Writing Strategies for Beginning Writers

This writing is my next posting about writing strategies for beginning writers. Basic language patterns and a great deal of vocabulary assistance are especially important at this level. Remember to make use of your older English learners who are at the beginning stage of writing as cross-age helpers. They can read their own material to students in the early grades. Pattern books and concept books are especially good for cross-age helpers to share.
1. Wordless picture books
Wordless picture books are excellent for providing writing scaffolds. First, much of the vocabulary is evident in the pictures. Second, the structure or story line is also provided. Students can first orally discuss the story, generating language and ideas. This oral language then leads to writing, such as creating simple sentences that describe the existing story.
2. Story captions
This involves writing story captions for a familiar story. After multiple readings, you can photocopy pictures from the book you’ve been reading with your students. They can then sequence them and write simple sentences that describe the story. Let’s take The Three Little Pigs as an example. After hearing the story several times and discussing it, the students will be ready to create captions, such as “This pig used straw,” “This pig used sticks,” and “The wolf is mean and hungry.”
3. Pattern books
Books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1967) provide patterns that, once learned, students can use to create their own oral and written language. Students can use the pattern I see a __________ looking at me, or they can even add a different verb to create their own stories,
for example,
I see a __________ smiling at me or I see a ________ waving at me, etc.
4. Lists
Students can create lists with categories of words like verbs, adjectives, or prepositional phrases and use them in patterned sentences. For example, you can set them up to use patterns like:
You’re my friend because you’re (adjective).
Example: You’re my friend because you’re fun.
I love you because you’re (adjective). .
Example: I love you because you’re caring.
I’m happy when I’m (verb+ing). .
Example: I’m happy when I’m playing.
I’m happy when I’m (prepositional phrase).
Example: I’m happy when I’m with my friend.
Students can use this language to create their own simple stories or books.
5. Greeting cards and postcards
Students can write brief messages using familiar words and phrases to create greeting cards that they can send to friends and family members.
6. Life murals
Students can write captions that accompany their illustrations of a single important event that occurred, a day in their life, or their autobiography. The scaffolds provided here are their own memories. They will seek phrases that describe their memories and knowledge of these events.
7. Lists and maps
It is common for beginning English learners to learn new words and phrases based around themes, such as fruits and vegetables, animals, and clothing. Students can create
lists of these and make maps to use these words. For example, how would they organize a grocery store, arrange animals in a zoo, or set up a clothing store? Some content areas lend themselves to this type of activity as well. An example is the study of an ancient civilization. Using the words they learn, students can make maps of the locations and descriptions of river systems and physical settings that supported early settlements and
civilizations. They can draw maps of principal rivers showing where products came from and where they were transported to in support of trade.
8. Time lines and cycles
Students can use words and phrases to describe a series of events, such as historical events that lend themselves well to sequencing. Also, as with the story captions activity above, pictures can be photocopied from textbooks for students to use to create time lines with captions. Cycles also lend themselves to labeling and describing with brief captions. Some events in science can be diagrammed in cycles. Examples are the life cycle, the circulatory system, food chains, and the rock cycle.
9. Concept books
These are useful in a variety of ways. (Peregoy & Boyle, 2005). Students can make parts of speech books using verbs (The book of -ing) or prepositional phrases (“in my desk,” for example). Peek-a-boo books can be made by pasting in flaps of paper that conceal a picture showing “in the drawer” or “on the desk,” etc. Other concept books can be used to demonstrate opposites or comparisons (-er, -est). ABC books can be used in connection with a unit of study, for example, the ABCs of the Westward Movement.
10. Language experience approach
Described fully in Chapter Five, this involves engaging in a shared experience, discussing it, writing about it, and reading it back.
11. Found poetry
This writing activity should take place at the completion of a unit of study. This activity may take several days to complete. It may be more productive to include intermediate-
level writers in this activity. Provide your students with a piece of text. This might be taken from their textbooks or another source. The text should include familiar vocabulary. Copy the text onto an overhead and read the text with the students. Ask students to read words or phrases that draw their attention. These could be words they know or that they find unusual or interesting in some way. Highlight these on the overhead. Provide students with strips of paper onto which they can copy their words and phrases. Have students place them in a pocket chart. Read through all the words and phrases. Have the students arrange these words and phrases in some way that sounds pleasing to them. This will occur through group negotiation. The group must agree on the final arrangement of the words and phrases that make up the poem. You and your students will be delighted with the beauty of the found poetry they create. It is also an excellent way to review familiar vocabulary and concepts.
12. Pattern poetry
Numerous poetry patterns are available and appropriate for beginning writers (Peregoy and Boyle, 2005). Peregoy and Boyle point out that Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry (Koch, 1970) is excellent source. One of our favorite teachers, Karyn Mazo-Calf, provided us with guidelines for writing poetry with students. Start slowly and build up, providing lots of examples for students. Take the time to help students edit their own and each other’s work. Help creative and imaginative thinking grow by spending ample time in the prewriting phase.

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