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Inspiring Student Writers Using Literature

By Brian Smith on April 6, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Every week it seems like I am rediscovering my favorite theme and my favorite batch of books to teach with, and I truly love my week of Word Work. I started this unit a few years ago and every year, after reflecting (and making notes so I remember my reflections), this week of learning gets better and better.

In kindergarten we work all year to create lifelong readers and wonderful writers. I love the books that we use to learn about the different ways of writing. To begin the week, I make everyone a Wonderful Week of Word Work book (there are two versions — one half sheet version and one full sheet version, both of which you can download here). 

Here is the itinerary for this fun-filled week:



I start with the diary because it tends to be the most commonly known of the four types of writing that we learn about. This may be due to the popularity of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Even students who might not have read the books, might have seen the movies. Dictionary.com says that a diary is “a daily record, usually private, especially of the writer's own experiences, observations, feelings, attitudes, etc.

The books we read to help us learn about diaries are . . .

Diary of a FlyDiary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin

Diary of a WormDiary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

Diary of a SpiderDiary of a Spider by Doreen Cronin

Born YesterdayBorn Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist by James Solheim

My students use the diary page in our Wonderful Week of Word Work book to write about their favorite part of the previous weekend. By writing about their favorite part and including the reasons why they chose that event, they are working on these Common Core State Standards:

Kindergarten ELA Standard — Literacy.W.K.1
Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is . . .).

First Grade ELA Standard — Literacy.W.1.1
Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure.

Austin writing

I model by writing in my own copy of the Wonderful Week of Word Work book using the document camera and writing about my favorite part of the past weekend. This works because I am able to model how to write in a diary but then the writing has to be their own because each student’s writing is individualized.

Putting down their own thoughts can be hard for some beginning writers. Beginning writers need a lot of support and while they are able to copy writing beautifully, when you take away the visual, the process of writing their own thoughts becomes overwhelming. Directing students to write about a personal experience from a particular timeframe can lessen their anxiety about writing independently because it removes the step of deciding what to write about. Writing about a real-life event may be much easier than when you ask your class to write about a topic that your have been teaching.



On Tuesday we learn about memoirs. Dictionary.com’s definition is “a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.” I love teaching about memoirs because I always think of them as spanning a very finite amount of time in a person’s life. This is a great way to reinforce what we’ve learned about main idea/central message.

We read one fantastic book to help us learn about memoirs. It’s called:

Memoirs of a GoldfishMemoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian

I love bringing up a timeline of events and having my class brainstorm what they could write in their memoir. A vacation, a season, or even their year in kindergarten are always popular ideas. I treat our memoir day as a time to explore informational writing and therefore we work on these CCSS:

Kindergarten ELA Standard  — Literacy.W.K.2
Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

First Grade ELA Standard — Literacy.W.1.2
Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.



We follow up memoirs with letters on Wednesday. This may be my favorite day because this involves the possibilities of getting real mail in the mailbox. A letter is defined in dictionary.com as “a written or printed communication addressed to a person or organization and usually transmitted by mail.” Letters are also more formal than diaries and memoirs. 

The books we read to help us learn about letters are:

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That TypeClick, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

I Wanna New RoomI Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff

Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague

Please Write Back!Please Write Back! by Jennifer E. Morris

The Day the Crayons QuitThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Just as with diaries and memoirs, I use the letter page in my Wonderful Week of Word Work book to model the process of writing before the class writes their individual letters. I typically will write about one of our recent classroom themes and sequence some of the activities that we completed and a brief reaction to the activities. This helps me cover the following CCSS:

CCSS.ELA — Literacy.W.K.3
Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.

CCSS.ELA — Literacy.W.1.3
Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.

Brady writing


We tackle the topic of journals, which are very similar to diaries. Again, I referred to dictionary.com for the official definition of “a daily record, as of occurrences, experiences, or observations.”  Now for me, the idea of a journal is that it’s more of reflection which can facilitate growth, whereas a diary is more of a record of events.

Scholastic has a great website with lesson plans and other resources for journal writing. On Thursday of our week, I usually just explain the difference between a diary and a journal. I then play a clip from the movie Despicable Me. I model journaling from the point of view of the unicorn from the book that Gru writes called One Big Unicorn. The students write on their journal page about a time they were brave and how that changed them.

For our reading, I will read a book or two that I didn’t get read during our diary day, but I talk about how the main character is changing because of their experiences. This drives home the idea of how journals reflect changes.



We finish our Wonderful Week of Word Work book when the students decide which form of writing is their favorite and explain why. This goes back to the standards that we worked on while learning about diaries.

On Thursday and Friday, I try to finish reading a lot of the other books that I didn’t get to read during the week. Typically, on Thursday I will read the diary books that I didn’t get to read on Monday but talk about how the character is changing.

Chicken CheeksI also love to read Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black at some point during the first part of the week because it introduces the idea that many different words can mean the same thing. This book is so much fun but just a word of caution about it. The word that this book gives synonyms for is cheeks (as in patootie, caboose, and bottom). We make a list of all the ways that the book says the same thing and then talk about how boring books would be if they used the same word over and over.  

Let’s connect on Pinterest and Twitter.

I can’t wait to see you next week.

Comments (1)

Thank you, Brian, an excellent idea! The week of word work could also be used as a good review and or assessment of the types of writing we have worked on our first grade year. Thanks.

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