Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Habit of Writing

"We simply carry on as writers knowing that if we do, what we need to teach about writing will become clear along the way, if we develop the eyes to see it."   Katie Wood Ray, What You Know by Heart

As many of you know I've been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  The idea is to post writing for the entire month of March.  Writing for 31 days seemed like a bit of a crazy commitment to me, but I decided I was going to join.  It was that or begin to exercise.  Besides, I needed to build my writing habit again. I'd gotten away from the habit of spending time writing, collecting ideas, or just playing with words.  So on March 1st I began posting to my daily (I use that term loosely) blog, Merely Day by Day.  The challenge seemed to fit better with the premise of that blog which was to capture little snippets of life.

During the challenge, I've been reminded of the significance of time, audience, and process as I've tried to post each day.  It's made me think a lot about the writing community in our classroom.  Honestly, it has given me an admiration for how hard my students work each day and created a bit of jealously of the ease in which they settle into writing each day.  Most of all, it's reminded me of the importance of my role in providing opportunities to build the habit of writing.

To Develop a Habit of Writing Young Writers Need:

  • Time to Write:  In our classroom students have time to write about self-selected topics everyday.  Our workshop typically allows about forty minutes for writing.  Students need time to develop a process as writers - time to practice all kinds of writing, time to think, time to learn, time to talk together as writers, time to grow ideas.  For me, and I think I can safely say for my young writers, this time is nonnegotiable.  
  • A Place to Write:  I typically sit on my couch with my laptop to write, but students also need a place to write.  I try to create spaces for writers to move in the classroom.  I have a small table in which students love to gather to write.  This year the places have become little collaborative writing groups.  I've noticed students move into particular groups of friends who support them as writers.  They need their tools close enough that finding them doesn't interrupt their work.  
  • Community Conversations:  This is a big one for me.  I think writers need to be able to talk together as they work.  We spend time figuring out what our room should sound like so everyone can work within it.  We also spend time learning about the conversations writers have as they work.   At the end of each writer's workshop we take time to share, learn from, and celebrate a few pieces of writing.  
  • A Writer's Notebook:  My first graders have a writer's notebook in which they learn to keep ideas.  Sometimes after reading a book or having a conversation I'll note students have a lot of connections to it.  When this happens I'll say, "If this book has given you an idea for your writing get your writer's notebook so you can ave the idea."  Our notebooks also give us a place to play with our writing.  In our notebooks students draw, write, list, web, use post-its, and find ways to think about their stories.  
  • Mentor Text:  As I've been writing everyday, I've been reminded how important reading is for placing words in my head and my heart.  I realize how helpful reading the slices of others has been in helping me think about topics, structures, and craft.  As I read I realize sentences catch my attention, words jump off the page, and crafting techniques begin to tuck themselves into my mind.  As I've been writing more, I've realized I need to read more.  I've been pushing to find the time for both.  My young writers need this same opportunity to read and notice the way authors craft their stories.  
As I walk into my classroom each day during this challenge I have a renewed appreciation of the work these young writers do everyday.  The more I write the more I find my myself talking to my students writer to writer once again.  


  1. I loved reading your post and it was a wonderful reinforcement and reminder of the important things I need to make sure to include every day. The biggest issue I have in my classroom is TIME. My kids love to write and even ASK to write, but our schedule is pretty regimented and unfortunately we only have about 15-20 minutes for writing. I envy your 40 minutes! Hopefully I can be more free with my schedule next year.


  2. Cathy,
    You are also a teacher who writes, and maybe that should be added to your list. If a teacher also writes, she deeply understands the value of all the other things that are on your list. :-)

  3. Great words to inspire a habit of writing!

  4. I loved reading your connections to the slices to apply with &for your students. Will share with my colleagues! Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  5. Well said! Your students are lucky to have you!

  6. Yes I envy the students in a writing classroom - the time to write is carved into their day for them. We have to set aside our own piece of writing time and being disciplined about this is a challenge with the competing demands of work and family life. To develop the habit we (students and adults)also need a model. If we model daily for students, explicitly with a targeted focus, our young writers take risks and try new techniques. I also am finding the slices I read are providing me with this model, giving me the ideas to try myself.

  7. What a great reflection on this process so far and the "must haves" in your classroom. Clear, concise, and important.

  8. Cathy~
    Thanks for reminding me how diligently our young writer's are working. Writer's workshop is a favorite time of day in our classroom and I suspect this is a result of the effort and successes they experience each day in the workshop.
    Your post is inspiring; I am forced to reflect on the time I allow myself for writing and reading.

  9. nice post. Since words are your thing, you might be interested in a series of posts I have been doing on the word play involved in cryptic crosswords. The first one is:
    It has now evolved into a daily series. I find it great fun - much better than ordinary crosswords.