I missed the first narrative writing unit with my 2nd graders, I wasn’t yet their teacher. So, I was really excited to get back into the narrative unit that goes along with our author study. Our goal is to learn to look at the techniques that published writers use and to use them as mentors for improving our own writing. I was eager to leap in and thought it best to have the kids start writing at will so they would have some material to work with once we really started to look at authors as mentors. I asked each student to write an idea for a story and we “planted their seeds” on a bulletin board. I looked forward to reading their stories as they sprouted in their notebooks.
My plans changed when I started to read their initial stories. Many of them were not really stories at all but descriptions of things or of people. There was no setting, no when or where to the writing. There was little action. There weren’t any active, thoughtful, or emotional characters, just a narrator’s description.
So, we backtracked.
When they arrived the next day, they saw that the seeds on the bulletin board had started to grow. I put the questions words Who, What, When, Where, Why and How on the leaves and we spent one or two lessons talking about how an author answers these questions for the reader.
After a week, I asked students to share their stories with the class and then we looked at each question word and asked the audience if it had been answered for them. Do you know WHO the characters are? Do you know WHERE the action happens? Do you know WHEN? Do you know WHAT the characters are doing? Do you know WHY they are doing it? HOW?
During independent work, the young writers would bring their notebooks over to the board and check if they had answered all the questions for their readers. Then, they asked a friend to read their story, or they held a mini-reading with a small group, and asked who still had questions.
And, every day, they asked me when the flower would grow.
I told them, when most of us have fully grown stories, then the flower would grow. They kept working, and waiting.
I kept reading their notebooks, writing questions in the margins. We kept talking about how important it is for authors to think about their readers and anticipate questions and confusions. My daughter cut out 5 large orange petals and added them to the board for me. My little writers arrived the next morning knowing they had grown publishable stories.
I loved how this bulletin board worked. It was a useful resource to the kids, but more importantly, a source of encouragement. They worked diligently to see that flower grow. The board worked in ways I did not anticipate. It was a wonderful addition to the writer’s workshop.
And, it kept working right up until the end. On the last day of school a few students were helping me take down the bulletin boards. When they removed the seeds, they noticed that the brown paper had faded wherever it had not been covered by seeds. They were excited to note that the lights in the classroom had the same power to change the paper as the sun, as we had discovered through a science experiment earlier in the year. They couldn’t wait to show the rest of the class!