Each spring students are challenged to create original writing assignments for spring conferences and open house events. Many students, who are fluent speakers and readers, struggle with extensive writing assignments.
Marcia Tate’s Preparing Children for Success in School and Life provides instructional strategies based on brain research and learning style theories that maximize memory to retain key concepts for life. Brain-compatible learning strategies for writing include using graphic organizers to organize big ideas (see www.developingmindsinc.com for sample graphic organizers and concept maps.)
When working with primary grade students, I have created word webs to identify big ideas about a specific topic. For example, Rosie wanted to write a story about tide pools in Point Lobos, California. The central phrase for her story was tide pools. Supporting subtopics included:
- How Rosie hiked two miles along flooded trails to access the tide pools
- Why it is best to visit the tide pools during low tide
- What hazards to watch for when exploring tide pools
- A description of the types of sea life that live in tide pools
- What Rosie learned from her explorations and from follow-up research about tide pools
Once the brainstorming activity was completed, each subtopic was developed with details using the chart below:
|Main Idea: Types of sea life that live in the Point Lobos Tide Pools
|1. Anemones are visible in the intertidal zone.
|2. For short periods, star fish and mussels can be observed.
|3. During the lowest tides of the year, purples sea urchins can be found.
|4. Sea life can be killed though human disturbance.
Writers can also use story maps that describe characters, problems, and events. Diagrams that highlight cause and effect, sequencing events, and comparing and contrasting differences can help the writer organize and compile new information. Graphic organizers can be created to develop the background, supporting research, and possible outcomes of a story. For example, a chart can be created that lists the different types of tide pool life in the various intertidal zones. Added research can be compiled on the specific animals, plants, and shells observed by the writer on various visits to the Point Lobos tide pools. Photos documenting tide pool observations with descriptions and data charts can be included in the story. Students report increased confidence in their writing skills when they successfully use and create relevant graphic organizers to organize their ideas and research for a specific writing assignment.
As an administrator of family literacy programs, I created customized graphic organizers for grantwriting when compiling needs assessment data and creating the program evaluation plan (e.g. see Simplified Grantwriting by Mary Ann Burke). Student writers applied for Title I library grants using grant development templates. Parents worked with school administrators to design comprehensive afterschool programs with family literacy components. By using customized graphic organizer templates, the grant application could be mapped to define the needs statement, program components, evaluation instruments, and program budget details.
The use of brain-compatible learning strategies to support complex writing assignments helps writers clearly define and understand the important elements of their narratives.