Tag Archives: narrative writing

#SOL18: Reflections

I was amazed, disheartened, and ready to stop writing several years ago when I discovered and announced fairly publicly that my narrative writing skills were weak.  Maybe lower than weak.  Definitely NOT where I wanted them to be.

So what did I do?

I committed to writing more narratives.  I tracked when I wrote narratives.  I pulled out some rubrics. I studied some mentor texts. I wrote more.  I did not avoid writing narratives even though I can candidly report that I still “don’t love writing narratives.” My writing slowly and painfully improved.

And then having made some gains, I set narrative writing aside.

Does that process sound familiar?

Make a goal. Set a criteria as a measuring point.  Work towards the goal. Goal met!


Perhaps it’s the “hurry up and git’r done” nature of many goals.  Perhaps it’s the idea of “taking your medicine quickly” to get it over with.  At any rate, I fear that I have lost some of those skills in the lack of volume in my writing and, in particular in my narrative writing.

I’m going to continue to study my writing as I also consider my “OLW” for 2019.  A couple words have fallen from the sky in front of me lately.  They are on the list.  But are they the “one“?  I don’t yet know.

PROFESSIONAL Learning Matters!

Have you checked out this work from Regie Routman?

How do you become a more effective teacher?

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 5.27.10 PM.png


Out of the 10 which are you focusing on?

I’m working on these:

  • Prioritize
  • Work Toward a Culture of Collaborative Expertise
  • Focus on whole-part-whole teaching and learning

But what do I know? This data is shocking . . .

Screenshot 2018-12-16 at 10.31.15 AM

Shared by Penny Kittle, 12.14.18  Source Link

This was looking at Middle School Writing Assignments in 2015.

How are they doing?

WE will have a state writing assessment this year.  Will our students be prepared if this is their background?  If 78% of middle school students’ work requires only short responses or a sentence or two?  Another 14% required a paragraph . . . hmmm ……. 14 out of 100 had assignments that required the student to write a paragraph.

What doesn’t this data say?

The data does not tell us whether 100% of the students attempted the task.

The data does not tell us if 100% of the students completed the task.

The data does not tell us anything about the quality of the paragraphs submitted.

The data does not tell us anything about how the paragraph was scored.

I am not advocating that all students be required to write multiple paragraphs every day.  But can we INSPIRE THEM to write more and CAN we ASPIRE to provide quality instruction that will encourage students to envision and craft stronger examples of personal writing?

But what about the 9% required to write more than one paragraph?

All four of the statements above apply if your change “paragraph” to “more than a single paragraph.”

Volume of writing does matter just as the volume of reading matters.  Based on the data above, students are still probably NOT writing enough per class period, across the day or across each semester of the year.

Where should we begin? 

What steps can we commit to for the long haul? 

What goals will we agree on?

Where is our sense of urgency?

On Friday, I sat next to sketchnote extraordinaire, Paula Bourque.  I did not know that she would be attending, but I had planned in advance to sketchnote and brought my Flairs knowing that I needed my markers in order to make progress.

Here’s my first page of notes from the day!

Screenshot 2018-12-16 at 10.37.12 AM

My goals:

Take notes.

Add some graphics.

Use some color.

Show improvement.

More ideas than white spaces.

Find one part I really like:

  1. Distraction Addiction and Use Notebooks to slow down thinking
  2. Writing Matters – Emotional Response
  3.  Choices – We have to balance reading and writing

What are you learning that is new? 

How is it going? 

What is your goal?

Curious minds want to know! #OLW18

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum from Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.

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#TCRWP: Day 3 Writing Institute 2015

writing workshop

This is the third in a series of posts about my learning at the Teachers College June Writing Institute.  Day 1 is available here.  Day 2 is available here.


Developing a Narrative Writing Toolkit (K-2) Celena Larkey

Writing Workshop

Goal:  Writing drafts using all we know about powerful narrative.


  • Read through the examples in my notebook.
  • Mark one to explore again.
  • Reread that one.
  • Box out a line or phrase to use.

Begin with that phrase or line.  Close my notebook and then draft. (YES, close the notebook, begin with that small moment and draft AGAIN!)  Focusing on this idea of revision will keep students from “recopying when they are in the revision step” of the writing process. Students CANNOT copy when the notebook is closed.

While Writing – Tell a little, draft a little (rinse and repeat) . . . and then find a spot to stop and reread your own writing. Ask yourself, “Am I including conflicting emotions (happy and yet bittersweet moment) that fit my plan for writing?” (If check while writing, development of both flows more evenly.)  IF yes, continue on; IF not, go back and add in to your writing NOW.


  • Write on one side of the paper.
  • Write on every other line.
  • Use colored drafting paper (Very visible – feels important and very special!).

Tips for Narrative Endings (Choose one):

  • End it quickly (most narratives last two pages too long)
  • End it with a strong emotion
  • Leave the reader wondering
  • Set the reader up for a surprise ending
  • Circular ending – weave back to the first line of the story

Stop / Pause / Think

What are you going to do differently in writing workshop?

