Four Simple Steps to Small-Group Guided Writing
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- Standards |
- Resources & Preparation |
- Instructional Plan |
- Related Resources |
This lesson describes small-group, guided writing lessons, which are taught in four steps for students who are in need of extra support. Students learn how to communicate information of interest, stimulated by discussion of Nicola Davies' Bat Loves the Night and several websites. Students learn three sets of strategies for writing: (1) engaging in writing with fluent, sustained attention, (2) writing informative titles, and (3) adding enough information to communicate clearly.
From Theory to Practice
- Teachers should provide explicit instruction targeting students' abilities to produce brief but complete writing products fluently and confidently, resulting in each student's improved drafts over time.
- Writing instruction must provide students with scaffolded opportunities to use oral conversation about a topic as direct support for their own writing and to use a set of specific strategies for independent writing.
- Writing instruction should include explicit instruction during student's own writing. Teachers "step in" to model and prompt and "step back" to encourage students to make decisions and solve problems about their own writing.
- Direct instruction in writing requires teachers to show how writing works across genres, formats, procedural knowledge, word usage, spelling, and punctuation.
- Assessment practices should show teachers which ideas, concepts, principles, and skills need to be taught to which students and for how long.
- Teachers should model and explain cognitive processes for writing to students and provide such curricular resources as small-group instruction.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies (Candlewick Press, 2001)
- Small-group writing table with room for you and a small group of students
- Computers with Internet access
- Writing paper or journal for each student
|1.||Identify a group of two to six students in your class who are in need of additional support. For the sessions described here, choose students who are not writing enthusiastically about topics they are interested in during whole-class writing activities. You might, for example, choose students who write very little text on a daily basis or who write repetitive texts that lack interesting details.
|2.||Collect an initial, independent writing sample for each student.
|3.||Locate and preview a copy of Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies. Take note of the wide range of information about bats that Davies has included within the story and the ways in which the illustrations (by Sarah Fox-Davies) support students' natural inquiry. Notice how different fonts used in the book provide different types of information.
|4.||Review the websites listed in the Web Resources.
|5.||Create your own one- or two-sentence story about bats to use as a model in Session 3.
|6.||Make photocopies for each student of the Keep Writing! (Session 1), Write a Title! (Session 2), and Write Lots of Details! (Session 3) strategy charts. Also make one copy of the Analytic Assessment form for each session.
- Learn how to support their own engaged, sustained, and fluent writing by choosing and reflecting on one narrow but interesting focus and by rereading their own text when necessary for writing fluency
- Create appropriate titles for their writing of information-based text by considering the readers' viewpoints and developing an intent to interest potential readers
- Write brief texts of their own on topics of interest, including enough details for clarity, by choosing and reflecting on a narrow, interesting focus for writing and giving consideration to the full set of information needed for readers' interest and understanding
Instruction and Activities
Guided writing lessons are taught in four steps: (1) brief shared experience and discussion, (2) discussion of strategic behavior for writing, (3) time to write a new text each day with immediate teacher guidance, and (4) sharing. Each of these steps is implemented in each session of this lesson.
These sessions should be taught at a brisk pace. Guided writing lessons are intervention lessons with a tight focus on improving each child's ability to use a small, specific set of cognitive strategies. They do not take the place of whole-class instruction. Your students should have ample opportunities in other contexts to write longer texts over an extended timeframe, discuss mentor texts with you and their peers, and observe your modeling of good writing behavior during whole-class lessons. Be direct and clear in the information you give to students during guided writing lessons and encourage active participation. Focus your instruction on strategic behavior for writing rather than on the accuracy and correctness of the writing product alone.
Guided writing lessons usually occur while other students are writing independently and can be adapted to any topic.
Session 1: Strategies for Sustained Engagement in Writing
|1.||Once your class has settled into an independent activity, gather two to six students who need extra support at a table. Explain to them that first you will discuss interesting information about bats and that they will then each write a story.
|2.||Engage in a rich discussion with your students about bats (10 minutes). Stimulate this discussion by reading aloud and discussing pages 17-19 from Bat Loves the Night. Information books do not need to be read in their entirety to students; instead, they are often best shared through short sections of text. Look at pictures of bats and talk through one or two of the Fast Facts from the National Geographic Kids: Amazing Bats of Bracken Cave website with your group. Be sure that every student has opportunities to talk about this information, enabling them to develop an expanded language base for this specific topic.
|3.||Introduce the Keep Writing! strategy list to students and give them the opportunity to orally rehearse a sentence they might write about bats (5 minutes). Tell students that one of the best ways to write more is to choose a very interesting idea about which to write. Summarize the previous discussion about bats clearly and directly, and ask your students to start thinking about what they will write: "We learned how one bat eats moths, and what kinds of things other bats eat. Now think about which part you want to write about. Mark, tell us what your first sentence will be."
