Writing at the Beginning of the Year (Sept. - Dec.)



             The beginning of the Grade One school year brings about many important changes, expectations and anxieties for parents, teachers and children alike.  Learning to write is one of these important components.  At the beginning of the school year many children are often heard saying “I don’t know how to write” but they quickly learn, through the support of their classroom teacher and their parents that drawing pictures, writing their name or writing random letters of the alphabet is a beginning, but very important first step in the writing process.

            One of the most important things for children to do is to view themselves as writers.  At this beginning stage, they need to be given many opportunities to record their personal ideas and to develop their personal confidence as writers.  This is why the children are not bombarded with ensuring that words are spelled correctly or having correct sentence structure, etc.  Instead, the children are given the freedom to record their personal ideas as best they can.  For some children this means drawing a picture and telling the story orally and for other children it means beginning to sound words out in order to begin recording some letters and words. 

            We want the children to to realize that writing is simply telling about things that are important in our lives. Writing is telling things on paper.


            In the beginning months of Grade One, time is spent identifying the letters of the alphabet and their associated sounds.  In the beginning months, most time is spent working with consonants, but as the year progresses, short vowels are introduced.

            These are presented to the children in a wide variety of ways.  One way is through the “McCracken Spelling Program.”  Through this program, a letter of the alphabet and its sound are introduced to the children.  Then, the children are asked to identify where, in given words, they hear that specific letter (usually at the beginning or end of a word).  This process not only allows the children to begin to understand the letter and sound connections it also allows them to begin identifying what words are and where they begin and end.


Example:  Teacher reads “man,” “jam,” etc.   Children identify the position of the letter “m” in the following way:


                            1.          __m___          ___ ___

2.         ______           ___m___



Another way to introduce and involve the children in developing their understanding of letters and sounds and words is through “Making Words.”  Through making words, each of the children is given several letters (usually 5 or 6) as well as a folder.  The children are first asked to identify the name, as well as the sound of each letter.  Then, the teacher dictates a word and the children manipulate their letter cards in order to “make” the given word in their folder.  One child from the class is then asked to make the word for the whole class in the classroom pocket chart so that all the children can see the correct way to “make” the word.  At this time a word card, with the given word printed on it is also added to the pocket chart.  This continues, until the end when the children are challenged to identify and make the “mystery word.”  For this word, the children must use all of their letter cards to make one word.  The “making words” activity ends with the children being asked to sort the words in various ways.  For example, they can put words that begin with the same letter together or put words that have the same middle vowel together etc.




             Generating writing, like learning the letters of the alphabet is approached in many different ways in order to give the children a wide variety of opportunities to record their personal ideas and apply and extend their understanding of letters, sounds and words. 

            One way to engage the children in writing experiences is through “Personal Journals.”  In these journals, the children are encouraged to draw pictures and also make attempts to include writing.  Again, this beginning “writing” can be as varied as the children writing strings of letters to children making initial attempts to sound words out.  In these personal journals, the children are often asked to “read” their writing to the teacher and the teacher can then model what some of the words look like by replying to the child.  For example, if the child has drawn a picture of a cat and “tells” a story about a cat, the teacher might write back to the child with a simple sentence such as “I like pet cats too.”  This simple sentence, not only models many of the words that the child was using orally but also, correct word spacing and sentence structure.  This beginning modeling starts to expose these young writers to words, stories and sentences that they can read and still allows them to be and feel successful with their personal writing.

                        At this beginning writing stage the children are also often given sentence starters.  These sentence starters give the children the freedom to work within their own level of ability but also allow them to personalize and take ownership for their writing.  Some of the beginning sentence starters might include: “I like…” “I can…” “I wish…”  “I have…”



Along with these independent writing experiences, the children are also involved in many full-class writing experiences.  On such experience is making class big books.  The class is given a sentence starter and each child is asked to complete the sentence with a personal idea (these ideas are usually shared through a full class discussion and recorded on chart paper).  The children are then asked to make their own page to include their simple sentence as well as a picture that matches or goes with the sentence.  These class pages are then assembled into a class book.

