What do you think is the hardest part about teaching writing? I’ve always had strong lessons on introductions and felt confident in supporting writers to explore genre and style. But, man, teaching emerging writers how to close a piece…that has always felt extra hard.
I was encouraged to know I’m not alone when a 5th grade teacher emailed me earlier this month:
If you’re like me, you’ve maybe said to students, “Just sum up your big idea. But don’t say it exactly the same. And try to leave the writer with something to think about.”
Huh. Not helpful, let alone instructive.
For a long time I felt frustrated. When I looked at real writing, I couldn’t find any examples of the kinds of conclusions I thought my students were supposed to be writing. Then I had a lightbulb moment. If those kinds of conclusions didn’t live in the real world, then maybe I needed to shift my thinking.
I know, I know. Duh.
So I let go of “should” and embraced more of the “could.” The lessons were in the mentor texts I was using to introduce writing to students. Instead of going on a Sunday night Google goose chase, I went back to the mentor texts. I asked myself, “What do I notice these writers doing? Could my students try this?”
That’s exactly what we did earlier this month in that 5th grade classroom. The students were working on informational reports and we talked about how important it is to “wrap it up.”
Conclusions in the Real World
Projecting a picture of Collins Key, we started by talking about texts they’re familiar with. I asked them to consider how the youtubers they love wrap up their videos.
“Sometimes they tell you to subscribe to their channel,” one student volunteered.
“Ah, I like that. Sometimes they give you a next step or something to do,” I said.
The kids nodded and shared other examples of how they’d seen that.
“You know, that’s something we can do in our own writing,” I told them. The student helper wrote that on chart paper as the kids copied it in their notebooks. “Sometimes when you’re wrapping up your writing, you can give the reader a next step.”
Unpacking Mentor Texts
Then we looked at articles from NewsELA. We focused just on the conclusions, thinking about what we noticed the writer doing. Together we came up with a list.
When wrapping it up, writers sometimes:
- Tell the reader a next step
- Describe a little story related to the topic
- Give some new, interesting information
- Circle back to the beginning
That’s a pretty good list, right? With little nudging, the kids noticed and named these moves.
“Writers,” I looked at them, “if we can notice it, you know what else we can do? We can write it.”
Practicing in Small Chunks
I passed out post-its to each student, instructing them to think about the big idea of their writing. What did they most want readers to take away? That helps us figure out what to write about in the conclusion. They turned and talked to a partner, verbally rehearsing what a conclusion might sound like about that big idea.
I noticed the kids were unsure at first, so I pulled them back together, modeling how each conclusion might work about tsunamis, their teacher’s topic. They nodded and turned back to their conversations.
Then it was time to write. We invited the students to go back to their work spaces and in either their notebooks or drafts, to try out two different conclusions, using our list as a guide. For about ten minutes students revised, drafted, and collaborated with their writing partners. At the end their teacher asked students to share. It was incredible to hear how these 5th graders were able to craft new conclusions that raised the quality of their writing. And they knew it. You could see it on their faces as they read their writing.
My favorite moment of the whole experience didn’t actually happen that day, though. It happened a week later, when I received this email from the teacher:
Really, isn’t this what we want for ourselves and for our writers? To begin to read the world like a writer, and notice how writing exists all around us. That’s the power of a workshop approach to writing instruction.
Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH area. She’s currently reading Dare to Lead by Brene Brown with the #cleartheair community, and a cheesy romance novel whose title shall remain a mystery.