Conceptual Understandings For Kindergarten Writers

The video that I am sharing in this post was filmed about two months into the school year. I wasn’t even in the classroom at the time but I am so glad that our assistant teacher sensed that the moment was one to document. It has been my inspiration as I work to facilitate the development of Kindergarten writers ever since.


Jude worked on this story over the course of at least six writer’s workshop sessions. At the time, my overall goal for the class was to move from static pictures (this is my family) to pictures that tell a story (this is the time my family was picnicking at the river and a bunch of birds got into our food). The conceptual understanding that stories move through characters and events was one that this group was ready for. As they developed their understanding, we worked on drawing skills, such as focusing on the shapes and colors of the characters, to help them effectively communicate their ideas to their readers.

Jude came to Kindergarten already understanding that stories include characters and a series of events. Research has told us time and again that literacy is best supported at home by reading aloud to our children and enjoying and consuming a variety of texts together. I never felt the need to ask because I’m pretty sure that Jude’s home life is infused with rich experiences delving into stories with his family. The story in the video exhibited way more than he could have picked up in his short school career. Not only did he demonstrate an understanding of the role of characters and events, but Jude also demonstrated an understanding of problem/solution, one of the most common story structures. He knew that he had to create an appropriate setting. He knew that his story needed a satisfying ending. He had an idea of how he wanted his story to affect his reader. He was committed to the task with absolutely no mandates from the adults in the room.

Researching the writer:

I came in on this story in the planning stages. Jude was drawing pictures of the wolf, which could have easily been mistaken for static pictures. However, on this day, I sat down beside Jude for a conference and learned that there was so much more to the wolf. Jude told me that the wolf was in the forest and that he, the main character, was scared when he saw the wolf. I could sense that Jude was still considering how far he would take this drawing and I thought carefully about how to move this writer further. I asked, “so what did the character do?” Jude told me he wasn’t sure yet. I stayed silent. A few breaths later and as he continued to work on his drawing, “no, wait, he’s gonna trap the wolf.”

“Ohhh!” I asked Jude to tell me how the story went again, checking if he would hold on to the series of events. In a way that only a writer who truly owns his idea can do, Jude told me his story, in the third person, as if he was reading it straight out of a book. I don’t need to type it here as it was not much different from the story you hear him reading in the video.

Deciding on a teaching point:

I considered my options for leveraging Jude’s enthusiasm and momentum. I could introduce code, suggesting that he label some of the pictures, “Jude” and “the wolf”, perhaps. But I hadn’t seen Jude make a move towards print yet and knew that it would come when he was ready. Instead, I opted to go a different route, one which I hoped would support his efforts to tell stories which included a series of events. One which I hoped would equip him to continue telling stories just like this one, whenever he wanted. I chose to help him explicitly recognize his events by telling his story back to him over the fingers of my hand, tapping one finger for each event. He caught on right away so I kept going. I introduced him to the idea of making a booklet when he noticed that his stories had more than one event. We talked about how each finger meant that we needed to turn the page. The result can be seen in the video, alongside all of the amazing thinking Jude did all on his own. He continues to turn the pages with events in his stories and is also experimenting with turning the page when writing information.

Where is this writer now?

Jude continues to love reading and writing stories. He also engages in the creating and sharing of stories in other ways. Our class is at least three puppet shows richer due to his imagination and his play often results in a story unfolding, be it in the building area or role-play center, the art corner or at recess.

Jude’s ability to encode his ideas has developed steadily as well. He knows where to find the words he needs if they are familiar to our class and he has an age-appropriate understanding and use of letter-sound relationships. However, I have noticed that these are most evident when he has an idea that he is passionate about sharing. An idea that came from him. When asked, he will dutifully produce words on the page but at this point, asking him to do so often brings an obvious and unnecessary frustration which impedes his creativity and stifles his enthusiasm. In a field where it has become clear that literacy is so much more than encoding and decoding, where it has been proven that jumping to code and valuing the use of code as an indicator of literacy development is inappropriate and often even detrimental to our youngest learners, Jude is a powerful reminder that there is so much more.

