by Diane Lilleberg
Encouraging students to use a process when writing for meaning is a significant feature of most language arts or writing programs today. Simply defined, a writing process is a series of steps used to produce a finished product. Although named differently from one resource to another, four steps are typical:
- revising/editing/proofreading (some divide these into three separate steps), and
- publishing which includes, but is not limited to, rewriting after revising and correcting.
A Process for Families
Using a writing process can be very difficult for an individual student without the opportunity to interact with other classmates. Consistently requiring this process can discourage young writers who lack an educational environment with peers. Although learning to use a writing process is important, it needs to be balanced with less formal writing to encourage fluency and confidence without making it laborious and difficult whenever writing is assigned.
I recommend that families compose a piece of writing together, involving all family members in determining content, revising, and publishing. Doing it with the help of family members will make the process familiar with supportive interaction as intended in classroom settings.
The writing process can be used to enhance regular family activities by choosing topics so the result can be part of correspondence with family and friends. I recommend saving these products in a family journal or portfolio that will give your children a record of what is happening from year to year. Once the steps in the writing process become familiar, it can be a fun challenge to begin using different writing forms such as letters, poems, advertisements, etc.
I recommend doing at least one family writing assignment each month, with all family members contributing. The language arts curriculum you use might provide some guidelines. If you do not have clear guidelines for the writing process or for constructing different forms of writing, there are many resources available today that can help you add this to your existing curriculum.
Brief Review of Process Steps
Prewriting is the first step and essentially refers to brainstorming and planning in some way. It includes gathering thoughts and information tied to the topic. Beginning with third grade, this step can include using graphic organizers to help select a topic, plan a main idea, and gather relevant information needed to proceed.
Historically, the skill of gathering information focused on locating resources which was often limited to printed materials and personal experience. This skill has now moved more toward screening and evaluating a plethora of information available through new technologies and to preventing overload. Selecting a writing form (letter, poem, story, etc.) can also be a part of the prewriting step.
Writing a first draft is the typical second step in a writing process. Encouraging a student to write as he or she would talk to an intended audience can be helpful. The emphasis in writing the first draft should be to encourage fluency and flow without too much concern yet about writing the ideas down correctly.
Revising and editing involves reading the first draft, sharing it, and getting opinions before trying to make improvements. Good paragraphs are important in this step, with the content in paragraphs supporting the main idea.
This is also a good time to encourage the development of vocabulary. Enriching the writing with colorful words that convey the feeling, sights, and sounds, as well as the message, can help children more vividly convey what they want to communicate. In this step, you can also model changing the beginnings of sentences for variety, combining two sentences into one, or dividing a long sentence into two shorter ones.
Proofreading may be part of the editing process, or it can be considered another step. (Notice this is a step and should not be considered the only focus in writing.) Whereas editing refers primarily to checking for and clarifying meaning, proofreading focuses on spelling, grammar, and other mechanics of writing.
There are many standard proofreading marks, and some vary from resource to resource. If their language curriculum includes these marks, children should be involved as “scribes” even when adults are contributing to the process. Knowing that a piece of writing will be read by others will help motivate careful proofreading.
Publishing is the final step in a writing process. Some resources include writing the final draft as part of proofreading, others as part of publishing. If you use a computer to print your revised and proofed version, give your children practice in using your spell checker even if they do not yet know how to type. The most important part of publishing is to share it. Add illustrations, photographs, color, etc., and share it among family members before moving on to share it with others outside the home.
Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.