Punctuation for Beginning Writers

In my combined first and second grade, help and guidance with punctuation took place all year long with all writing. The first exposure for punctuation began with the beginning writing of first graders. When making only first drafts, after ideas for the plot were established and noticing a good amount of motivation, during early morning conferences with pencil and occasionally an eraser, corrections with explanations were made. Initially, it would just involve capitals and periods but as time went on, depending upon the maturity of the author, corrections might include much more – exclamation marks (called excitement marks), commas in a series, quotation marks, and sentence combining – perhaps for writers who were also readers and ready for that much complexity. Part of my job was to determine how much or how little to teach at any given moment. Usually, second drafts were in process for beginners by mid-year. Once involved in second drafts, for both first and second graders, corrections were made on first drafts after school hours using a red pen followed by explanations and agreement from a child during early morning conferences. This first draft was viewed as a working copy – with all corrections expected on second drafts. And most were, but sometimes a few would slip by, usually with no comments from me. Perhaps they weren’t ready. There was always time with the next story.

Learn more about story writing and teaching the techniques of writing in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Spelling for Young Writers

In my combined first and second grade, learning to spell occurred throughout the day while playing a phonics game, during a casual discussion, during mini lessons in the afternoons, and throughout the writing sessions. Children used “My Wise Owl Speller” (See below in my book about how to download “My Wise Owl Speller”) initially for spelling unknown words and after that for privacy. Scraps of paper were always available to request a word, a phrase, or in the beginning sometimes whole sentences. Misspelling was accepted while composing when fully engrossed in creating, knowing that it could be corrected later. After learning to use the dictionary some used it but more often, I corrected all in their first drafts. For first graders, when only making a first draft, corrections they were ready for were made with explanations using a pencil and eraser. First drafts, preceding second drafts, were corrected with red pen and explained during early morning conferences. And as with all their writing, children knew that the first draft was their working copy, that any misspelled words could be corrected later.

Encouraging invented spelling as always acceptable was very distressing. For the last few years I taught, some children began to arrive in first grade using any combination of letters freely with no spelling conscience, no motivation to spell words correctly. I preferred children arriving without this belief. And trying to then develop a spelling conscience after a year of invented spelling was not so easily overcome. Early in September, for instance, Mari wrote a piece for her father with such imaginative spelling, it couldn’t be read easily. Asking if I could help fix the words so her father could read it, she exclaimed, “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll just read it to him.” Well, of course, this indicated no idea of her audience and the whole purpose of writing. So right then I accepted her reason, walking away and wondering what to do with her next story. Thank goodness for the modeling of the other children. As time went on, Mari began to care about her spelling. Accepting invented spelling encourages a child’s egocentrism instead of encouraging him to overcome it – to write for an audience, others, instead of for oneself.

Spelling, of course, has tremendous variations – sight, site, cite, height; gate, weight, gait; rough, muff, and on and on we could go. I can’t resist presenting the following:


Eye halve a spelling chequer. It came with my pea sea.

It plainly marques four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say

Whether eye am wrong oar write. It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite. Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it, I am shore your pleased two no.

Its letter perfect in it’s weigh. My chequer tolled me sew.

Would yew bee happy two no it is based on a poem buy a Professor Jerrold Zar of Northern Illinois University? His entire poem is entitled, “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.”

(Nye, Jody Lynn. 2004. “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.” Reader’s Digest, 7/2004, page 24.)

And another one…


Aoccdrnig to rescheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what order the ltteers in a word are, the only iprmoetnt thing is that frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total

mses and you can still raed it wouthit problem. This is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by istlef but the word as a wlohe.

(Powell, Johnathan. 2003. “IT’S ALL SO OVIBUOS.” Reader’s Digest 12/ 2003, page 79)

So, what does that say about teaching spelling? Frank Smith believes that: “Spelling, for example, demands the memorization of every word we are ever likely to write. The ‘rules’ of spelling can be numbered in the hundreds and still carry only a fifty percent probability of being correct for any particular word.”(Smith, Frank. 1988. Joining the Literacy Club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. page 18.)

