Ah, Kindergarten. I taught K for a few years, and sometimes I really miss it! What I don’t miss, however, is the beginning of the year. It’s so. completely. exhausting. At the school where I most recently taught Kinder, the majority of my kiddos would come in without preschool, without knowing any of the letters, and often not knowing how to write their names. Since expectations for Kindergarten have risen so much in previous years, getting them on track was definitely a challenge!
My favorite subject to teach in Kindergarten was writing. The kids made so much growth from the beginning to the end of the year! However, starting out with the first few weeks of writing workshop was overwhelming at times, because the kids needed to learn so many different things. Here are some things I did that helped me, and I hope that they will be helpful to you, too!
1. Start out with baby steps. I would spend entire minilessons on all of the following: using pencils safely and correctly, using crayons safely and correctly, drawing on both sides of the paper, knowing when to get more paper, staying on task the entire work period, writing your name on your paper. That’s 5 or 6 minilessons right there! I kept it simple and started out slow, instead of cramming all those procedures into 1 or 2 minilessons. And I do think it paid off in the end.
2. Encourage drawing. I can’t quote the exact study, but I have heard research showing that kids who draw with more details become kids who write with more details. It’s developmentally appropriate for children to draw before they write. Explicitly teach kids how to turn ideas into pictures and how to add details to their pictures.
3. Expect the kids to come up with their own pictures and words. If you teach them that writing consists of copying your words or always using sentence starters, then kids will believe that that is what writing is. But if, from the start, you ask your students to come up with their own ideas and use what they know to write words, then your Kinders will be more independent throughout the whole year. There’s nothing wrong with having them occasionally copy words or sentence starters from the board, but I don’t recommend doing this often at the beginning of the year, because the kids will become dependent on that. Instead, model how to draw with lots of details, and then work up to having kids label their pictures, and eventually teach them how to write their own, original sentences. Writing sentences won’t happen immediately, but with lots of scaffolding, they will get there.
4. Expect students to spell words independently. I always answer the question “How do you spell ____?” with another question: “What sounds do you hear?” or “What strategy are you going to use?” If I didn’t spell words for my students from the very beginning, then I found that they simply stopped asking. Of course, you will have to teach students spelling strategies in order for them to be able to work independently. I like to give students an alphabet chart early on in the year, once we start working on letter sounds. You will later teach them that correct spelling does, in fact, matter! But if, from the beginning, you expect them to be independent spellers, then they will become independent spellers.
5. Model, model, and model some more! Use large chart paper or a document camera to show students how you draw and write, and think aloud as you do it. Your Kinders may somewhat copy your ideas at first, but this is still a step in the right direction.
If you’re interested in ready-to-go minilessons to use at the beginning of the year, check out my Kindergarten Writing Curriculum Unit 1. It takes the kids from learning how to use writing tools appropriately to drawing with details, getting writing ideas, listening for the sounds in words, labeling pictures, and more. Click on the picture to check it out!
Also, here is a free alphabet chart that you can download to support your writers with their invented spelling.