Model the sentences volunteered by students and have the full group rehearse one or two of these sentences aloud.
|4.||Students are now ready to write their own brief but complete stories (10 minutes). Before handing out paper (or journals) and pencils, remind students that if they get stuck they can reread what they have already written to think about what to write next. Students should write their own stories as independently as possible.
|5.||Support individual writing during this time by monitoring students' engagement and success. "Lean in" when someone needs assistance and provide feed forward (not feedback to correct errors) for the writer, such as: "Cindy, your information about what bats eat is very interesting. What can you tell your readers next?" Every student should be actively writing the entire time (e.g., thinking about their ideas, writing ideas down, rereading their writing so far, and consulting with you or a peer).
|6.||After about 10 minutes of sustained, independent writing, ask students to finish the last portion of their writing. Ask each student to read their first (or favorite) sentence to the group and discuss how he or she chose a truly interesting fact about bats about which to write (5 minutes).
|7.||Collect each of these stories, or students' journals, for assessment.
Session 2: Understanding the Function of Titles for Information Text
|1.||Expand your students' linguistic resources for the topic before asking them to write (10 minutes). Read pages 6-8 of Bat Loves the Night aloud, focusing your discussion on how bats look, what body parts they have, or how they fly. Play the bat sounds from the Naturesongs: Other Animal Sounds website. This should be an inspiring, instructional conversation that builds students' confidence and interest in the topic prior to writing. Provide students with practice using the academic, content-rich language about bats that they can then include in their own writing.
|2.||Present the Write a Title! strategy list to students. Lead a brief but active discussion of ways in which students can integrate this strategy into their own writing: "Here's a new list for you to use. Think of a title that will tell what your story is about. How do you think you'll be able to do that?" (5 minutes).
Provide a think-aloud to your students for this strategy, such as: "I'll think about a title for my story. I'm going to write about the way that bats sound because I think that's very interesting. I can describe what they sound like and how bats make those sounds. So my title will be ‘How Bats Sound' because that will tell my readers what I wrote about. Susan, what title are you thinking about for your story?" As soon as everyone has had a chance to say their title aloud and rehearse it with the group, remind students that if they get stuck, they can reread what they have already written to help themselves think of a title and keep writing.
|3.||Students in your group should now write their own stories as independently as possible (10 minutes). These stories will be new, rather than extensions of those constructed in the last session. Help students continue to write by guiding them with the following:
|4.||Ask students to share elements of their new stories with the group (5 minutes). You might, for example, ask them to read their title and first sentence to the group. Then ask students, "Did you hear Sean's title? ‘Bats Have Wings.' That's very interesting. It makes me want to know what their wings look like! What did you tell readers in your story, Sean?"
|5.||Collect each of these stories, or students' journals, for assessment.
Session 3: Adding Useful and Important Details about Your Topic
|1.||View and discuss the Incredible Bats website and watch some videos and interact with the content and resources. Read aloud and discuss pages 12-14 from Bat Loves the Night. Remember that you are working to expand each student's linguistic resources, supporting his or her ability to write about bats with confidence and interest (10 minutes). Summarize carefully, such as: "We have a lot of great information about bats! We know how echolocation works, and we even heard what it can sound like! Now it's time to write even more about what we know."
|2.||Remind students that they already know how to choose an interesting idea so that they can keep writing, and how to create a title that tells readers the content of the story. Ask one student to volunteer a title. For example, "Echolocation is Cool!" Talk together about the kinds of details that will help readers understand the title well, such as: "What do you need to tell your readers about echolocation so they'll know how cool it is?" Present the Write Lots of Details! strategy list to students and discuss how they can do this in their own stories (5 minutes).
|3.||Observe students as they write independently (10 minutes). Continue to provide assistance to each student as soon as he or she begins to struggle: "Mark, you have a good start with your title. What do you need to tell your readers about echolocation first?" Provide enough assistance around the table so that each student is writing successfully, building confidence and understanding.
|4.||Ask students to share their new stories with the group (5 minutes). Ask each student to silently read his or her own story from beginning to end and choose one sentence that he or she thinks has good information in it. (You may want to demonstrate this process with a think-aloud from a model story that you have written.) As each student reads just that one sentence to the group, discuss the details that have been included, such as: "Listen again to Jose's sentence: ‘Bats' wings are delicate and you can see through them.' What details did Jose write about in this sentence? What else do you think he could tell his readers about bats' wings?"
|5.||Collect each of these stories, or students' journals, for assessment.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Observe one student in particular each day during writing. Either during the lesson or soon after, write brief notes describing how that student went about his or her writing that day. You may want to observe how engaged and enthusiastic this student appeared to be during writing, for example, or note that he or she often got “stuck” during writing and needed lots of teacher support to continue. These observations should help you to modify your instruction and provide more support for a student’s area of needed improvement. For a student who frequently gets stuck, for example, useful prompts might be:
"Could your next sentence start with "Bats wings are…?" "Think about everything you know about bats.” "What books or information about bats could you look at to help yourself get ideas?”
- Complete the Analytic Assessment form (Fearn & Farnan, 2001) for each student and for each session. (You may find it useful to analyze one set of writing samples produced before these sessions as well.) Determine a short list of those skills and strategies that have been taught recently and examine students’ texts for those specific factors. Assess each student’s writing fluency, active engagement, use of an appropriate title, and inclusion of related details. This assessment should affect your decisions regarding which strategies to teach and the type of assistance to offer during writing, from one session to the next. Based on this analysis you may decide, for example, to teach more sessions on strategies for engaged, sustained writing rather than moving on to Sessions 2 and 3 right away. Plan your teaching so that each student’s drafts improve in specific, targeted ways from one session to the next.