I have to say that working with checklists in student writing has been a game changer for me in kindergarten. Once I began developing and using checklists with my students, writing workshop has not been the same since.
Here is the premise: Young children struggle to revise their work. They write something, they love it, and they are done. Done. It is so hard to get kids to go back and look at their work, let alone add to it. And often, adding to it does not add to the quality of the piece.
I wanted to address these issues in a kindergarten appropriate way. Thus, the checklists. I spent some time considering the most important features of each genre that I will ask my students to write. Each unit has slightly different criteria, and the units are designed to build on one another. Here are a few checklists:
Then, when I begin a new writing unit, the checklist is an integral part of our work. We always start with an immersion phase. We explore lots of books in the given genre and take note of the consistent features. I find that it is very powerful for my students to discover for themselves what the important features of a genre are (with a little gentle guidance from me). After we have explored and noticed lots of things together, I reveal the checklist. The checklist is of course pre-decided, but our conversations always lead us to a similar place.
Then, as we continue throughout the unit, the kids know the criteria for a finished piece. Some lessons focus on the checklist in particular, and how to add quality details to a piece. For example, here is one of my student’s writing from today. He began with the sentence, “We went to the camp site.”
Normally this would be considered “finished,” and he would move on to working on something new. However, now that we are using a checklist, his next step was to read through his own work and see if he had earned all of the checks. He realized that he had a who/what and a setting, but he had left the feeling out. So he went back and added, “It was a warm day and I was happy.”
The checklist gave him a way of adding meaningful information to improve his piece!
I love that the checklist is right there, on the paper that they are using. It is one less step for the kids. They do not need to reference an anchor chart, or remember a previous conversation. Every day, every paper that they use has a concrete reminder of what they are working on. I include the checklist on regular paper, lined paper, even booklet covers:
Learning how to use a checklist is always a process. Little kids love checking boxes, so I really have to teach them that they cannot check a box until they have actually written that part in their piece. This system also helps kids to listen to one another’s work and offer helpful feedback. During share time I often ask a child to share their piece. The rest of the class has to listen and tell back what they heard. If one of the criteria is missing, they can suggest that the author add it. For example, today a student wrote, “My daddy swept up a spider.”
The kids knew who and what his piece was about, but that was all. They had lots of ideas about where the spider was (in the basement, in the kitchen, in the garage) but they did not know. So as a class we suggested to the author that tomorrow he could add the setting and feeling to his piece.
Teaching with checklists has helped me to focus my teaching and help my students to build voice in their writing. It also helps them to truly understand the features of different genres. I love being able to help them revise their own work and become peer advisors as well! If you are interested in what a checklist unit looks like, I have my “Writing For Readers” unit (Conventions) available for FREE in my store. Here are links to some of the other units as well if you like what you see.
How do you help young writers revise and improve their writing?