Teaching Independence with Write the Room

Some teachers think that the words 'independent' and 'primary classroom' cannot go together.  An oxymoron so to say.  But I am here to tell you they are wrong!  Our primary students absolutely can work independently.  With some intentional planning we can teach our students a valuable life skill.  Here's some tips and activities you can use to teach independence to your primary students.

Use these tips to use write the room activities to help your students build independence.

Why is Independence So Important?

Teaching our students to work independently provides them with a foundation they can build on the rest of their lives.  They learn that they are capable of doing great things and that they don't always need to rely on others. There is also a very direct correlation between student independence and the ability to get.it.all.done in the classroom too!  With the high demands of the educational system and the pressure for student differentiation, there is just no way to do it all without students working independently part of the day.

The Process

First, let me say that working independently looks very different at different ages.  In the primary classroom, it is often done through learning centers or short blocks of independent writing or reading.  I love using center activities where the skill changes but the task remains consistent.  This helps my students work independently all year long!

I am very intentional when it comes to preparing my students to work independently.  One of the biggest mistakes I've made, and seen others make, is not taking enough time to build to independence.  Without the right foundation, independent activities can lead to a lot of questions or behavior issues that might not otherwise be there.  So, take your time and follow these steps.  It might take a little longer in the beginning, but I promise in the end it will be worth it!

1. Introduce and Model the Activity to the Group

I always start by introducing a new activity whole group.  No matter what the activity is, we always start here.  It might be a classroom procedure like how to pack up at the end of the day or a center activity like Write the Room.  This is always my starting place!  

In this introduction, I share my excitement for the activity, show the students what it looks like, and explain what we learn or accomplish from the activity.  We talk about how following the procedures will help the classroom run efficiently and how it will help everyone learn.

Modeling the activity first will help your students understand the steps they need to take when it's their turn to work independently on the activity as you continue teaching independence with write the room activities.

Next, I model the activity for the students.  This step includes more than just providing a finished sample of the activity.  I actually complete a part of the activity for the students.  I start by talking through all of the supplies I will need, the location of the activity, and how to get ready to start.  Then as I begin the activity I talk through every little thing I am doing and thinking.  

Make sure that this step includes how to complete the activity, how to use the supplies, the voice level that is acceptable, how to move around the room to gather supplies and/or complete the activity, and how to turn it in. Be explicit and detailed in your instructions!

Here's what this might look and sound like for this Write the Room Phonics Activity:

Today I am excited to teach you a new learning activity for our center time.  It's called Write the Room and it is one of my favorite activities.  Look around our classroom.  Do you see all of those little cards I hung up?  Those are for Write the Room!  Can you point at a card you see? Yes!  You've got it.  Write the Room is like a classroom scavenger hunt for those cards and it is a lot of fun!  To do write the room you are going to need a few things: a clipboard, your Write the Room sheet, a pencil, and some super detective eyes to help you look for those cards. Who can remind me where we keep the clipboards?  Yes - that's right.  Any time you need a clipboard you can find one here.  Do we grab a clipboard from the bottom of the stack?  No - that would make too much noise.  We just take the one from the top.  

Next, you will get your Write the Room sheet from your center tub.  Remember to carefully lift the clip so you can slide your paper in.  Once you have your sheet on the clipboard, grab a pencil and you are ready to begin.  

A phonics activity like this is a great way to start teaching independence with write the room activities.

It's time to look for the first card.  Here's one!  Let's start here.  Do you see the number on the card?  That tells me that this is number 3 on the paper.  Can you help me find number 3 on the paper?  That's right.  So when I am ready to write my answer I will write here next to the number 3.  

Okay, let's look at the card to see what we should do.  This card shows a picture and I need to write the sounds that I hear in the word.  Hmmmm - what is this?  Yes - it is a fork.  Let's break apart the sounds we hear using a whisper voice.  /f/ - /or/ - /k/  Good - now let's write them on the sheet next to the number 3.  

Now it is time to find another card.  I'm going to stand here while I look around for a new card.  Once I see one, I am going to walk to the next card.  When I am walking I want to make that don't interrupt anyone else that I see working.  Now it's time to identify the picture, break apart the sounds, and write it on the sheet.  

I would continue to do 2-3 cards before moving to the next step. 

2. Student Modeling

After the students have seen me model, it's time to get some help. I ask for a variety of students to come and complete a portion of the activity.  Ideally, everyone gets a chance to come and try an activity or answer questions about what should be done.  

Boys and girls, who thinks they can be the teacher and show us how to do the next card.  [I call on a student and provide them with the supplies]  OK, what card do you see?  Can you show us how we should move to that card?  Great job!  Now what do we do?  Yes!  We find the number on the card and match it to the number on the sheet.  What next?  That's right - we say the picture on the card and then break the sounds apart.  Great!  What is the last thing we do?  You got it!  We write down the sounds we hear on the sheet next to the number.  High five!  You did great!

I need another helper for the next card.  

Student modeling is another great step when teaching independence with write the room activities.

