September 5, 2012

"Ideas Lessons"--Getting Started in Writing Workshop

One of my favorite things to do at the beginning of the year is lay the foundation for Writing Workshop in my classroom.  I always spend the first weeks of school doing a bunch of fun "Ideas" lessons--lessons that are designed to spark an idea for writing.  The kids start a bunch of different pieces in their Writing Workshop journals, add a ton of things to their "ideas list," and basically get bitten by the writing bug.  Taking the time to build the writing community is so important--it helps get the kids excited about writing, but equally as importantly, it gives the kids so many ideas that they can never say, "But I don't have anything to write about!" later in the year during Daily 3 or Writing Workshop.

One of our first Writing Workshop lessons was the "Narrative Heart," which I *think* is from one of Ralph Fletcher's books, but I can't remember where I first heard of this one.  I model writing all of the things that are in my heart on chart paper and the kids do the same in their journals.  Then, they can write a story about any of those ideas when they are stuck and don't know what to write about!  My narrative heart:
Some highlights of my heart: my niece Olivia, my old and new schools, memories from going to Michigan every winter with my dad to cut down a Christmas tree, eating dessert, my high school friend Alex (all of my friends, of course, but I picked one for an example!), and of course my childhood teddy bear Fred. :)
4th grade narrative heart :)
We also read the adorable book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, a perfect mentor text for writing about memories using artifacts.  The kids all brought in artifacts, and I brought in my first half marathon medal.  I told them my "memory story," then we all wrote about our artifacts.  Last, the kids shared their writing with partners.  

Another favorite lesson I do every year is using Desert Voices by Byrd Baylor, a book of poems written from the points of views of desert animals.  After reading the book, the kiddos brainstormed animals that they would like to write from the point of view of... 
This lesson usually gets some fun results!
Because I love both Patricia Polacco and my "rotten" older brothers, I always love reading aloud My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother at the beginning of the year.  This year I used it in literacy to introduce character traits and story elements, but then I hit it again in writing workshop.  I read the book and then tell the kids a story about the most rotten thing my older brother ever did--I was about 8, and he was yelling and screaming and generally making my life miserable while in charge one night when my parents were out.  He decided to steal my teddy bear, put him on top of our ceiling fan, and threaten to turn the fan on and chop him to bits unless I stopped crying.  Sibiling love. :)  Anyways, after I share my "rotten sibling story," I challenge the kids to write theirs...
The last "ideas" lesson I want to share was a new one for me this year, an idea I got from the Being a Writer 4th grade curriculum.  I read the beginning of the picture book Gorky Rises aloud to the class.  It's not a favorite book of mine, but the premise is that the kid mixes a ton of different things together and makes a potion that makes him fly.  I only read the first few pages, then brainstormed with the kids what ingredients they could mix in a potion and what the potion would do.  They absolutely LOVED this lesson, and many of them worked on that story all week long!  

 All in all, after two weeks my kiddos are already hooked on Writing Workshop and ask to do it multiple times during the day.  Score!  (Now I just have to teach some writing conventions...god help us all!!!)


  1. What great ideas! I love 'narrative heart' spin!

  2. Awesome ideas!!! Love them and will be using them in my classroom:)

  3. Ditto. Great ideas. I will be using them.

  4. Ooh -- what a great way to start writer's workshop foundations! My second graders are struggling this year and what worked before is not working with this bunch. I think I will try some of your ideas! Thanks!! Keep up the great work in the classroom and on the track!

  5. The heart map is one of the few lessons I do every year. Throughout the year my kids return to it for writing inspiration. I first read about the idea in a Georgia Heard book. :)



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