Writing is more than crafting an opinion, a narrative, or an informational piece to meet a standard. As I think about launching a writing workshop unit in second grade, I find myself thinking about what writers need to create and foster a writing life across genres and writing formats. I’ve spent the past five years teaching emergent writers in kindergarten. My mind is full of new thinking about a new grade level, and at the same time I’m asking myself what I can take from kindergarten and bring to second grade.
Regie Routman has sound advice in Writing Essentials: "The skills and strategies that writers use are the same across the grade levels; their depth and sophistication are what increase.” Second graders will not need minilessons on how to record letter sounds or write labels or write left to right. As I think about creating a writing community, I find myself creating a list of things all writers need in various genres and formats.
All Writers Need to Know
Writers write for the reader.
Writers write about their experiences.
Writers write about important people.
Writers write about places they go and know.
Writers write about their memories.
Writers write about their daily lives.
Writers get help from others.
Writers make mistakes.
Writers try, and make attempts.
Writers have habits, tools, and a writing life.
When building a community, I think it is important to have prompts and supports in place to help foster discussions. Children’s literature can be the support that anchors classroom discussions. As the discussions unravel, verbal prompting from me will be needed to move the conversation from story observations/reactions to noticing what writers can do and need to know. These conversations will go a step further and help students think about what they can do as writers, generating a writing life for themselves. Here are some books I'll use early in the year to build our writing community.
The Signmaker’s Assistant by Tedd Arnold
Norman the signmaker's assistant notices that people do what the signs say, and creates signs to his advantage. The first sign he makes and posts says "No School." That is only the beginning, and the town gets a bit chaotic until Norman can fix his mistakes. Although Norman’s mistakes are intentional and with a purpose, this text can guide conversations about making mistakes and how they can be fixed.
Fireflies! by Juie Brinckloe
This is a beautiful story about catching fireflies, an event from a little boy’s summer. Catching fireflies might be a summer memory for many of my students and guide a discussion to brainstorm other summer memories that could be written about from their lives.
Beach by Elisha Cooper
This book captures everything a visitor might see happening at the beach. To write this book, Eisha Cooper spent a lot of time at a beach. This book could foster conversations about places my students visit or places they know right around the corner. Anyone who has been to a beach is bound to have stories to tell and write.
The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert
Lois Ehlert shares her writing life with readers. Readers will learn about her process, tool preferences, and idea inspiration. This book is a great starting point for thinking about our own writing lives. Where do you like to read? What do you like to write on? What do you like to write with? These are great questions for discussion. The idea of collecting thoughts and making things is also important to notice in this mentor text.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Memories can be triggered by different objects, and each memory is a story. Objects or treasures can trigger stories and ideas. This would be a great mentor text for thinking about our own objects and treasures that kindle memories for writing.
My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray
People in our lives are a source of inspiration for stories. This book is a great starting point for discussing people in our own lives and things they do or things we do with them to gather story ideas.
Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk
Writers write for the reader, and readers will enjoy our stories. This book demonstrates how anyone can publish a book and make it available for others to read and enjoy. This book will help foster a conversation about how we can share and celebrate our own writing with a bigger audience and others.
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
This text encourages the writer to make attempts and see the world a bit differently. It will spark a conversation about writing looking different and how not all of our stories will be the same.
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett
Beatrice never makes a mistake, and the idea of making one worries her. The reader will discover that making mistakes is okay and even something to laugh about. This can lead to a conversation about how what we worry about is important in developing a caring community. Another discussion point for this book is the idea that working through mistakes is an important part of writing and that students need to discuss strategies.
Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter
Eva’s neighbor offers some sound writing advice: “Observe the players and don’t forget the details.” Everyday life is full of stories. This book is a great starting point for discussing how the normal, everyday things in life can hold stories to be told. What is normal to us may not be normal for others.
The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli
After asking family members for story ideas, a little girl learns that the very best story comes from her own heart. This book can foster a conversation about writer’s block and lead to a discussion about things to do when you are stuck for ideas.