Over the years, I’ve espoused the benefits of a “Things I Can Write About” List, which comes from the work of Davis & Hill, on Two Writing Teachers. As I reflected on the last few times I’ve been into Isabelle’s preschool classroom to help out at writing time, I realized that she claims — in class — that she doesn’t know what to write about. I know she isn’t serious. She has plenty of stories inside of her. However, she’s claiming this as a way of getting negative attention. Therefore, I decided to combat this trend, if you will, by preempting it.
I sat down with Isabelle in my office yesterday afternoon. I explained how many of my former students would keep written lists of things they could write about when they weren’t sure what to write in their notebooks. We combed through photographs from the last few months looking for ideas of things she can write about. Every time she found a photo she wanted to write a story about in her school-based writing journal, I downloaded it to my computer and inserted it into a Word Document. Once we reached ten photos, I organized them on two pages and printed them out.
“But I can’t write,” she admitted.
“You can’t write yet, but you know what makes a good story. Let’s go through some photos. Any time one of them looks like something you can write about, tell me. I’ll put it on a list called “Isabelle’s Things I Can Write About.”
She nodded, “Okay!”
We combed through photographs from the last few months looking for ideas of things she can write about. Every time Isabelle found a photo she wanted to write a story about in her school-based writing journal, I downloaded it to my computer and inserted it into a Word Document. Once we reached ten photos, I organized them on two pages, put a small line next to each one (That’s where the check marks would go once she wrote about a photo.) and printed them out.
This morning, I caught Isabelle eyeing the list as I made her breakfast.
“What are you going to write about today?” I asked.
“Dance class!” she replied as she pointed to the photo.
Sure enough, two hours later, Isabelle looked at both sides of the sheet. “I’m going to write about dance class, Mommy.” she declared.
“What about it?” I asked.
“Dancing with the other girls,” she replied.
“Okay, get started.”
I turned my attention to another girl sitting with us. Before I knew it, Isabelle was ready to tell her story. I wrote down what she said on a yellow sticky note. When she finished, I asked, “How would someone know you’re at dance class by looking at your picture? Is there a barre or something else that makes it look like dance class?”
“Hold on,” she said. She grabbed a few different markers and made some additional illustrations on the page. While she didn’t want to add more to her dictated story, I was delighted she went back to add more detail to her picture.
Once I finished working with all of her friends, Isabelle found her way back to the writing center. She had another story she wanted to write!
And here she is, checking off the spot on her Things I Can Write About list!