I want my students to become confident using mentor texts to guide and inspire their writing — it’s one of the most transferable skills I can give them for school and life beyond school. But, as I shared last month, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a kind of independence that comes after that. A writing life that isn’t dependent on mentor texts. A writing life that has internalized and personalized the moves of effective writing and can use them at will.
Here’s the big idea at which I’m slowly arriving: we help kids transfer what they have learns from mentor texts when we lift the moves out of individual mentor texts and put them somewhere students can see them and practice them often in different pieces of writing.
We saw this last month as we amplified sentence study.
Today, a different strategy: creating a class writing moves glossary.
How to Create a Writing Moves Glossary for Your Class
I’m pretty sure this isn’t even actually my idea; I’m reasonably sure it’s Allison’s. But it is a tool I’ve used with my classes over the last year, and it really works! Here’s how to make one:
- Upon completing a writing study, add the writing moves you have studied as a class to your writing moves glossary chart.
I only add writing moves/strategies that we have studied as a whole class in a mini-lesson versus every single thing we notice about the mentor text. This glossary is going to get LONG, and I want it to be usable for students
- As you move through the year, continue to add examples of the writing move every time you see it.
When we see a writing move appear again and again in multiple pieces of writing across genres, we can easily see that this is a major tool writers use! For example, last year, my students and I witnessed the “zoom out ending” time and time again:
- Periodically (after a few writing units? at the end of the semester?), organize the strategies by function.
In other words, what does the strategy help the writer do. Then, can we group them in some way? (For example, “This handful of strategies all help us use our unique voices in our writing” or “These strategies help writers add supporting details.” )
This is great group work — ask small groups of students to propose categories into which they can put the writing moves. Share out. Vote on the categories the class wants to adopt. (Can a writing move be in more than one category? Absolutely!)
Want to see my 8th graders’ ongoing glossary from the last two years? Here it is!
(Keep in mind: this works for MY students because of the writing units we have studied and the specific mentor texts we have studied. Feel free to make a copy of this doc, erase my content, and make it your own! But the skills my students learned won’t automatically transfer to your students.)
- Continue to talk about how writers make choices.
This is a big topic of conversation for any mentor-text-grounded class, but as students look over the list of options the glossary presents, we need to remind them that not every writing move is right for every piece of writing. Some work better for narrative; some work better for opinion writing. Most, you’ll just need to “try on” and see how it works, leaving open the option of ditching that move and shifting to another that works better. We never want our workshops to become prescriptive — it’s antithetical to building authentic writing practices. We constantly need to remind student writers that they are in control of their pieces, and they have the power to through their options to land on the very best one.
- Direct students’ attention to the writing moves glossary routinely, asking them to search for moves they might want to use in their own writing — formal or informal.
This growing glossary should be pinned to each students’ screen, at the top of their Google Classroom, constantly at hand. We want them to use this, to refer to it often, so that these writing moves seep into their brains and take root. For specific ideas for how to use them, keep reading!
Here’s the big idea at which I’m arriving: we help kids transfer what they have learned from mentor texts when we lift the moves out of the individual mentor texts and put them somewhere students can see them and practice them often in different pieces of writing.
How to Use a Writing Moves Glossary
There are endless ways to use this document — and I know you’ll think of even more ways to use it than than the ways listed below!
- At the end of a writing unit, as students to return to the writing moves glossary and choose 2-3 writing moves from the past that they could bring into this piece of writing. Have them highlight and annotate these so that you can easily see them!
- Every once in awhile, pull the glossary into notebook time! Ask students to choose a notebook time entry they have started on another day and use a couple of moves from the glossary to revise it. (That is, to make their previous writing just a little bit better.)
- Use the glossary in writing conferences. Ask students what moves they have already tried in their current draft, or talk together to choose a move the student will attempt to incorporate as they continue writing.
- The glossary can also provide specific, concrete language for goal-setting. We know that students won’t master these moves the first time they try them. (That’s one of the biggest reasons we need this glossary! So that we can hang onto the writing moves that we have practiced and practice them again in the future!) As Liz Prather writes, “I’m not as concerned that my students ‘get it right’ as I’m concerned they practice getting it right. Getting it right is an ambition that even professional writers fail at” (Story Matters, XX). So ask them to pick a couple of writing moves that they truly want to master; write them down as goals. Use these goals as a tentpole around which you confer.
- Share them with colleagues, administrators and parents! This specific list of moves we have practiced is a much more accurate record of our learning that my curriculum map or standards. Share these with adults who would benefit from knowing exactly what your students have practiced. (I do this with concrete reading skills, too.)
- Gift them to students as they leave your class. While my students and I use the glossary digitally during the school year, I am planning to print copies, laminate them, and put them on rings as an 8th grade graduation gift for each student. Okay, it might not be the coolest gift they receive, but imagine going to 9th grade with pages and pages of practiced, tried-and-true writing moves in your hand.
Could this idea work for your writers? What might it help them do or achieve in their work? Leave us a comment below or connect with us on Facebook.