Practice in Action
Writing activities can include learning and practicing new vocabulary, journal writing, conducting interviews, or developing storylines. The best writing activities go hand in hand with reading activities because this approach helps to further develop language skills.
There are a variety of ways to capitalize on children's enthusiasm for writing and communication. Journal writing, writing workshops, newsletter production, or pen pal projects are all good options for afterschool. When working with very young students, invite them to tell you a story about a topic of interest. Write down each story and read it back to them. For beginning writers, ask students to choose words or characters from stories they are reading. Even if they are not sure of correct spellings, encourage students to sound out words and try to write them out and illustrate their meanings. Encourage students to keep word banks for future writing projects.
For a large group of students, older students, or for students with different skill levels, journaling, letter writing, and interviews can engage students in literacy activities in topics of their choice. Ask for student volunteers who are willing to read drafts of their writing, and then have their peers review and offer helpful suggestions. Encourage students to revise their work, just like in a writer's workshop. Finally, display and celebrate completed student work.
Afterschool programs provide a perfect opportunity for students of different levels and abilities to write informally. Engaging activities and regular practice tend to increase students' desire to write. Writing plays an important role in learning. Through writing, students form and develop ideas, make sense of their own experiences, and present their understanding in relevant ways. Creating and sharing written work provides an opportunity for students to tell their stories, see themselves as authors, and begin to understand the qualities of good writing.
For English language learners, writing ability is closely tied to literacy experiences in their native language. Students with minimal literacy in either their home language or in English may need to be taught about the practical purposes of written language. For ELLs with literacy in the primary language, transfer of writing ability is influenced by the similarities and differences between writing systems, such as alphabetic (e.g., Spanish) and logographic (e.g., Japanese). Some ELLs may be literate in alphabetic writing systems that use letters and print conventions that are very different from English, such as Arabic or Thai. Explicit instruction in writing conventions and text structures is crucial for ELLs learning to write fluently in English.
Planning Your Lesson
Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students
are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.
Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons.
The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning
Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and
refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.
Lesson Planning Template (PDF)
Lesson Planning Template (Word document)
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?
How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will
it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity.
Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students
may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?
What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather
materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?
Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?
Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the
Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better
address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.
What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that
might be useful—and which was originally developed for science
education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning
sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see
the 5E's Instructional Model.
Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this
activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?
After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place.
How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?
Most afterschool programs have at least one digital camera. However, if your program does not, digital cameras may be purchased for as little as $100, and disposable digital cameras for less than $15. Digital storytelling, a writing activity that engages multiple senses and addresses many learning styles, gives students a way to bring their words to life with images and sound. For more information, check out the following Web sites:
Teaching Digital Photography: Showing Kids How to See With the Camera's Eye http://www.youthlearn.org/activities/teaching-digital-photography-showing-kids-how-see-cameras-eye
Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling http://digitalstorytelling.coe.uh.edu/
- Write Source: Writing Topics (http://www.thewritesource.com/topics.htm)
Writing topics by grade level for grades 1-12.
- Postcard Geography (http://pcg.cyberbee.com/)
Students can learn about geography while polishing their writing skills in this postcard exchange project. Includes links to standards and possible extensions.
- The Write Site (http://www.writesite.org/html/oti.html - This site may no longer be available. )
Designed for Ohio middle school students, this project encourages students to take the role of reporters and editors to research, write, and publish their own newspapers.
Fitzgerald, J., & Shanahan, T. (2000). Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 39-50.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2008). Writing Now.
Urbana, IL: Author. Retrieved June 23, 2009, from (http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/PolicyResearch/WrtgResearchBrief.pdf).
- Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1996). Guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. A comprehensive resource for implementation of guided reading activities
- National Research Council. (2000). Starting out right: A guide to promoting reading success. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
- Braunger, J. & Lewis, J.P. (1997). Building a knowledge base in reading. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This synthesis of research on how children learn how to read provides a baseline for educators and policymakers to consider in helping all children to meet higher standards.
- Novick, R. (2002). Many paths to literacy: Language learning and literacy in the primary classroom. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This resource provides guidance on selecting children's books, and specific strategies to build comprehension from emergent literacy to independent reading.
- Curtis, M. & Longo, A. (1990). When adolescents can't read: Methods and materials that work. Cambridge, MA, Brookline Books.
- RMC Research Corp. (2001). Put reading first: Helping your child learn to read. A parent guide. Preschool through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Describes the kinds of early literacy activities that should take place at school and at home to help children learn to read successfully. Designed for parents, based on the findings of the National Reading Panel.
- Armbruster, B.B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read, kindergarten through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Summarizes what researchers have discovered about how to teach children to read successfully. It describes the findings of the National Reading Panel Report and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.