Assisting Young Writers to Increase the VOLUME of their Writing

A priority for any writing program should be to progressively build the stamina of young writers, enabling them to sustain their writing efforts for extended periods. The aim is for the writer to reach a stage where the ideas flow freely and the blank page surrenders easily to a flow of words. 

The more students write, the more likely they are to improve as writers. The answer lies in the act of writing. Daily writing for sustained periods of time will contribute to this essential development. It will help the young writer to develop the ability to remain focused on the task, and also build the kind of stamina necessary to keep returning to the task each day. -And return with the determination to produce powerful words for others to read.

Frequently young writers get hung up on perfectionism. They censor and edit in their heads. Consequently, the words have trouble making it onto the page. They allow the flow of their writing to be halted for the sake of a single word. A solitary word that may be unfamiliar to the writer, hijacks the natural flow of the writing. Hundreds of words may in fact, be held up for the sake of a single word. It is important to discuss this kind of scenario with young writers. They need options to overcome this writing issue.

The inexperienced writer can be assisted to deal with this problem if we ask:

‘What can you do to allow all those exciting words in your head to reach the page instead of being held up by a single word?’
‘What might you do if this situation arises in your writing?’
‘What strategies might you use to deal with that unfamiliar word so that you can move on with your writing?’ (circling, underlining, leaving a space)

The student writer must be helped to understand that’s okay to return to a word that is concerning them at a later stage in the process. They should give it their best and then move forward with the task of trapping their words on the page.

When young writers are choosing their own topics and genres, they tend to write more. The ownership of the task increases engagement and commitment to the task. They have been released from dependency on the teacher for ideas/topics. They are more able to envision possibilities. Making decisions independently about the writing means less time is lost. More time opens up for the writer to apply to the important task at hand.

Here are some other ideas for pumping up the volume of writing in your classroom:

Speed Writing
You could ask students to keep a track on their daily word count. Some teachers also use speed writing as a way of encouraging young writers to become more aware of their individual writing volume. ‘How much can you write in 5 minutes about your chosen topic? At the end of five minutes conduct a word count. Provide speed writing opportunities across the week to allow students to track the writing volume of their work.

Starting The Next Big Idea
We must teach young writers -every stop is a place to start! They need to see how writers finish one piece of writing and then move onto a new one without too much hesitation. After they have written, reread, and revised- it may be time to move to the next piece of writing.  It’s when a writer has built up a body of work, they are able to select a piece identified as worthy of publication. It’s usually a piece they can imagine working on for an extended period.

Going The Distance
I sometimes play music during the independent writing phase of the lesson and encourage students to continue writing while the music is playing. I choose music that is instrumental and unobtrusive, so as not to distract the writer. Over time I introduce musical offerings of increasing length. This serves to build stamina. Students are often amazed at how much they have written under the influence of the music. If I don’t play it, they often request it. As one perceptive young writer proudly announced after one such sustained period of writing, ‘The more I wrote, the more I remembered.”

Delay the Illustrations
I would never discourage drawing and illustrating. However, it is important to include it at the most appropriate time. Rather than right in the midst of a writer’s notebook entry, or during the revision stage in their writing folders, such tasks fit more comfortably in the publishing phase. Drawing also fits comfortably in the pre-writing stage as a means of stimulating thinking and recalling elements to include in the writing to follow. As a rule, the writer should be encouraged to delay the detailed work of illustrating until closer to publishing.

Like Sand Through The Hourglass…
Reminding students periodically how much writing time is left each day reinforces the notion that writing time is finite. Such reminders assist the writer to remain focused. It is not unreasonable to set timelines for producing writing, or set publishing dates. The young writer begins to develop an awareness of the need to keep their writing moving forward. It is prudent to nudge the learner in the right direction.

Check In Groups
Set up check in groups where writers come together periodically to discuss the progress of their writing. This assists each writer to maintain a greater focus on the development of their work. Such monitoring, combined with the power of the group, helps each writer to push forward.

Reading-Writing Links
Stamina for reading is something teachers frequently discuss with students. It is equally important to link stamina to the writing they do. It is an easy connection for students to make. Stamina for writing is something that must be an essential component of the writing programs taking place in our schools.

Handwriting
Effective pencil/pen grip is a factor in writing fluency. So to is handwriting. Efficient letter formation, along with knowing and using correct entry and exit points for letters of the alphabet, present as major factors in the flow of words across a page. If a student has issues with the mechanics of handwriting, it will inhibit the flow of writing, without doubt. 

Anchor Charts
Support young writers to use the anchor charts around the room as planning tools.
n      Promote the idea- if it’s on the wall, it’s important
n      Encourage students to make the classroom walls part of their minds
n      Use anchor charts as teaching references. Revisit them frequently. Don’t allow them to become merely wallpaper!

The aim should be for the writer to make informed decisions about what needs to be done, so the work moves along without the teacher having to step in and direct the flow of writing traffic.

Utilizing Share-time and Conferences
Take the time to remind students about the range of strategies they might be able to use to maintain the output of words. Volume and stamina provide a legitimate focus for discussion at such critical times in the workshop. Conferences and Share time provide the ‘showroom’ where such important messages may be shared in a focused way.



References:

Pump Up The Volume, Elizabeth Moore, Two Writing Teachers

Reading / Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom. Leah Mermelstein

Writing, Teachers & Children at Work, Donald Graves














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