Launching Writers

My writing teacher, the late Donald Murray, once said that over time he found himself returning to the same topics.  In his case, two of his topics were serving in WWII and the death of his adult daughter.  His words drift into my mind as I notice I’m starting to write yet another blog about teaching writing.  I can’t help myself.  Especially this year, the beginning sessions with our Seed writers show immense possibility.  I love the freshness of starting anew and the prospect of cultivating a whole new collection of writers.  

I’m quite familiar with most of our 2nd-4th grade writers, so we were able to jump right back in, this year beginning with poetry.  Each child is working with a list of descriptors of themself, such as I am an artist, I am a tree climber, or I am a helpful friend.  Their next step is to select one descriptor and “crack it open,” which means to list more specific information.  Once this is complete, their final task is to add a twist, which could be a question or a line that might catch the reader by surprise.  We’ve been talking about twists quite a bit, and it’s delightful when each new writer grasps this concept.  Here are a couple of the first poems:

I Am An Artist

I doodle
I paint
I make things out of clay
I write and
I draw every day

I love art so much
that from six to four
papers cover the floor
and I’m at my desk
drawing my best
     or cupcake
     or more




when the stars
as bright as
the sun
the sky as dark
as space
the love
shines down
on all



The first grade writers hit the ground running with equal fervor.  They also started with I Am lists, and turned theirs into short books.  They are working on fluency and adding details.  When one student wrote that he was a good passer in basketball and it’s fun, I asked, “What’s fun about it?”  He added to his story, “It is good to pass because other people get a turn.”  Another child wrote about how she loved dancing.  I suggested she elaborate, so she said this:  “My mom was a dancer, and she was a teacher.  She gave me her blood.”   I look forward to witnessing the growth of these emerging artists, dancers, tree climbers, and pet lovers.  

I’d have to say the most powerful launch was in the kindergarten.  They were introduced to their journals and invited to share with a friend what they were thinking about writing.  Once they moved to the tables to begin writing, I was overcome with amazement at the process of becoming a writer.  At the early stages children have to integrate so many components of writing:  identifying letters, learning the various sounds that each letter makes, holding a pencil, writing letters, learning about leaving a space between words, and beginning to put the ideas from their minds on the page.  It seems like nothing short of a miracle that all of this can happen.  In just two short weeks, I already see certain children’s confidence growing as they write about their pets, families, birthdays, and visiting a dinosaur park.    I believe it’s one of the most empowering experiences we can give young children, to validate that their voices and stories matter, then provide the tools and guidance to bring them forth. 

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