Writing is an important part of the instructional day, particularly for striving writers who need additional support. All students need multiple opportunities across the day to write. As an interventionist, I am always searching for opportunities for students to write. I participate in a weekly blogging group hosted by the Two Writing Teachers website and I acquire many wonderful ideas for writing activities that I am able to use with students. The “Before That” activity is one that can be used with any writer and can be incorporated into writing workshop, shared and interactive writing experiences, and intervention time.
The “Before That” activity is easy to implement. Students start by writing about what they’re currently doing and then work backwards in time by listing what they did before that event. For example, one student wrote that she was working with Ms. Floyd (me). Then, she wrote about what she did in her regular classroom before that. This activity emphasizes sequencing in a meaningful way and allows students to reflect on and share the events of their day. Students can also elaborate on events by providing additional details about what they were doing at a particular time. They can also repeat this activity on several different days to explore and identify the similarities and differences in their days.
Modeling and guided practice are important and before I do this activity with students, I write my own piece and use it as a mentor text with students. I also chat with students as they write their own and ask questions to stimulate their thinking as needed. Sometimes, a simple, “and then, what?” is all the prompting that a student needs. Other students may need to talk through the day, especially near the end of a regular school day. This is also a great shared writing activity, especially when doing this with younger kids (although we can also engage in shared writing with older students).
The “Before That” activity can be adapted in a number of different ways. First, students can create a piece of writing that details the day (or even a longer period of time) for of a character in a book. Students reading the classic Amelia Bedelia can create a “Before That” showing what Amelia Bedelia did throughout the day. This activity can also help students keep track of what a character is doing from any point in any story. Chapter books, picture books, biographies…you name it and “Before That” can be used.
“Before That” can also be adapted to explain an event in social studies. Students can be provided with an event, such as the Boston Tea Party, and identify the events that led up to the main event. Students can also write about science experiments, starting with the end result and working back to the beginning of the process.
I included some examples below. Both students started with what they were doing in my classroom and then worked back to the very beginning of their day. They reported what they did in their regular classrooms and at home. The next step for these students will focus on including details about each event. For example, the student who mentioned eating lunch could identify what he ate and who he sat with. The student who noted that she performed her morning routine could elaborate by providing details about that routine.
The “Before That” activity provides a meaningful, versatile way for students to write during the day!