5 Reasons To Use Lists With Emerging Writers

List Writing Prompts for Kindergarten and First Grade

Yup, this is a list about lists!

In 10 years of teaching first grade, I’ve came to the realization 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 need to be overly complicated.

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.

Simplicity is often best

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!

Mini spiral notepads – oh my do they ever looooove walking around and writing in those little flip notepads.

Spiral Notebook and Flamingo Pen 

I can totally relate to their love of sticky notes, highlighters, and cute notebooks.

It shouldn't have been a surprise to discover that my first graders couldn’t get enough of LIST WRITING!

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.

List Writing Topics Prompts

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. Isolate 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 reduce the load at times and isolate specific skills.

List Writing Picture Prompts 

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 writing lists is an enjoyable way for emerging writers to work on it.


3. Easy Organization

Ever have a student 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.

Limited writing space

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 much easier for us to read their writing.

The limited space also requires 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 words.

If they leave giant ‘meatball’ spaces between each letter, they quickly realize that it won’t fit…like skinny jeans after Thanksgiving dinner. Not gonna happen.

They learn to figure out letter spacing pretty fast!


4. It’s Authentic & Purposeful

Many of us teachers love a good list. They serve many purposes...grocery lists, packing lists, decluttering lists, bucket lists and the neverending TO DO list!

We even have a 'To Do' list that on the whiteboard. My first graders and I take turns adding to it.

Classroom To Do List on Whiteboard

They’ve also likely seen their parents keeping lists of some kind.

We talk about digital lists and how people also use phones and tablets to organize lists.

Once we’ve introduced lists in the classroom, they often start taking the initiative to create their own lists everywhere they can: in notebooks, on iPads, scrap paper.


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.

Who knows…it might even be the start of a lifetime obsession with lists for some of them! Not the worst thing in the world right?!

Lists give them the sense of accomplishment since the task is both manageable and meaningful.

 They begin to see themselves as writers!

Student Quote about Learning To Write


Just the other day I had a little boy show me his writing 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. Oh happy day!

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 resource filled with prompts to get even the most reluctant writers engaged.


List Writing Picture Prompts Bundle 

Until next time, happy teaching!

I’m off to the next thing on my list today: hot yoga :)