An Intervention for Struggling Writers: Stoplight Writing

Teaching emergent readers to write can be far more complicated than you think. Writing words involves, at a minimum, knowing letter names, knowing letter sounds, understanding letter/sound associations, knowing letter formations AND being able to hold the pencil and make the letters. WOW. That being said, practice makes perfect. Practice with letter identification. Practice with letter sounds. Practice with letter/sound associations. Practice with letter formations AND practice writing.  Even with all that practice, there are students who need more.  Don’t be afraid:  it’s all about routine…and practice.  Obviously some students need more help than others and this would be small group or Tier 2 intervention for struggling writers.  This intervention is called "Stoplight Writing."

What do you need:

1.  Letter/Sound Chart.

Using a great letter/sound chart and using it often can help students jump over the first three hurdles.  I use the Fountas and Pinnell Sound Chart – for everything!  We start our day with the sound chart and a letter sound chant.  My students always say, ”A /a/ apple.  B /b/ bear.”  My friend’s class says, “A is for apple, /a/ /a/ /a/.  B is for bear, /b/ /b/ /b/.”  Regardless of the process…the routine is crucial.  At the beginning of the year, the students echo my chant…one letter at a time.  By November, the students and I chorally chant the sound chart.  Friday can be backwards day.  We chant the sound chart starting at Z and ending at A.  By December, we pick a column on the sound chart and chant the sound chart down one column.  We refer to the sound chart when we write EVERYTHING as a class with modeled, shared, and interactive writing.

 2.  Dry Erase Pockets

Dry erase markers, socks, and dry erase pocket charts.  I found the pockets above at Wal-Mart. They are officially called, "C-Line Reusable Dry Erase Pockets - 9 x 12 inches - Pack of 25 - Multiple Colors."  I like these pockets because the dry erase marker doesn't stain the pocket.  I've used pocket protectors and laminated papers, but eventually they are too stained.  These pockets don’t stain.  I also bought baby socks at our local dollar store.  The socks are a great size for small hands and don’t take up much space for storage.

3.  Vowel charts

Vowels are the trickiest letters of all.  We know that.  There isn’t any RULE that isn’t broken shortly after being taught when it comes to vowels.  I keep it simple.  Short vowels first.  Mine are homemade, but they are laminated now.  I put my vowel charts on yellow paper to correspond with the stoplight writing.  Also because yellow means “SLOOOOOOW DOWN.”  Slow down and go slow because vowels can trick us.

4.  Stoplight Writing Paper

Finally, I use my writing blocks for extra practice.  It’s a green box, followed by a yellow box, ending with a red box.  I love using the dry erase pockets because I can't make color copies for every child, every week.

The Script

“Let's write the word mat.  I can see the mat at the front door.  Listen to all the sounds:  /m/ /a/ /t/.  Why would we start writing with a green box?”  (Green means go.)

“That’s right, green means go.  So we start our word in a green box.  What do you hear at the beginning of the word?”  (M!)  “Let’s look at the sound chart.  M, /m/, moon. Right.  Let’s write m.  Boys and girls, watch me write the letter m in the sky and listen to the directions for writing a letter m."

"Short stick down, bounce back up and around, back up and around."

"Please do that in the air with me and say the directions after me."  Once they do it in the air, have them write it on the paper - while saying the directions.

“Let's listen to the middle sound in mat.  /m/ /a/ /t/.  That middle sound is a vowel and vowels are tricky.  Let's look at our vowel posters.  Let's say the vowels together:  a /a/ apple, e /e/ egg, i /i/ igloo, o /o/ octopus, u /u/ umbrella.  Why would the middle box be yellow?  What does yellow mean?”  (Slow down.)

“That’s right, yellow means slow down.  We have to say our vowel sound slowly and listen to the sound carefully.  /m/ /a/  /t/

/a/ /a/ /a/.  I hear /a/ in /a/ /a/pple.  Let’s write a.”  (Side note:  My district uses Handwriting Without Tears.  One of my favorite parts of this program is the magic c.)  "Boys and girls, what kind of letter is an a?  Right, it's a magic c letter.  Watch me write the letter in the sky and listen to the directions for writing a letter a."

"Magic c, and up and down."

"Please do that in the air with me and say the directions after me."  Once they do it in the air, have them write it on the paper - again, while saying the directions.

"Let's listen to the last sound in mat.  /m/ /a/ /t/.  We only have a red box left for our word.  Why would the last letter be red?  That's right, because it's the last letter and where our word stops.  Listen to the whole word and let's discover the ending sound.  /m/ /a/ /t/.  What do we hear at the end?  /t/ /t/ /t/"

"That's right, it's a t.  Let's look at the sound chart.  T /t/ turtle.  Let's write a t in the air first.  Listen to the directions.  Tall stick down, cross in the middle."  They will write it in the air, then on the stoplight writing paper.

“We wrote our ending sound on the red square, so we have to stop spelling mat.  Let’s say the sounds separately, then put them all together.  /m/ /a/ /t/, mat.”

We practice write 3 or 4 words daily in small group.  We use the lines at the bottom to write 1 sentence a day, as well.  These sentences are short and sweet and focus on easy word wall words and a 3-letter short vowel word.   "I see the mat."

Friday Checks

Finally, on Friday we use the weekly check paper.  The paper has 5 words.  We write the first word together.  It is a word we have written earlier in the week together.  Then, I put dividers up between the students and ask them to independently write the last 4 words.  Three of these words were also written at some point during the week, but one word is new to them.  They are writing the words independently, but I help sound out the words.  I say the individual sounds, then repeat the word whole.  DO NOT make one sounds and have them write 1 sound.  Then make another sound, and let them write the next sound.  Make sure they say all the sounds in the word slightly separated, but then repeat the word whole.

This process is repeated for several weeks until your data helps you determine who needs more intervention and who can move forward.

Using Stoplight writing, struggling students can practice all the skills needed in independent writing, but they are set up for success.

If you would like a FREEBIE, CLICK HERE sample set of the Stoplight Intervention.

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