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January, 2011

Dear Literacy Place for the Early Years Teacher,

The question for this month was received from a grade 2 teacher who was wondering: What is Guided Writing and how do I use it effectively in my classroom?

Guided Writing is particularly effective in making a difference in student writing, it offers helpful tools, scaffolding, and support to students when writing on their own. Guided Writing provides opportunities to assist students with any step in the writing process, to focus instruction on specific concepts and strategies, and to enhance student learning by teaching craft lessons to those who need new skills and challenges. Students experiencing similar writing needs or students who require more practice with a text type are temporarily grouped together for direct instruction. Although it may sound similar to Guided Reading, experts agree that Guided Writing is not parallel to Guided Reading; the groupings are more temporary and less formal than Guided Reading groups. In fact, each time a group is formed its size and members will vary.

To use Guided Writing effectively in a classroom, observe your students as they plan, research, organize ideas, draft, revise, and edit. Ask yourself questions such as: What challenges do my students face? How are they problem solving? Who needs extra support? Where do they need help? Does anyone need to progress to a new concept? Record your observations in a systematic fashion so you can easily group students who will benefit from specific areas of instruction. You may want to use the 'Writing Developmental Checklist' located at the back of the Writing Guide to focus your observations. Sometimes a student may approach you with a particular problem or question and this may prompt a small group session.

Once you have pinpointed a concept that a group of students require, think about how you can best facilitate their learning. For example, it may be helpful to convene a small group to teach concepts such as planning, using an organizer, or using an editing checklist. Alternatively, you could teach a short lesson on how to use quotation marks. A hands-on activity in cutting up sentences and sequencing ideas may also be appropriate. The 'Craft and Conventions Lessons' found in the Writing Guide can prove helpful when planning sessions. These mini-lessons have been designed to target the five steps in the writing process. They highlight the traits of writing and use various active methods to demonstrate or illustrate writing concepts and strategies.

When teaching a Guided Writing group, engage students in a discussion about the concept, clarify any misconceptions they may have, and encourage them to ask questions and to make observations. Ensure you check each student's comprehension of the targeted concept. Once students are working on their own again, monitor progress of group members to see that they are applying concepts and strategies effectively. Sometimes students need to revisit concepts for further support so you may want to reconvene a Guided Writing group, but you may find that not all previous group members need to be included.

Happy teaching,
Sue Jackson signature
Sue Jackson
National Literacy Consultant
Scholastic Education Canada