How many times do adults, wondering how to spell a word, end up with the dictionary because they are not sure the word will fit a known rule? Spelling is not something to be invented. It’s already been done. When children are too busy writing to stop and do feel free to misspell a word, they are still apt to try and imitate or reproduce the correct spelling. That’s different than full acceptance of invented spelling. By using “My Wise Owl Speller”, children were quickly spelling many words from memory.

In addition to the daily emphasis and focus on spelling while writing, there were three spelling programs. Learning to spell using phonograms offered some consistency plus an opportunity for children to develop spelling sense and the ability to spell words according to classes involving common patterns. And finally in order to be good spellers, they must memorize the words that fit the patterns plus the exceptions. So, by the end of the year, the spelling programs included the common patterns of phonograms plus memorizing the spelling of irregular words. (A copy of each test is in my book.)

Read about the techniques of writing in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Fairy Tales for Young Children

Children seemed captivated with fairy tales read to them in my combined first and second grade classes. Perhaps this great interest was because the plots begin and move along quickly with simple but well-defined characters. Most begin with a problem which is solved by the end, quite often involving magic. Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects is contained in the happy endings, even in different versions of the same story. No matter how difficult the problems are, they are solved. One might argue that life’s problems do not always have happy endings, that it is not a realistic view. However, how many successful solutions can be achieved without the belief that it’s possible?

There are sometimes debates about the suitability of fairy tales for young minds because of the violence. However, the violence in fairy tales provides an acceptable outlet, and it is never rewarded or in any way viewed as acceptable. And children can readily identify with the good characters.

Fairy tales are also a good beginning for understanding more complex symbolism in literature later on. Most often each character, whether good or evil, is entirely pure throughout, never displaying any other trait. Contrasts are most apt to be clearly portrayed, such as good vs. evil and rich vs. poor. A large bulletin board displayed fairy tale book covers with the following words: characters, good vs. evil, powerful, greed, brave, beauty, jealousy, obedient, violence, magic, problem solving, kindness, pride, trustworthy, rich vs. poor, and Does it teach a lesson? The bulletin board served as a reminder, for both children and teacher, of what traits might be applied to the fairy tale just read. It was explained that those words were not often, or ever, used in the story, and children were then asked what parts of the story enabled them to identify each character’s personality. Children became quite proficient at identifying the various qualities. And all of their understanding, of course, was an aid for their own personal story writing.

Read about reading and writing programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Reading Comprehension for Young Readers

Reading specialists believe that reading for comprehension is the most important goal of reading and naturally I do too – but not at first. In my combined first and second grade, there was no stress upon comprehension while the beginners were learning how to read, not even in their own reading book. A child’s first book was a basal reader of interest to the child – one that she would want to understand. At first, each beginner was with an adult or child partner. Then later on, when they were capable enough, children read only stories or articles of interest and skipped others. These beginners were learning how to read – with or without phonics – relying upon their strengths.

If children were using basal readers and concentrating on breaking-the-code in their own way, how would they acquire good comprehension? Well, simultaneously while they were learning how to read, during the afternoons when stories were read to the class various types of comprehension were explored – about characterization, the style of the author, the setting, moods and feelings, the plot, the theme, etc. Also, they were writing constantly with a big emphasis upon stories. They each were thinking about introducing their characters and developing the plot with a good conclusion. I believe that’s where much of their comprehension developed, during discussions of stories read to them and through their own  writing, perhaps before they could understand all that they’d read themselves. Some understood what they’d read while they were very busy decoding, but others did not.

One time at a conference, the presenter put up a paragraph and covered up the top half of the words which we were to decode. My friend and I were so absorbed trying to decipher the words and soon thrilled that we were able to. Then the presenter put up another paragraph and covered up the bottom half of the words. This was really difficult. I don’t remember now if we were just able to do some of it or if we accomplished the whole thing with much struggle, but it suddenly occurred to me when it was over that I had no idea what I had just read. What it was about.

That’s exactly what I think happens when these beginners had their own book, and they wanted to read so much that they strived, willingly and enthusiastically, to decode. And as their decoding became easier, they proceeded from pure decoding to the inclusion of good comprehension – indicated by the high comprehension scores in standardized tests. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

Read more about beginning reading and the various reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Opportunities for Overcoming Egocentrism in Young Children

Losing egocentrism is such an important process to overcome – to be able to see and understand other viewpoints, both socially and intellectually. For children to realize that the whole world doesn’t see things exactly the way they do – that there are many different views and aspects to situations. It is important for young children to have many opportunities for overcoming egocentrism.

