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Creating a Writing Identity

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.

– Henry Miller

We all want our students to think deeply about their writing and reading, learn how to assimilate information, and in some way take the new learning and make it their own.  In writing workshop, the teacher becomes the facilitator of creative options and the students become innovators, applying knowledge in new ways.

Writing to help us discover our personal identities as writers will also help us discover what we always write about, what we want to write about, and what we try to avoid writing about! The writer’s notebook, I believe, is the best place to store this kind of writing. As I reflect on the value of the myriad tools I use to serve as a catalyst – a springboard for my writing, I think: where do I go for ideas and inspiration?

Immediately, I know the answer. I return to all my writer’s notebooks. I have long ago stopped counting how many notebooks I’ve actually saved. I just cannot bear to part with them. They are treasures and continue to come to life in new forms – entries in new notebooks, poems, stories, letters, ideas for research, travel logs, blog posts, tweets.  Here are some ways to build a writing identity:

  • Heart and Neighborhood Maps
  • Hand Maps to write around our feelings and personality traits
  • Writing Territories
  • Expert Lists
  • Writing around an object to explore settings and relationships
  • Learning what we like to write about – our favorite  genres
  • Lists in our writer’s notebooks
  • Threads through our notebooks
  • Creating a timeline of our successes and disasters
  • Thinking about when and where we like to write
  • Knowing our learning style
  • Knowing if drawing, music, dance, or even taking a walk will help us to engage in the process
  • Understanding how we problem solve
  • Creating an autobiographical sketch of ourselves as writers
  • Topics we return to often
  • Looking for our fingerprints and reflecting on what they tell us
  • Listing our mentor authors and books we would like to imitate

Once students consider themselves to be writers at a very conscious level, they can start to see the value of using writing to extend learning beyond the literature they are reading – as a tool for thinking aloud on paper. We want our students to understand that writing will help them to organize their thinking, share their thinking with a wider audience, and make their thinking permanent. I have seen a lot of talk-talk-talk in reading workshop and across the day in content areas. And yes, it is important to turn and talk, but it is also very valuable to ask students to respond in writing after they are finished reading. They can do this before or following a class discussion. And sometimes, the writing replaces the conversation. Why do students need to write across the day?

We want our students to be able to:

  • Summarize the content
  • Expand the thinking
  • Ask big idea questions
  • Organize research
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Brainstorm possible solutions
  • Respond personally and critically

HOW will we get our students writing? Give them choice:

  • Use graphic representations (especially ones that the students create on their own)
  • Respond to photos & illustrations
  • Use story frames
  • Imitation writing (mentor texts)
  • Cartoon drawings and speech bubbles (See the work of Mike Venezia)
  • Learning log and write-to learn questions such as, “What do I now know most clearly?”
  • Blogging
  • Creating a Wordle
  • Scripting a video clip for YouTube or a book trailer on Kizoa

I don’t want to hear groans and moans when it’s time to write. I want their pens to ride in their hands like accomplished equestrians, balancing word-after-word through trots and gallops. I want to help learners reach a comfort level where they will use writing to help them think deeply and create something new – something they can be proud of – something they own. I want writing to be a natural course of action – like breathing in and breathing out. I want students to be able to say with confidence, “I am a writer.”



Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne Dorfman is a co-director for PAWLP. Her new book, co-authored with Diane Dougherty, is Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6 (September 2014)

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