Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sharing time

So here it is. In the past three years, I've become even more committed to spending time having students share their writing. Not just every month, not every week, but every day. If we are to be a community of writers, then we need to listen to one another, offer our questions and comments, and give each other support.

But time is limited. In order for a sharing routine to be successful, it has to be quick and easy for me to implement. Here's what has worked well.

After about 7-10 minutes of writing time, students gather with me on the back carpet. Then, I pull a Popsicle stick. The student on that stick comes to the Writers' Chair and shares. I always ask the same questions at the beginning--"What are you sharing with us today? Is this a new piece of writing, or one that you've been working with?". Then, the student reads aloud, either a sentence, a paragraph, or a page.

At the end of the piece, students raise their hands with questions and comments. This is the most important part of the sharing time. Writers need to think about their audiences. My students are lucky enough to have their audience right in front of them. And they play wonderfully into my hands. If a student leaves out something important, the hands go up. "What is the name of your horse?" or "Where were you when you were camping?" Sometimes they comment on what they liked about the piece, or how they feel about the topic.

The student who shared has the power to choose three people for their questions and comments. Here, the writer has the power to call on other students! They use this power wisely, looking deliberately at the raised hands and choosing the next person with care.

The whole process is over in about 10 minutes. But these 10 minutes are worth every second, because they are minutes in which the students do what writers do: share, comment, respond, and, usually, laugh.

Here are answers to some questions about sharing:
-Does everyone share every day? No. At the beginning of the year, I'm still trying to model and reinforce writerly conversations. So we need to be together as a whole class, and I limit the sharing to three people each day.

-What about the student who doesn't want to share? I used to let them off the hook. But I guess I've grown tougher. Everyone who gets called has to share, even if it's just a sentence or the beginning of an idea. And then we send good thoughts toward the author, thoughts of encouragement, and share some things that the author is good at. Even the most resistant writer will crack a smile at the sight of 24 people sending encouraging thoughts!

-What about repeats? This question plays out differently in each class. For some classes, the thought of a student sharing twice before others have shared once is horrible. When a student expresses unhappiness with the arrangement, I pounce. "Would you like to come up with a way to make sure that everyone gets to share an equal number of times?" In one class, a girl used a class roster to allocate sharing. It worked beautifully. But it has to come from them.

-What about struggling writers? I've found that fourth graders are a most encouraging audience. They listen to the choppy, difficult to understand writing of their peers with care and compassion, and ask good questions. In fact, usually the motivation of sharing for an audience is what keeps these writers facing the page each day.

-Does it ever change? Of course! In about November, as the students start to mature a bit, I can let go of the whole-class sharing and try out some other techniques.

-Where is the learning? This is the hardest part of sharing. I must be ready to offer comments and teaching on the spot. Today, I was trying to highlight what our writers had produced, so I told them to show their journals to the class. "Wow! Writers, look at what this student has produced today. That was a lot of thinking and writing." I also showed how one writer used a paragraph to show a change of topic and how another writer had drawn a picture to help him get ideas. I never really know what I'm getting into.

Last week, I focused on doing what writers do. For example, if a student got to a tricky part and had to reread, I said, "That's something that writers do. When we read something aloud, sometimes we notice places that we need to add or change ideas."


  1. I don't always comment. Okay, only when you are giving away free books. But I always enjoy your marvelous insights into the minds of fourth graders. Thanks for taking the time to post!

  2. Emily,

    What a treat to spend a few minutes in the back of your classroom with you and your students. I loved "if we are to be a community of writers." Gosh, that put goose bumps on me. Your students will not know for years and years what a treat it was to have Mrs. Kissner. I laughed out loud at "pull a Popsicle." It was like reading, "I pull a rabbit out of my hat." Or, "I do a cartwheel." But I soon realized that's one of those elementary classroom "pick a student" methods. I'm so enamored with you elementary folks. There's magic in you.

    Mike Teacher Food