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April 9, 2011

Write On: Getting Kids Started Writing STORIES in Kindergarten! (Free Rubric!)

Getting Kids Started Writing STORIES (free rubric)Getting Kids Started Writing STORIES (free rubric)

Getting Kids Started Writing STORIES!  (Free Rubrics)

Getting kids started writing STORIES in Kindergarten is not impossible!  In fact, I have done this MANY times with my students, and I can tell you that we certainly had a LOT of fun with it!  Once they get going, there is no stopping them!  Read on to find to how to turn your little ones into authors.

Group Writing Table

1.  Getting Kids Started Writing Stories

At my school, it was decided that Kindergartners would be expected to write stories with more than one character, a setting, and beginning, middle, and an end.    (Insert heavy sigh here!)  I decided that if we were to accomplish such a feat, I would have to model this process faithfully as much as I possibly could.

Helper of the Day Story (with an old version of our Sounds Fun poster!)
Helper of the Day Story (with an old version of our Sounds Fun poster!)

So I decided that we would try to write a story about our helper of the day, every single day in shared writing. I would write in front of the class, and let them give me their ideas about how it should be.   So far, the children are using the format in their little story books quite a bit, and they are getting more and more creative!  I decided that I would have the “Helper of the Day Story” be about different things we were studying, so that I could model the use of other important vocabulary.


This is how I get the children to help me write a story as a class (shared writing), and how I prompted them:

  1. I told the children that one story had to be about a soldier, who had to be named for our helper of the day, since we are studying community helpers.
  2. I asked them:  Where would he go?  What would he do?  Who would go with him?
  3. What problem would he encounter and how would he solve it?
  4. Once I get the helper of the day to start the story by telling where he or she will go and with whom, then I pull a randomly chosen name stick and have that person tell what will happen next, by asking the person those sorts of question prompts.
  5. As we go along, I model how to write the story, asking the children to spell the words for me aloud as much as they can.
  6. If there is a spelling song, then we start singing it a cappella (with no CD, just off the tops of our heads.)  (See example of spelling song in the video clip below.)  We just sing it without getting up during shared writing.
  7.  If it is a decodable word, then we “stretch out the word” (segment it) and listen for all of the sounds, and then I write them.
  8.  If the word has a “Sounds Fun” sound in it, then I point that out to the kids and we decide what letters make that sound.



We have done the same thing by turning our helper into a frog or a butterfly, for example.  Where will it go and who will go with it?  What will they do?  I just modify the story that we are going to write to fit the theme that we are studying that week.  It’s as simple as that!

This is an example of one child's little book that he made in Kindergarten- totally by himself.
This is an example of one child’s little book that he made in Kindergarten- totally by himself.

After modeling this process several times- maybe every day for about two weeks- I tried helping the children through the process in small groups.  I gave them more than one day to finish, because there is a LOT to do!  Here are some tips:

  • Allow plenty of time; most children will need to spend more than one day on it.
  • Try having them write in small groups, so that you can help them as much as needed, avoiding frustration.
  • Consider giving the children some blank books made out of scraps of construction paper.  Look at the pictures of the children’s little books that they made in the pictures!  They LOVED this!  The most popular size of blank book was about 4″ x 2″, stapled on the left side.
  • Clip the books together by group so that you can easily pass them out again the next day.  My red group’s books were clipped with a red clip, the blue group’s books with a blue clip, etc.
  • Put the books that are finished in a separate stack so that those kids can (hopefully) have some time to share their book with the class later.
  • Keep fresh little blank books ready for those kids that finish so that you can have them start a new one when they finish.
  • Allow children to work on book making projects of their own with scrap paper and art supplies during play time.  You won’t BELIEVE what you’ll get from them!  It’s amazing!
        This is one of the books that a child made during playtime!
    This is one of the books that a child made during playtime!

2.  Sounds Fun Songs Phonics- GREAT for Helping Kids Learn to Write Phonetically!


As you know, we have been learning all of the sound spelling patterns with our Sounds Fun Spelling Cards, using the movements as a mnemonic device to help us remember the sounds.  (See below.)


So then when we do shared writing as a group, we also have been singing the songs that go with that Sounds Fun cards– or at least a quick “snippet” of the songs. The kids are WILD about those songs and they are making a huge difference in their ability to recall the spellings of many of the more difficult sounds, such as /ch/, /sh/, and /th/!   A lot of the kids are now remembering and USING these sound spelling patterns in their writing as a result of the songs, too, such as  “ar,” “ay,” “er,” “ing,” “or,” “ee,” “aw,” “oo,” “oy,” “ow,” “ew.”  It’s really amazing to see what a difference it makes!


Before we had the songs, they knew that the spelling pattern could be found on the card or poster, and that helped tremendously, because they knew where to find the spelling.  But now, they have been freed up to write those sounds from MEMORY, so they are writing much faster than before!

Cute Writers

That means that we have one less step to get in the way of their creative writing processes, and my co-music writer Mike Cravens did such a great job making the songs fun to sing that they ask for them continually.  What more could I ask for?