During social conflicts there are opportunities to point out the other side of a situation, trying to help a child realize there are other opinions and attitudes. If an egocentric child disagrees with another child, she cannot understand that there’s a different idea from her own. She fully believes that everyone understands things and sees things exactly the way she does.

Piaget believed that one reason children lose their egocentrism is because of disagreements with their friends. A child begins to realize there are other viewpoints and after enough exposure with concrete experiences, children begin to think abstractly. If a child has enough experiences of other viewpoints, the usual time to overcome egocentricity is about age seven. (By the way – how many adults do you know who have no idea that there are other viewpoints? Shocking, isn’t it? We must help children to overcome all this so they won’t still be egocentric as adults. Those adults cause too many problems in our lives.)

Overcoming egocentrism is important for successful achievement throughout a child’s school experience. Success in math requires a good mental image of numbers of objects in many different configurations including the various shapes, sizes, and dimensions of these objects. Building with blocks or Cuisenaire rods and manipulating numerous objects in the math center provide good experiences for overcoming egocentricity – seeing all sides of and configurations of their creations. The same observations can be made with art projects when a child is constructing with paper or boxes, or working with clay, or making mobiles. A child is looking at all sides and angles – offering the ability to see all aspects. When an egocentric child looks at one side of a structure, she is unable to imagine the shape of the other sides. So, constructions help children overcome their concentration of static situations. These experiences in turn, will allow a child to attain solid abstract math concepts.

In order for children to recognize other viewpoints and gain facility in reading and writing critically, they need experiences with appropriate questions, opportunities for debate, and brainstorming sessions. After enough exposure, hopefully they would be on the way to overcoming egocentricity – to acknowledge and understand others’ viewpoints. And when children write about their life experiences from their own perspective, it doesn’t provide opportunities to relinquish egocentrism. When writing a story, however, a child must think about his appeal to an audience and identify with his characters in the story.  Seeking other viewpoints. And without overcoming their egocentricity, children will indeed be handicapped in depth of reading comprehension along with all other academic areas and in personal relationships. But losing egocentrism isn’t something to be demanded. After much exposure to others’ thoughts and beliefs, children achieve it at different ages and stages, but they need repeated opportunities in order to overcome it.

Read more about appropriate activities in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Create a “Model Town” to Teach Reading Skills

In my combined first and second grade classes, creating a town or a city provided the experiential learning and motivation for attaining the required reading skills. This began in January for the second half of the year. Each program was designed for children to participate at their own ability level. It was appropriate for gifted students, many of whom were in this class, and yet younger or less able students were able to participate with enthusiasm, while learning and progressing as well. There was a starting point for everyone but no limit or ceiling for achievement.

The study began with a field trip exploring the city of Syracuse, which was next to our town. Back in the classroom, after completing a list of Syracuse public buildings, city neighborhoods, parks, and ponds, children were ready to build their city.

After deciding upon a building, alone or with one or more partners, they searched through a collection of  boxes brought in, to design the structure of their building. A house was a ½ pint milk carton, and city buildings often started with a ½ gallon milk carton. If their choice was a house, a child had that alone, but if it was a city building, there could be two or three to one building. There wasn’t room for 25 buildings on the desktops that we used – a total of six desks, two sets of three forming an L-shape covered with linoleum. It was important for children to identify strongly with their buildings, so some important city buildings might not be there, such as a fire station, city hall, etc. They knew that their city was just one section of the whole city. There was always a downtown area, a residential neighborhood, and a park sometimes with a pond.

A request went home to parents asking all who could to come in and help create the buildings. This was not an art project. It was to create a realistic city, with lots of imagination at times, but an easily recognizable one. Each child or group of children knew what they wanted their building to look like but lacked the dexterity to finish it, cutting and covering the box structures. There were smaller boxes and oak tag for additions and fadeless colored papers in all colors to choose from. Parents were told that it was okay to make suggestions but the final decision was to be a child’s own. As each building was completed, it was placed on the desktops. Then streets were added, with stop signs, and a collection of bushes, trees, and flowers, etc. allowed all to landscape their lot.

