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Interactive Writing Questions Answered!

I was lucky enough to talk about Interactive Writing for ESGI last week. Interactive Writing is something I’m passionate about for many reasons. During the webinar, folks submitted questions and I’m going to try and answer some of them here. If you have a question and I don’t answer it, please email me or submit it in the comments. Ok, there’s a bunch, so here goes!

Please comment/advise on modeled writing. When should it be done? What is the difference between modeled and interactive writing.

Modeled writing, when the teacher writes in front of the class, thinking aloud as she writes, is another powerful instructional strategy for teachers. I typically do modeled writing as a way to show students one specific strategy during Writing Workshop. When I do modeled writing, I usually have a piece under the document camera that is the same size/type of paper my students will be writing on. As I write, I try my best to ‘write like a kindergartener’ (or whatever grade you teach) and voice over all my thinking as I go.

Interactive Writing is different because we are working as a class to write a piece. I am calling students up to ‘share the pen’ and do much of the physical writing with me. Depending on a number of factors (time of the year, time we have for the activity, etc.) I am doing some of the writing, but not all of it.

How would you fit shared/interactive writing into half-day kindergarten programs? When do you find time for interactive writing in your day? How often do you do Interactive Writing?

There were lots of questions about time. As teachers, time can be one our biggest challenges. There is always so much to do and never enough time to fit it all in. I truly believe we send a message to our students by what we prioritize and for me, there is so much value in Interactive Writing I make it a priority. I typically do at least 2-3 Interactive Writing pieces a week. These may vary in size and scope, and can be as quick as five minutes and usually never longer than about ten or fifteen minutes tops.

While there are times we are composing a larger piece together (often I will do this in more than one session, breaking it up into no more than ten minute chunks), other times I am having students simply help me with the title or a chart and then I write the rest myself. This allows for student hands on my chart, but also takes a lot less time. Once you begin to utilize Interactive Writing more and more, your students will become more proficient and it will take less time. You will also start to see more opportunities throughout your day to tuck it in.

Recently after an afternoon where parents came in to help us carve pumpkins, we had about ten minutes before Art class. I quickly took out some chart paper and asked the class if we could write the steps we used to carve our pumpkins. We finished about half the piece before Art and then completed it afterwards in about five more minutes.

Do you ever use Interactive Writing as an assessment? What methods have you found to encourage students to improve their writing?

Interactive Writing, by its very nature is a formative assessment. When I call children up, I’m assessing their grasp of letter/sound knowledge and their ability to form letters independently. I wouldn’t say it’s a summative assessment ever as the intention is I am offering whatever level of support and scaffolding the children need. What makes Interactive Writing so special is the students understand this is a safe place to take risks and be brave with their learning. There’s no formal assessing happening here. Most teachers find, the more you do Interactive Writing, the more students will transfer the strategies into their independent writing.

Students wrote the first letter of each shape, I did the rest.

At what point in the year do you start Interactive Writing? What about English Language Learners? What about PreK students, Special Education, and others not knowing how to draw or write, how do you get them involved? What grades is this appropriate to use with?

On the first day! Again, Interactive Writing means we are creating the piece together. There is no expectation students are doing all the work! As the year progresses and students learn more letters/sounds, I will write less and they will write more, but we start slowly, with me doing more of the writing. Often I’ll have students simply write the first letter of a word (maybe if the word starts with the same first letter of their name).

Students wrote the title (EMPATHY) and I wrote the rest.

What I love about Interactive Writing is that it is differentiated by nature! When a student comes up, they get whatever level of support they need! The class is there to help and support them too! I do Interactive Writing with preschoolers, English Language Learners, and ‘non-writers’ - even from the start of the year! There is absolutely nothing wrong with using hand-over-hand as a strategy to get every child writing. “You hold the pen!” and then I hold their hand and we write. Another strategy I use is simply writing the letter on the whiteboard next to the paper, voicing over the letter formation pathway and giving the student a visual model to copy. I have used Interactive Writing with Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade, and all grades through fifth grade! The level of support and the strategies you teach into will change, but the process is basically the same.

Some of my students handwriting is so illegible it’s hard to read. How to I include them?

These were written in small groups.

You just do! The power of seeing your own work on display is worth it. Again, use hand-over-hand or even write the letter(s) with a highlighter and let them trace over it with a marker.

How do I incorporate this when you utilize a curriculum like Writer’s Workshop? I use Writer’s Workshop! Typically Interactive Writing happens outside the workshop time. Again, I’m always looking for a few minutes to tuck it in throughout our day.

Where do you put your charts in the classroom? This is always a challenge for me! I have learned to be creative! I found a cheap cork board stip I put under my white board in our meeting area. This allows a lot of space for charts and I can pin them up and move them easily. I also have a clothes line across the room where we can hang charts. We have charts on doors, windows, anywhere we can put tape! Think outside the box!

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What about larger classes? How can this work with such large groups? Interactive Writing happens both in whole and small groups in my room. As a whole group, we move quickly. Again, as the year progresses and students have more stamina, I can push it longer, but again, typically not much longer than ten minutes at a time. We may take more than one ten minute session to finish a piece. While one student comes up to write, the rest of the class is helping and writing too! Some ideas for the other students are (but not limited to):

  • Write on whiteboards

  • Write with their ‘magic’ pen (finger) on the carpet, hand, or in the air

  • Write with their ‘magic’ pen (finger) on another child’s hand or back

The expectation is all students are engaged and participating. They learn quickly that sitting and doing nothing will not get them a turn to come up and write! My students also know we all have to help the child up doing the writing - not only me! I hope I’ve answered most of your questions. If you have any others, feel free to email me or leave them in the comments below. I hope you enjoy Interactive Writing with your students as much as I do... and look for my book on the the topic coming soon!

We write the numbers each day.
I pulled two students at a time during Choice Time to work on these. It took us almost a week to write them all.

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