Gathering information and interests about each child as a learner seems to be a race in the beginning of the year. Amidst the organizing supplies and teaching routines, this year I decided to jump right into introducing making books. I was searching for a way to engage my students and gather information about them. It worked very well and it’s something I will stow away in my “beginning of school” folder (yes, I still love to have my files organized in a filing drawer with folders).
Several read alouds – By the second day of school, we had read aloud 4 books. This was also a good way to introduce interactive read aloud as well as turn and talk partners. We reflected on what we had read, noticed they were fiction (a reflective point for me since I hadn’t noticed before that I rarely choose any nonfiction books for the opening of school). I posed the question, why did the author write this book? After a discussion, I hooked them with the idea that they were all authors.
Offering choice – Authors write about things they know a lot about and things that are meaningful to them. C loves to dance, I pointed out, she knows so much about dance that she could write a book about it. A is interested in cats and might choose to write a book all about cats. I continued with a few students who I had already learned quite a bit about. Another question, what if you could write your own book on whatever topic you choose? Hands up everywhere, wondering, does it have to be a true story? Can I write two stories? I had gotten them interested.
Ground rules – I pulled a stack of paper trays off the shelf. Each tray had a different paper choice. I showed the class there is a blank cover sheet, lines with a picture spot, just lines, short lines down the side and one long, vertical illustration spot. I taught them that once they chose their topic and genre, they would be taking one sheet at a time. As they finish one sheet, they would go select the next one. (In the past I missed this teaching point and lost large amounts of paper as students took enough for a 20 page book.)
Getting started – You’re not expected to finish today. In fact, you might work on the book for quite some time, depending on what you choose to write and how you want it to turn out. I explained what “work in progress” meant. To get everyone started and avoid a stampede at the paper choices, I passed out the cover page first for them to write their name on and write their topic. That bought some time since they finished at different intervals and then came up one or two at a time to select the paper to begin writing.
Observing writers – I gathered so much information. My first observation was how surprised I was that everyone was engaged. Some didn’t have an idea, but there was a buzz of working that is one of my favorite things about teaching. G (who can be super talkative and interrupt a lot) decided on a fantasy story about a witch and was busy making bubble letters for a title. J began by illustrating in detail about how to walk a dog. C was inspired by The Who Would Win books and began creating a Unicorns vs Dragons book, taking close attention to making the “o’s” in each work either a unicorn head or dragon head. Pencils, crayons, markers were all out and the students began talking. They were REALLY excited to share their ideas with their classmates, so we made sure to save time at the end to share out our work in progress. I could see who could get started, have materials out, select a topic independently, or with some support, or with a lot of support.
Timing – Wanting to keep them excited for writing books, we ended the session by placing our book papers from the day in our writing folders. It was important that nobody finished and that they understand making books is something that will last for many days. Students will finish at different times because they have varying topics and genres.
Reason Why – Why make books? This will become a literacy center as we get going and I am happy I introduced it so early this year. Making books provides students an opportunity to have choice in their writing and is separate from my writing units of study. They can be inspired by published books read aloud and see themselves as authors and illustrators. I will follow up with providing them time to revisit it again (I happened to introduce this on a Friday) after the weekend and nudge them toward the idea that we won’t all be working on books at the same time (a great option for early finishers for now), to set the stage for literacy centers.
How do you gather information about your writers in the beginning of the year? There are so many ways!