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Boot Camp 2: The Writing Process

Did you know that preparing a burger is like writing? Read on!

At times I’m a struggling writer. In fact, many times I find myself frustrated or upset because I have a writing task I haven’t fully analyzed or an audience whom I don’t know to address or a piece that I’m just reluctant to begin.

· I struggle when I create a new workshop for teachers, trying to find the engaging activities which will suit their needs. What I find is that I haven’t fully identified my own purpose for that workshop. I haven’t fully analyzed the task itself; therefore, I struggle.

· I struggle when I must write to an audience I don’t fully understand. They may be an unknown group from a school I haven’t yet visited; they may be a group I’m uncomfortable addressing or intimidated by (e.g., a group of college professors or school leaders); they may even be a group of peers who have been upset or angered by something out of their control. Until I take the time to think about that audience, to determine what their key motivations are, to think through what they know and what they need to know, I struggle.

· I struggle when I have a piece of writing that is posing a mental block, either because of information, form, content and context, or even emotions related to that piece. Short stories, sympathy notes, technical reports – all or any of those can make me struggle.

What becomes key, then, is to demonstrate for students that you struggle, that you have pieces which may be simple for them but difficult for you. What becomes even more key is to demonstrate how you get around that roadblock, how the writing process itself helps you to think through a piece of writing, thus lessening the struggle.

The writing process itself is not and will never be linear. Students need to understand that first and foremost. I may think myself ready for the drafting stage, only to find that I need to go back and do more research or more background on my audienceThat’s not linear. Or, I may be in the editing phase and realize that a sentence I’m trying to punctuate just needs some revision. That’s certainly not linear. When students understand that they might need to go back at any time to find something to add, to reconstruct a section that lapses from their focus, even to rethink the audience even as they’re publishing, then they’ll get the idea of this process that all writers go through.

We talk about all of this on our next day of Boot Camp. I tell them my process and invite them to share theirs. I also define for them the steps of the writing process – but I do it in what you might think to be an odd manner. I use ice cream.


The Lesson

What I bring into my classroom immediately catches their greedy little eyes. It’s a cooler packed with ice cream, lots of toppings, and all my utensils. I explain to them that the first stage of the Writing Process is prewriting, the most important stage of the process. What happens in prewriting?

· we think about our audience and purpose

· we decide on our form

· we investigate all the materials that will help us with our piece

· we create a plan

· we gather all materials we need for our plan

Just think about what would happen in the ice cream world if I were going to create a sundae.

· I’d think about my audience (Is it for me or for a friend? Does the friend have favorite things to put on his sundae? Is he allergic to anything?)

· I’d decide on a form (Is it a scoop, a sundae, a shake?)

· I’d see what materials were available (Here’s where I’d pull out the toppings, sauces and syrups, sprinkles, nuts, cherries, whipped cream – whatever is in the magical cooler. In the cooler would also be a couple of choices for plating – plastic bowls, cups, a glass bowl or two, etc.)

· I’d create a plan for my sundae. A plan saves me time and confusion. If I decided on vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup in a plastic bow, I’d be more ready to create my sundae than if I didn’t have a plan in mind.

· I would pull together all those materials I needed to do the sundae.

Get the idea? Ice cream, sugar cookies to decorate, even a pizza – what could be better to teach the writing process?

In the drafting stage, I’d create the sundae in the classroom, intentionally choosing to keep it simple in this first step, simply because we must have something to do for the third step – revision. In writing, drafting is the time to get your ideas on paper, not worrying about grammar or spelling, only about following the plan and getting the ideas down.

Revision is all about fixing the ideas, not fixing the grammar. After having finished a rough draft, writers need to look over their work just to ascertain that the ideas are right. It might be that writers need to do something to the piece that clarifies, that focuses, that develops. It’s the stage in which the writer ADDS something, REMOVES something, MOVES something, or SUBSTITUTES something. (ARMS = Revision) I can use my sundae to demonstrate the revision process, simply by adding sprinkles, removing a few sprinkles (as if one could have too many sprinkles!), moving a cherry from one place to another to make the sundae look better, or substituting one flavor syrup for another.

Editing is clean up time – and doesn’t come until it’s time. Why would a cook shine up a kitchen in the middle of creating a masterpiece? Why would a writer worry about punctuation before all the sentences have been revised? Editing is for the audience. We punctuate because punctuation helps the audience understand what I’m trying to say For Revision, we use ARMS. For editing, we use CUPS (Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, Spelling). We must have ARMS before we can hold CUPS. ARMS comes first. Revision comes before editing.

In the case of my sundae, I clean dripped syrup from the bowl for the sake of the audience that will be receiving the sundae. I want it to look nice.

Publishing is the final stage, the one that helps students to understand why we’ve done all the writing, the cooking, the sundae making. In this case, I deliver my sundae to one of my salivating students, maybe one who has impressed me with discussion or even insight from the paper from the day before.

So now is the students’ turn. While they’re creating and enjoying their own mini sundaes (I’ve also brought fudge bars in the classroom if you want them to have a treat without the mess on your desk), they create (with partners) their own representation of the writing process. They must think of a process – decorating a jack-o-lantern, going Christmas shopping, detailing a car, building Legos, planning a party – whatever. Don’t give them too many ideas or they won’t think for themselves. Their job is to create an analogy for the writing process by showing what prewriting, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing would look like in their own process. Art paper, chart paper, or poster paper are excellent for this, along with markers, glitter glue, stickers, feathers, buttons, colored tapes and ribbons, whatever you have on hand. The oddest materials might spark an idea. (One student brought Skittles out of her purse to create ornaments for a Christmas tree process.)

Did you know that writing is like performing a play? Three Hardin County fifth graders did. I wish you could see the details these students put into their analogy.

Notice the captions that differentiate Revision from Editing. This young builder definitely understands the difference!

Most of all, have fun. Play some cool music and let them create. Hang their products on the wall as a reminder of what the writing process is.


Shelley Harwayne, a terrific professional writer/ teacher/ administrator, said she never bought anything for her classroom that students could learn from by making themselves. These “posters” of the Writing Process are better than any you’d buy at any school supply store.

Day Two of Boot Camp is one of my favorites, one I think you’ll enjoy. I’m putting a few samples up for you that were done by elementary students, but I've done this lesson with all ages and all grades. Give it a try. We can't wait to see your samples!

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