Of all the subjects to teach, writing can feel the most daunting. Writing, especially in early elementary, is motor skills/strength, letter formation, sound/letter relationships, sentence structure, storytelling, writing process, writing traits, and motivation and purpose. Add to that, writing is capturing your thoughts on paper where anyone can read them – a very vulnerable act.
So of course, we tackled that one first.
In crafting our writing center for our kindergartners and first graders, we analyzed the understandings, skills, and attitudes that are key to good writing. We are working on finishing touches, but here’s an overview of our thinking.
The top of the writing center will feature book models and reference materials as well as a place to store student work.
Each cube then becomes home to materials which support a specific key learning component.
The first cube (top left) houses paper for writing and drawing. Pictures tell stories and are a valid way to communicate. Learning to add detail in illustrations forms a foundation for adding detail in writing.
Pencils, crayons, colored pencils (and later other illustration tools) are kept in cube two.
The third cube holds publishing materials: hole punches, yarn, scissors, staplers, and such.
The fourth cube supports motor skill and strength development. At the start of the year, students will use a paintbrush to form letters/words in salt. The students can work on their pincer grip and strength. Motor skill and strength exercises may sometimes involve activity cards like wheelbarrow races, easel writing, and other exercises recommended by occupational therapists.
The fifth cube (bottom left) holds practice for letter/word formation. At the start of the year, chalkboards and letter models will be available. This might later contain playdough, water/paintbrush and chalkboards, tracing cards, and other tools for practicing forming letters and words. If students spend too much time and mental energy forming letters and words, the fluency of their writing – and their expression of ideas – may be impaired.
The sixth cube will work on “conventions” of writing – spelling and grammar. For the start of the year, we have chosen to work on recognizing, building, and writing sight words. Other activities might include writing and spelling theme vocabulary to support writing across the disciplines, work with punctuation and capital letters, or work with rimes (like –an or –ong words) and other common spelling patterns.
The seventh cube focuses on storytelling. These are prompts or sparks to help students craft a story using elements of stories: setting, characters, beginning/middle/end (plot), and theme. The first storytelling spark comes from story bags. Each bag contains an assortment of items. Students look at the items and tell a story that incorporates them.
The eighth cube is about real world applications of writing. This will often connect to our dramatic play theme. For the start of the year, we are setting up an airport for our new journey. Boarding passes and baggage tags, with examples, are kept in this cube.
Instruction will happen through shared writing, interactive writing, and mini lessons. The practice and application of those skills will happen during our Workshop time each day.