Well…math warm-ups have been working SO WELL for us, that I finally got around to trying something I’ve been thinking about for a while–writing warm-ups.
First a back story…
Everyone knows that learning the mechanics and grammar of writing is important. But what is the best way to teach it? For many years, I did what many people do–give kids lots of sentences to edit and correct, hoping that they would then transfer that “learning” into their writing. One year I even turned daily edits into a weekly quiz, so that I could be sure I was assessing this work we were doing. And I guess it worked ok. Kids showed me that they knew how to capitalize correctly, use basic punctuation and pick the “right” word depending on the question they were asked. But yet they didn’t do a great job of doing this in their writing. It was like they had never encountered the rules for punctuation, capitalization or grammar.
This puzzled me, and I was curious about what else I could do to improve these skills in my students’ writing. After learning from a smart friend of mine, and doing a little reading on my own, I had some different thoughts about what was better practice in this area. For one thing, I abandoned Daily Edits. These exercises, after all, only gave my students exposure to these skills in isolated situations–situations that made them unable to transfer the knowledge. The thinking in not doing them, is that when all that students see is the wrong way to use mechanics and grammar, they may subconsciously be learning that wrong way to do it. It’s totally against the logic of why I did those activities, but after I heard it, it made perfect sense.
So fast forward a few months: I began doing a punctuation study as a means of helping my students discover and learn more about how writers use punctuation. I wanted them to see the right ways that writers use punctuation to make meaning; I wanted them to learn why they should want to know how to punctuate correctly, not just “because my teacher told me to follow these rules.”
And so for several years I’ve also wanted to try something else. Something that finally happened this past week.
The basic idea of the Writing Warm-up is to show my students a piece of writing (that I choose specifically based on what I want my students to discover) and ask them what they notice. I want them to look for things the writer does with words, spacing, punctuation, etc., that they could then try in their own writing. And unlike with daily edits, I can highlight a specific skill by showing them a quality piece of writing demonstrating the right way to do it, rather than one filled with mistakes.
So far we’ve only had three of these warm-ups, and here they are:
This first one, from a beloved read aloud we finished recently, had all sorts of “good stuff” to discover. I specifically picked it because we were trying to figure out more about how to use the semi-colon, but obviously they found many other things I hadn’t expected. We worked on this one together with the document camera so everyone could see it on the big screen. They had their own copy of the text, too, so that they could take notes if they wanted to.
This one gives you a better idea of logistically how we manage these warm-ups. Unlike the math version, we use the ActivBoard instead of the easel. Instead of doing them in the morning, our writing warm-ups happen right when we return from lunch and recess. Their “bellringer” before they head to read aloud is to check out the text, then jot an idea on a post-it what they think they can learn. They put the post-it on the text near the thing they noticed. Then, at the beginning of our Writer’s Workshop lesson, we return to this text and have a quick conversation before moving on to the main daily lesson.
Another excerpt from our current read aloud Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer, one that I chose specifically because of the dialogue included. We’re in the middle of a fiction writing cycle, and there is an expectation that they will include dialogue in those stories. We’ve already discussed how commas work in this situation, and so this is an extension–how you start a new paragraph each time a new character starts, to help your reader keep track of who is speaking without having to write “he said” each time. The cool part is that most of them mentioned this without me even prompting them! Good stuff.
The verdict is still out on whether these warm-ups will do what I want them to, but then again we’ve just started. At the very least, it’s a good start for us, and my writers love them, so there’s good potential. We’ll keep you updated. 🙂
How do you teach grammar and mechanics? What do you think of Writing Warm-ups? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think. 🙂