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 Personal Narratives is the perfect genre to launch our reading and writing program. One of the most wonderful things about working with first graders is that they love to tell stories. They love to talk about special moments in their lives. They also love to share stories about activities they do with their friends and families outside of school.

Our first unit of study in our reading and writing workshop is called “Small Moments.” This unit prepares children to write about the exciting things that happen in their lives. Our young writers learn strategies that help them to bring the people in their stories to life by making them move and talk, think and feel. First grade writers also practice utilizing great writing skills, such as using transition words to demonstrate the sequence of the
story and quotation marks to illustrate dialogue between characters. They also “fancy up” their writing by making a cover page, adding details and color to illustrations.

To help the children know what to do, the teachers model the writing process. Recently, an “accidental” spill involving a container of markers sparked a story about the mishap. The teachers modeled the writing partnership with their classes as they engaged in a shared writing experience to tell the story. Together, they wrote the text, and the children asked questions to add colorful specifics to their shared narrative. Finally, everyone read the draft piece together. After the shared writing exercise, the students wrote their own stories.

The teachers help the students write by giving them tools to guide them with their planning. For example, the children use their fingers to “touch and tell” their story before writing. They use their hands to structure and sequence their narrative with the transitions words first, next then, after that and finally. They also use visual cues and gestures to remind themselves to add feelings, actions, and dialogue. First graders learn to be independent writers by using concrete tools to expand their thinking as they write.

In addition to concrete tools and modeling, writers often need the company of a partner to revise and energize their stories. Amid the pleasure and buzz of working together as writing partners, the children are able to edit and add depth to their stories. One story is selected to be taken through the publishing process of editing, revising and rewriting, then shared in a planned celebration. By experiencing the writing process as meaningful and enjoyable, the first-grade students are getting ready to bring these important skills to later academic work.