Imagine having a classroom of independent writers. That might sound like a daunting task or even an unattainable dream, but it’s been a focus of mine for several years now, even as a first grade teacher! I’ve worked hard to establish an environment that nurtures early writers and developed six practices to help foster independent writing. No matter what grade you teach, these strategies can benefit your writers.
1. Teach strategies that generate writing ideas.
Early writers are still learning how to generate ideas for their writing. When my students are writing procedural texts, like How-To Books, one of my go-to strategies starts with asking them questions about things they do at home. They may set the dinner table, pick up their toys, or help sort laundry. One of my students shared that she helps her mom peel onions. All of these ideas make great How-To books! Once students share a few ideas with me, I have them create their book covers. They now have a few covers for possible How-To books they plan to write.
There are a number of helpful strategies to teach your writers, but the best one is being responsive to the needs of the writers that are before you at that given time.
2. Create anchor charts with your students.
The purpose of an anchor chart is to “anchor” the learning that students are doing. Students should be able to independently refer to these anchor charts during writing time, and you can create them on a variety of subjects—everything from point of view to creating characters to writing checklists. Eventually, your students will use them, without prompting, when they need support with their spelling.
Tip: Create mini-anchor charts for students to keep in their writing folders for easy reference and access.
3. Give access to tools.
In my classroom, I have a writing center that consists of a small table with a tray of different types of writing paper to accommodate the abilities of my writers. I have paper with 4 lines, paper with 6 lines, and paper with 8 lines so each student can select the type of paper that works best for them as a writer.
In addition to writing paper, there are scissors, staplers, staple removers, pens, pencils, erasers, and Post-It notes in the writing center. Instead of writers interrupting me as I’m conferring with another student, they walk over to the writing center to grab whatever they need. This has been a game changer for me. My students demonstrate independence by collecting what they need, when they need it, and I am able to confer with more writers without interruptions.
4. Implement dedicated writing time.
What independent writers need the most is dedicated time for writing each day. Find a block of time in your day for writing to demonstrate that writing time is valued and important.
In my classroom, writing takes place first thing in the morning and lasts for an hour. During writing time, I teach a short mini-lesson, which is followed by independent writing time and time for writing partners to meet. I’m always surprised when a student expresses disappointment that we are not able to have our writing time because of an unavoidable conflict in our schedule. However, I protect my writing time at all costs, so it’s a rare occasion when writing isn’t happening in my classroom.
5. Provide feedback to your writers.
During independent writing time, the teacher often confers with individual writers. This is the perfect time to check in, share writing tips, and encourage them to keep writing.
Writing partnerships is another way for writers to share feedback with their peers. Here are some ways to give effective feedback on student writing.
I sometimes incorporate the two and conduct table conferences. I walk over to a group of writers and ask them to listen in as I confer with one of the writers in the group. The other students benefit from the tips that I give the writer that I’m focusing on, and sometimes writers will chime in to share what they’re doing as writers or to ask a question that will benefit the entire group.
6. Offer an audience.
Writers are often inspired to write when they know that a peer, another group of students, the principal, and others will read their writing. A writing celebration is a great way to inspire your writers. Watch your independent writers write up a storm in order to have their writing pieces ready for the writing celebration.
Tip: Tools like Flipgrid are a great alternative to an in person writing celebration. Students could record themselves reading their writing piece via a Flipgrid video. You could share the Flipgrid link with your writers to view on their own time or show the Flipgrid video during class time, in small episodes, throughout the week. Consider trying some of these Flipgrid ideas for every kind of classroom.
Develop your students’ independence by creating an environment where students are thriving all year long!