Writing + Community Building = Awesomeness
When it was time for me to graduate from the fifth grade, we were told that our culmination theme was “America, the Beautiful,” and that there would be a speech writing contest where the winner could read their speech at the ceremony. I remember submitting this essay all about how America was like a patchwork quilt, beautifully diverse yet united. Okay, a bit of a cliche, but hey, I was 10. I ended up winning the contest and I vividly remember that proud feeling whenever I walked by my essay, which was on display in the school’s hallway.
Naturally, I love teaching children how to become better writers. Over the years, I’ve taught my students how to write exciting narratives, interesting informational essays, and strong argumentative pieces. I’ve taught them to write to sources, write journal entries, and even use writing to help make a difference in their communities. But overall, my favorite way to teach writing is through something I like to call “The Big Cheese.”
But first, what is shared writing?
And what are the benefits of leading your students in a shared writing activity? Shared writing is one of the components of Balanced Literacy. It involves the teacher acting as the scribe during a collaborative writing effort between the teacher and students. The teacher models writing strategies by thinking aloud, while the students participate and contribute to the writing. This is a wonderful opportunity to not only teach writing strategies, but to also highlight spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills in context rather than in isolation.
“The Big Cheese”
Each morning when my students come in to the classroom, they grab their notebooks, clipboard, and a pencil and meet me on the carpet for some Big Cheese writing. For about fifteen minutes, we work together to write about a specific classmate – whoever is the “Big Cheese” that week. We write about them using the responses from our very special weekly Big Cheese interview. In my class with my third graders, we aim for a paragraph a day, but when I taught littler ones, we wrote one solid sentence a day. By the end of the week, my third graders have a 5-paragraph essay completed.
A Fun Way to Teach ALL the Skills
As we write together, I take time to touch on spelling, grammar, and punctuation instruction. If we are working on a specific spelling pattern or language skill during our Language Arts time, I try to incorporate that into our writing that week as well. By the end of the year, my students are pros when it comes to writing a solid thesis, using proper nouns, commas (including the super cool Oxford comma), introductory phrases, topic sentences – I could go on and on! Since my students are third graders, this is also the time where we practice our cursive writing (which they LOVE).
A new Big Cheese is selected each week at random. Think “Star of the Week”, but more educational. Once the name is randomly selected from our Big Cheese Jar, the class guesses who it is with a few clues. We then interview our new Big Cheese to learn about what they love to do and what their favorite things are. The students in the audience ask the interview questions, which is a great way to foster those oh-so-important speaking and listening skills. The process of interacting with classmates and highlighting a special student each week has really helped my students develop a love for writing and a strong classroom community.
The Extra Perks!
While the Big Cheese enjoys being the subject of our writing each morning for that week, they also get some added perks like sitting in the Big Cheese Chair, using a fun flair pen, or shopping at the Class Store. Some teachers have told me they let the Big Cheese be the line leader or be the classroom greeter that week!
What are teachers saying?
“Oh my god! I love this. I just started this year. Three weeks and 3 Big Cheese’s later I already see an amazing difference with the sentences they are coming up with. They enjoy it sooooo much! I also added that the Big Cheese stands at the door every morning and welcomes each child.” – Leslee K.
“Great writing approach to help students get writing and not be overwhelmed by the whole process. I love how it breaks writing down into parts and helps keep students organized in their thoughts.” – Tiffany K.
“What a great resource to help the students learn about each other and work on writing!! What a confidence builder for the kids. Love this!!” – Debbie E.
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