Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Turning Reluctant Writers Into Inspired Writers

Our school district recently adopted a new writing curriculum, Lucy Calkins Units of Study.  While this is the first year of our district implementation, it is my 2nd year because I had purchased the units for 4th grade last year myself after hearing rave reviews from my Twitter PLC folks.

The workshop method has dramatically changed the way I approach writing instruction, and I have seen a tremendous change in my students as writers since starting using the program. 

The most exciting part for me has been seeing dramatic changes in my struggling writers.  You know, the ones who could spend 30 minutes writing and have only  sentence or two on the paper.

There are many reasons why students don't like to write including: learning disabilities, boredom, lack of the necessary sub skills of writing, poor muscle control, and/or lack of interest in the writing prompt.  No matter what the underlying reason, students who struggle as writers generally dislike the practice of writing, but it is the practice that they desperately need to become better writers. 

I have found the conferencing with students aspect of Writer's Workshop to be the best place to encourage all of my writers.  Recently, I have seen a great change in two of my most reluctant writers because of comics.  Yes comics!  No, comics are not included in the Units of Study, but as a teacher, I felt that it was the direction I needed to turn to in order to help these two particular students.

 During the research stage of my conferences I noticed that these two students did not have a lot of writing in their writer's notebooks, but they did have an overabundance of these little doodles.

So, I googled comic strip paper and found these.

I printed them out and made a ton of copies.  I introduced them to the class as a whole and let them know that they would be an option during writing workshop if they chose to use them.  Then, I put them at the writing center and waited.  Sure enough, the two boys that I had in mind gravitated right to them!

At my next writing conference with one of them he was excited to show me his work.  The previous conference included tons of hemming and hawing and excuses about a missing writer's notebook, but this time he raced to my table.

You can already see an amazing change in the detail he has included in his work compared to what he had drawn in his writer's notebook!  It was almost as if he felt validated because of the comic paper!

I let him continue writing like this for a little bit, and then I said to him at a conference. "I have figured out what kind of writer you are!"  I grabbed a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and told him that I thought he was a writer just like Jeff Kinney.  He was the type of writer who used BOTH words and comics to tell a story!  Lucy Calkins DOES advise using mentor texts during instruction.

 Then I pulled out a Big Nate book.  I again told him that he was a writer like Lincoln Peirce.

He got so excited and raced over to his book box and grabbed out this book.  He said, "That's what I was thinking too!"

Here is his latest piece:

I had him share this piece with the class during our sharing time of Reader's Workshop one day.  His smile was ear to ear as the students showered him with compliments:

"I love how he told the story bit by bit."

" I love how he used dialogue."

" I love how he used precise language to tell us how the zombie said it, he said it hungrily."

At recess he came up to me out of nowhere, gave me a big hug and ran off to play!

The best part of his new found love of writing is that has also transferred to his reading!  He was reading below grade level in August and is now reading two grade levels ahead!  He is a voracious reader who has to be told to put his book down now when we change activities!

And the other boy?  A few days after starting to use the comic strips he flashed this note at me during math practice (we use white boards to show our answers).

Although I did what any other teacher would do and asked him to please solve the problem I had just given, I also snapped a picture with my iphone so we could discuss it at his writing conference.

I told him, "If you have Minecraft Fever, then you must write about it!"

And he did!


  1. WOW! What an incredible story. I struggle so much with teaching writing--because we are to use our basal and it is completely lacking in time to write. This post inspires me to figure out how we can write and conference daily. Thank you so much for sharing this success!!

  2. I'm intrigued by this Lucy Calkins Writing Program, too. A few years ago our system purchased the Six Traits program, and I've never warmed up to it. Was it worth the money to buy the program yourself?

  3. Wow!!! What an amazing post! I was really moved by your reluctant writers and how they changed by finding their kind of writing. This post is so inspiring. I hope I can reach my kiddos like you have. I love that the kid has Minecraft fever and is now writing about it. Thanks for writing this post.



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