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”.

Internalizing the Writing Process: The Planning Phase

How can educators ensure that students internalize the writing process? High quality writing instruction provides students with not only compositional skills, but also teaches writers a process that they can use to complete any writing project from the blank page to a published work. Internalizing such a process empowers students to complete any type of assigned writing tasks as well as how to begin their own writing pieces – allowing students to independently write about whatever they might choose and to transform into authors, journalists, poets, and bloggers outside of the classroom.

boy writing
A sixth grade student at the Gardner Pilot Academy reads and takes notes during the planning stage for an essay contrasting a police shooting in Boston to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

I have adopted the mnemonic P.O.W.E.R., and I find it  extremely useful as a memory aide for the writing process. P.O.W.E.R. stands for Plan, Organize, Write, Edit and Revise, and Rewrite. This mnemonic is introduced to the students during the first weeks of school, and it used for all of our process writing work throughout the year.

I usually select a project centered around the theme of identity for our first process writing piece of the year. As I model writing about my own identity for my students, it allows them to get to know the human side of their teacher, and their published pieces serve as a platform for sharing their own identities with their classmates, myself, and the wider school community.

WRITING
Seventh and eighth grade students from the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School plan for script writing at local writing center 826 Boston.

As I guide the class through these initial writing process pieces, I explicitly teach lessons around each step of the writing process. I begin by assigning a quick write focused on the following question: How do people who can write have an advantage over people who cannot write? Student thinking and responses to this question inform a class discussion focused around the essential question “How can writing give you power?”.  This initial discussion tends to focus on practical examples from students’ personal and family experiences, such as being able to write a note to a friend, a job application, a check, or an e-mail to a teacher. However, as the year progresses, this question is revisited in the context of reading, discussing, and writing about current and historical news articles, ancient and historical texts, and class novels.

As we progress through each stage of the writing process, I offer explicit lessons that unpack each stage from Planning to Rewriting. Two years ago, the assigned identity piece was writing a “This I Believe” essay. During the planning phase, students listened to, read, and took notes on “This I Believe” audio and writing examples online. Then, the class and I discussed the characteristics of “This I Believe” pieces.

I explicitly unpacked the planning stage by ensuring that each student understood and was able to complete the following sentence stems:

  •   I am writing in the following genre: ____________________ ____.
  •   I am writing this (genre name) so I can ______________________.
  •   I am writing for an audience consisting of ____________________ .

At the end of the planning stage, I ensure I have received each students’ Planning Statements. They tend to be more or less the same for each student:

I am writing in the following genre: “This I Believe” essay. I am writing this “This I Believe” essay so I can express how a life experience shaped my beliefs. I am writing to an audience consisting of my classroom and school community.

Knowing that students have participated in the planning process ensures that students begin their work with the end product in mind.The sentence stems for planning are posted on a chart paper in a classroom, and we refer to them throughout the year as students move through writing projects across a variety of genres. This practice and repetition allows for students to internalize the writing process, committing the steps to memory, so more attention can be given to the finer points of their words as opposed to the steps they take to get them on paper.

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