As I already said, I am so grateful that this writer was captured on video but he is not alone. He represents the countless young learners who are investigating their world through and with language. It is a powerful reminder of how much there really is to language and literacy development and how, in the early years, it is vital that we don’t let the rush to learn letter names and sounds impede the rich experiences that will serve to support and motivate a move towards print as and when students are ready.


Writing Development In Kindergarten: Case Study HG

Just as I am now, every year, I take some time to look back on the development of my Kindergarten writers over the course of the year. While the instructional decisions I make are based on weekly formative assessments and reflection on individual and group needs, it has been really interesting to go back and look at how far they’ve come and how they got there. I find that there is nothing more powerful than looking at student work as a way to develop even more as a writing teacher so I thought I would start to share some of these on my blog. Here are some samples from the writing life of one of my Kindergarteners last year, in chronological order.

HG’s development as a writer from September to April

At the start of the year, as was the case with most of my Kindergarteners, HG used pictures to put his ideas on paper. We looked back at the first writing samples together and he noticed immediately how much he has grown in his ability to add details to his drawings.

"It makes sense that this was from the beginning of the year because I used hardly any details."
“It makes sense that this was from the beginning of the year because I used hardly any details.”
"This is my tooth fairy. She is a maple fairy. I used more detail."
“This is my tooth fairy. She is a maple fairy. I used more detail.”

By mid-year, HG had started choosing his character or subject before putting marks on the page. He was able to discuss his color choices and point out details like parts of the body and shapes that he had purposefully added. He was beginning to experiment with strings of letters to represent words.

"I used lots more details like colors and shapes."
“I used lots more details like colors and shapes.”

It wasn’t long before HG was using words that he knew, such as proper names of family, friends and familiar toys, and starting to use letters to represent initial and dominant sounds.

My Beanie Boo
My Beanie Boo

During our unit on all-about books, HG demonstrated an understanding that there are spaces between words and started crafting sentences to match his pictures.

I like hamsters.
I like hamsters.

HG recognizes that he sometimes forgets to do some of the things he already knows to do to make sure his reader understands what he’s written.

"I need to add more details, like hair, color and feet."
“I need to add more details, like hair, color and feet.”

Looking At Student Writing: Tips and a Case Study

Looking at student work is one of the most powerful sources of professional development available. Collaboratively looking at student work increases that value beyond measure. Whether on our own or with colleagues, the time we take to look deeply at student’s writing helps us to develop a plan for how to support individual writers in their stage of development at a given moment. It also helps us develop our own understanding and recognition of the stages of development, as well as the many bends in the road for a developing writer.

It is so important to consider all aspects of the developing writer in the early years. Teachers can quickly become distracted by the amount of print that may or may not be on the page, or by the control the writer might exhibit over his or her drawings.

Here are two tips for looking at student writing samples:

  1. Know the background: if it is your student, you probably already do. If it is a student you don’t work with, it is crucial to know more about the process the student has gone through, what he or she has said during conferences or at other times regarding the writing. So much of the “work” our youngest writers do is not detectable on the page alone. That which is detectable often needs the curation of an adult who was along for the journey.  If collaboratively looking at work samples, I recommend using a modified version of a protocol such as LAST or ATLAS. Protocols such as these provide the opportunity to get a more inclusive picture of the “work” that has been done.
  2. Resist the urge to compare writers: Unless you are looking to better understand what different stages of writing look like in the context of a group of students, I see very little value in comparing different writers. More often, the comparison of writers leads to a “ranking.” Such ranking often neglects the many facets of a writer’s development which are not immediately apparent when comparing one student’s writing to that of another writer. Alternatively, looking at several samples of the same writer’s work over time, brings his or her individual development to the surface and can be very powerful in helping us to make decisions about how best to support that writer. For me, this is also a very encouraging practice as I often see so much more growth when I see a collection of a student’s writing over time. The samples below are a collection of one Kindergartener’s writing over time.

What do you notice about the development of this writer over the course of eight months?


First story in Kindergarten.
First story in Kindergarten.
Me, My Mommy and My Sister-November 2018
Me, My Mommy and My Sister-November 2018
When My Mommy Took Me Out Of My Crib-January 2019
When My Mommy Took Me Out Of My Crib-January 2019
When the teacher wore pj's to school-March 2019
When the teacher wore pj’s to school-March 2019


Work in progress-April 2019
Work in progress-April 2019