3.  A Writing Rubric

HeidiSongs Writing Rubric

Meanwhile, we have been revising our district writing rubric, and last December I made my own version of it so that I could include it as a handout for a presentation on Kindergarten writing at SDE’s I Teach K Conference in Las Vegas coming up in July 2011. I had found it extremely difficult to find acceptable pictures of writing samples online that I could use to illustrate each level, so I wound up getting writing samples out of my classroom.  I scanned them and cleaned them up as best I could, and if that didn’t produce a clean picture, I simply recreated the writing myself using Adobe Illustrator.   This means that I re-drew the writing samples as if I were drawing pictures myself; I just copied what the children had written and tried to stay as close to their letter formation, etc., as I could.)  I am including it here as a free download for you,  just in case anyone is also struggling with grading their own writing samples.  In any case, here is an explanation of the rubric:

Writing Rubric Explanation

1.  PreWriting
Includes:  Drawing, scribbling, symbols that represent letters, and random letters with no relationship between letters chosen and the sounds in a word.  Random letters do not progress from left to right.
2.  Letter Strings
Letters progress from left to right and from top to bottom as the child “reads” their paper back to an adult.  Letter sounds have no relationship between letters chosen and the sounds in a word.
3.  Environmental Print
Child copies words from the room around him.  He usually does not know what words he has copied, and they do not form a sentence.
4.  Sight Words in a Sentence
Child writes a sentence that he or she can read back.  Spaces between the words are not necessary, nor is end punctuation.  Any other words included that are not sight words were found as environmental print in the classroom.  In this category, the child is only using sight words and word wall words and nothing else.  There is no inventive spelling attempted at all.
5.  Beginning Sounds
Sentence includes sight words and some beginning sounds of a word that the child can read back.  This means that the child is beginning to spell on his or her own using inventive spelling, even if it is just the beginning sound of a word.  Vowel sounds and ending sounds in the words written with inventive spelling are not necessary.  Spaces between words and end punctuation are not necessary yet for the child to get a five as a score.
6.  Early Developmental Spelling
Uses sight words and some beginning and ending sounds of a word in a sentence that the child can read back.  There are spaces between most words.  Punctuation is not necessary.  Child also draws a matching picture to go with the sentence.
This means that when kids continue to spell on their own and start using both beginning and ending sounds, and maybe even a few other consonant sounds that fall in the middle of the word, (plus the sight words and word wall words as before,) then they get a score of a six.  There are spaces between the great majority of the words, though they may have missed an occasional  space here or there.
7.  Developmental Spelling
There are spaces between all of the words.  When using inventive spelling, some medial and ending sounds are written, including some vowels.  Punctuation may be added but is not necessary,  and there is also a matching picture.  All of this means that when the children start adding in the vowel sounds of the words in addition to the other sounds, plus the sight words and word wall words, then they get a 7.  There are spaces between all of the words, and punctuation may be starting to appear, but is not necessary.  There should be more than one sentence written.
8.  Transitional Spelling
Child writes two or more sentences, using some real spelling that includes words with silent letters.  Capitals and punctuation and spaces are used correctly at least some of the time, and the child makes a matching picture.  All of this means that when the children start adding in real spellings of words with silent letters in addition to the sight words and word wall words, then they receive an eight.  Keep in mind that when we test them at the end of the year, we cover up the word wall, so that they cannot use it as a “crutch” for spelling; they have to do it on their own.  (Many of my kids can easily accomplish this thanks to the Sing and Spell CD’s/DVD’s, thank goodness!)   Most of the sentences have correct beginning and end punctuation, though there may be a couple of errors in this area.  Considering that this is still true of children in the fourth and fifth grade, I think that this is reasonable.  There should be at least two or more sentences here, and I really prefer more than two.

4.  Stages of a Child’s Writing

HeidiSongs Stages of a Child's Writing

Another thing that I made for that I Teach K  presentation on writing is this “Stages of a Child’s Writing”  handout.  It is similar to the rubric, but includes twelve steps rather than eight points, and I am including it as a free download for you today.  It spreads out the developmental stages of prewriting further than the rubric does.  Actually, I think that the first half of it could be used as an acceptable rubric for Pre-K writing, now that I come to think of it!  It really divides up the different phases that a child goes through into some (hopefully) easy to visualize stages that you might be able to use to explain to parents where a child is at in his or her journey to become a writer.  Personally, I was able to use a similar chart such as this one at a parent conference just last year.  Here was the question:  Why does my child perform so poorly on writing tests, when I know he can do better on writing at school and at home, given just a little bit of encouragement?  My answer was this:  “When you release the child to do the assignment completely and totally on his or her own, then you see exactly where the child “is at,” according to the developmental stages of the chart.  We know that the child may be capable of more when given some gentle nudges and reminders in a homework or guided writing/instructional situation.  But, when released to write for pleasure, or when writing completely alone in a testing situation, the child then “reverts” to where he or she is truly “at” developmentally.  And I can only count what the child can do alone on the report card.”  This was an “ah-ha moment” for the mother, and after that she seemed far less frustrated with the child’s “lack of progress” in writing.  Her wonderful little boy had, after all, a late fall birthday, and had only turned five in October.  No wonder he was still just copying environmental print for fun.  Intellectually speaking, he “knew better,” but that was just “where he was at” developmentally speaking by February the following year.  And really, there’s just nothing wrong with that at all, in my opinion!  He just needed a little more time.  Fortunately, his mother was wise enough to see that and give it to him.  I hear he is doing GREAT this year in K at his new school!

5.  A Great Book for Inspiring Kids to Write:  Library Mouse


The last time I blogged on my kids and how they were enjoying writing their own little books, one of the readers left a comment that the book Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk was a great one to read on this topic.  So I looked at the book online and decided to order it, and she was right!  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the story about a little mouse that lived in a library and decided to write his own little books to contribute to the library shelves.  In the end, the librarian organizes a “Meet the Author” day so that the children can meet this mysterious writer.  The mouse, not wanting to reveal his true identity, leaves the children writing materials and a mirror with a “Meet the Author” sign on it!  It’s a really cute story, and very appropriate for encouraging young writers, so check it out!



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