- A kindergartener or even a sixth grader has little personal experience to write about. They quickly exhaust “my dog” or “my family” as topics. It makes sense for me to provide a topic to write about. A quick and easy way to do that is to supply a picture book or a short essay. But if I learn the student has taken an outing over the weekend, I switch gears and ask the student to write from his or her experience. I might need to generate many questions about the outing to develop enough material to write about, but a personal experience trumps a reading experience, especially for young children.
- Reading gives students a quick start. I might ask a young children to read part of a picture book (limiting the time spent reading to between five and ten minutes of an hour-long lesson). For an older child, I might bring an essay or news story (again, limiting the time spent reading and discussing it.) Our discussions focus on ideas related to writing, such as organization, characters, setting, suspense and conclusions. Then we talk about the kind of writing I expect the student to write.
- For students who don’t like to be told what to write, I might bring two reading selections, offering a choice. The child has a sense of control and I am happy with either choice.
- Reading gives students various genres to analyze or to use as prompts. If the student is writing a persuasive essay, for example, reading one first offers ideas for organization and vocabulary. I focus less on the content and more on the structure, details, figures of speech–the writing–during a writing lesson.
- Reading offers excellent models for writing. If I am teaching how to write a formal essay with a thesis, obvious topic sentences and a good conclusion, reading such an essay first is a great way to begin the lesson. We can talk about what makes the example good (or poor if it is poor) and how it could have been improved.
Everyone writes to be read, even if the reader is a later-day version of himself or herself. We talk about this during our lessons, offering a solid reason to read before we begin and just as solid a reason to read the student’s work after it is complete.