Let’s start with this: I *may* have a tendency to overcomplicate things at times. Especially when it comes to teaching. In my 10 years of teaching, I’ve come to realize that keeping things SIMPLE is often best. While teaching first graders to write is far from a simple task, the lesson plans and activities don’t always need to be overly complicated. Hours of planning and prep do not necessarily lead to greater results.
There have been several times that I’ve been completely taken by surprise by how much my little ones have loved simple, no-frills activities. (Full disclosure: It’s almost irritating given the amount of time I put into prepping other activities!) I’m talking about the simplest, minimal prep things like letting them use sticky notes to find sight words in books (really anything involving sticky notes). Highlighters – fascinating tools apparently! Little spiral notebooks – oh my do they ever looooove walking around writing in those little flip notepads.
Now as an organizationally-obsessed-but-in-a-healthy-way teacher, I can totally relate to the love of sticky notes, highlighters, and cute notebooks. So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I discovered that my kiddos can’t get enough of LIST WRITING! I make lists for ev.er.y.th.ing! I just had NO idea that my first graders would share my love of them.
It makes sense though. For emerging writers, lists are a great tool for a few reasons.
1. Familiar Topics
Including a variety of lists and letting the kiddos choose their topic is key. They can select a list prompt that is meaningful and relevant to them. This means they’ll have an easier time coming up with ideas. We all know the familiar cries of frustrated little writers, “I don’t know what to write about!” With kid-friendly and engaging topics like: toys, pets, birthday parties, etc., they can easily pick something that they want to write about. Including some topics that aren’t as common also grabs the attention of some of the ‘out of the box’ thinkers. They’ll often choose the topics like: things with stripes, sour things, and things that make me laugh.
2. Isolates Sounding Out Skills
Learning to write can be exhausting for our little ones. When you think about how many things they have to juggle at once, it’s understandable that some shut down on us. They have to: come up with an idea, s-t-r-e-t-c-h the word out, recall the letter sound and letter symbol, print the letter using correct formation and repeat the process for every.single.letter. in a word. And that’s just one word. Then they also have to come up with a complete sentence and remember when to use lower-case and upper-case letters. Oh! And don’t forget finger spaces and punctuation! Yikes!
Sooooo it makes sense that we might want to lessen the load at times and isolate specific skills. List writing does just that. They can simply focus on stretching out words. And that’s it! One word at a time. This is a skill that takes lots of practice and I love that list writing is an enjoyable way for my first graders to work on it.
3. Easy Organization
Ever have a child hand you a piece of writing and it’s ALL OVER THE PLACE?! Yup! We can probably all relate. The child is so proud and we desperately try to follow the trail of letters and make sense of it. In the early stages of writing, we want them to focus on the process of generating ideas and independently recording sounds. While it’s tempting to want to remind our little writers about neatness, I’ve come to believe that there’s a time and place for that. If we critique EVERY aspect of their writing, it’s a surefire way to make writing a miserable experience for emerging writers.
The beauty of lists is that they naturally help young writers to organize their writing. One word per line keeps it simple! They quickly grasp this concept and it makes it muuuuch easier for us to read their writing. The limited space also encourages them to adjust the size of their letters to fit on the line. It’s been helpful for my kiddos who are working on appropriate spacing between letters in a word. If they leave giant ‘meatball’ spaces between each letter, they quickly realize that it just won’t fit…like those skinny jeans after Thanksgiving dinner. Not gonna happen! So just like we quickly learn that skinny jeans have no place at holiday dinners, they learn to figure out letter spacing pretty fast!
4. It’s Authentic & Purposeful!
Like I said before, I looooove lists! They serve many purposes for me…grocery lists, packing lists, decluttering lists, bucket lists and of course the neverending TO DO list! I even have a To Do list that I keep on the whiteboard and my kiddos and I take turns adding to it. It usually goes something like this: “Ms. Coleman, your whiteboard marker is dying!” Me: “You’re right. I’ll have to get a new one from the office.” Next day, still writing with said dried out marker, “Ms. Coleman, did you get a new marker yet?!” Me: “Nope! I sure didn’t. Totally forgot.”
Annnd this goes on for a few days until we finally decide that someone should add it to my To Do list 🙂 Believe me, once it’s on there, I’d better not forget because they’ll ask me every day until I do it! It actually works out quite nicely as it keeps me organized and my little ones see an authentic purpose for list-keeping.
They’ve also likely seen their parents keeping lists of some kind. We talk about digital list-keeping and how people also use phones and tablets to organize lists. Once we’ve introduced lists in the classroom, my little ones often start taking the initiative to create their own lists everywhere they can: in notebooks, on iPads, scrap paper. Any time they are seeking out reasons to write, I’m one happy camper!
5. They Feel Like ‘Real’ Writers
Little ones learn a lot by watching and imitating the adults around them (no pressure!!) so it makes sense that they enjoy the feeling of creating their own lists. Just like the adults around them. Who knows…it may be the start of a lifetime obsession with lists for some of them! Not the worst thing in the world right?!
Anyone who has had the joy of guiding children through the process of learning to write knows how amazing it is when those lights go on. For me, the best one is when they have the sudden realization that they are actually writing! Just the other day I had a little boy show me his writing (we were working on generating questions) and I was celebrating it with him. He stood there for a second looking at the paper filled with his writing and then blurted out, “I’m a real-life writer! I don’t know how I did that!” It was one of those teacher moments. It had all come together for him. He had turned a corner from thinking of writing as something ‘other people’ did and now saw himself as a writer. Happy day!
Sooo any opportunity we can give our kiddos to feel like ‘real-life’ writers is a good one in my books! If you’d like to give List Writing a try in your classroom, I’ve put together a new resource filled with prompts to get even the most reluctant writers engaged. Picture Prompt Lists are a perfect starting point for those that need a little help getting started with ideas.
Until next time, happy teaching! I’m off to the next thing on my list today: hot yoga 🙂
With love, from my classroom to yours,