When I facilitated a professional development session in August, I came to the table with pretty much nothing in terms of Units of Study for kindergarten. Having never worked with such young and inexperienced students, I was at a loss as to how we should begin writing instruction with students who, well, couldn't write!
Luckily, I was in a room full of seasoned kindergarten and first grade teachers; they put their heads together and came up with some great ideas. The suggestion I heard over and over again was to have the students make an ABC book. The students would be learning how to form the letters, would be working with the concept of beginning sounds in words, and would be strengthening their encoding skills on each and every page! Brilliant!
Afterwards, the classroom teacher and I talked at length about it, and we decided to begin the year helping the students develop the idea of "story" (beginning, middle, end; about something, etc.) as a starting point for our writing instruction. We knew all of the students could draw pictures, and that was an immediate access point for them to learn about storytelling and voice and ideas - way, way before they were going to be able to write letters, words, and sentences. And, so, we spent our first two units (Launching the Kindergarten Writers' Workshop and Authors as Mentors) building that foundation while the kindergarteners were environmentally exposed to alphabetics across the days and weeks of the first quarter.
Our first two units have gone well, according to the kindergarten teacher in the room who has been doing this for years. She often comments on how differently she feels about writing this year. Happier. And she says her past students never had the sense of story that these writers do now.
So, it's gone well. But, to be honest, after a little over two weeks in our last unit, working with the students on their The Very Hungry.... books, we made the decision to put them away until a little later in the year. Each student illustrated 7 pages (Sunday through Saturday) showing their very hungry main character looking for food on Sunday, eating increasing numbers of foods each weekday, and then eating a whole bunch of food on Saturday, just like in Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Our last lesson called for the students to try to come up with their own repeating phrase (much like Eric Carle's "...but he was still hungry"). Some students were able to think of a repeating phrase - "...but he kept on eating"; "...but he was still looking for food"; "...and he just kept getting bigger". Other students did not get that far.
At that point we decided we wanted the writers to be able to, on their own, write the words that told their stories. And that seemed to us to be work for a little ways down the road. So, we talked to each author, made sure to capture his or her story on a note-taking sheet, and filed those gems away to finish at a later date. :)
And we jumped right into our next unit!! The students are excited and ready to try something new. And we know it is time to start focusing on letter, word, and sentence formation.
The classroom teacher brought out her stack of ABC books, we gathered a few more from the library and my room. And then we chose our mentor text, ABC Animal Jamboree, written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by David Wojtowycz.
Our first lesson was the immersion lesson.
- We connected this new mentor text to the Eric Carle book we used as our examplar in the last unit of study, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
- We read the ABC Animal Jamboree, asking the students to pay close attention to how the letters were placed on the page, how the word began with the letter at the top of the page, how the picture illustrated the word on the page, etc.
- We made a chart of what they noticed.
- And then we showed them a stack of ABC books - books about birds, books about race cars, books about furry animals, books about freshwater fish, books about pilgrims...lots of books!
- Groups of two or three students each took a book and went off to look through and make observations of how the book was organized.
- We came back together and shared what we noticed.
Not surprisingly, the students mostly noticed things about the content on the pages (lots of different birds, lots of different butterflies, etc.) and not much about the writer's and illustrator's craft. But, that's okay. That's what we're here for! :)
Finally, we told the student writers that we are all going to write about the same topic for this unit- Kindergarten!! We decided to do it this way so that the students would not need to spend so much cognitive power on subject matter, leaving them fully charged to work on letters, words, and illustrations.
Our method going forward will be to work on one letter each day (maybe two if the students can handle it). We will give each student a half sheet page (see below) and the classroom teacher will model how to form the uppercase and lowercase letters correctly on the board. The students will then write the letters on their pages. Next, we will brainstorm as a class all of the the words that begin with "a" (b,c,d, etc.) that have to do with our topic, kindergarten. Each student will choose whichever word from our list that he or she wants to represent that letter in his or her book. Or they may think of another! And then, the authors will illustrate the word.
Without a doubt, we can see that all of our writers are ready!! ABC's - here we go!