As a literacy enthusiast, supporting young learners to become young writers is an immensely important and rewarding part of my role. Here are a few tried and tested tips to develop shared writing skills in young learners.
When they’re ready, they’re ready!
Exposing children to a print-rich environment where writing is a valued, integrated and celebrated part of day-to-day life is key to developing early writing skills. Fine motor skills, phonic knowledge and motivation all play their part and patience should be afforded to those students who take a little more time than others to get the ‘writing bug’. If opportunities to write for a purpose surround the students and writing is presented as a fun and valuable skill, young children will write when they’re ready. In shared writing, a teacher’s explanation of each stage is essential in developing writing behaviour among students.
Drafting, editing and improving may seem like difficult concepts in a class full of 4 year olds, but modelling writing as a process of many steps is a key way to engage young writers. All stages in the writing process (from idea sharing to publishing) should be celebrated. Engaging young learners in the shared process of designing characters, deciding on settings for a story and improving and up levelling a shared piece of writing can develop self-esteem, which all writers need. Simply attaching a child’s name to their contribution to a group brainstorm or class story can promote ownership and instil a sense of value to their ideas.
There are some challenges when trying to ensure that all children are engaged and challenged in a writing session. A great idea is to differentiate each session by providing children with roles. You can use colours to code the various positions. Those on the red mat can be ‘punctuation police’ looking out for full stops and capital letters, children on the blue mat can be ‘finger space finders’ who will enjoy having permission to waggle their fingers at the teacher until he/she makes sure a finger space is included between each word. More able students can be grouped and identified as ‘magic makers’ who are tasked with improving on simple sentences by adding adjectives. Of course, these roles aren’t static, but this is a great way of ensuring each child feels valued and important in the process of shared writing.
Opportunities are key
A writing table full of ‘special pens’ and materials is a simple way to allow young writers to explore their developing skills after a shared session. Using the context of a role-play area can be a fantastic opportunity to promote shared writing. Creating menus, taking orders in a café, writing shopping lists for a supermarket or taking notes on an eco-walk around the school building are activities that come in handy. In independent writing, no matter the age or stage, all marks should be treated as writing and young learners can be encouraged to share their thoughts verbally (to allow an adult to scribe/document) through questions like, ‘Wow, I love your writing, can you tell me about it?’
It’s all about them
Kindergarten students are wonderfully egocentric. Allow young writers to explore their interests in writing, as this is a simple way of facilitating the development of shared writing skills. If they make a model that they are incredibly proud of, could the class write instructions for another group on how to make something similar? If they feel strongly about getting more time in the outside play area, could the children work with an adult to write a letter to the principal arguing their case? The more a writing task reflects the young learners’ interest, the more likely it is to be successful.
Show it and share it!
While ‘shared writing’ traditionally refers to the process of co- constructing writing itself, it is essential that writing produced in a kindergarten is widely shared and celebrated. Displaying and presenting work in the school setting or publishing shared work to a wider audience online are key to transmitting the value attached to writing, to our younger learners.
By Jenny Murray