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Writing Workshop (Part 1)

I really liked the way N learnt how to write when he was in his international school in Jakarta, so we checked out Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop online and bought the materials for Grade 2. (‘Owl Moon’ and ‘The Leaving Morning’ are mentor texts used in the Grade 2 Writers Workshop on Narratives, and I bought them online from Book Depository.)

I recently found some time to start studying the materials, and although I’ve only finished the first half of the first book, I decided to try out what I learnt, and started N on it.

The two “mentor texts” and the Writing Workshop Unit of Study

Kids usually struggle to think of ideas for writing stories, so Writing Workshop advocates getting them to keep a “Tiny Topics Notepad”, which is basically a small notebook that they carry around with them, and jot down interesting things that they come across. After a few days of recording their “Tiny Topics”, they can pick one idea for their story.

N was initially very enthusiastic about his notebook (I called it his “Ideas Notebook”) and brought it to school with him. On the first day, he came back with quite a few things written in his notebook, and excitedly told me about each item. It was hard for me to hold my tongue and not say anything critical about his ideas (“I drop hair”) because the point of this exercise is to encourage him to be more observant, and to show him that ideas for stories can occur at any time.

N’s ideas

More ideas

He finally picked “Night Safari” as his topic for his story, and I created a simple template for him, similar to the one that he used in Jakarta. (You can download mine HERE if you need it.) I split the entire process up quite a bit, so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed or get bored of writing/editing, and he ended up taking more than a month to finish this story!

First, I got him to verbally tell me the brief outline of his story, before getting him to plan his story by writing down key words at the top of every page. Next, because he likes drawing, I got him to work on the illustrations for each page, based on the key words he wrote. He did this over a few days, as he would get tired of drawing after a while. Then, he worked on writing the text for each page. This too, took quite a few days, as I didn’t push him to write more than what he was comfortable with. Finally, the editing took AGES, as we worked on one page at a time, and didn’t work on it on consecutive days.

He was very amused by this page and wanted me to take a photo of it

Since editing is still quite new to him, I wrote some suggestions on post-it notes for the first three pages. We would read the page together, then look at my suggestions, and discuss them. N would then select at least two of my suggestions, and we would edit the page together. I got him to tell me verbally what he wanted to add or change, and after we agreed on the phrasing and details, he would write them down on larger Post-it notes.

I’m posting photos and notes on our editing process here, to help myself remember what was done. I’ve also posted this on my IG Stories Highlights under ‘Writing’, but felt that I should blog about it properly so that I can keep a proper record of it. I was looking at the stories he wrote a year or so ago, and I think he has made quite a bit of progress since then! (Read his account of how he fell into the pool one day HERE.)

Pg 1 (before editing)

Suggestions for Editing

For this first page, he mainly edited the dialogue to make it more interesting. I suggested replacing “said” with words that showed how the sentences were spoken, and he did that too.

For spelling, Writing Workshop suggests getting the child to sound out the word, and to come up with various ways in which he thinks it should be spelt, before picking the one that he think is the correct one, so that’s what I did with him.

N didn’t want to add more to his description of the setting/performers/performance, so I didn’t push him to do more, as this is ultimately his work.

N decided to add details and dialogue to describe the most exciting part of the show. This part was clearly memorable to him, as he was able to recount the sequence of events and even what was being said. He didn’t express it very clearly, but I thought it was good enough.

He also tried to figure out how to spell “creatures”, and noted on his own that Night Safari is a proper noun, and therefore he had to use capital letters.

He edited some parts directly on this third page, by cancelling or erasing the bits that he didn’t want anymore. He also added capital letters to the proper nouns: Creatures of the Night show, and Fishing Cat Trail. I also taught him how to decide when he should begin a new paragraph.

I didn’t quite like the part where he described how we looked into the tanks, but when I tried to give him some suggestions and options, he rejected them all. He wanted to use dialogue, and is slowly trying to get the hang of it. I liked the bit where he added “we all oohed and ahhed when I pressed a button”!

After giving him pointers for the first three pages, I thought he should have gotten the idea by now, and wanted him to come up with ways to improve his writing by himself. We read this fourth page together, talked about it, and then he wrote his ideas down on the small post-it note.

I’ve noticed that his dialogue writing improves when he finds the part of the story interesting. I had to guide him with the punctuation, and I thought the dialogue was rather well done.

He also cancelled out a part of the first paragraph on his own, as he wanted to describe the tiger more. His elaboration of the lionesses roaring was also quite vivid, and I liked how he added “wildly” to describe the roaring, as well as “What a racket!” at the end.

He needed some help with the suggestions for this page, so I offered him the standard ones, and he picked a few to write on the small post-it note. Again, he decided to elaborate on what we saw, so he cancelled out the list of animals, and worked on adding details. I had to tell him to split the paragraph up as it was getting too lengthy, but I loved the bit “I bet the hyenas were jealous because they could smell the meat that the lions were eating.” So funny la!

Dialogue seems to be his default way to make things more interesting and describe smells/sounds/sights now, but he is also using better vocabulary like “grazing”, and is trying to use words other than “said”.

This editing session was split into two sessions of 20 minutes each, and he got a short -minute break in between. I know that 40 minutes to edit just one page seems very long, but at least he was actively trying to think of how to improve his writing, instead of staring blankly into space. Editing is a skill that we all need to have, and it will take time to hone, so I’m starting the process now for N.

Because we worked on these pages on different days, it didn’t occur to me that he begun pages 3 to 6 with “After…” until I was typing his story out. I guess this will be something that I need to be more aware of when he writes and edits his next story!

For this page, I pointed out that there was no link between the first and second lines, so after the first line, he added a short description of the shop, as well as some dialogue, in order for the second line to make sense. He also edited some grammatical/spelling errors.

It would have been too abrupt if he ended this page with what Didi said, so he added another paragraph to show our reaction, and to transition to the last page.

He changed almost the entire last page, but I thought it was good! We must never be afraid to make changes when necessary, and I think we both agreed that his new version was better. He still has the tendency to want to add “useless information”, so I have to remind him that whatever he writes has to add value and/or move the story along. This was something that I used to tell my students too!

I liked how he used the word “babbled” instead of “said” to describe how Meimei talked, and was so amused that he unknowingly used alliteration in that sentence. After he wrote it, I explained what alliteration means, and we verbally came up with another sentence with alliteration.

There are still some spelling mistakes and his conclusion could have been more interesting, but he insisted on writing it like this, instead of using one of my suggestions. Writing well is not easy, and it is a process, so I have to be patient with him, and be diligent in making him write regularly.

PS. I’ve typed out his entire edited story and printed it into a “book” for him. Look at how pleased he is with it! You can read the edited story HERE.

PPS. @mama.anything on IG introduced me to Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) and it looks interesting, so I’m trying to sign up for the free online training course. I haven’t gotten any response from them yet, but you can try to register for it HERE if you’re keen too.

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