When teaching writing to children, modeled writing is a great place to start. Modeled writing is pretty much what it sounds like — when a teacher/parent models the process of writing. The teacher does the writing, often thinking aloud as she does so. The students observe during this time, answering questions along the way. Modeled writing can be done formally, informally, with the entire class, with small groups, and individually. In fact, it’s best to mix it up so children are exposed to it in different situations.
The “I see brown” chart is an example of a formal, whole-group modeled writing lesson. At the beginning of the year, I often make basic charts with my class. They’re usually based on colors and use simple, repetitive text. I go out of my way to “think aloud” as I model writing, as if I’m talking to myself. The children often find this entertaining, which keeps them more engaged with the process. I’ll also ask questions of myself out loud, and the kids usually answer them with me. Again, it helps keep them engaged and makes them part of the writing.
When writing the above chart, the conversation with my kiddos went as follows:
- (Me) “We’ve been making charts about colors this week. What colors have we already written about? Let’s go back and reread those charts to check.”
- (Students and I reread the charts we’d done previously.)
- (Me) “I think I’d like to write about the color brown today. On our other charts, I wrote ‘I see red. I see yellow. I see blue.’ What should I write about brown?”
- (Students) “I see brown!”
- (Me) “That’s a great idea. I’m going to say my sentence out loud, to make sure I remember it. I see brown. Hmmm . . . how many words am I writing? I . . . see . . . brown.” (Holding up my fingers as I count the words. The kiddos usually say the words and count with me as I do this.)
- (Me) “OK, I know I’m going to start my story up here (pointing to the top, left-hand corner of the page). What was my first word again? I! Hmmm . . . what came after ‘I’ again? Oh wait, I need to put a space between my words so it’s not all gobbildy-gook! I have my ‘spaceman’ there now, so I can write ‘see’. Now how do I write ‘see’ again? Oh, that’s right, it’s on our word wall! I better look over there for some help writing it. Oh, now I need to go back and read to check my words. I see . . . man, what color was I going to write about again?”
- (Students) “BROWN!”
- (Me) “Yes, brown! I’m going to stretch that word like bubblegum so I can hear the sounds. B . . . r . . . ow . . . n. I heard b at the beginning, then r. I need to stretch it again and listen for the sounds. Oh, next is ‘ow’. I know o and w work together to say ‘ow’ in this word. I’m going to stretch the word one more time . . . and I hear an n at the end. I need to go back and read to check my words. I see brown. Oh, and I know I need to put a period at the end to say ‘stop’.”
Yes, that’s a lot of talking, but it doesn’t usually take too long. I really try to think out loud so the kiddos have a good example of what to consider when writing. After the chart’s been written in English, I sometimes add the Spanish version. Then the kiddos get to illustrate each chart with items of that color. For brown, the students came up with a child’s hair, a dog, a bunny rabbit, and a bear.
You can find the spacemen I use here at Really Good Stuff. I use the larger, magnetic spaceman when writing with a group. The small, individual spacemen (or spacewomen, depending on who I’m writing with) are used during small group and individual writing. I’ve had the set for over ten years now, so I know they hold up rather well! I don’t have an affiliate relationship with Really Good Stuff — I just love these “spacemen”!! 🙂
Opportunities for informal modeled writing happen all the time in the preschool classroom! Kids LOVE to talk about pictures they’ve drawn, places they’ve been, etc. The guy pictured below spent quite some time on this drawing. He was rather detailed, and he was proud of himself when he finished it. To capitalize on this, I just asked him to tell me about his awesome picture. I listened, then asked if he wanted me to write his words on the paper. He enthusiastically agreed, so I asked, “Can you tell me your story one more time? That way I make sure I write all of your words!” Then I simply wrote his story, making sure to say each word aloud as I wrote them. Since they were his words, the kiddo watched as I wrote every one. He and I went back and read the story together, and he proudly read the story to my co-teacher a few minutes later.
Grabbing a quick moment like this to model writing is just as important as the sit-down, whole-group activity! It’s a great way to apply what’s being taught to individual children. It’s also a perfect moment to stress “what you say, you can write” and “what you write, you can read”.
Do you incorporate modeled writing into your classroom or home school day?