Internalizing the Writing Process: Organizing and Writing

Once students have completed the planning stage of the writing process, it is important for teachers to conduct an informal assessment to ensure that their young writers are well-planned and bursting with ideas.

Writers who have effectively completed planning should be able to respond to the following questions:

  •      Why are you going to write this piece?
  •      What genre will your piece be?
  •      Who is your audience?
  •      What do you know about your topic?
  •      What are the most important ideas that you will share in your writing?

An oral assessment in which peers ask and answer questions while the teacher circulates can serve as a great checkpoint before beginning to facilitate organizing. My students have also enjoyed recording their brief interviews with one another via the super-simple online recording tool vocaroo and submitting them via e-mail.  If students do not pass this checkpoint, they require more support and the planning stage should be revisited. After all, how can ideas be organized when there are none?

In order to internalize ways to organize writing, students need to know how to create their own outlines and graphic organizers. However, meeting this goal takes effective teacher modeling as well as practice and repetition. Teacher-created graphic organizers can serve as initial models, but these should be  phased out during the year as students draw them and memorize them. Although it doesn’t make sense for students to memorize a unique organizer for every genre encountered, students should develop the following general repertoire:

  •      a narrative or fiction summary consisting of characters, setting, and major beginning, middle, and end plot points
  •      a non-fiction summary with main idea and at least 3 supporting details
  •      a process writing essay
  •      an enumerative essay
  •      a comparison essay
  •      a contrast essay
  •      a compare and contrast essay
  •      a brief or 5-paragraph essay

A wonderful source for expository graphic organizers is the book From Talking to Writing: Strategies for Scaffolding Expository Expression by Terrill M. Jennings and Charles W. Haynes. This Landmark School publication is an incredible resource on explicit teaching of writing that I use nearly daily in my practice.

Compare and Contrast

At the beginning of the year, I often spend a class period or two using transparencies or chart paper to model using an organizer. For example, when my intermediate ESL class studied World Mythology, students read various myths of Heracles. The students then had to select three episodes from the life of Heracles to write as diary entries. In order to do this, the students needed to create a narrative summary organizer with a detailed list of the important plot points. I used the story of infant Heracles killing the snakes who invaded his nursery to model the organization task on a transparency, showing the students how I continually returned to the text to identify the characters, setting, and plot points. Because the students had read the story prior to this modeling, they were also able to engage in the conversation and orally assist with the completion of the model organizer.

After this demonstration, students had a solid model of how to complete their own organizers for their diary entries. As another checkpoint, I highly recommend collecting and assessing organizers, to ensure that the students now have substance acquired from the planning phase and the structure acquired from the organization phase to finally move on to writing.

Honestly, the writing phase of the writing process is such a joyful moment for me as the facilitator. Before the pleasure of our first “writing” session of the year, I review my norms and expectations with the class.

On our writing days, students must:

  •      come prepared with their planning and organizing documents
  •     have sharpened pencils and working pens
  •      enter the room quietly
  •      write silently for the entire time

Of course, this does not happen perfectly the first time. The first time that we embark upon this journey, I time the class in order to gauge their writing stamina. I also make a rule that students may not get up from their seats for any reason for the first fifteen minutes.

The secret is that, usually, after fifteen minutes have passed, the students have become absorbed in their work, and I get to sit back and watch the fruits of my labor – young writers putting words on paper for an extended period of time. To encourage the children, when fifteen minutes have passed, I walk around quietly and put a small candy next to each child, but I am careful not to interrupt their writing.

When students know why they are writing and have ideas to write about, they are more successful in the writing stage. Students are able to fill a page or two (or even more) with their ideas.

This article is the second in a three part series on the topic of “Internalizing the Writing Process”.

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