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A Writing Process for Novice Learners

By Christine Webb

Last school year, I decided my middle school students were ready to tackle a book.  I didn’t know how it would go, and it’s not part of the curriculum per se, but I felt like they needed a change in instruction.  I had been reading about CI, but was hesitant to try it on my own, as I had never taught a book before. I decided to take a leap and try it with my eighth graders.  These kids had 90 days of instruction per year, broken up into three thirty-day chunks since sixth grade. In a few short months, they would be going on to German 2 at the high school.


M A T E R I A L S 

⋅ Book of your choice

⋅ 6 pictures (collected by your students, to create a visual retelling of the book)

⋅ Pencils

⋅ Lined paper


I selected Brandon Brown sagt die Wahrheit, but any book you like will do.  We followed a routine of vocabulary introduction, a brief CI story to use the vocabulary, then read a section of the book.  It started to become a little routine and I knew I had to mix up the format. I needed the students to write and they were ready to.

Blog Post Child Writing

About one third of the way in, I assigned a simple homework. The kids were to find six pictures – photos, clipart, image, whatever – to create a visual retelling of what we had read in the book. Each student’s impressions were different. There were images of couches and cell phones, angry mom faces and game show sets. I collected them, and had a few of my own creations, just in case some kids were absent.  I took my Sharpie and quickly numbered the pictures 1-6 on each assignment.

With my stack of homework pictures in hand, I set up the students in 2 circles of 8 students each.  The number isn’t very important, as long as you have more students than rounds, which you will understand soon.  Each student had a blank lined paper, a pencil, a confused look with a touch of eagerness, and someone else’s homework page (face down).  I told them they will flip their page when I prompt them. They are to look at the first picture – they can look at all the pictures, but focus on the first picture.  Then they are to write for 3 minutes straight about Picture #1. They are to include any details they want, but ONLY about the first picture. I provided a few prompts – reminding them of our question words they could answer in as much detail as possible.

Once the timer buzzed, the students stopped writing – mid-sentence if warranted, and flipped their papers over.  Some kids had written 6 sentences, some had written 2. The results varied and I tried not to worry and keep encouraging them. Everyone passed their papers, face down, one spot to the left.  We added 15 seconds to the timer to allow time for students to read what their teammate had written. They had to then continue the story with picture 2, keeping the character names, and honoring the flow of the story.  Students learned from each others’ writing very quickly and the amount they wrote increased each round. Each round was an additional 15-30 seconds more than the previous. I talked them through a few brain breaks between rounds – asking how they were feeling, asking them to stretch their fingers, praising their efforts thus far.  They gave positive feedback and they were curious about how their original story turned out. By rounds five and six, the kids were laughing aloud, excited to keep the stories going, eager to share what the team had written.

Once the students had written for six rounds, we added up that they had actually written for about 22 minutes and took a moment to celebrate the accomplishment.  I know they would have grown frustrated and bored if they had written alone. I gave each team a few minutes to check in with each other, discuss their stories, and pick one to share to the whole class.  They left that day feeling proud and accomplished. I was proud of them, as well. Everyone was on task that day, each feeling a little pressure not to let down the next writer. Did some kids write very little?  Sure, but they wrote more than they usually did. Did some of the stories sound a lot like the book? A few of them did, but the kids put their own personal touches to the story, based on the picture prompts and in-class story experiences.  Reading the stories that had a lot of the same expressions and framework from the book showed me that they understood it well.

After trying some CI-storytelling strategies last year, I joined a local CI cohort where my confidence and commitment to Comprehensible Input blossomed.  I follow a few CI groups on Facebook. Since that writing experiment last January, I have established a classroom library which we use twice a week for FVR.  I have calendar talks every week with the seventh graders and student interviews in the style of Bryce Hedstrom’s “persona especial” which I call “Wunderkind der Woche”.  I continue to be enthused and invigorated trying new techniques with my students. I am so grateful for all the experienced teachers who have shared their experiences, ideas and guidance to enrich my program.

About the Author •

I am a Middle School German Teacher in southern New Jersey.  I have been teaching German since 1992, but only started learning about Comprehensible Input in the past few years after returning from a 15-year hiatus from teaching.  I am the German Honor Society Advisor and World Language Teacher Leader at my school while proudly serving as the President of the South Jersey Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of German.  My professional endeavors are supported by my spouse of 24 years, who is also an educator, and three boys, ages 17, 15, and 13, each with a different learning style.

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