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Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5

Program 3: Reasons for Writing

This program examines practices that motivate students to write: choosing their own topics and making writing decisions, keeping a writer's notebook for recording their thoughts, focusing on authentic audiences for their writing, and having opportunities to publish their pieces.

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Watch the 30-minute video “Reasons for Writing.” If you prefer to watch the video in segments, you can stop at the times suggested below or use the Video Guide (PDF) — a detailed outline of the video — to help you determine places to stop for discussion.

Answer the questions that follow each segment, jotting down your answers in your notebook or using them as discussion starters.

Valuing Student Experiences

The experts and teachers featured in this segment know that students’ lives are a rich source of inspiration. When children know that their families and cultures are respected and that they can freely explore their interests and passions, they find reasons to write in their own experience. (Stop after the segment featuring Latosha Rowley’s class. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately seven minutes into the video.)

  • Christine Sanchez honors her students’ heritage by beginning the writing workshop with a Navajo greeting. Silvia Edgerton shows respect for her fifth-graders’ culture and language through her positive responses to their purposeful use of Spanish within their English writing. Could these or similar practices be adapted for your classroom? What are some other ways to honor your students’ cultural backgrounds?
  • By having her students create “heart maps,” Latosha encourages them to begin thinking about what matters to them. What other strategies might help students identify their interests and passions?

Modeling a “Writerly Life”

In this segment, Christine Sanchez demonstrates for her students how to get ideas from other writers and record them in their writer’s notebooks. Mark Hansen takes his students out into the community to make observations that could lead to writing topics.  (Stop after the segment featuring Mark’s class. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately 18 minutes into the video.)

  • By sharing her thinking aloud, Christine models what writers do. What are some additional strategies that writers might use to find topics? List strategies that you could share with your students.
  • To help his students zero in on a community problem, Mark encourages them to jot down their observations while they are out on their walk. How could you provide your students with opportunities to gather more information about these issues?

Mark Hansen: Lesson Background (PDF)

Promoting Student Choice

In the final segment, the classrooms of Sheryl Block, Latosha Rowley, and Silvia Edgerton illustrate the importance of teaching students how to make choices about and during writing.  (Play to the end of the program.)

  • Jot down some of the reasons teachers feel compelled to choose writing topics for their students. For each reason listed, suggest a way of supporting student choice while meeting the instructional need.