In kindergarten, first grade, and second grade we required virtually no original writing from Alex. No daily journaling. No creative writing. No descriptive paragraphs, expository paragraphs, persuasive paragraphs. Just narrations (brief verbal summaries of readings) and dictations, plus occasional short answers on a science lab sheet. In second grade she did a few short writing assignments (just a few sentences each) for MCT Language Arts and for science. That was it.
It made me a little nervous, to be honest, being so light on original writing in a world in which, we keep being told, third-graders in public school are writing five-paragraph essays. (I’ve wrung my hands about it before, although sadly the graded examples I linked to seem to have been taken down.) But it made sense to me to should focus on learning to write words and sentences correctly, not on producing large amounts of material, so we stuck with it.
Now, for the first time, we’re using a more traditional writing curriculum, Writing Strands. Alex is winding up Lesson 2, a 9-day (that’s three weeks for us) exercise called “Sentence and Paragraph Control.” It’s a very interesting method of building up to writing your first paragraph.
For the first few days of the lesson, Alex worked on re-writing a “core sentence” five times to include answers to five questions. Here’s an early example:
Core sentence: The girl flies the kite.
Alex’s sentences, answering questions posed in the text:
1. Janet sees the girl fly the kite.
2. Janet sees Alice fly the kite.
3. Janet sees Alice fly the red kite.
4. Janet sees eight-year-old Alice fly the red kite.
5. Eight-year-old Alice is flying a red kite in stormy weather, and Janet thinks it is fun to watch.
Aha! See the breakthrough in the fifth sentence? Alex wanted to know why she had to include all the question answers in each successive sentence, and now I know: because the repetition is so boring that you wind up breaking out and finding a more interesting way to express yourself.
She moved on to getting to choose her own core sentence and her own questions. I pointed out that if she made her questions more interesting, her sentences would be more fun to write. So she did:
Core sentence: The hamster runs.
Alex’s sentences, answering questions of her own devising:
1. Fufu is running.
2. Fufu is running 60 miles per hour.
3. Fufu is being chased by a giant robot, so she is running 60 miles per hour.
4. Fufu ran through a mud puddle at 60 miles per hour while being chased by a giant robot, so now her fur is all brown.
The brilliant part of the lesson comes in days 7-9, when the author explains that writing a paragraph is essentially like writing these sets of sentences, except that you don’t have to cram everything you want to talk about into one long sentence. You get to use a whole sentence (or more) for each question you’re answering. Alex wrote her first paragraph based on this process, and she did a beautiful job. (I’m going to break that off into a separate post, though, because she hasn’t quite finished copying over her final draft yet, and I promised her I’d put its picture on the blog when she was done.)