How will you know if it’s working?

Using the Best, New Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts:  Support Sky High Writing (3-8)  Shana Frazin

Today’s Big Learning Points centered around Crafting Teaching Points and Mini-Lesson Tips

Crafting Teaching Points 

crafting a teaching point

Further Development and Planning

Consider the question that precedes the prompt that was listed in the chart above:

  • What – What is the skill, habit or quality of good writing? “Today I want to teach you that . . .”
  • How – What is the step by step process? – “We can do this by . . .”
  • When / Where – Students may be doing this but not at the right time so you may use “Writers usually do this when . . .”
  • Trouble – What is the predictable trouble that I envision for my class? ”Remember . . .”  or “One thing to pay attention to . . .” “When I do this . . .”
  • Why – What is the purpose for this mini-lesson? – “This matters because . . .”

It’s summer time and it’s time to re-examine your mini-lessons.  How effective are they?  How do you know?  Consider the use of a “Demonstration Sandwich”!

Quick mini lesson tips


Engage …in the work!

Connect – this year, previous years, life

Name the TP


Demonstration Sandwich (Before the demo“you need to watch me do …”(bread), demo – really do it (meat/protein), and then “Did you notice how I . . .?”(bread))

Active Engagement

Set-Up – How students will practice the skill from instruction

Monitor and Coach – “A teacher on her feet is worth a hundred teachers in their seats.” @drmaryhoward


Assignment, Repertoire, Managed Choice – The three most important words are “Off you go!” It’s the practice that students need. Remember “under – practiced” from last year!

Stop / Pause / Think

How does this  match up to your teaching points?

How does this match up to your mini-lessons?

What might you consider doing differently?


Closing Workshop:

Raising the Level of Literary Essays by Raising the Level of Interpretation (6-8) Katy Wischow     @kw625  

I had a hard time choosing a closing workshop as there were several that I REALLY needed to attend.  But last week during a class, we really struggled with defining a thesis so I thought this might be a good place to grow my knowledge.  GUESS what?  Literary Essays and Raising the Level of Interpretation does NOT have to be BORING!!! So helpful to have some easy and energizing ways to get middle school students (and their teachers) INTO the work.

Poem Used:

To a Daughter Leaving Home

Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

  • Has the trajectory for literary essay flattened at grade 6 or 7?

  • Are kids phoning in their essays?  (on autopilot?)

  • Do you get a 10 page retell of Harry Potter?

Then you will need strong reading work in order to get strong writing work.  “Three big problems kids tend to have with literary interpretation…That drastically impact their literary essay work

  1. Kids have nothing to say about the text.
  2. Kids have cliches to say about the text.
  3. Kids don’t have enough to say about the text.”

Use a common text that is accessible for the students.  All of our work was done with the above poem.  Here are some possible solutions for those three big problems:

1. If nothing to say:

  • take away the requirement for paragraph responses
  • show students other visual representations – let them “choose” another way to show understanding
  • use a write – around focusing on a quote or picture that represents the poem
  • dramatize with frozen scene – act it out

2. Kids have clichés to say about the text

  • create metaphors from pictures the teacher has collected from google images
  • use pictures to create new images
  • lift a line and connect the line to your big idea

3. Kids don’t have enough to say about the text

  • Choose cards from the writing craft techniques
  • Choose goals cards
  • Use the language from the cards to annotate the text
  • Explain how the author used a technique to support a goal

Stop / Pause / Think

What fun, easy, and effective way will you use to raise the level of literary essays?

tcrwp three

Thank you for reading #TCRWP:  Day 3 Writing Institute 2015!

#TCRWP – Day 2 Writing Institute 2015

TCRWP Highlights from Day 1 and 2 with Celena Larkey (Develop Toolkits to Support Narrative Writing – Advanced K-2)


“In five days, you will get a good start. You will not be able to say, ‘It’s done!’”

“During this week, we will make and use tools to lift writers’ process, qualities, and behaviors daily.”

Share – “Pay it forward” – share with partner so you can have the idea as well.

Teacher writing folder is not conferring toolkit.

Toolkit is my “wingman” so I can have it if I need it.

A memoir is not just person, place or time because it also includes either:

  • Conflicting emotion time
  • Turning point times

Planning – blank page – try them on and discard (“don’t have to be married to the page”)

Even when planning in 2nd grade: Say, sketch, and then Picture, picture, picture.

Planning – Make it quick; don’t make it good!

Scaffold – only if needed. Don’t have to have something to “leave behind every time.”

Check to see if “it’s sticking first”… If yes, good to go. If not, use scaffold.”

Our schedule for the week:

Monday – narrative

Tuesday – Launching/ Small Moment

Wednesday – Authors as Mentors/ Lessons from the Masters

Thursday – Realistic Fiction

Friday – Fairy Tale and other (adaptations)

If you choose to continue on, you will learn more about:

A. Primary Writing Process (K-2) and Volume of Writing

B. Tiny Topic Journal

C. Marking up a Model Text

Thank you for continuing on .  .  . 

