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New Beginnings and Strong Starts
Immersion at the Start of Writing Units
I (Lizzie) have been thinking a lot about immersion in writing units. And how important it is. It doesn’t feel good when you don’t know where you’re going, what you’re doing, or how to be successful, yes?
Strong Starts Matter.
How might we create strong starts for all students in writing units? What can immersion look like?
I like to say, “Show them the cake.” I think about the show “Nailed It” where novice-ish bakers work to make complex cakes. Their cakes are always approximations, but you know what they always have? A model of the cake. They see the cake before they try to make it. Sometimes, we’re asking our students to bake a cake they’ve never even seen!
Okay, enough analogy. This means, saying something like, “We’re going to get to make [this kind] of writing for the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at an example of [insert grade level] [insert genre] writing so that we can get a strong start.” After you study one example, you might even study another, so that students see the same qualities of writing across two varied topics/ideas.
During this time, you not only want to read and study “grade level” writing, but also mentor texts and trade books that exist in the world. So in a second grade realistic fiction unit, in addition to looking at a second grade level realistic fiction piece, we can also read stories like Malcolm Mitchell’s My Most Favorite Book In the Whole Wide World.
Discuss Purpose and People
It’s helpful to think with students about why this kind of writing exists in the world. For example: why and where does how-to writing exist? Why do writers write fiction stories? Why try to write an information book? During this time, it is also important and helpful to learn about authors. Authors’ Notes can be super helpful to this work. For example, in My Most Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, from the author’s note, we learn that Malcolm Mitchell wrote the book (a realistic fiction story) to reflect his own experience as a young reader and maybe help other kids like him.
Create a Shared Piece
What else can we do to support a strong start? Let’s turn to a dance analogy. Usually the dance teacher doesn’t show a combination and then immediately say, “try it!” without something in between. The in between is guided practice. The dance teacher guides students through the steps, doing the dance along with them.
Essentially, let’s “do the dance of this writing together” or “let’s make a cake together.”
So, begin a unit by creating a shared writing piece with students. While you create a shared piece, you are both moving through the writing process collectively and trying on the criteria you set forth as you looked at examples.
Seeing examples and making a piece together is great. But when it comes to my chance to get started, what if I don’t have any ideas? During the immersion process it is important to have discussions about generating ideas. Students can get ideas by hearing others’ ideas and trying out strategies. If you expect students to make more than one piece in the genre, it’s important that students collect more than one idea here.
Learn About Language Structures and Vocabulary That Will Support
You may begin to highlight and teach language structures and vocabulary throughout immersion, and come back to these during your explicit teaching once students have started writing. “First you, then you, next you” would be an example of simple phrases that will help students in how to writing. In expository information writing, phrases and sentences frames like “In fact, ….” and “Unlike ___, ___ can” could be studied with older writers.
We hope you’ve found this post helpful. What else do you do to support strong starts to writing units in your classroom?
Until next time-
Lizzie (and Marie and Katrina)