The ability to write well comes gradually and in stages. This skill is a synthesis of many writing skills, each building on one another. Here is what I see in practice and what the Common Core State Standards recommends for kindergarten and first graders.
- In kindergarten children learn to write letters and words, and some advanced students may write sentences. They might write with phonetic or invented spelling, backward letters, missing punctuation and haphazard capitalization. They use a combination of upper case and lower case letters. They like to draw a picture of what they are describing.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ask kindergarteners to “use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book; use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic; and use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.”
- In first grade children’s writing ability varies widely, but teachers expect students to write in sentences by the end of the year. They might draw a picture at the top of a paper and then write one or more sentences under the picture telling what the picture means, and using many of the errors which kindergarteners use. Many of the rules of writing and spelling are fluid for a first grader, but they are becoming formal than for kindergarteners.
- The Common Core State Standards recommend that first graders “write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure; write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure; and write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.”
As you can see, a wide gap exists between what many children can do and what the CCSS expect them to do. For more on the Common Core State Standards, go to http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/K/.
Posted in Best age to start writing, Common Core Standards, composing text on computer, essay introduction, fear of writing, flow, Introductions, persuasive essay, reluctant writers, research on writing, writing tips
Sequencing information is a kindergarten skill. Students are shown three or four drawings—of how to build a snowman, for example—and they are asked to organize the drawings in the correct order.
This learning can be extended into a writing lesson by asking students to write about the events so that they tell a story. Below is a tiny story based on three drawings. It was written by a pre-K student.
When I teach writing to pre-K or kindergarten students, I start by offering the students three drawings which they put in order. Over time, they move from three to four, six or eight drawing sequences. At first students tell only what they see, but later I ask them to weave people into their writing. The story below came from the same student as above, but after half a year of writing. Now in kindergarten, this student used six drawings of a jack-o-lantern in the process of being cut to create this story.
As students gain experience, the number of drawings and written words will increase. So will the amount of time spent writing. Since new writers fatigue easily, it is better to start small, let the student succeed, and then incrementally increase the demands.
Where can you find good pictures to sequence?
- Search online using key words like “drawings” “sequence” and “children.” Many websites offer such pictures. You can copy and paste, print the results, and cut out tiny wordless stories for your child to sequence.
- Some four-panel comics are perfect for this kind of work. I found a “Peanuts” cartoon book from which I took several wordless stories.
- Pictureless books are another good source.
- Drawings lessons are good too. Online, you can find many websites showing how to draw a turkey or Santa. Copy and paste, print the results, and cut out the drawings. I tape them to index cards for my students to put in the right order before they write.
For 20 years I have tutored children in how to write. Only one rising first grader and two children already in first grade were ready to write essays. Essays require thoughtful organization for which most first graders don’t have the patience or organizational skills. They want to jump right in without planning.
What qualities do I look for in students ready to write essays?
- Children who already write long narratives—the fronts and backs of notebook paper. Sometimes this is the sign of a gifted child who is more advanced than her peers in writing skills.
- Children who can read at a third grade level or better. Through their reading, these children have encountered lots of writing which subconsciously will influence their style, vocabulary and topics.
- Children with strong vocabulary skills. During a writing class, students will hear new words, or will hear words used in new ways. Liking to work with words is a sign that students are ready for essay writing.
- Children who can spell well (not perfectly) with more correct spelling than phonetic spelling. A writing lesson is not a spelling lesson.
- Children who speak English well, using words and grammar correctly. Writing lessons include fixing up grammar errors, but in general, the student’s command of English grammar and usage should be good. A writing lesson is not a grammar lesson.
- Children who can focus for up to an hour. Many skills come together during writing classes—holding a pencil, forming letters and words, organizing thoughts, spelling, finding synonyms in a thesaurus, listening to a teacher’s instructions, sitting (or standing) for most of an hour, and asking questions. Writing is a process, not a single skill, and parts of the process are best worked on while the ideas are flowing, so the child needs to be able to hang in there.
- Children willing to take direction. I have taught talented first graders who had all the above qualities but they were not willing to listen to my suggestions or to follow my directions. Children need maturity to begin essay writing.
Third grade is a good time to start essay writing for some children. For others, fourth grade is better. During kindergarten, first and second grade, students can focus on writing sentences or paragraphs. They can also learn from reading with an adult. You can point out to your child why a certain sentence sounds good, or how a writer gets the child’s attention. You can point out how a certain character in a book sounds like a child because of the words she uses or the way she uses them, while an adult sounds differently.