Literature-Based Content Writing Instruction for Grades K-3
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
Background: Literature-Based Content Writing Defined
Teachers instruct children in grades K-3 literature-based content writing by teaching them how to write for developing meaning through the influence of literature. Instruction begins with teaching them how to write
• the alphabetical letters;
• use the letters to spell words;
• use the words to create lists;
• use the lists to form phrases;
• develop the phrases into complete sentences; and
• use what they have learned about literature along with their thoughts to express and compose paragraphs, narrative stories, and expository text.
There are some common misconceptions regarding teaching children how to write that stand in the way of effective writing instruction and student learning. First of all, it is a misconception that children learn to read and write separately from each other. Instead, research has suggested that children learn to read and write at the same time. Another misconception is that children only need to learn to write through keyboarding because of the digital age. Instead, research has suggested that children benefit the most by learning both at the same time. Additionally, it is a misconception that teaching writing to primary grade children means only teaching them penmanship. Instead, research has suggested that primary grade children benefit the most when penmanship and writing content for meaning are taught at the same time. Finally, it is misconception that cursive penmanship is outdated and no longer needed to be taught, and that most schools no longer teach it. Instead, research has shown that most schools continue to teach cursive penmanship primarily for the sake of children being able to read and understand historic documents and other writings that were written in cursive penmanship, mostly for the sake of studies in the subject areas.
Guidelines for Teaching Literature-Based Content Writing
Teachers teach children how to write by following a sequence of instructional steps. They begin by teaching the children how to write each alphabetical letter. Next, they teach children how to write short or one syllable nouns that begin with each letter of the alphabet. This instruction should correspond with exposing the children to many alphabet books for the sake of giving them context and meaning for the letters and words. Third, teachers teach children how to write short sentences with the nouns. Fourth, they teach how to combine related sentences into short paragraphs. It is important that teachers visibly show the children specific examples of the writing that they want them to do, displayed on the classroom screen, board, or print copies in front of them.
The content of the writing that teachers want children to do should relate to something they already know a lot about, i.e., a book, an event, their family, or anything related to their lives. Moreover, it is incongruous to expect the content or mechanics of children's writing to be like adults. They are in the beginning stages of learning and acquiring language skills and abilities. It is crucial to keep in mind that the content of children's writing is more personal to them than their choices of what they read; therefore, it is an insensitive practice to demand that they share it. In addition, it is not a good practice to criticize it harshly or make fun of it. Children's content writing should be treated with the utmost respect and care. Their writing can be very revealing of who they are as a person. Lastly, children need constant inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and support to continue growing in their writing skills and abilities.
Choose the Purpose for the Content Writing
Children are most motivated to write content when they have a clear purpose for doing the writing. The writing topic must be meaningful to them if teachers expect them to put everything they have into it, because, after all, content writing is hard! Therefore, it is crucial to guide children to come up with their own purpose for content writing. Examples could include the following: write something for a family member, friend, community member, celebrity, a member of the government, a character in a book, a character in a movie, a character in television show; or writing to remember something; share with the broader public; or writing something just for themselves.
Content Writing Methods
There are many content writing practices that make up content writing methods, and they can be categorized into three main areas with each one being very important to teach because they build on each other:
• Category One: before writing practices
• Category Two: during writing practices
• Category Three: after writing practices
Each of these categories is presented with more explanation and description in the following sections.
Before Content Writing Practices
It is best practice to teach the children the skills they will need "before" they begin the content writing. Children need to physically see many examples of the content writing that teachers want them to do; for example, when teaching how to write the alphabet, the children need to have it in front of them and the teacher must demonstrate how to write the letters. When teaching how to write words, the children benefit from having example words in front of them to use as models with the teacher demonstrating how to write them. When teaching how to write sentences, the children need to have example sentences in front of them to use as models with the teacher demonstrating subjects, verbs, and predicates. For teaching children the use capitalization in their content writing pieces, it is vital for them to have lots of experiences with proper nouns and how to begin a sentence. When teaching children to use punctuation in their content writing, they require lots of experiences with commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation or dialogue marks.
During Content Writing Practices
Writing tools and materials need to be readily handy for children when they are engaged in writing. For example, children need: pencils, pens, markers, crayons, paper (all kinds), computers (all kinds), staplers, hole punchers, and so on. Writing resources need to be readily available for children when they are engaged in writing. For example, they need: dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and examples of the type of writing they are doing, e.g., if they are writing a letter, they must have letters to look at; if they are writing a certain kind of poem, they require examples of that specific type of poem to look at; if they are writing a short story on a particular topic, they must have examples to look at. If at all possible, the examples of writing that teachers want children to emulate, should be child-written, not adult written (children do not write like adults).
Special attention must be given to creating designated spaces in the classroom for various writing activities to take place. Children require spaces to write alone and in peace and quiet. In addition, there ought to be spaces where children can write and discuss their writing together, but using whisper voices.
During the writing that children are engaged in, it is imperative for the teacher to constantly give them encouragement and direction (feedback), while they are writing (not after), and to provide immediate instruction as the need arises. Teachers can accomplish this type of interactive assessment, evaluation, and instruction by closely observing the children's writing and sitting with individual and small groups of students while the writing is taking place in the classroom. In the primary grades, writing assignments are best produced in front of the teacher so that she can give immediate instruction, rather than sending the assignments with students to be done at home, which unduly puts the parents in the role of primary teacher. In most instances, it is the teacher who is educated and experienced in primary teaching methodologies and not the parents.
After Content Writing Practices
It is critical for teachers to provide the means for children to share their writing; however, they should not feel that this is mandatory. Whatever the purposes were for the children's writing, it is necessary for teachers to assist them to follow through, e.g., if they were writing for a family member, friend, or other person, help them get the piece to that person. If they were writing for the broader public, help them display their writing somewhere beyond the classroom, examples could include: a library, lunch room, a hallway, or a community building; in addition, there are online sources available as well as print sources, in which children can publish their writing. These sources can be found by using online search engines.
When charged with teaching children literature-based content writing in grades K-3, these are the main tenets for teachers to consider: create a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment for children to freely express themselves through writing; teach the skills they need before they write and during their writing; guide them to connect the writing to something they already know a lot about; help them establish a clear purpose for writing; provide many child-written examples of the writing for them to emulate; provide the spaces, tools, materials, and resources that they need in order to accomplish the writing; and most importantly, furnish the motivational follow through with the writing to bring the children's driving purposes to fruition.
About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches elementary teaching methods courses.