In this module, we'll explore the links between reading and writing in a workshop-centered classroom. Because reading plays a pivotal role in students' progress as writers, we'll look at ways to take advantage of these reciprocal connections in order to enhance learning in both areas of literacy.
Students' oral and written communications are products of their interactions with people, their environments, and, of course, their life experiences. Teachers begin to “even the playing field” by exposing all students to a wide variety of children's literature from the first day of kindergarten. Hearing, reading, and responding to children's literature expands students' knowledge, vocabulary, and sense of story structure, all of which are transferred to their speech and writing.
In this module, we'll discuss the following three main types of reading and writing connections:
You will find that these three areas overlap. For example, students might respond to a social studies unit by writing poems, or they might compare and contrast a fictional picture book and a Ranger Rick article related to a current science topic. However, the focus of this module is on eliciting responses to literature in ways that extend the meaning of texts, as well as increase students' learning. This demands that the teacher select appropriate texts, plan how and when to use them within the curriculum, and share thoughts, opinions, and questions. In turn, students must attend to the texts, connect text-generated ideas to their own experiences, and use the new insights as they respond in writing.
Once you realize the positive effects of a literature-based classroom, you must decide not only when to read, but also when not to read. Literature read to, with, or by students can be used to:
Good books should be shared with students several times each day. While countless ways exist to weave books into lessons, teachers don't always need a content connection. One of the most powerful reasons to share a book is because it is personally meaningful to you. Books you love will become books your students love. Conversely, when students love books, their writing blossoms.
Of course, children's literature can also be the perfect lead-in for mini-lessons or other skill instruction during a writing workshop. For example, consider the following titles and how they can be used to launch instruction:
Children’s literature also enhances thematic unit lessons. Utilize children’s books to demonstrate the various styles writers use to convey their messages and the many genre responses and perspectives a topic can elicit. For example, a lesson on the environment could include the following titles:
Primary students generally have brief attention spans. If your students have been sitting at their desks for a long period of time, move them to the whole-group area to share the next book. If they've been seated in that area for 15–20 minutes, give them time to stretch before rejoining you or moving to their seats. As you become familiar with your students' individual needs, plan each reading for a time and place most conducive to stimulate rapt attention.
As you read a book to students, model the importance of being a reflective reader. Pause at strategic places throughout the text to think aloud, comment on the writer's style, or discuss an idea. Explain that readers who predict, question, and make connections enjoy books more and learn more from them. However, with very short books, avoid explicitly teaching a skill during the initial reading. Target specific skills in subsequent readings, after students have heard or read a book once and have had the opportunity to think about it.
Consider how you hold a book as you read it. During some read-alouds, it is imperative to show the illustrations in a book as you read the text aloud. During others, it is effective to withhold illustrations and allow students to form images in their mind before seeing the illustrator's interpretations. This practice strengthens each student's ability to imagine the author's intent. Students will enjoy comparing what they imagined to the actual illustrations.
Inevitably, you will face a management challenge as you look for ways to organize your classroom texts and make them accessible to students. Many teachers separate books into the following categories:
Books may be arranged in labeled crates, magazine file boxes, detergent boxes covered with contact paper, discarded cardboard book holders from book fairs, or on easy-view bookshelves. Determine also how you want students to check out and return materials from your classroom library and whether they will be allowed to take them home. Be sure to model and teach these procedures during the first few days of the school year.
Can you relate to the following teacher-described experience?
My memory of poetry in school is that our teacher passed out a poem written in language that was difficult to read and understand. She expected us to read it in class and share our thoughts about it. As people began attempting to analyze or discuss the poem, they were promptly corrected by the teacher and taught the ‘right’ interpretation. We quickly learned that most of our ideas were unacceptable and that if we waited long enough, the teacher would explain the answer she was looking for and the lesson would be over with.
If this is similar to your own experience, you likely either avoid using poetry as a writing tool in your classroom or have used it begrudgingly, only because you know students need the exposure. But students easily sense when the teacher's interest in a text is insincere. So, to counteract this problem, gather various poetry books from your school or public library and choose an author or a style that you enjoy. You'll find that current formats range from structured to free, tones vary from hilarious to somber, and subjects include everything from the hiccups to war.
Students are now allowed to think about poetry in their own ways. They aren't asked for one “correct” response. By writing about reading—poetry or otherwise—students transform their thoughts so that they can be used to scaffold and showcase learning.
As you know, teachers of reading must read, and teachers of writing must write. As you collect poems to use in your classroom, respond to some of them in writing. Write your own poems that mirror certain poets' styles, and share your writing with your students. After witnessing your learning process, students will feel safer proceeding on their own. Exposing students to a wide array of poems and encouraging them to emulate and respond to what they've heard or read invites them to write in styles that they may not have previously considered using.
Although students in the primary grades have always had a great natural curiosity about the world, nonfiction topics were not always addressed. Instead, K–2 students received a steady diet of fiction, spending minimal time learning with nonfiction texts. Fortunately, this trend has changed, and students now have the opportunity to interact with a variety of nonfiction genres.
Consider the nonfiction text features—the ways in which nonfiction writing is organized for specific purposes—in a daily newspaper. There is the table of contents, headings, subtitles, fonts and colors used for emphasis, diagrams, maps, tables, charts, graphs, sidebars, photographs, and captions. You automatically attend to these features and glean maximum explicit and inferred meaning from them. You take the ability to process this information for granted, but primary students must be taught to access these features in order to read with comprehension and write with clarity.
Primary students taught to recognize the following nonfiction text features through explicit teacher modeling and think-alouds will be better able to choose the type most appropriate for their own writing goals:
Before you ask students to compose their own nonfiction books, do the following:
Favorite picture books can be used for instructional purposes in writing, either as models or to serve as springboards for writing responses. Teachers can point out the unique features of fictional literature during a writing mini-lesson or a content-area lesson. Of course, different books lend themselves to different skills. Consider the following books and how they might be utilized:
Do you remember the first “reports” you were asked to write in elementary school? Typically, the teacher assigned topics and told you how long each report needed to be, and you rephrased information from an encyclopedia. Fortunately, best-practice instruction now offers other, more effective ways to help students use writing as a mode of learning in all subject areas. Consider the following strategies:
from Acts of Teaching, Carroll and Wilson
from Acts of Teaching, Carroll and Wilson
from Nonfiction Craft Lessons, Portalupi and Fletcher