To Write or Not to Write? There is No Question! Part 2

That’s right! Teachers know “To write or not to write?” is not a question worth spending the time talking about – of course our students write! And as it turns out, we need to write more. But what should that writing look like in order to really capitalize on getting the most out of the process? THAT is the real question!

I wrote a blog last year (Part 1) that investigated how writing strengthens the skills that benefit both reading and writing development.

Recall, we discussed the strong similarities between the skills needed to read and the skills needed to write. There are multiple ways to strengthen decoding skills and comprehension skills while writing. This blog will expand upon how to increase purposeful attention to the reading skills during writing and provide you with some great ways to write right up to the last day of school!

Phoneme awareness: Writing helps students develop phoneme awareness. When writing, students practice segmenting the sounds in words as they spell them. This is powerful stuff – as students segment the sounds in words, and make a match to graphemes, they are strengthening their decoding AND their encoding skills – both important for automatic word recognition when reading.

Tip: Provide a “Sound Strip” for your young students. The Sound Strip reminds students that they can spell words independently. It gives them a concrete focus to help them “say the sounds” in the words they are writing.

  • Prepare a strip of paper for each student. Section the strip into five one-inch squares. Color each square a different color.
  • Tape the Sound Strip to the top edge of the students’ desks.

 

 

  • Instruct students how to use the “Sound Strip”. When writing, if they don’t know how to spell a word, they do not have to ask the teacher, “How do you spell _____?” They can use their Sound Strip to help them say the sounds in their word, touching one box for each sound, and then spell the letters for those sounds on their paper.

It is ok for teachers to respond to student requests for how to spell words, and teachers should always give students the correct spelling of words. Spelling words correctly and then reading those words, helps to build the orthographic memories for words, which will ultimately lead to word reading automaticity. But teachers do not always have the time to answer each students’ request, and it is a good thing for students to develop independence when writing – temporary spelling is a powerful phoneme awareness-grapheme matching tool. “Sound Strips” work!

Decoding: Decoding skills take many years and LOTS of practice to develop to automaticity. Writing can provide some of that extended practice our students need to build decoding skills! Writing helps to strengthen the wiring and connections in our students’ reading brains for making those orthographic, to sound, to word and meaning, matches.

Tip for younger students: Follow these steps to provide more practice with the phonic elements you are teaching AND to review concept learning from a topic of study.

  • Display a list of phonics words, from the phonics lesson, on the white board. Read through the words with your students.
  • Explain to the students that you are going to create sentences about “a topic of study” using the words.
  • Model a sentence orally that reflects your content and uses one or more of the phonics terms. For example, if you are studying communities, and you are working on the -ck rule, a sentence might be, “The fireman uses his truck to help put out fires in our community.”
  • Ask students for their ideas, leading them to rehearse their sentences orally.
  • Then, ask students to write their sentence(s).

Tip for older students: Decoding does not end when students have learned the basic phoneme-grapheme correspondences. Decoding moves into the realm of syllables and morphemes. Older students whose reading is progressing adequately, will begin chunking words when decoding and spelling. Capitalize on this advanced level of phonics through writing. Follow these steps:

  • Choose a vocabulary term that students are studying as part of their reading. Choose one that has a root upon which multiple word forms can be developed. For example, inscribe contains the root scrib and its variant script, which means to write.
  • Write inscribe and ask students to write it. Teach the root, scrib/script, and its meaning. Brainstorm other word forms, talk about their parts of speech, and model how the words can be used. Ask student to use the words orally. Record the words in a column:

inscribe

inscription

prescribe

prescription

scripture

manuscript

transcribe

scribble

  • Work with students to write sentences and paragraphs incorporating the words they have written. Ask them to write about something they are learning about to make the task meaningful and to give them a topic for their writing.
  • Most teachers have a Teacher’s Book of Word Lists hanging around somewhere. Use it to plan morphology lessons.

Verbal Reasoning: This language skill contributes to reading comprehension. Verbal reasoning requires understanding of language structures (how we organize words to express our thinking) and calls upon the need for precise vocabulary to convey ideas. Sounds like a perfect marriage for writing to me!

Tip: Carefully choose the comprehension questions you will ask your students during and after reading. Then use these questions to lead oral discussion and written responses.

  • Choose inference questions because these questions lend themselves very nicely to verbal reasoning. For example, “Was the Japanese government pleased to host the summit?” Or, “How did Jasmine feel about her mother getting a new job?” The answers to both of these questions were not stated in the text, but there was specific content that the reader can use to infer their answers and to justify their thinking.
  • Ask the question and take an answer. Ask students, “What makes you say that?” After an answer is given. Simply asking this follow-up question, What makes you say that?, takes students deeper into their understanding and requires verbal reasoning.
  • Ask students to write their answers. Guide students to begin their answers with the key words in the question.

Use the metacognitive prompts from the previous blog to engage students’ thinking and reasoning about their reading. Create a habit for daily brief writing to metacognitive prompts- plan these into your lessons.

Working Memory

The memory that is always slaving away when we read and when we write is working memory – the memory that holds onto ideas, and continually works with those ideas as we add more information in order to synthesize and learn. Working memory allows us to formulate and hold onto ideas while we transcribe them during writing. We know that using graphic organizers for writing limits the demand on working memory. They help students organize information to set them up for writing.

Tip: Match your graphic organizer to the dominant text structure used in your students’ informational text. Here is a handout that will help you do this.

  • Do a close read with a piece of informational text. As your read, lead students to discover the structure that the author used to present the information.
  • Ask students to find the words and organization features that help define the text structure used.
  • Show students the graphic organizer that reflects the text structure and work with the class to gather main ideas and subordinate ideas or details to complete the organizer.
  • If time, ask students to write a summary paragraph or other outcome using the information that was gathered on the organizer.

Remember: Writing does not teach students how to read, but writing does enhance, strengthen, and provide practice of many interrelated reading and language skills. Have a strong ending to a great school year!