August 29, 2013

Create a Writing Project Checklist

There were many areas of teaching that I jumped into with huge amounts of enthusiasm when I first started.

Finding fun ways to teach U.S. History. Check.

Winning over the sulky kid in the back row. Done and Done.

Moving said sulky kid to the front of the room. No Brainer.

Decorating my room. Uh, people, puh-leeze. That was what I was day-dreaming about in my Freshman biology class.

Figuring out how to teach kids to create amazing written work. Um....I'll think about that tomorrow.

Yup, being a writing teacher was hugely intimidating to me. I just didn't know where to start. I couldn't wrap my head around how you could work with 25 completely unique writers who were all finishing their work at different paces and how I could keep track of it all.

After fumbling through the writing process with my students for a few weeks, I finally had an intervention with myself. It went something like this:

Self: You are totally screwing this up. A whole generation of terrible writers is about to be unleashed upon the world and it's all your fault.

Self: I KNOW! I'm a terrible human being! What am I going to do?!

Self: You're going to pull yourself together, girl, and do what you do best: Create. A. Chart!

       *Chorus of Angles Singing*

So, I breathed a deep breath and commenced Mission: Create-A-Chart. By the end of the day, I had created a Writing Project Checklist that actually got me excited to teach writing. It took the gargantuan job of managing a classroom full of writers and boiled it down to a system that just ended up working perfectly for my room.

Interested in doing something like this in your room? You can take the short-cut route ('cuz we all love saving some time every now and again, right?) and just use my form here. It can be completely edited to fit the skills you are teaching in your classroom.

Or if you'd rather create your own, let me give you a few pointers that I found useful...

1. Split the writing process into manageable chunks. My writing project checklist was a step-by-step guide that students would use to steer them through the writing process. It was split into four sections: First Draft, Revising, Editing, and Final Draft. (We always practiced brainstorming together as a class.)

2. Decide what main things you want your students to focus on in each section. Under each section, I listed a series of steps that they needed to check off. For example, under their first draft would be instructions to skip lines on their paper, have a introduction paragraph, etc. Under revising, students needed to add interesting adjectives with a red pencil and check that each sentence started in a different way. The editing section was where spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes were fixed. The final draft included instructions for creating a title, writing their name on the paper, etc.

3. Have the FORM automatically schedule your teacher-student writing conferences. The most beneficial thing about my new chart was that at the end of each section, there was a box that had to be signed by me before they could continue on to the next section. Instead of having to guess where students were in the writing process and trying to catch them at the right  moment, each student let me know when they were ready for their conference. We'd read their work, go through the checklist to see what kind of changes they'd made or if they'd paid attention to the writing skills I wanted them to demonstrate, and then they moved onto the next step.

This chart made the writing process smooth and enjoyable in my room. It also gave the students the same set of steps every the time the end-of-year writing test rolled around, I saw most of them with their red pencils out, adding their adjectives. And let me tell you, those red pencils made this first-year teacher super-proud of my little band of writers. :)

p.s.- 100% of my students passed the test that year. Even though I know all of these little authors have graduated by now and moved on to bigger things, I just want to say that I am still so proud of you guys and the hard work you put into your writing that year!

What's your best classroom management tip for writing?

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