by Marisa Morales
“What do you want to write about today?” This question is my least favorite way to generate the writing portion of a DLL lesson. When I hear it, it is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Marie Clay tells us that we are to have a brief, genuine conversation with children that culminates in asking, “What could you write about that?” Marie also gives us a variety of possible inspiration sources for our genuine conversation, one of which could be discussion of a previously read story.
When using a text as a springboard for writing, we don’t always have to ask, “What was your favorite part of the story?” or “What will happen next?”; we can challenge ourselves to be creative and think outside the box when initiating that genuine conversation about the book, especially with our reluctant writers. The purpose of our ingenuity is to support students as they compose interesting and complex stories for writing. The following are some examples.
Any nonfiction book is a great source for riddle writing. Los hipopótamos, El gorila and El avestruz are all examples of books that lend themselves to this type of creative writing. After reading El avestruz, students might compose a fun riddle similar to this: “Yo soy el ave más grande del mundo. No puedo volar, pero puedo correr muy rápido. ¿Quién soy?” Students will enjoy trying to stump teachers, classmates and family members with their riddles.
If you look closely at several of the illustrations in Esos pillos asquerosos, there are small creatures in the background who look quite shocked by the pillos’ behavior. Those disgusting pillos! Kids have so much fun adding speech bubbles or thought bubbles to these creatures, showing what they might be saying or thinking. Sticky notes don’t typically provide enough room, so bubbles can be written in the writing book, on sticky paper, or any paper that is cut out and temporarily placed in the text to be read and enjoyed.
In Las ranas, imagine the conversation you can have with your student about what the insect might be saying to the frog as it pleads for its life, resulting in a very creative speech bubble.
DLL Level 5
It is quick and easy to find short, highly engaging video clips online. After reading Las palomas, watching a brief video of a baby dove hatching from its egg provides very interesting writing material! Almost any nonfiction book, including El escorpión, lends itself to watching a related clip. Videos help engage children, pique their interest, and open the door for quality conversations and complex writing.
DLL Level 10
After reading Granos estupendos, children can poll nearby teachers or office staff: “¿Cómo prefiere comer el maíz: tortillas de maíz, palomitas de maíz, o maíz en mazorca?” and then write about the results of their survey. Another option is to first have the student read the text to the staff member, which is a great way to build self-confidence and pride in our DLL students. The text doesn’t have to be read to all of those surveyed, but picking a favorite person to read to may be the highlight of your student’s day.
DLL Level 20
Students reading at lower levels can also conduct surveys. For example, after reading La gallina, students might ask, “¿Cómo prefiere comer los huevos?” One writing session might be spent composing and writing the poll question with potential answers, while the following session is spent recording the results.
Students can compare and contrast two or more books they have read. After reading La señora Lávalo Todo y la gran bañera and La señora Lávalo Todo y el gran baño, children can discuss and write about reasons why the animals liked to bathe in one book (in the ocean), but not the other (at home).
Students can also compare and contrast within one text. After reading ¿Es un lobo o un coyote?, children can make a T-chart or a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two animals.
Nonfiction texts, such as El zorro ártico o El cerdo are opportunities for the child to make a web as she brainstorms everything she knows about that topic. In addition, many of Hameray’s nonfiction texts have a talking points page which can be read aloud to the student, providing even more interesting information to add to the brainstormed web.
Letters to a Character
Students love to write letters to a character in the book. Texts as simple as Las jirafas may elicit questions such as “¿Te duele el cuello porque es tan largo? ¿Qué tan rápido puedes correr?”, etc.
Think of how creative a student could be as he writes a letter to Cenicienta’s stepmother, explaining why she should treat Cenicienta differently.
Marie Clay tells us that a shared experience is another great source for writing. These shared experiences can easily initiate from the texts the students read.
After reading El cuervo y el barril de agua, students love putting stones in a cup of water to see how the water rises, much like the water in the barrel from the text. These types of hands-on experiences don’t take a lot of time, are fun for the students and create genuine conversations that lead into the writing.
Las ovejas provides an opportunity to bring in a piece of unprocessed wool that can easily be purchased online. Students can touch, smell, and see what raw wool is like and use descriptive words to write about their experience.
DLL Level 9
Children will never forget reading Jugando con los alimentos when you provide them with a few foods to play with and then write about.
All of the suggestions above are examples that are intended to spark your thinking about different ways you can use a text to initiate genuine conversation in order for students to compose and construct complex writing that is interesting to the child. Our DLL texts provide us with a wealth of opportunities for these conversations; we can and should be creative as we use them to facilitate the best possible writing experiences for each child, each day.
Marisa Morales has been teaching for over 25 years. She has spent the last 14 years as a Reading Recovery/Descubriendo la Lectura Teacher Leader in Washington State. Marisa started her teaching career as a K-5 Special Education teacher and also taught bilingual first grade for several years. She has a passion for teaching struggling readers with a special interest in students learning to read in Spanish.