Planning for Writing About Reading

Starting from Kindergarten we can teach students how to think deeply about books and record their thinking.  In Kindergarten and first grade students begin by recording their thinking with pictures.  Talking and writing about reading though pictures eventually leads to conventional writing about reading.  Fountas and Pinnell (2006) write that “writing increases readers’ engagement with a text, helping them become involved with characters, feel emotions, and think in more organized and analytical ways” (p. 462).

There is much to consider when planning for writing about reading.  We want to look beyond writing conventions and look at things such as the ability to:

  • expand on ideas using the text
  • go beyond the literal meaning (beyond retelling or summarizing)
  • write a response using a variety of genres ( functional, narrative, informational, poetry)
  • write using a variety of forms of writing (poem, list, letter, etc…)

The following are examples of different genres and forms of writing (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006, p. 462-485).

Functional writing:

  • notes
  • lists
  • prompted writing
  • letters
  • graphic organizers
  • posters
  • narrative
  • summaries
  • readers’ theater plays
  • cartoons

Informational writing:

  • Short writes
  • outlines
  • author/illustrator study
  • interview
  • how-to article
  • reports

Poetry writing

Before expecting students to independently take on a writing about reading task, we should be sure to include a lot of modeling, sharing of the task, and guided practice – no matter the grade level.  As students move up grade levels we may assume that they don’t need as much modeling and practice but we should be cautious and not teach our students from our assumptions.  Students can use the various genres of writing at each grade level at increasing levels of complexity.

The following is a brief walkthrough of the steps that could be used to introduce a new form of writing (response letters).

Step 1:  Explain the purpose

Share with your students the purpose of writing about reading in general and how it relates to the new form of writing that you will be teaching them.

When we write about our reading it makes us slow down and think more about the books we are reading.  When we share our writing with other people it helps us to think about the book in a different way and when we receive a response letter back it will deepen our understanding of the book as well.  

Step 2:  Read

During this step, I like to use an interactive read-aloud text that we have read together previously.  With the second read, students are able to understand the text at a deeper level which will help during the process of writing about the text.

When planning for the read-aloud I pick a few (2-3) stopping points that provide students with opportunities to talk with each other about the book.

Today we are going to reread one of our favorites – Owl Moon.   We know that when we talk and write about our reading we can understand books better.  We already know several ways to write about reading.  Today we will learn how to write response letters to your teacher.  Later, your teacher will write back to you!

Step  3.  Model the task

There are a few different directions you can go in for this step.  I will highlight two ways that I like to use when introducing a new form of writing.

Think Aloud – You can explicitly model the process by demonstrating for the students the way you think through writing a response letter.

Inquiry – When using an inquiry approach you can provide examples of response letters and have students tell you what they notice about the letters.

Use shared writing to document what is important to include in response letters so that your students can use the chart for future reference.  This chart can also be used to make a rubric.

When looking at example response letters or watching modeling through a think-aloud students might notice that the letters include:

  • Date
  • Greeting
  • Body
  • Thinking about the book
  • Specific examples from the book
  • Book title
  • Closing
  • Signature
  • Punctuation

*This doesn’t have to be a “one and done” deal.  Don’t be afraid to provide multiple days of demonstrations if that is what your students need.

Step 4:  Share the task

When your students are ready to share the task with you begin by rereading a different familiar book.  Again, be sure to provide your students with opportunities to talk about the book before jumping into writing.  Use any models or charts from the day before to share the task of writing a letter.

Using shared writing at any grade level can be a powerful way to model the task.  When using shared writing, the students and the teacher co-create the message while the teacher records it.  The shared writing piece becomes another valuable resource in the room.

Regie Routman writes about the power of shared writing in her book  Literacy Essentials:  Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (2018).  Routman describes shared writing as “one of the most effective and efficient ways to ensure literacy success for students” (p. 142).

It may take several days of sharing the task before you feel that your students are ready to move on to guided practice.

Step 5:  Guided practice

I, once again, like to stick with a familiar book and provide students with some talking points.  During guided practice, have students bring their writing journals and a pencil to your meeting area.  Walk through the steps of writing the response using the resources displayed in the room.  Although you are going through the steps together provide your students with the time to write their own thinking.

I suggest not moving through steps 4 & 5 too quickly.  Let your students set the pace.

Step 6:  Independent Writing

When the majority of your class is ready, you can send them off on their own to write a response letter about the read-aloud you have read.  While students are writing independently you can pull a group of students together to meet with you that need more guided practice and you can conference 1:1 with students.  Once students are fairly independent with the new form of writing they can use it to respond to other types of reading like an independent reading book or a book that they have read during guided reading.  You can help students expand on their thinking through conferencing, small groups and your written responses back to the students.

Step 7: Future minilessons

Consider what future minilessons you might teach within a particular form of writing.  For example:

  • How to pick the best evidence from the text
  • How to make letters more interesting
  • How to summarize the story in a few sentences

In Summary

When you are looking at your students writing remind yourself that you are not looking for a perfect product.  Rather than getting stuck on the little things like conventions or handwriting look for evidence of deeper thinking and growth in each student’s ability to record their thinking.  Think about whether your students’ writing is it all retelling the book play by play or do you see evidence of inferencing, analyzing, and critiquing.

Remember students are never too young to think deeply about books.

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References

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2006). Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing about Reading K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Routman, R. (2018).  Literacy Essentials:  Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

 

 

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