The kindergarten teacher begins interactive writing in her class by writing “Today is …” on a piece of chart paper. She asks for a volunteer to take the pen and write the day, which she has written on a sentence strip and clipped to the top of the chart. Michael raises his hand and the teacher offers him the pen. He comes forward proudly to take it and carefully starts to write “M” for Monday.
The teacher shares the writing experience with young students on chart paper or a whiteboard that is large enough for the whole class to see. Students participate by giving the teacher ideas and also by “taking the pen” and writing words, phrases, or sentences with the teacher’s guidance. Older students can participate in shared and collaborative writing as well (Button, Johnson, & Fergerson, 1996; McCarrier, Pinnell, & Fountas, 2000).
Reading literature is an excellent way to initiate interactive writing in the class, and the teacher can continue using literature as the class does interactive writing with any new book that is read throughout the year. The teacher can begin with what is happening that day in class, or a holiday, or a special event in the school. Topics could also be any idea of interest to the students or any interesting event that has occurred: a new class pet, a special activity, a guest speaker that visited the class, a field trip the class went on, a change in the weather (e.g., it rained, snowed, or it was sunny for a change), or something special happened to a child (e.g., they took a trip, have a family visitor, or participated in an after school activity).
This strategy could be modeled on the first day of school, and it could continue to be used throughout the school year daily or several times a day, with other books read aloud during the week or other topics of interest to the students. Mini-lessons can be used to teach writing conventions in the authentic writing context of interactive writing.
Read literature that introduces a topic for discussion and interactive writing and do mini-lessons on the conventions of writing as the need for them occurs during interactive writing. For example, for kindergarten, model how to (1) capitalize the first letter or the first word in a sentence and (2) indent the first sentence of a paragraph using the title as the first sentence.
The first day of school is …
Ask students for ideas to complete the sentence. Remind them of the ideas they shared in response to the reader response questions and prompts. When the class agrees on how to complete the sentence, ask for a volunteer to come to the chart and take the pen to complete the sentence. If a child volunteers and is not yet writing, take dictation for them and write the words as they speak them. If a child is not yet writing but knows the alphabet, spell the words letter-by-letter as they write or write the words in pencil and have the child trace over them with a marking pen. Continue writing the story this way. Ask the students for ideas and for volunteers to take the pen.
Other mini-lessons on the conventions of writing can be modeled during interactive writing as they occur in context.
Older students can practice interactive writing by sharing the pen and collaborating with each other on letters, memos, invitations, or any kind of narrative story, as well as on reports in the content areas.
Read aloud a book about school. Off to Kindergarten by Tony Johnson can be used for a kindergarten class. In this rhyming text, a little boy names all of the things he wants to bring to school on the first day of kindergarten, from a sandbox to a chair for his stuffed bear, until his mother assures him that his teacher will have everything he needs. For first or second grade students, use Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems in a collection edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (2008) in his I Can Read poetry anthology series. Lead a discussion using aesthetic reader response questions and prompts: How do you feel about the first day of school? How do you feel about school? What do you wish will happen in school this year?
Tell students they will all share their ideas about school through interactive writing. Students can sit on the rug and form a semicircle facing an easel with a piece of paper on it. Ask students for title suggestions for the piece of interactive writing (e.g., “Today at School,” “School,” “The First Day of School,” or another title that emerges from the discussion of the book). Discuss the title choice with the students and either write the title at the top of the chart paper or whitcboard or ask for a child to volunteer to take the pen (marking pen) and write the title. Provide scaffolding to support the student writer with spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or other writing conventions.
For days other than the first day of school, here arc some topics and sentence starters:
- “Today is Monday” (or any other day of the week)
- “Today is President’s Day” (or any other holiday)
- “It’s a Rainy Day” (or any other weather)
- “We’re Going to the Zoo” (or any other field trip)
Through the use of a Smart Board, take dictation and project students’ interactive writing on a screen. Revisions can be made to the writing as students watch the changes made on the screen, and mini-lessons may be modeled as well. The interactive writing can also be in the form of an e-mail message that can be sent anywhere-to another teacher’s classroom, other school personnel (e.g., the principal or the librarian), or to family members with e-mail access.
Recommended children’s books
- Ramona the Pest , by Beverly Cleary
- Mildred and Sam Go to School , by Sharleen Callicott
- First Day Jitters , By Julie Danneberg
- I am Not Going to School Today! , by Robie Harris
- Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems , by Lee Bennett Hopkins
- Off to Kindergarten , by Tony Johnson
- Hello School! A Classroom Full of Poems , by Dee Lillegard
- My Kindergarten , by Rosemary Wells
- It’s Time for School with Tallulah , by Nancy Wolff
3rd Grade–5th Grade
Students can write interactively in response to a read aloud book such as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Blume, 1972). Letters can be written interactively by the whole class to someone who visited the class as a guest speaker, to the author of a book they enjoyed, to another class to join them for an activity, to the principal or other school staff in appreciation for something, to a student who is at home for medical reasons, or to the editor of a newspaper on an issue of concern to students. Students can also form groups and write stories, narratives, or short reports in the content areas interactively.
Students can form more than one group but agree to write on the same topic. For example, in response to a chapter book like Ramona the Pest (Cleary, 1968), more advanced primary students could plan to write their own memoir of school patterned after the book. They could identify a main character together but write separate chapters on different topics such as friends, recess, favorite school subjects, least favorite school subjects, or most embarrassing moments. The groups could meet periodically as a whole and discuss the continuity among the chapters and revise accordingly.
Writing conventions appropriate for Grades 3 through 5, or as needed, can be taught in mini-lessons during interactive writing.
- Indenting paragraphs
- Punctuation: Hyphens, colons, parentheses, or commas in a series of adjectives
- Strong verbs, specific nouns, and colorful adjectives and adverbs
- Complete and incomplete sentences
- Pluralization rules
- Plural possessives
- Quotation marks and underlining in published titles
Recommended children’s books
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing , by Judy Blume
English language learners
Interactive writing makes the writing process visual to the whole class, and English learners who are not yet writing can contribute by illustrating the interactive writing. Interactive writing is context-embedded instruction that taps the prior knowledge of students. It also involves social interaction and cooperation among students. If an English learner is not yet writing, they could “hold the space” between words as another student or the teacher writes the words.
English learners see writing modeled and can copy sentences into their own writing in journals or stories. Use the interactive writing strategy with small groups of English learners, using primary language support as well.
Needs-based groups can be formed and can write interactively in a variety of ways (e.g., responding to a book read aloud or any previously read text, or writing conventions specifically needed by the group).
Students participate by verbally sharing ideas for interactive writing. Take dictation for students, either by writing their ideas for them or by writing them in pencil first and having the student write over them with a marking pen.
Do interactive writing in a small group of three to five struggling readers and writers while other students write in journals or write stories. The same procedure would be used, but each child would have more opportunity to participate and there would be more time to assess and differentiate instruction for each one.
Initialing Interactive Writing: Show each child how to initial their writing on the chart. This provides a record of their progress in writing and a means to identify strengths and needs of each child over time. In small groups or writing conferences, provide mini-lessons for each child’s assessed needs.
Interactive Writing Record: Use a loose-leaf notebook to keep a record of each child’s writing during interactive writing. Word process and print out a facsimile of the form that follows, 3-hole punch it, and include it in the notebook. Use alphabet tabs for last names, and put each child’s record under the letter of their last name. Periodically, go through the interactive writing pieces and note the following for each child on their sheet of paper:
- Date Completed
McCarrier, A., Pinnell, G. S., and Fountas, I. C. (2000). Interactive writing: How language and literacy come together.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann