “girl”. Of course, this is in the target language.) Her name is Tuti. (On skipped line, I write an alternate way to say this.) My higher kids will tune into these things. My lower ones can’t even remember I wrote the alternate things–so I dont’ worry about it. They will only write what they’ve acquired.
Doing pop-up grammar during this pre-writing process is PERFECT–but I don’t do too much of it. It can get overwhelming really fast for beginners. Not necessary.
I use the cartoon panels from Cuentos Fantasticos (Amy Catania) or Cuéntame and C Más to do this most of the time. Sometimes, I use student drawings.
Hope these ideas are helpful.