Sunday, February 5, 2017

Scaffolding expository writing for struggling writers

Do you have kids who are trying to write well but struggle with keeping their writing focused and
organized? They start out writing about their favorite sport, baseball, and end up writing about how their hamster got stuck under the sink? Or their sentences are out of order, creating a disorganized mess?

I've worked with these students every year of my career - I think all of us have! I'd like to share with you the approach that's working for my kids.

For these students, I tried a differentiated approach to writing expository pieces. It's highly structured (you might say formulaic) approach. To be clear: I don't like to teach students a formula for writing! It's not real; they can do so much better with consistent instruction.

But to support those students who were significantly behind and struggled with simple sentence structure, organization, and coherence of their writing, I wanted to provide them with a very guided structure so their writing would make sense.

Because that's really what it is - when writing doesn't make sense to the reader, it's frustrating to the writer and they really don't know how to revise it. It's better to start with a scaffold before your writers get so frustrated. It's meeting their instructional needs through differentiation! (I wouldn't recommend doing this with all your kids! That's limiting your stronger writers.)

Setting a purpose for writing

First, we read the prompt. I have kids flip the prompt to write a topic statement that their whole piece will be about. We leave a blank so they can generate ideas to write about and fill it in later. I start with the topic statement so we stay focused! Example: My favorite season is _______________.

Generating ideas

Then, kids write a quicklist of all the ideas they can think of to write about. It's important to stretch their thinking - if they only think of one possible idea, they're stuck writing about that. Also, we're not doing much to grow their writing abilities if they write one idea and we accept it. We have to push for fluency of ideas! My quicklist included the four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall/autumn.

After that, we choose the one they'd like to write about (one they have the most to say about) and put it in the blank. That's the completed topic statement. My favorite season is spring! (I say that now, because I'm done with winter and ready for spring. Two months into spring, I'll be thinking, "When will it be summer already?!" And thirty seconds into summer, I'll be ready for fall. In the fall, I'll say, "Winter is my FAVORITE season!" I'm always excited for the start of the next season!

Kids put their topic in the middle of a donut map. Around the edges, they brainstorm any details they can think of related to that topic! Then, they use colored pencils (or in a testing situation, we use symbols) to bundle the ideas into like groups. For example, in my brainstorming donut, I came up with "gardening," "rain," "sun," "shorts," etc. Then, I bundled them into two main reasons: "I can garden in the sun," and "I can wear my favorite outfits." Brilliant, I know. It's not my most riveting piece, ok?

Students choose their strongest two reasons to move on to the planning stage.

Getting organized

After we have 2 main reasons (I keep it focused on a couple. I'd rather kids develop 2 reasons well rather than stringing along 5 ideas they don't have the time or energy to develop), we start our expository organizer. They build the 4-square organizer, including the sentence starters for each piece to help them stay focused and organized. This is what it looks like:

We fill in the 2 main reasons we came up with in the "Reasons" column. Then we go back to the introduction.

The introduction is a question. It can start with question words such as, "Do you-," "Can you think of-," or "Is there-." Then we plug the topic statement into the line under the question line. After they master this simple introduction, you can jazz it up by reading about the ideas here.

After that, students add in the details: why the reason is important to them, and an example for each reason.

At the end, students fill in the blank conclusion line by flipping the topic statement: In conclusion, spring is my favorite season.

Here's another sample where I wrote about my favorite place:



And this is how a student applied it to her own prewriting & planning:






















After we plan, we turn our plan into a four-paragraph draft. It's a start to a basic piece for students who are struggling with writing simple expository pieces. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

To guide students to deeper revision of their writing, check out my Expository Revision Guides on TPT, or watch this handy dandy video to learn about how to support kids in revising their writing!


https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Expository-Writing-Revision-Guides-2374129

 
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1 comment:

  1. Great tips! Students often need lots of practice with planning for their writing!

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