Select small moments (and other tips from a second-grade writing class)

Once a week, I spend an hour in my daughter’s classroom, assisting her teacher with the writing workshop. Upon finding out from my daughter that I was going back to school for writing, Mrs. M. asked me to help out weekly with the classroom writing period. In addition to an increased appreciation for Mrs. M.’s continuous patience and enthusiasm, I have also gained insight and appreciation of how to teach creative writing to children. As adult writers, we learn about “show, don’t tell,” proper dialogue tagging, interesting openings, etc., and I’ve been surprised to see how this class is learning the same elements of creative writing, just in slightly different forms.

The first month I was in the classroom, the students worked on small moment stories. They learned how details and characters make the story and how to focus on the important events (tacked to the bulletin board, a picture of a pie slice removed from the bigger pastry serves as a visual reminder of what the students want to achieve). They discussed using actions to illustrate emotions. And they incorporated thoughts and dialogue into their stories.

This week, they started a new session. Small moment stories are still preferred, but now the class is focusing on setting writing goals and on writing for the reader. How can they make a story appealing to a reader? As I walked around and helped each student, we talked about capitalization and punctuation, leaving space between words, and using the word wall and spelling lists when making word choices. Mrs. M., who also writes children’s stories and is active in a local writing group, related her own experiences as a writer, how she sets goals before she starts a piece.

Second graders are second graders. They tease their neighbors, staple their writing sheets upside down, and need frequent reminders to at least begin their story. However, I’ve been amazed and impressed by the stories they write weekly, the natural creativity they possess and the joy they experience while relating tales of trick-or-treating or finding frogs in toilets. In fourth grade, they will take a writing assessment as part of the FCAT, the statewide standardized test administered yearly from grades three through ten. Soon, they will essentially learn how to write for the test; for the moment, they enjoy the freedom and joy of creativity, and I hope that they never lose it.

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