An extension or another approach to using these simple sentences is to give the children a sentence strip with their sentence printed on it.  The children then separate each of the words in the sentence by cutting them and then the reassemble the sentence correctly.  The sentence can then be taken home, keep at their desk or glued onto their class book page for continued practice.



            Another very important writing activity that the children are involved in is “Morning Message.”  Through this daily activity the children are asked to apply their understanding of word formation, letters, sounds and meaning by “decoding” the message.  At the beginning of the year familiar consonants, word family words, sight words or familiar spelling patterns are left out of the, message and the children are asked to apply their understanding of these concepts in order to read and gain meaning from the message.  This process is important because it allows the children to extend their understanding of letters and words within the context of “real” and everyday writing.  This morning message also allows the teacher to teach and/or introduce new letters, words or word patterns.



            Modeled writing is also a very important part of the Grade One learning day and can be approached in a variety of different ways.  In short, the teacher leads modeled writing and its purpose is to show the children how to write a sentence, story, letter, etc.  The teacher uses modeled writing as a way to discuss specific writing concepts/mechanics such as writing from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom of the page, using finger spaces between words, using correct punctuation, adding detail and description to written ideas, etc.  By modeling to the children, we give them the tools, skills and strategies to more confidently and independently approach and engage in their own personal writing.




            A great deal of “writing”, at the beginning of the Grade One school year is done orally, as a full class and/or using very patterned frameworks; however, the children greatly enjoy engaging in story writing or story telling activities.  The children are very good at telling stories through illustrations, with puppets or props; therefore they are given many and various opportunities to develop their oral story telling skills.  They also enjoy retelling stories through drama.  These oral story telling experiences allow the children to begin developing the thought processes and story concepts (beginning, middle and end) that required to tell and/or write stories.  As the children begin to strengthen their personal writing skills they are then able to begin extending their understanding of story and story concepts to their own writing.  Therefore, oral opportunities and experiences are a very important part of the Grade One program.




            Working with words and developing word knowledge is also a very important component in assisting the children grow in their personal writing ability.  When children understand how words are formed or how letters are put together they not only memorize words, but they are able to make connections to other words with similar spelling patterns or letter sound connections.  This understanding of words allows them to then begin “attacking” larger and more challenging words.

            At the start of the school year we work with many of the beginning sight words that the children will need in their writing and see many times over in their reading.  Many of these beginning words are usually very phonetic and are one-syllable words (I can, me, my, she, him, her, it, is, the, etc.).  There is also a focus on colour and number words as they connect directly with the Math and Science concepts that are being covered.

 These sight words are introduced to the children and there is discussion about the letters in the words and then these words are added to the classroom word wall.  This word wall is a collection of words that are sorted according to the initial letter.  The word wall is a very valuable reference for the children when they are engaged in classroom writing activities.



        Words are also introduced to the children when new themes are being studied.  The children are involved in full class brainstorming activities where they are asked to think of words that connect to the current theme or topic of study.  These theme words are also displayed within the classroom so that they children can access them, as they need when they are involved in writing activities.



·       Letter-sound connection – more consonants; stretching words; beginning sounds-middle-end; making words, Elkonin boxes, McCracken, phonemic awareness,

·       Generating writing – recording personal ideas and read them back; using sentence starters, pattern stories, class big books, class poems; charts, shared writing; making and breaking sentences, brainstorming, morning message, journaling, agenda, modeled writing; letter writing – Valentines.

·       Word work; familiar words; sight words; theme words; word banks; word walls; labeling

·       Story writing – drawing, drama, beg-mid-end, oral first, more full class, retellings with puppets, etc., writing told through illustration;

·       Letter formation.

·       Mechanics – word spacing, left-to-right, lines – upstairs, basement; floating letters