Starting with Words: Our Writing Workshop Begins

I’m teaching Language and Literacy for Elementary Educators this semester. Yesterday was my first day back in the classroom. I was thrilled to meet my new students and get started.

Much like previous semesters of the course, the reactions to spending a semester writing and learning about writing pedagogy were pretty negative. Several students mentioned that they stopped enjoying writing when they reached high school. Keeping in mind that these are college seniors, it’s been a while since writing was pleasurable for many of them. Writing, as one student put it, is “anxiety-producing.”

Given these mindsets, which are not unexpected or unusual, I see one of my big jobs throughout the course as changing the students’ views of writing and, perhaps more importantly, their views of themselves as writers. It’s hard for me to imagine a teacher being able to encourage enthusiasm for writing with their young students when they dread it themselves. So, we work on the idea of becoming a “writing teacher” – not only a teacher of writing, but also a teacher who writes.

Each of my students develops their own writer’s notebook during the course. Last Spring, my students suggested that I start the semester with the writer’s notebook. During last Spring’s course, I put off the notebook until after midterms, focusing on the multigenre research project at the beginning of the semester instead. For my students in that class, the writer’s notebook was such an enjoyable and meaningful assignment, they thought it would be good to start using it on the first day of class.

With that in mind, yesterday I started the writer’s notebook with my new students. Given their feelings about writing, I decided to start small, by focusing on words. Words are some of the basic building blocks of writing. All writers need words and language as part of their process. Noticing words is one way we can start to develop as writers. We’re working our way toward reading like writers.

I offered several mentor texts for this lesson. (Since my students will be certified K-5, I try to offer mentor texts appropriate for different grade levels whenever I can.)

The first two texts are about boys who collect words. For younger students, I suggest

Max’s Words by Kate Banks

For older students, I would suggest

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter

I also read the first couple of pages of Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper. This book, which I just finished reading a few days ago, tells the story of a girl named Melody. The book opens with a brief chapter that highlights the importance of words in Melody’s life. The chapter is filled with interesting words (and also makes a great booktalk with its surprising twist at the end.)

After sharing these texts, I invited my students to start a list of words they love in their writer’s notebooks. I share some of my favorite words: walrus, nostril, azalea. We branch out into words we don’t like (mine: moist, mixed). We can also collect images we love, lyrics, phrases, passages, and so on.

Throughout the semester they’ll be collecting words and other inspirations in their notebooks. My hope is that this week they’ll start to notice words around them and record them in their notebooks.  Later in the semester, these lists can become a part of the revision process. Some may even inspire a new piece.

Lively laughter filled the room as students discussed words with one another. Many students had quite a few words they could immediately name as favorites, or as words they’d rather do without.

As our sharing activity for this first writer’s workshop, each member of the class shared one of their favorite words.

Here are the words shared in class yesterday:

It’s an interesting collection of words. Some are fun to say, some evoke memories or good feelings, a couple of them are made up.

Last semester I asked my Twitter network about their favorite words and shared them with students as a part of the lesson. This semester, I’ll ask the question here: do you have any favorite words? I hope you’ll share them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Welcome back!


1 Response to “Starting with Words: Our Writing Workshop Begins”

  1. 1 Jackie 08.18.2010 at 8:51 pm

    I miss your class! It was so theraputic during a time when we needed it most. Tell them to enjoy it because out of the security of your classroom is a hard realitiy. I’m currently working a long term sub for EIP and lets just say that these first few weeks has been all about tracking down the parents and it hasn’t been fun. I’m looking forward to next week when I actually get to teach!

    You can let them know a former student told them to sit back, relax, and enjoy the process. 🙂 They will have a great time.

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