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A Quick Guide to Teaching Second-Grade Writers with Units of Study, Grade 2
A class of second graders is an especially diverse group—there will be some who are still fledgling writers and some who are ready for anything you put before them. Your teaching will need to be assessment based and designed to support diversity. Becoming familiar with curriculum developed for first and third graders will help you find different ways to support both your struggling and your strongest writers. The Units of Study for Primary Writing (Calkins et al. 2003) and the Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5 (Calkins et al. 2006) can be helpful resources.
Second-grade teachers also comprise a diverse group. Some of you teach in a school that works directly with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). Others are part of a group of teachers in a building or district that has been studying and using the primary Units of Study set. And then there are those of you for whom this is an introduction to writing workshop, who have turned to this because you are seeking an alternative to your existent writing curriculum. Whichever position you hold, we welcome you.
Special Advice for Second-Grade Teachers
First, a high volume of writing is incredibly important. When children arrive in your classroom at the start of second grade, ideally they will be able to write at least a couple of sentences per page across all the pages in three to five-page booklets—and produce roughly that quantity of writing during a typical day's writing workshop, although we acknowledge there will be a range of abilities with regard to volume. By third grade, your children will be expected to write at least one notebook page of writing during one day's writing workshop. Your goal by the end of this year will be that children will produce close to a page of writing in one day's writing workshop. To support this goal, it is important to imbue writing time with high expectations, to commit to at least forty minutes of actual pen-to-paper writing time each day, and to provide paper that contains more lines and booklets that contain more pages as the year goes on.
Secondly, as second graders create more volume of writing, encourage them to revise, rethink, and rewrite in order to lift the level of their writing. The challenge is to help children write more without sacrificing clarity, craft, or their readers' interest. This means teaching qualities of good writing, starting with the most fundamental ones including structure, focus, and detail, and it means teaching children that revision is an everyday part of all writing. When you confer, encourage writers to aim not just to record their ideas but also to write well, and help them learn to reread and revise their writing. As the year progresses, revision will also sometimes involve a sequence of drafts.
Thirdly, it is important that children work with increasing independence. In your minilessons, you will often remind writers of the options they have to draw upon during that day's writing workshop. As you confer, much of the instruction will not match the minilesson. That is, you'll offer children an assortment of options during minilessons, conferences, and small-group work, so that at any given time in the day what one child does may well differ from what another child does. When you allow your children to take ownership of the choices they make as they write, you are following the essential principles and beliefs that inform writing workshop.
An Overview of the Year
We recommend starting the year with two consecutive units on personal narrative writing, with the second aimed toward lifting the level of writing. We suggest following this with a unit on fiction writing. Before the winter holiday, we hope you have time for a unit on writing fairy tales.
We then move into a January unit on idea-based writing. We imagine that Writing to Grow Ideas will be a unit that will help students write to learn and, especially, write about ideas, including ideas related to their personal narrative writing, to stuff in the world, and to books. Students then bridge into an ambitious unit, a variation on All-About Books. We call this a unit on expert books. This unit will incorporate some of the writing-about-ideas and writing-to-learn work that children will have done during the previous month.
After March, we hope you help your children continue down their path of nonnarrative writing by exploring avenues of persuasive writing, specifically review writing—TV show reviews, restaurant reviews, book reviews. This way, students are writing about reading in units, in sequence: Writing to Grow Ideas, Expert Books, and Persuasive Writing. April is reserved for poetry. May revisits Expert Books, this time inviting children to write expert projects in a content area (we envision this occurring in a science unit, although of course you can choose any topic you like). Finally, we imagine that June will feature a unit angled toward large-scale revision, inviting children to revise narratives they wrote earlier in the year. You'll invite children to self-assess their writing and help them make one final push to lift the level of their narrative writing so they are ready for third grade. Some of the narratives they write during this final month could become part of their rite of passage to third grade, traveling with them from one classroom, one grade, one year, to another.
You'll find that I describe the first five months of second grade in detail and then only shine a spotlight down the path of the remaining months. By February, I will have helped you teach your youngsters all the essentials of narrative and nonnarrative writing, and I believe you'll be able to coconstruct the remaining units.
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