One of my favorite things about teaching writing is the fact that I get to write alongside my students. I do this not only because I think it’s super fun, but also because it’s so very helpful to my students. The strategies I use the most while modeling writing is “think aloud” and using published texts to emulate what real authors do.
While using the writing process and incorporating these other strategies, students get a real sense of what it means to be a writer and they learn that working through these steps is not easy for anyone (and if it is, they are not doing it right). Students also learn that one single piece of writing could technically go on forever, so knowing when to stop is important, too.
Think Alouds: "Think alouds" are when I am writing, for example, a plan for my historical fiction narrative, and saying out loud the thoughts that run through my mind as I try to come up with ideas for my story. I may say out loud, “I know that my main character needs to be able to join the army once his family is placed into an internment camp. Pearl Harbor was hit in December, so I could have him in his senior year of high school and his 18th birthday in February. Hmm now I need to think about the fact that he will be in the army for a few years before the war actually ends. So I’ll need to plan a way for my story to move forward that much time.” From there, I continue to outline my story showing students that all of these ideas are not coming to me right away, I have to work at them. Sometimes I will ask for student input so they can practice the” thinking out” a part of a story.
I tend to have students discuss with a partner the writing strategy I teach before I ask them to write anything down in their notebooks. The ultimate goal of thinking aloud during my writing lessons is to show students what kind of thinking needs to be done when practicing a particular writing strategy or a particular genre of writing, etc.
Using Mentor Texts: Another great strategy is pointing out the craft and style of writers that students are familiar with and enjoy reading. I like to use mentor texts that all of the students have experience with so that might be a class novel, a read aloud or a book they are unfamiliar with but written by an author we’ve all read. For example, to help me teach about describing a setting, I use the read aloud The Witches by Roald Dahl. I will read the section and then ask students to share out what they visualized while I was reading. Then, I ask students to think about the setting of their stories, how the setting is important to their story and then share with a partner ideas of what might be important for them to describe in detail. Continuing with my historical fiction example, I model for students describing the streets in San Francisco after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I first tell them about it. “I imagine the stores with signs that said “We don’t serve Japs!” and “No Japs allowed” written in other windows. I can even imagine a store that was owned by a Japanese family that was ransacked and vandalized. Just like Roald Dahl described the grandma’s living room with such detail, I want to include just as much detail in my story. Think about an important setting in your story. When you’re ready, describe it to your partner. Partners, ask questions to make what you’re visualizing easier for your mind’s eye to see.” Once students are able to verbalize their ideas, the writing should become more clear and easier for them to produce.
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Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer