It’s an amazing blessing to have a front row seat to the transformation that takes place in a kindergarten student’s communication skills. Some come to the classroom with very few words in their spoken vocabularies and leave for first grade not only with a wide bank of oral conversation skills, but as writers.
When we are able to unlock the door to writing, we introduce our students to a whole big beautiful world of storytelling, sharing, learning, expressing, and communicating. The possibilities become endless.
But how do we get our little ones from the preschool babies who walk in our door in August to the authors who leave us in May, ready to take the written world by storm? I’ve had thirteen years to work on this, and I’m still learning every day! After years of trial and error, and more error, and some more trial, I have come up with several routines that to me are “must-haves” in my room in order to promote written communication. The list is not exhaustive–I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section–but I have found that implementing the following steps make my kindergarten students into writers that I am so proud of.
1. Let Them Talk! And talk some more, and then some more. Letting students talk is a key to oral development, which is the stepping stone to written communication. If young children can’t organize and verbalize their ideas out loud, how can they move on to getting them on paper?
Do you remember being in classrooms when you were young that were so quiet you could hear a pin drop? That’s not how my room sounds. Almost ever. We do have quiet times, and I stress the importance of quietness in certain situations, but I recently took serious consideration of the times that I required quietness in my room and my reasoning for the lack of communication. I found ways in my schedule where I could promote more conversation, and my students’ writing improved because of it. (Read more about promoting oral language in kindergarten here.) Once my students became accustomed to sharing ideas aloud in different school settings, it became natural to get those ideas on paper, and their communication expanded from speaking to drawing to writing symbols and words.
2. Let Them Draw! At the beginning of the year, I provide as many opportunities for my students to practice drawing as I can think of. We draw on whiteboards, magnadoodles, stationary, construction paper, the table (with dry erase markers–hey, it comes off!), in notebooks. I am constantly collecting little tablets of paper, stencils, markers, and pens to use in drawing activities, which eventually become writing activities.
Now, sometimes I do directed art and drawing activities, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. These drawing opportunities are not directed, except for the fact that the students have to draw the entire time that is designated. I always tell them that when they think they are done, they can add more details or more colors to their pictures. I also tell the students to use only one sheet of paper so that they can practice being focused on one “story” in their drawing. Later in the year, when students are writing long stories, I let them use as much paper as they need, but in the beginning we limit our drawing to one page in order to build discipline and organization to our ideas.
So when do we have time to “just draw” in our day? I have made several drawing stops in my schedule that eventually turn into writing stops. Here they are:
- Morning Activities- After unpacking, students can draw in their journals or on special paper. At the beginning of the year, I specify the type of paper and provide special drawing tools like glitter pens, markers, etc. for students to use in enhancing their pictures.
- Literacy Stations- One of our literacy stations is called “Work on Writing”, and at the beginning of the year, we simply draw during this station. This is a favorite for all students, and they especially enjoy sharing their drawing stories, which is an essential step to “writing more”, as I will point out later!:)
- Math Stations- Students love to draw the things they have created at block stations, the puzzles they have completed, and the colors and shapes that they have sorted.
- Science Reflections- We draw our predictions and conclusions several times weekly for a number of science experiments. Note: This is an exception to the “non-directed” drawing, as I do provide a prompt for the drawing.
- Social Stations- In my class, when we do Social Stations–some call these Fun Stations or Play Stations–drawing is always a choice. It never grows old! By providing new and fun drawing tools throughout the year, students never get tired of the opportunity to draw.
It makes me so happy to see students in kindergarten progress beyond pages full of scribbles to pictures with details, with structures, with organization. Pictures that tell a story. Pictures that are waiting on words!
3. Let Them Write! Okay, there’s no magic date that we change over from drawing pictures to writing words in my classroom. Sometime in September though, I gather everyone around on the rug and do one of the most important lessons of the year. It’s the “Let’s Add Words” lesson! I very excitedly point out that we have been drawing some marvelous stories with lots of details and colors, and now that we are learning our letters, I think we should add some words to our stories. I tell my students that from now on, I’d like for them to add words to all of their pictures that they draw. At first, they may only want to write one word on their story, or a few labels. We have several lessons where we learn what labels are and then the kids go on a labeling spree for about three weeks in which they want to label their entire world…it happens every year! Then one word gradually turns into a few words, and then a sentence. Eventually, with some listening and prompting, a sentence turns into two sentences, and then a paragraph, and then a story. And I am always overwhelmed and amazed by the ingenuity and creativeness that grows before my eyes.
4. Model, Model, Model. So, kindergarten teachers actually have two jobs. We are not only teachers–we are supermodels! One of the best ways to teach students to do what we want them to do is to show them by modeling. When I start a writing lesson with my students, before I send them off to their spots for writing, I model my own thinking and writing. Take the lesson mentioned above, for example. Once I’ve told students that we are going to start adding words to our story drawings, I model. I go to my big board or big paper and model my drawing first. By this point in the year, students are used to my modeling and they eagerly watch and add tips and pointers to my drawing, like “Add more colors!” or “You need to put some grass on the ground…and a cloud in the sky! Maybe you could draw a leash from your hand to the dog.” When the picture is complete, I show them how I would add some words. This may seem like an oversimplification, but I have learned from experience that the more I model, the more they write. So I go through the process of thinking aloud. “Let’s see…what words could I write about my drawing? What’s happening in the picture? Oh, right. I’m walking my dog outside. Hey! I could write that! I…aaammm(that’s me sounding out the word ‘am’)…wolkeeng….my…dog.” As I model, I spell the words the way they sound. This helps the student who is a perfectionist and only wants to write words that he/she can spell. When they realize that I am giving them permission to spell the words as they sound, they seem to relax and write more freely. I always take my writing down when I send the students to their chairs to do their own writing. They may use my modeled idea for their own story, but I want them to use their own words.
As the year goes on, I let students model by sharing their work with partners, small groups, or the whole group. This provides extra motivation and inspiration and seems to give students the extra boost to write more.
5. Listen To Them. This was a skill that took years to cultivate. I still strive to be a better listener to my children. The more I know them and their interests, and the more that I listen to them, the easier it becomes to help them get started with ideas for writing. It gets easier to encourage them to write more once they get started.
Once I’ve sent students to their writing spots to draw or write stories, I circulate the room and conference with students individually. Sometimes conferencing simply involves me listening to the student’s ideas for their story and giving them the thumbs-up they are looking for. Other times, conferencing is a quick answer to a question. “What two letters make the /sh/ sound? Does ‘kitten’ start with a c or k?”
But sometimes conferencing involves some very close listening on my part. When a student just has a few hastily marked items on their sheet of paper and they don’t know where to go to form a story, when a student wants to draw a flower and label it for the sixth day in a row, or when a student is seriously struggling with getting their thoughts from their head to the paper at all, they need a conference to get started. Then, conferencing requires me to listen, encourage, and give direction. “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve drawn a flower every day this week. Let’s do a different story. Hmmm. What did you do last night at home? You played with your sister? Was it fun? It was?!? You should write about that! Let’s see…so you played with your sister. Maybe you should start there? Okay, let’s go…I plaayyyeedd…” And we go from there.
There will always be a student who needs the teacher to get him or her started from square one. I have found that conferencing is the key to this. Conferencing and listening help me to know so much about the child’s abilities and interests. This is an invaluable tool for teachers and students alike.
6. Make It Fun! There are things you can do to spruce up writing opportunities throughout the year. Novelty items like special paper, notebooks, pens, markers, stencils, stickers, desks, and envelopes just make writing more fun and exciting. Involving writing in different tasks like block-building, art, experiments, and even the Home Living station can invigorate students’ creative juices as well (for more on writing in the Home Living station, click here). Finally, making a big deal of publishing students’ writing is a huge motivation factor. I like to have a Writer’s Corner or some type of special display for students to showcase their favorite pieces. I also include special sharing times in my daily schedule when students can share their stories with peers.
I’m sure there are so many more ideas to help our students become writers in kindergarten. For me, the ones above have been fool-proof, child-proof, and crazy day-proof. These routines have been imbedded into our days at school, and as a result, I have seen growth in my little writers that astounds me and humbles me all at once. I am glad to have played even a small part in facilitating what I pray will be a lifelong love of writing and learning for my students.
What about you? What has worked in your classroom or home for promoting writing with your little ones?