By Beth Richards, Literacy Interventionist, Reading Recovery Teacher, Guest Blogger
Collaborative classroom experiences can be some of the most important and memorable opportunities for our young learners. We give students tools and let them explore and work together to discover new ideas in science and mathematics. How can we promote those same experiences of collaboration, exploration, and discovery in literacy with emergent readers and writers? The answer is to utilize interactive writing.
Interactive writing "is an instructional context in which a teacher shares a pen—literally and figuratively— with a group of children as they collaboratively compose and construct a written message." (McCarrier, Fountas, & Pinnell, 2000) After the teacher reads aloud, the teacher and students engage in a conversation around the text, a book or poem, to compose the message they will write together. During the composition process, the teacher should carefully choose what they will explicitly teach and demonstrate, and what will be left for the students to discover.
According to Dorn & Soffos (2012), interactive writing does the following:
- Provides a language context for enabling students to compose simple messages,
- It allows students to acquire foundational concepts about print.
- Demonstrates that writing is about communicating a message.
- Gives students opportunities to use as self-help tools, write letters fluently and with correct letter formation, and build a core of high-frequency words.
Executing a small-group interactive writing lesson using Fix-It Bear, from the Joy Cowley Collection:
- Before the reading session begins, the teacher should engage students in a group discussion. Topics for this discussion can include asking students to think about these questions:
- Who has offered them support?
- How do they help others with their words?
- What are some actions they have taken to help?
- After each student has had the opportunity to share, the text can be introduced. The teacher might share an introduction like, "In this story, Hairy Bear is going to help his friends fix some of their toys. He's very good with his tools. But will Hairy Bear be able to help fix a sad friend that cannot be done using tools? " After this, the cover can be shared with students. After they view the cover, invite them to share any predictions they have about the text.
- The teacher can then begin to read aloud to students, stopping along the way in strategic places to encourage engaging in conversation, making connections and thinking more deeply about the story. You could also encourage the students to join in when reading the repetitive portions of the text: "Saw, saw, saw. Hammer, hammer, hammer."
After you have finished the reading, you can begin your discussion about the text. These are examples of some prompts for conversation:
- How did Hairy Bear help each of his friends?
- What were the qualities Hairy Bear displayed that made him a good friend?
- Do the students believe they share any similar characteristics with Hairy Bear?
- Have there been times where they have solved friendship problems?
- After the discussion wraps, ask students to decide why they feel that Fix-It Bear would be a good book for more students to read and experience.
Once the audience and purpose are established, the teacher and students can discuss and decide the most important things they want to share and write in their message. In the case of a book review, they could decide to say, "You will like the book Fix-It Bear. Read it to see how Hairy Bear is kind and helps his friends."
- The teacher should make the following decisions about composing the message:
- Identifying what the students should do independently.
- What high-frequency words to practice. In this instance, they are the, to, see, is.
- The teacher also needs to decide what they will scaffold. Possibilities might include the high-frequency word you introduced recently, and the use of a known word, look, to help write the word book by first drawing attention to hearing the rhyme, then supporting with the visual. As the teacher models, while giving a clear rationale: "I'm using a capital letter for each word in Fix-It Bear because it's the name of the book, and we begin all names with a capital letter."
- During the composition process, the teacher and students share the pen and a large piece of paper. Each student has their own whiteboard, and dry erase marker to work on the portions the teacher decided upon earlier. After each student has had the opportunity to practice on their whiteboard, the teacher passes the pen and paper to one of the students, so they can write while the others continue practicing on their boards.
- The final step is for the students to review their writing, to ensure they were successful in getting their message down and check to see if it was similar to the writing they see in texts. After ensuring that it is, they are ready to share their writing with their classmates in hopes of getting them to read and enjoy Fix-It Bear.
This illustrates the process of interactive writing in K–2 classrooms and how it can serve as a springboard for collaboration, engagement, and pride with our youngest readers and writers. It also illuminates the importance of teacher decision-making, which in turn can contribute to our students feeling confident with the writing process. And that feeling will keep them coming back for more.
Beth has been teaching for seventeen years. She has taught kindergarten, third, and fourth grades in Wisconsin. For the last six years, she has been a literacy interventionist and Reading Recovery teacher and loves spending her days helping her students develop and share her love of reading.