“Writing can contribute to the building of almost every kind of inner control of literacy learning that is needed by the successful reader.” – Marie Clay
Whoa. Read it again (I did). All early childhood educators know the link between reading and writing is seamless and the sprouts in our rooms seem to show us the marriage between the two skills everyday. Chapter Eighteen of Literacy Beginnings, The Reading-Writing Connection describes the way “the ‘slowed down’ process of writing allows young children to closely examines aspects of print as they write.” (page 176)
The entire chapter breaks down into great detail twelve steps teachers can use to help support young writers bridge the gap between both areas of literacy. Instead of summarizing each step in detail, I’m choosing to list the steps and how I incorporate them into my classroom. Bear with me, there are twelve!
1. You use language to tell your message. Storytelling (without books) is truly a lost art. Many times, as I think I’m ‘rambling’ on about something, I stop and realize the class appears captivated. I’m actually telling a story about my dog, family, or friends. We model these ‘small moments’ each day before Writing Workshop. (We use the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for writing)
2. You can hear the individual words in a sentence. Our morning message isn’t written on a board. Instead we use a pocket chat with each word written on an individual sentence strip cut to size. Children visually see each word separate from another and eventually, they construct each sentence using the word cards.
3. You use white space to show readers each word in your sentence. The authors talk about using a popsicle stick or some other concrete object to help writers with the space between words. In my kindergarten class, we use a finger. I know, it’s hard for many children to hold a finger down and also write the next word. We model placing a finger to show you the space and then removing your finger, but remembering the space it occupied. It takes a lot of modeling, but it works.
4. You place letters and words on a page in a particular order that shows the kind of writing it is.
We do lots of different kinds of writing together as a class. Lists, letters, notes, charts, even maps all make up our daily writing activities and help demonstrate the different purposes for writing.
5. You can say words slowly to hear each sound. The ability to stretch words out effectively and with confidence is directly related to children’s knowledge of letter sounds. I’ve written about the amazing Megan Milani’s The Three Habits of Highly Effective Reading Teachers before. This is the method we use to master letter sounds quickly and all I can say is it works.
6. You can listen for the order of the sounds in each word. As our school year progresses we go from seeing only beginning sounds on the paper to ending and eventually middle sounds from many writers. Each morning in our circle we quickly go around practicing hearing and identifying beginning, middle or ending (but not all) sounds. Short bursts of repeated practice provide greater skills in writing.
7. You think about the letter or letters that represent each sound. See number 5. Megan’s methods quickly and effectively help children learn the sounds and letter symbols (not necessarily letter names) to become successful readers and writers.
8. You think about what the letter that represents each sound looks like. Again see number 5. We also use shaving cream to practice letter formation because it smells nice, is messy, and FUN.
9. You use what you know about how the letters look to make their forms on paper. Take a guess. See number 5! Using this book as eliminated many of the ‘letter of the week’ activities I used to do. We still talk about letter names and practice handwriting, but by using the daily ‘Sound Chant’ with a large blown up poster of the alphabet (more information is in the book), my students learn the letter sounds and how to write them quicker than I ever imagined possible.
10. You can write some words you know quickly. In addition to letter sounds, The Three Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers has a method for teaching sight words. There are multiple lists and you can decide how many words and lists to use with your class. For my kindergarten group, we ended up completing the first two lists, which totaled eighty words. Amazing.
11. You use what you know about words to write new words. We are constantly finding words within other words. Kids love this and we call it being a ‘Word Detective’, which just sounds more fun. When you can read a word inside another word (for example ‘man’ or ‘an’ in ‘many’) you empower young children to take off with their literacy skills.
12. You have a variety of ways to construct words. Rhyming is a fun way to play with words. Each week we learn and sing and new nursery rhyme, often playing with the words and constructing new rhymes. It’s fun and helps expand their understanding of how words and sounds work.
Clearly, these skills are developed in the home and classroom over time, so be patient! I fear I’ve advertised Megan Milani’s book more than the one at hand! Trust me, it’s a wonderful read for any elementary teacher and the more tools in our toolboxes (or books on our bookshelves) the better we are at designing and delivering high quality, engaging instruction.
When it all comes together and you’re getting ready to say goodbye and you get this:
You know it’s working.
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