Creating the program for each child, “ Facts and  Events About our City”, included choices from three lists – 1) city events, 2) types of writing and, 3) required reading skills. Each activity contained one city event, a type of writing, and one or more skills. The skills list was by far the longest, and all could not be incorporated in city activities that would finish by June. So, the first section of the program, was “Tools for Writing”, including some pages for instruction plus pages to be completed after a skill has been taught. For instance, teaching the page of Rules for Base Words might take many days, off and on, before the practice pages would be completed.

A child’s program contained three sections: Activity, Expectations, and Procedure. The Activity described what was occurring in the city with some explanation about the event, Expectations told what skills should be included, and the Procedure explained how to do it. Occasionally, when a new skill needed to be applied, following instruction there was a page to complete before beginning that event.

“Facts and Events About our City” might include different assignments. For instance, in alphabetizing the telephone directory, many children could manage a long list, but if that was too much for others, they could request or be offered to alphabetize a smaller amount. A young child with a house might just alphabetize the residential neighborhood and if paragraphs were expected, some would write many and others just one or two.

Each child received their program in an oak tag cover fastened together with three brass fasteners, ready to receive their second draft papers. The first two pages were blank and lined. Each child wrote Table of Contents at the top, ready to receive each new event upon completion. The first session was spent designing their covers along with Minicity, or whatever name had been voted upon, written at the top and their name at the bottom.

The first event was, “Who Lives in My Building?”

Their directions:

Who Lives in My Building?

Activity: Write a short report naming each person and pet that lives in your house/building. For each person, use a few      descriptive words telling about jobs or their ages. For instance:  Robert Grainer, the father, is a professor. Nicky, our dog, is the most active one in our family; or Maxi, the  daughter, is ten-years-old.

Expectations: Your sentence about each person will use commas of apposition.   (see page 12)

Procedure: 1)  Write a first draft.    2)  Revise.    3) Write your second draft.

Some children learned all individually, two children of equal ability might work together, others had adult help, and perhaps a few were assisted by an adult who explained each step while the child filled in the answers or one might dictate their piece. But all children participated with as much as they were capable of. Many children mastered the curriculum, while those who hadn’t reached that level were on a path towards the goal, while being exposed to all. And it didn’t matter that much was repeated from the previous year. The events were in a different place, a town one year and a city the next, and children were a year older. From their previous exposure the year before, their learning progressed with new ideas and more advanced ability.

All were engaged in discussion while continually exposed to various points of view – more opportunities for overcoming egocentrism. Children wrote the assigned writing independently, sometimes with a partner, assisted by an adult when needed, or with a few dictating their first drafts; however, all second drafts contained each child’s own ideas, and second drafts were kept in her own booklet. Finally when all was completed, on one afternoon each child read hers to the class.

Read about the complete procedure and program of Kiddiecity  in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where the programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Writing Stories in a Combined First and Second Grade

Right from the first day, story writing was introduced to first graders and reviewed for second graders. Story writing was much too difficult for young children I was told. Absolutely not true. These first and second graders throughout the years wrote about various kinds of adventures using much imagination and creativity. Through the development of their characters, they could express and release inner thoughts and personal experiences in a very safe way. And as they were developing characters while thinking through the introduction, plot, and conclusion of their stories, they were learning about story content. They wrote about fairies, monsters and space creatures, as well as bunnies, crocodiles, birds and butterflies. So many adventures with mysteries and magic and power. I never understood, and still don’t, why young children who play and pretend and are read to would find story writing difficult. When children were writing, they were deeply involved in creative and critical thinking and problem solving galore – and they thrived and grew and become more skillful and cognitively alert.

Second graders made first and second drafts of their writing, and most first graders were ready for two drafts after a couple of months or by mid-year. It was stressed that their writing should be both interesting and correct. Interesting so someone would want to read it and correct, so they would read it the way it was intended. They’d never want people to misinterpret their thoughts. So, if they were involved in making two drafts, the first draft was called a working copy. Their best concentration was on an interesting story, and they could freely   add and cross out. They didn’t have to have neat handwriting and were not to worry about correct spelling and punctuation when their best ideas were flowing. But the second drafts, all corrected, were beautiful – the handwriting, the illustrations, and the cover.

Read more about the writing programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved