18 April 2012

Creative writing in 4th grade

Creative writing is something that I find challenging to teach, and even more challenging to grade, but I discovered something this year that has really worked with my students.

Most Friday mornings, we have a 40 minute time slot allocated to Journal Writing. At the start of the year, I use some questions to get the children thinking about their learning, and what's going well, and what's not, and have them write about that. I do that for a few weeks, using different questions each week, and then I change the approach. I start giving the children a creative response starter, or topic, and ask them to write me a story based on that topic. At the start of the year, many of the children struggle to write a single paragraph. Now, towards the end of the year, I have children writing three and four page stories!

The Friday before our Khmer New Year holidays I asked the children to imagine the weirdest animal they could and write a description of it. I gave some hints in the form of questions like:
  • What does it look like?
  • Where does it live?
  • What does it eat?
  • What does it do?
Then I left them to write. Once they finished writing, they were allowed to draw a picture of their imaginary animal.

This evening, in an effort to avoid the funeral outside my house for as long as possible, and since my computer had to install some updates before it would shut down, I settled down to read their descriptions. It was so much fun! What I found particularly interesting was seeing how a number of the children incorporated features of animals from the biome they are currently studying in science into their imaginary animal. Some of my students have amazing imaginations, and they are learning to use a variety of words to make their writing interesting for the reader.

I do keep a grade on the writing, but it's a fairly simple process, with four headings, each of which receives a grade on a scale of 1 to 4. I look at the ideas they present, I look at the effort they have put in, I look at the mechanics (grammar/spelling/punctuation/etc.), and I look at presentation (neat hand-writing as well as illustrations).

Thanks Grade 4K for a pleasant hour of reading.

Where do I get my topics? There are a wealth of books out there with writing prompts, but this week I'm going to try a different approach. I've got a heap of old calendar pictures (mostly photographic ones from Australia), and I'm going to give each child their own picture and ask them to describe what they see, and then write a story based on what they see in the picture. It will be interesting to see how this goes. I hope they will enjoy it.

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