The beginning of the school year means a clean slate with my writers. At the end of the year I always grieve that I have to start anew and fresh with writer's workshop and miss watching my current writers grow, but when it actually rolls around in the fall I overflow with excitement as I begin to look at what the journey will be for my new writers and me. I have a few lessons that are my favs that I start with at the beginning of the year.
Beginning Activities to Write
1) Listing: This has become one of my favorite activities to do when I am stuck and don't know what to write about. Lucy Calkins talks in her book Launching the Writer's Workshop that listing can be about people, places, feelings, and issues, but I also add important events, funny happenings in your life, and holidays. I model this process for my students in my writer's notebook and then I begin a small moment off one of the brainstormed ideas.
2)Mapping: I am not an artist...let me just clarify this now, but I love color so I tend to make my maps very colorful and I allow my students to spend lots of time on their maps. A few maps I have done in the past are neighborhood maps, house maps, and heart maps.
-Neighborhood Maps are drawn on paper pointing out key places and people where stories from growing up occurred. I have done a map of my childhood home and my house I live with my kids. The key to this type of map is not to list everything in your neighborhood, but as you are drawing stories pop up and you begin to mull over the memories which lead to stories.
-House Maps are intended to do this same. Last year when I drew my house map the students noticed I begin just writing key phrases onto the paper. This happened because as I was talking to them about the different things in my house stories kept coming to mind that I wanted to write. I felt this was very important. They were able to see that the purpose wasn't to draw a pretty picture but truly brainstorm ideas.
-Heart Maps are designed to brainstorm what I call watermelon or big topics. Then I have the students share these big topics with their writing partners. Then as they discuss the big topics they write down seed ideas from their discussion of the big idea.
For more ideas about different maps you could use read the book My Map Book by Sara Fanelli.
3)Quick Writes: I hesitate even bringing these up so early because many people associate quick writes with writing prompts and that is not what I mean. The idea comes from Donald Graves' book My Quick Writes for Inside Writing. My students have loved several of his ideas. My favorite to start with is the hand brainstorm. You draw a picture of your hand and think of different stories that have touched her hand. For example, the first time I held my daughters, holding my grandmother's hand before she passed, giving a students a high five after they've accomplished a hard task...
I do not make all my writers brainstorm each time we practice. I do ask they complete the maps and the quick writes during the small moment unit of study, but I do not require them to do it each time they sit down to write. Sometimes kids come to you with many stories they want to write about. After my mini lessons for the day I tell my students they have a choice. Choice 1 is to go and write a story that is in their mind and heart. Choice 2 begin with the strategies I taught today (or previously they are listed on chart paper) and see if a story emerges. Choice 3 finish a story in their notebook. As teacher of writer's workshop I have evolved from all must do what I taught for the day each day. I let them move at their pace and write about their topic.