CCSS Writing Success: Begin with “Small Moments”

Where should writing instruction begin this year?

  • “I have the new Units of Study.”
  • “I have the old Lucy Calkins units.”
  • “I just need to get started with writing because it is something that our students have not been taught.”

Do any of those quotes match your current planning status for the new school year?

Consider starting with personal narrative.  The students are ALL experts on themselves.  Writing personal narratives will allow the students to “ease” into the school year without a lot of drama and angst because the goal will not be a “research paper.” (And remember that “research paper” is NOT a type of writing in the new CCSS writing standards!) Instead personal narratives can:  introduce students to writing workshop, set the framework for writers notebooks (grades 3 and above), provide a focus for writing instruction, and begin to teach self-reflection for the authors.

So what does Lucy Calkins teach about “Small Moments” of writing?

Each moment is important.

“1.  Picture the moment in your head.

2.   Tell the details of the moment.

3.   Sketch the moment.

4.   Stretch and write the action in order over several pages.”

(Calkins, Lucy.  “Small Moments – Personal Narrative Writing”)

What will instruction look like?

Read Alouds that might be familiar for your students include:

    •  A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
    •  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
    •  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Read alouds would involve discussion of small moments and details that “show” what happened.  The teacher may also consider constructing a “Small Moments” shared class story or having partners discuss and write a “Small Moments” story together before students write their own independent stories. Students who have written “Small Moments” stories will also share them with the class to further reinforce and validate their progress.  Students may need many cycles of “Small Moments” writing, conferring, and small group instruction before they confidently complete several pieces that showcase their ability to produce quality writing!

How will students know if they have hit the “Small Moments” target?

Depending on the age of the students, a checklist for student reflection might include:

___  I wrote about a small moment.

___  I wrote about what happened first, next and last (or beginning, middle, and end).

___  I zoomed in and added details.

___  I wrote about something true in my life.

Quotable gems to keep in mind throughout instruction from tweets about @colleen_cruz’s presentations during TCRWP August Writing Institute:

“Voldemoort was nothing in comparison to what we teachers are currently facing.”

“If the lesson isn’t going well, just stop . . .  You aren’t going to be Sully on the Hudson.”

“Pick just one thing to focus on and do it really, really well.”

How are you beginning your writing instruction this year?  
How have you used “Small Moments” in your writing instruction?


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