Starting a writer with a sketch to plan

As part of a great discussion on an NCTE message board recently, I had a chance to re-reflect upon why I am a fan of using a simple “sketching” process for prewriting…

One of the keys I’ve found for creating strong, eager writers is to use “sketching a plan” to get them started. It is a great pre-writing activity that starts as an initial scaffold and eventually can be scaffolded to where writers think more internally. (In fact my gifted students now use it for simple notes on ideas they want to write about…they have moved beyond the pictures.) I’ve found it really helps pull details out and get writers past the “I don’t know what to write”. I am a visual person, so here’s a video demonstrating: (I did this with a 1st grader I tutored one summer, but have used this in the classroom.) While there are tons of wonderful graphic organizers to use, I have found keeping this open at first helps all students. Later we integrate sketching an organizer. I think too many kids become dependent on a specific organizer and often don’t know what to do when they don’t have one. A plain planning space (I like to use large index cards) teaches kids that they can plan ideas and be flexible (my kids were able to sketch something in a margin during a test later.)

Getting kids just planning and drafting comfortably is always my 1st step. I usually focus on getting the ideas to flow. I don’t focus on targeting specific needs until they just writing. Then I start targeting one specific need at a time. Say it is just spacing between words…

This clip is working with a 3rd to 4th grader (whom I had been tutoring for awhile so she was already efficient with planning and her planning was simple.) Her scaffolding need was checking high frequency words for spelling, which we did through a revising/editing process.

Sometimes it is hard to just focus on one thing at a time for students, but I think it is most effective. One of my goals is to establish a continuum of skills for reference. I started this work with a group of colleagues last year across 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, so hopefully we can finish this year. As soon as I uncover my notes, I will share what we have so far!

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