Saturday, December 5, 2015

Interactive Writing

How can we get our students to write with confidence especially when they are just learning about letters and words? I would urge you to find ways throughout your day to do interactive writing. Every day for just fifteen minutes can make a huge difference.

From my experience, in teaching interactive writing every day has a significant impact on students independent writing.

Interactive writing is a cooperative teaching time when the teacher and students “share the pen” together and compose a text. The pen (marker) gets passed back and forth between the child and the teacher. The message created focuses on the mechanics of writing as well as writing for meaning.

Interactive writing is a heavily scaffolded lesson in which the child is learning about the writing process. The class begins by talking about the purpose of the writing and who the audience will.  They should also have an active voice in the decision making. The class works together writing the message making sure it looks right, sounds right, and make sense. There are opportunities to fix any mistakes and talk about the reasons why. Students reread the message every time a new word is added. You will find an abundance of teachable moments.

Skills reinforced during the lesson

  • alphabet knowledge
  • phonics and phonemic awareness
  • the concept of a word
  • spaces between words
  • spelling learned words
  • reinforce word wall words
  • capitalization
  • punctuation
  • the directionality of print
  • letter formation
  • tracking print

the craft of writing

  • word choice
  • voice
  • sentence structure

What do I need to get started?

Chart Paper
a mini whiteboard
a large alphabet chart
a classroom name chart
small white boards for students
wipe off markers
alphabet charts for each student


At the start of the lesson the teacher and student need to decide what they plan to write. Students should be given a few minutes to share their ideas aloud with the group. During this session, the teacher can facilitate the conversation by asking key questions. The teacher ultimately makes the decision on what the class will write based on the needs of the students.

Things to think about:

Who is the audience?
How will we organize our writing?
Are we writing a letter or a list?
What are the different ways we can write about fall?

There will be times when you may decide what the class will write, and you may not have a lengthy discussion. Anticipate that the writing will take a few days to complete.

Tip: When you first start to use interactive writing, start off slow. In kindergarten, you may begin by labeling important places in the classroom, for example, you may label the word bathroom on the bathroom door. Once you build group stamina, the message can become longer such as;  Please Knock on the door.

If I am teaching first grade and my class is going to write a retell of a read aloud. We may as a group decided what happened at the beginning of the story. The teacher and students will share the pen over a few days and then talk again about what they plan to write next. Every time you add words to the chart you want to reread. In kindergarten, have a student be in charge of pointing.

SHARING THE PEN (Construct the Text)

You want to think about who you will call on, to share the pen. Let’s say I have a child who is just learning his letters, If I am writing a word that starts with his name he would be a great person to call on. Maybe a student just learned a new sight word, and we are going to use that word in our message, I would call on that student. If a child is spelling a word like cake, he may know the first two sounds, and I would write the last two. We try to get students in their zone of proximal development by giving tasks that are not too easy but not too difficult. If a child comes up to the easel and makes a mistake we need to fix it with white masking tape. I sometimes think kids make mistakes on purpose because they love to use boo boo tape! During the construction of the message, you are always rereading and revising the text.

TIP: When the child comes up to the rug you should be looking at the kids on the carpet and keep them engaged. For example if a child is writing a sight word at the easel, have the students on the rug whisper the spelling to their neighbor.  It’s okay if the child who is writing makes a mistake because the group will fix that.

Some of the ways to keep the kids on the carpet engaged:

whisper to a partner
with your finger, write the word on you hand
draw on your neighbor's back
draw on the carpet
use the class name chart
use the alphabet/ find the letter on your ABC chart
say the word and whisper them to a partner
let’s all chant the word together

Tip: The teacher can have a small white board modeling some of the letter/word work to the kids on the carpet.

After the writing is complete, have fun with the message. Kids love to play I SPY focusing on finding letters and words.

Some examples are:

Find the letter_______
Find a word that begins with a capital letter.
Which words have one syllable (two, three, four, etc.)
What’s a new word you learned to write?
Which word has a tricky pattern?

Of course, the children’s final text should have a special place in the classroom for the students to READ! The children are immediately successful reading it because you have spent days adding to the text and rereading it. Working on a project for many days, demonstrates to students what they should be doing with their independent work.

Teachers sometimes struggle with what to write about during interactive writing time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Events that are happening in the classroom
  • Retell of the read aloud
  • an innovation of a favorite book
  • functional signs for the school building/ classroom
  • class news
  • class anchor charts

Lastly, we want to link what we did during interactive writing to the work that students are doing during independent writing time. For example, if the lesson focused on spaces between words we could say something like,
“During interactive writing, we learned that spaces between words help the reader to read our words. When you are working today on your stories, remember to help the reader by putting spaces between your words.”
Happy writing!


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