Before you start to develop writing lessons for your 4th and 5th grade students you will want to assess what they already know so that you can tailor lessons based on prior knowledge. This assessment should come at the beginning of the school year so that you can set year long attainable goals for your students.
Each student will come to you with a wide range of writing skills and knowledge. By assessing what they already know you can individualize instruction. It is important that your students have a spiral notebook they can keep as their writing journal. They will need it throughout the year.
A mistake that many teachers make is to make the first writing assessment too broad. Avoid the old standby prompt: What did you do last summer? Instead, talk to your students about some of the things you did during the summer. List these on your white board. Then pick just one favorite activity from the list and tell them you are going to write on just that one thing.
Ask the students to think of things they did during the summer and make a list in their writing journals. Ask them to pick just one of these activities to write about. This narrows the scope of the assignment and, hopefully, the students will not end up listing a series of events. Do not make this a long drawn out assignment. Have your students write and edit the rough draft the first day and write the final draft the second day.
When you are ready to assess the assignment you will need a writing rubric that measures your student’s knowledge of the writing process and elements of good narrative writing. You need to determine if they are telling a story or merely commenting on a list of events. Does their story have a coherent beginning, middle and end?
There are a number of on-line sites where you can find sample writing rubrics. If you are experienced with using rubrics you could always make your own. Sometimes these can be most effective because you know exactly what you want to assess. Now that you have your assessment you can establish a base line understanding of what your students already know and begin to develop your lessons.
Of course, today’s writing standards for intermediate students include more than narrative writing. It is important to keep in mind that it is impossible to teach to mastery with every student. If you try you will end up teaching narrative writing all year, frustrating some students while boring others. Here is an example of a yearly calendar suggested by the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, Copyright 2006-07.
September/October Narrative Writing
November Personal Essay
March Literary Essay
May Memoir Writing
June Independent Writing Projects
Develop lessons that are centered around measurable goals based on your student’s prior knowledge. The best way to teach new knowledge is to base it on prior knowledge.