Visualizing Writing: How Graphic Organizers and Prewriting Make a Hard Process Easier

To teach children to write: a process as difficult as it is important. How can you empower your students to push past blank page syndrome? Prewriting is important, says Hannah, and it is made easier with graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, clusters, and beginning-middle-end organizers.

But every stage of the writing process needs to be taught and modeled. Hannah demonstrates shared and interactive writing as effective methods for practicing the organization of ideas in preparation for writing.

Writing can be a difficult subject to teach and it can be a difficult task for students to complete. Staring at a blank page can sometimes be overwhelming to a student. I find that teaching students to prewrite before actually drafting a piece can help to put their mind at ease and take some of the stress out of writing. It also helps them produce a more cohesive piece of writing.

Prewriting is simply the first stage of the writing process in which a writer brainstorms ideas that he or she can use so that the student has some raw material with which to work. Lists, outlines, and graphic organizers can all be used for prewriting. The type of organizer that I usually choose to work with depends on the type of writing that I’m going to be doing. My favorite tool to use for prewriting is the graphic organizer. Graphic organizers add a visual component that really aid in organizing information.

Graphic organizers can take many different shapes. The Venn diagram is a really good tool to use for writing comparison and contrast pieces. Contrasting information can go in the outside of the circles and the comparing information can go in the overlapping part of the circles. If I were using the Venn diagram to plan a comparison and contrast piece of writing, I would pick one circle to represent one topic and the other circle to represent the other topic.

Let’s suppose I were comparing and contrasting alligators and crocodiles. I would put alligators here, crocodiles here, and the ways that they’re different I would list in the outside circles. For example, I believe one has a shorter snout than the other and so that information would go in the outside of the circles. The fact that they’re reptiles would go in the center where they overlap. Then I find that it’s also helpful to provide a list of comparing words and contrasting words along with that to help support the students when they actually go to write their paragraphs.

A cluster or web is helpful for organizing nearly any type of writing. A cluster can really help students add good supporting details to a paragraph. It is versatile because it can also be used to write a multi-paragraph assignment. Simply add more levels of circles for more details.

A beginning-middle-end organizer is a good choice for writing a narrative piece, especially a personal narrative. It helps students think through each part of the story and also helps them keep details in chronological order. If I were going to use the beginning-middle-end organizer to plan a story, I would have students think about details that happened in the beginning of the story they’re going to write, and they would list the details in the first section. If I give them an organizer with boxes like this one, I would have them draw a picture as well, but depending on grade level, I would not necessarily do that. Then I would have students think through what happened in the middle of the story, and they would put those details in the center column and then after they think about what happened at the end of the story, they write those details and the last column.

Students need explicit teaching for each stage of the writing process, and this includes prewriting. The first step in teaching a new concept is modeling. When I thoroughly model writing for my students and guide them through group practice, I find that they are much more prepared and enthusiastic to complete their own writing later. Sometimes I have a model of the desired piece of writing that I want students to produce, but I also like to model the writing process for the students. I find that thinking aloud can help students know how to process information and also teaches them how to structure their own thinking processes in order to get their thoughts onto paper.

After modeling, students need teacher supported practice. One way to guide students is through the process of shared writing or interactive writing. In both instances, the teachers and students work together to create a group writing. In shared writing, the students provide the ideas and the teacher writes them down. In interactive writing, the students still provide the ideas, but the students themselves take turns writing down their ideas. In both cases, the teacher helps with phrasing, placement of information, and any other details that the students may need assistance with.

When I use shared or interactive writing with my students, I like to write on chart paper so that students can have it as a reference later. After students complete prewriting, I will use another class on a different day to show them how to turn their thoughts from their prewriting into a paragraph.

Teaching writing this way means that the writing process will span several days or even weeks. It will depend on the project. Most times, we’re able to do it in one day. Sometimes I will have the students write their own or fill out their own organizer on the same day depending on the level of writing and also how much class time we have. Other times I might have them on a separate day and I will revisit a writing project a week or two after we’ve done the first part. It’s not something that I feel like has to be done the very next day.

Even though this process takes time, I find that it’s worth the investment.

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