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Read About Best Practices in K-2 Reading and Writing Connections

Introduction/Overview

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:

  • Children's Literature Response—writing after a read-aloud, shared-reading experience, small-group reading, or an independent reading
  • Genre-Focused Instruction—writing as part of a particular genre study, such as poetry, nonfiction, or fiction
  • Content Response—writing in various curriculum content areas, such as science, social studies, and math

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.


Teaching with Children’s Literature

When?

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:

  • start the day
  • ease into Writers Workshop
  • teach specific language arts skills
  • illustrate points about behavioral or social issues in the classroom
  • calm the class after lunch or recess
  • demonstrate concepts from math, science, or social studies lessons
  • communicate hard-to-explain ideas in an effective manner
  • celebrate a birthday or holiday

Why?

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:

  • Aunt Isabel Tells A Good One by Kate Duke shows how to illustrate dialogue.
  • Everybody Needs A Rock by Byrd Baylor provides a model for writing a how-to in an almost poetic fashion.
  • Cook-A-Doodle-Doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel demonstrates how enticing a good lead can be and how to use effective sidebars.

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:

  • The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
  • Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • Save the Earth compiled by Linda Longo Hirsch
  • It Zwibble and the Hunt for the Rain Forest Treasure by Lisa V. Werenko
  • Our Planet: Earth by Lisa Feder-Feitel
  • The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer
  • The Berenstain Bears Don't Pollute (Anymore) by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • Rain Forest by Helen Cowcher
  • Heron Street by Ann Turner
  • Welcome to the Green House by Jane Yolen
  • 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by The Earthworks Group

How?

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:

  • Leveled texts
  • Periodicals
  • Reference books, such as picture dictionaries and children's encyclopedias
  • Books by particular authors
  • Thematic texts
  • Student-authored texts
  • General texts, including favorite pieces of children's literature that your classroom shouldn't be without

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.


Stretching Writing Skills Through Genre Study

Poetry

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.

Nonfiction

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:

  • Cause and effect
  • Problem and solution
  • Comparison and contrast
  • Description
  • Sequence

Before you ask students to compose their own nonfiction books, do the following:

  • Allow them to write several personal narrative pieces to develop a sense of voice and style. This will allow them to communicate their interests, demonstrate their strengths or weaknesses, and build confidence and fluency.
  • Make sure that they have heard and seen nonfiction big books, read or browsed through a wide variety of nonfiction books in the classroom and school library, and participated in several mini-lessons (in Readers' Workshop or Writers' Workshop) dealing with nonfiction text features and structures.
  • Give them ownership of their topics and audiences. Even if you assign an overall theme—such as animals of the rainforest—allow students to select their specific subjects and have some input about how they share their finished pieces. Granting these two privileges greatly improves students' degree of concern for quality writing.

Fiction

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:

  • Wanda's Roses by Pat Brisson could be used to target story leads, sequence of events, dialogue, things a plant needs to grow, and how people in a community help one another.
  • Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes could be analyzed with a cause-and-effect graphic organizer.
  • After hearing Miss Tizzy by Libba Moore, students could each draw a large purple hat and write about someone who acts like Miss Tizzy. Students feel safe sharing themselves through individual, varied responses. The results inform the teacher of the students' background experiences and writing abilities.

Using Content Texts as Springboards for Writing

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:

  • Stick To The Point Before you read an informational text, give each student four or five self-stick notes. As you read, pause on certain pages and ask students to draw or write what they believe is the main idea, and then pass their notes forward. Affix their notes on the corresponding pages. After reading, revisit the noted pages and discuss the students’ responses. Once students learn Stick To The Point, they can use the process in pairs or groups to make sure that their readers clearly understand their intended main points.
  • Share and Compare Divide the class into groups of four. Read the title of the text and have students draw or write a brief prediction about the book, share it with their group members, and comment on each other’s predictions. Next, read the book aloud. After reading, have students quickly draw or write what they remember and then “share and compare” within their groups. Through this activity, students listen, discuss, think, understand, and remember at a deeper level than if they simply hear you read the text.

    from Acts of Teaching, Carroll and Wilson

  • Tri-Fold Read aloud a story, poem, section of a content-area text, or chapter from a book. Give each student a sheet of paper folded into equal thirds. In the center section of the paper, have students draw or write about the part most memorable. Next, have them draw or write what came before that part in the first section of the paper and what came after it in the last section. Finally, pair students or put them in small groups and ask them to share their before, during, and after information, discussing similarities and differences in their responses.

    from Acts of Teaching, Carroll and Wilson

  • Draft Books To help students organize their book-length ideas into a logical sequence, have them complete draft books. Staple six or eight pieces of paper together and model in a mini-lesson how to collect and sort information that belongs together on a page. For example, on the first page of a book about school rules, you might list reasons that rules are needed at school. The next three pages of the book might contain three of the most important school rules and examples of how to follow them. On the last page you could describe a school in which everyone follows the rules. As you model, write only the first sentence on each page. After the divisions have been made, go back and fill the pages with the connected ideas you have decided to include in the book.

    from Nonfiction Craft Lessons, Portalupi and Fletcher

  • Embellished Time Lines Using a long sheet of butcher paper or cash register tape, model the process of creating a time line. For example, detail the main activities that have occurred so far in the school year. Next, extend the activity by choosing three key events and expanding on them in writing. After, affix the writing to the time line. Invite students to create their own embellished time lines and post them in the room. This strategy can be used to assess completed units in science or social studies or as a pre-writing strategy to help students organize and synthesize information.
  • Genre Swapping After you have read and discussed many types of poems, model how to rewrite a narrative draft as a poem. The new piece should retain as much of the original content as possible but have the attributes of a poem. As you model, think aloud about the decisions you make as a writer, and allow students to see you struggle with how to rephrase the piece. Finally, compare the two forms and solicit student input about which one most effectively communicates your ideas, and then invite students to try “swapping” on their own.