Building confidence in writing

Every one of us has had that moment with a child...they shut down and simply refuse to write. I remember my first student...a kindergartener who would hide under the table and say that she didn't want to write. :( It was my first year of teaching (in kindergarten) and I really wasn't sure what to do. Writing is not as natural to students as reading, and it takes hard work!

Now that I teach fourth grade, at the beginning of the year (on the second day of school) I ask my students to write freely. I ask them to write "When I write I..." and write every little detail that comes to their minds while writing. I write right along with them every time we write. Once we finish this activity, I have my students place their journals in two baskets: one for me to read, the other if they don't want me to read. I'm always amazed at how many students actually want me to read their innermost thoughts about writing. I spend that second day of school reading and writing kind little comments back to them in their notebooks. Use this knowledge as you conference with your students through the year. I love seeing how many go back and read these comments as the year progresses.
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At the beginning of the year, only use the kindest comments to give feedback to your students' writing. Sometimes it is hard, but you can find at least one positive thing about their writing. Even if it is just "Great capitalization at the beginning of your sentences!" "Great complete sentences!" "Nice handwriting!" Building your students' confidence in writing is one of the most important things you can do all year. Start super positive at the beginning... you have all year to critique! 

Who likes to be told what to write about every. single. time?! I know I don't! Give your students some guidance but then give them free reign to choose a topic! If you're working on narrative, let them choose what story they want to tell. We spend a great deal of the first few weeks in writing learning how to think of a topic and making list upon list of brainstormed ideas that they can refer back to any time they need to. I know you're thinking "But what about the test?!" There will be a time and place for writing from a prompt. If you can't let it go....choose some fun topics to write about:

- The funniest thing that's ever happened to me.
- The most embarrassing thin I've ever done.
- My most prized possession.
- The best day of your life. 
- If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

If you aren't having fun teaching it, most likely your students aren't having fun learning it. Play grammar games, have snowball fights with writing, allow your students to sit wherever they want when they write.  The list could go on and on! Writing is hard work, but if your students are having fun learning writing, chances are it's going to show through in their writing.

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