How to Make Independent Writers

Focus on the Ideas

The key to making independent writers is to focus the student's ideas. Often times the first thing we want to fix is structure or spelling or conventions. I think as adult writers we often forget that the process of transferring ideas into writing is incredible hard for emerging writers. When grading state level writing assessments, the graders pay more attention to the quality o the content first, conventions and spelling are one of the last things that affect the student's overall score.

The greatest lesson you can teach a student is how to do things independently. At the end of the year, it doesn't matter how good their ideas are if they still rely on you to help get those great ideas on paper. Next year's teacher might not understand each student the way that you do, but if a student can independently get their ideas on paper then the gap between teachers will be significantly less.

Plan, Sketch, Write, Details

I am a Teachers Pay Teachers author but I do not make a lot o writing products because to truly create independent writers, we need to provide them with the TOOLS they need to write a good story, not the worksheet they need to write a good story. 

We use four steps to writing our stories: 


Planning is one of the hardest stages of writing for students. Typical we think of a story having a beginning, middle and end, but I like to teach my students to have four parts to their story when they are planning. 

Here are a few methods I use to help my students plan out their story: 
-plan across four fingers
-touch and plan across a four page booklet
-tell your story to a partner
-tell your story to the teacher (for those who are really struggling)

{Example of a four page booklet}


One mistake that I made too many times was to make students write before they could draw. If you haven't read the book Patches Lost and Found, go read it now! It is. such a cute little story about a character who must write a story but doesn't know what to write about how. The character loves to draw, she draws tons and of pictures and her mom helps her turn her pictures into a story.

One very important thing that you must do is demonstrate HOW to sketch to your students. Sketching is a great way to help a student think about the different parts o the story and create an outline or each page. It is easily done with stick figures and outline of building, etc. This is NOT the time to be adding details or to color, it is simply to help students create an outline of their story. 


Like I said before, you really want to focus on the student's ideas. You want to teach them how to get their ideas down on paper as fast as they can. Spelling and conventions will become a habit as they grow as writers. Writing fluency is just as important as reading fluency but it is something that does not get talked about nearly enough!

We will talk about mini-lessons later on, but one thing I really want to emphasize is that you need to MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Students need to see fluent writing and see the writing process so that they know what the strive for and they know what is expected of them. Modeling is not something that you should use only at the beginning of the year, it needs to be done every single day from August to May. 


Now comes the fun part, adding details to those sketches we made earlier. I am so guilty of thinking our writing time should be spent WRITING, but illustrations can communicate just as much as words can. This is the time to demonstrate how to turn a sketch into a detailed picture.

I love using the mentor text The Day the Crayons Quit for this lesson. A common motto in my classroom is to "keep your crayons and your teacher happy".

The First Grade Writing Series

The Writing Conference: How and Why
Mentor Texts and Mini-Lessons
We Can Write... Now What?
Writing Stations
Interactive Writing: Go Cross-Curricular
Make Time to Celebrate and Share

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