Examining Small Moments and Personal Narratives in the Workshop
December 4, 2017
In our building, we have been spending some planning and instruction time examining small moments, both in reading and writing workshop. Having a few small moments or personal narratives to examine in writing workshop was never a problem. We have our favorites: Shortcut, Fireflies, Come on, Rain. Small moments are easier to find perhaps than personal narratives. What if the personal narrative isn’t exactly personal? Some of my favorites: Roller Coaster, The Snowy Day, The Relatives Came aren’t really told in the first person. Does that diminish their usefulness as a mentor texts to our aspiring writers?
Here are a few things to consider when teaching small moments and personal narrative. Remembering that the purpose of small moment writing is that the writing is finite. This gives our younger authors the ability to write in detail showing character’s small actions, dialogue and internal thinking. We are working on stories becoming more and more cohesive with greater and greater detail.
What is our purpose for using a particular mentor text? Are we working on watermelon/seed ideas? Then texts like The Snowy Day, Blackout, and Roller Coaster are wonderful, inspiring text for our students to think about their own small moments. I also use small books in their levels to tryout thinking. In our Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy collection, The Muddy Mess is one book that are definitely about a small moment that many kids might have. Soccer Game in Scholastic Hello Readers! uses descriptive words to talk about just one soccer game. This book is written in the first person and could be used as a interactive read aloud.
To pair a simple book like Soccer Game! as a mentor text in small moment writing, we could think about another game, perhaps one on the playground where we would use descriptions to go part by part through the game.
In Joy Cowley’s The New Cat, the words are simple, describing the action in the pictures. The pictures may help explain our younger readers and writers thinking, while the words describe a particular part.
Many other books might show real photos while explaining a child’s exploration of shopping, the aquarium or other places. These books are wonderful for interactive read aloud or mentors for interactive writing so students can see themselves reading or writing themselves.
In a focus lesson, we can work with our students in a more difficult text. One, where when we are the readers, students can do the challenging thinking work. In Owl Moon, a great text for 2nd grade, students can imagine why Jane Yolen chose to write this book while contemplating the small moment of going owling after dark.
In Sophie Was Really, Really Angry or No David!, students can use illustrations to think about the small moments along with strong feelings. While No,David! tells the story from the author’s point of view, Sophie Was Really, Really Angry using third person. Could we discuss with the students what words we might use if we were writing about feeling this way ourselves?
Sometimes, books are long(ish), after sharing the book in a read aloud, we might just use a page or a two-page spread to talk about a specific aspect of writing. In The Relatives Came or Yard Sale, we might stop at a page and talk about descriptions or stretching the moment, or making a picture in our minds.
Sometimes, we might use a completely different type of book, perhaps one that is a familiar read, to focus on one aspect of an author’s craft: clever endings, strong leads, rich details. These books are endless and part of your natural library. In my use, I try to limit these books to have human characters, thought it is particularly hard to avoid using the wonderful richness of Kevin Henkes’ and Lily’s Plastic Purse and others for small moments.
So, my advice, relax. Sometimes we will have focus lessons and this won’t be work students are doing in their independent reading. Sometimes, we pair or double pair students up to do focus lesson work in picture books that we have chosen for the group. Sometimes, we won’t. Perhaps, we will work through small moment, narrative arc work in interactive read aloud and we will have students look for a particular aspect, for example, rich details, in all the text they are reading. Whatever work we are doing, it should be reflective our standards, our formative assessments, our student needs, and be an rich experience.