A. Primary Writing Process

k-2 writing process

  1. Gather ideas
  2. Plan your ideas
  3. Write your ideas

Teach how to do the first three steps with ease and automaticity but be mindful of these three parts so students can practice all them! These go very quickly as students will blink and say, “I am done!“

Written pieces are the beginning of the process. You do NOT designate a day for gathering ideas, a second day for planning or a third day for writing. And you also don’t learn how to do this in one day and then you are done and you don’t ever do it again. Think about learning something new like “how to shoot a basket.” You, the learner will NEED lots of practice in order to shoot baskets well. Similarly, pieces by beginning writers will not be sophisticated.

What is the expected volume of writing for primary students?

This should be a focus for primary teachers!

Grade Level Number of Pieces /Each Week
Kindergarten 5 new pieces
First 3-5 new pieces
Second 2-4 new pieces
  1. Revise a lot (Exception in K, if child cannot read back to you – no point in revision)

Revision (re- vision) want to see it with fresh eyes (or new perspective) so it sometimes means the child is starting over. A student needs to revise on many drafts before moving on in the process.

What do K-2 students revise for?

Readability (Language / conventions)



When writing has additional pages, cross outs, revisions start tipping to the side of quality! At this stage behaviors would include: “I can go back, get a revision pen and revise” or “when I start a new book, I would apply my revision in the air.”

Revision can happen on the first day by adding to the picture, a page, or adding on to the ending. At the primary level ADD is synonymous to revision. Students are not really “taking out” much.

AFTER MANY, MANY revised pieces, THEN

  1. Choose 1 piece to “fancy up”! (this is not visible in the picture/it was at the bottom of the chart)
  2. Further Revise
  3. Publish

Stop / Pause / Think

How does this process match up to the process that your K-2 students use?

What is different?

Where might you begin your study of the writing process?

B. What is a “Tiny Topic Journal”?

  • Tiny topic notebook
  • “There is narrative in anything (not the Pulitzer), but yes a story!”
  • Tools for oral verbal work
  • “I tell a part, you tell a part”
  • Small Moment writing ideas will be recorded here.

When might you consider using a “Tiny Topic Journal”?

  • Are your kids writing a summary of their actions?
  • Are your kids just recording information?
  • Are your kids just making a list?

You will need to model how you observe life around you and how you pull ideas from “everyday life” to record in your “Tiny Topic Journal”? This could also be to jot down “current” topics for those of us who are older and tend to revert back to “when I was a child” for our small moments. We need to show students how we find ideas as we live our lives.

Stop / Pause / Think

Do you have students who need to work on “observing” life around them for ideas?

How would a “Tiny Topic Journal” or “Seed Journal” be helpful?

C. Toolkit Text

For the purpose of this work this week a Toolkit Text is that one text, “one book that I use”, that I can pull everything from for conferring. It’s not my “model and teach” stack of books. It’s one book that I have marked up with EVERY single thing that I can teach on the page! The stickies stay on the pages!

The toolkit Text that Celena shared was Goal!

Mentor Text Tips

  • Paperback
  • Put in toolkit

Make mentors

  • Read like a reader
  • Read like a writer
  • Mark it up and keep in toolkit
  • Don’t use your best literature!

The table that we are using looks like this and we used Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat for our mentor text markup.

 Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat – Mentor Text for K-2
What do we see? What do we call it? Why would we use it? Who else tried it?
p. 5 title question Create interest
p.5 “and” Repeated word structure
p. 5 “Henry” Repeated word S – and to show relationship to Henry
p. 5 ‘ apostrophe Possessive – show relationship/connections
p. 5 Henry, father, Mudge Characters Introduce characters
p. 5 “one night” “watching TV” setting Jump into story

I would have all these items marked in my book. They would be color coded by: structure, development, and conventions. And because I work with teachers of many grades I would also have those ideas in mind that I would consider using for an author study of Cynthia Rylant with upper elementary students that MIGHT have these additional boxes for this page.

Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat – Mentor Text for UPPER ELEMENTARY
What do we see? What do we call it? Why would we use it? Who else tried it?
p. 5 Chapter title Hook Create suspense, as a form of foreshadowing, if we haven’t seen the title
p. 5- 3 characters Build relationship between the 3 characters Develop theory of characters – how they will interact
p. 4 picture of family Text/picture match As a part of “show, don’t tell”

The way this looks in my mentor text . . .

Henry and Mudge one

Seventeen words

Seventeen words and we found six things for K-2

Seventeen words and we found three additional things for grades 3-6+

Seventeen words from Cynthia Rylant

Structure – green; Development – pink; and Conventions – blue

Seventeen words

Rich and powerful!

Stop / Pause / Think

Do you have ONE mentor text marked up for your conferring toolkit?

How do you organize your “annotations” in your mentor text?

Thanks to Celena Larkey for this awesome learning at the 33rd Writing Institute at TCRWP!  Errors in this blog are due to “old ears” and “lack of understanding” – not the fine, fine, fine quality of instruction!

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