I would repeat this step a couple of times before moving on.

3. Right and Wrong

This is a really important step in the process and one I encourage you not to skip.  After the students know the general idea of the activity and have had a chance to participate in the introduction of it, it is time to talk about the right and wrong way to complete the activity.  The kids love this - especially the wrong way.  

I like to begin by asking the class to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down based on my actions.  These might include behavioral actions or how I complete the task.  I always start with an over-the-top bad example.  The kids giggle and give me a big thumbs down!  From here I do some additional right and wrong actions and ask the class to show me with their thumbs if I'm doing it right or wrong. 

Boys and girls I think you got this!  Let's do a little test.  You get to grade me with a thumbs up if I do it correctly or a thumbs down if I don't.  Are you ready?  [I skip over to the clipboard area and grab one from the bottom of the stack.  Then I let the clip drop making a loud sound when I put my paper in.  Then I skip over to the first card.] How did I do?  You are right.  Not so good.  Let's see if I can do better.

[I take the clipboard and walk directly to the next card.  Here I whisper and say the name of the picture and then the sounds.  I write the word on the paper next to the correct number.]

Was that better?  Yes!

Asking your students to give you a visual to show their understanding as you are teaching independence with write the room activities will help you gauge how well your students are understanding the concept.

Next up I get some student volunteers to do right and wrong examples.  I usually pull the student to the side and whisper in their ear what I'd like them to do.  Think through all the things that might cause issues with the activity and practice those the right and wrong way. When it comes to write the room that could mean you focus on walking to each card, taking a direct walking route - not walking all around, and walking to a card without stopping to chat with friends. 

You may also want to cover voice level for the activity, knowing where to find the needed supplies - not asking the teacher where to find them, as well as where to write the answers (next to the number on the card).  These are all important behaviors that your students will need to remember for success with write the room! Have a student (or a few) that might find independence a struggle?  I always give these kiddos the opportunity to practice correctly and then praise them for a job well done!  This builds their confidence from the beginning that they can do it! 

Occasionally, I will have one of these students do a wrong example.  I will usually choose something I know they struggle with.  For example, a wiggly kiddo might be asked to roll around under the table instead of sitting on the floor to work.  After the wrong example, I always follow-up with having them show how to do it correctly.  This is another way to reinforce that they know the correct procedure and are able to do it.

Who would like to help me practice the right and wrong ways to do Write the Room?  [ask for a few volunteers]

4. Guided Practice

Once we have thoroughly gone over the activity and modeled the right and wrong ways, it is time to give it a try.  We always start with guided practice.  The first time I am very involved by giving verbal reminders as I move through the room.  I am very intentional about reinforcing the things that the class is doing well! We will generally practice for about 5 minutes.

Let's practice getting our supplies. [Wait while students practice this].  Alright, I would like you to find a card around the room.  Since we are all doing this together, let's have only 1 or 2 people at each card.  [Wait while students move to a card].  Don't forget to walk - it's not a race.  Okay I'd like everyone to point to the number on the card.  Now find the same number on the Write the Room Sheet.  Good job.  Okay practice using your whisper voice to say the name of the item on your card.  Well done!  Now break the sounds apart.  Good work!  Now write down the sounds you heard on your paper.  Excellent!  

Let's do another card.  [Repeat the process guiding the class through the steps to reinforce the proper behavior and procedure].

Guided practice will be key when teaching independence with write the room activities.

After the first practice, we gather together to talk about what we did well and what we can do better next time.  Getting the students to give these examples is a great way to help them analyze their actions in light of the previous modeling.  

Based on the first practice, it might be necessary to back up a step and do more explicit instruction and modeling.  All I can say is DO IT!  Talk about the specific areas that the class struggled with or where there were problems.  Answer questions and clear up any misunderstandings.  Then try again. If the first practice went well, then do another short practice.  This time, only provide verbal reminders as needed as you move around the room.

We are going to do a couple more Write the Room cards today!  Please get your supplies and go to a card that you have not already completed. [Wait for students to do this.]  Okay - complete the activity on the card.  [Watch and listen as students complete the activity].  Very nicely done class!  I really like how you maintained a whisper voice and I love how focused you were in listening for those sounds.

If a class set of clipboards is available, I would do the guided practice as a whole class.  However, if those supplies are limited, I would do this during small-group instruction with all of the groups.  

5. Repeat as Needed

Repeat the guided practice sessions until students are practically working independently.  This might take a couple days or a couple of weeks.  It will depend on the activity and the students. Don't rush this step! Each time try to say less and be less involved.  Towards the end, you might find yourself silently watching and observing from one spot.  That's the goal!

Subitizing activities like these will help when you are teaching independence with write the room activities because you can practice both key skills and independence at the same time.

Another thing to keep in mind when using Write the Room Center to teach independence is to choose resources that aren't too difficult for your students to complete on their own. It's key to choose a topic or skill that's already been taught. If children are reviewing skills it will be much easier to focus on working independently! 

Some great options to start with include this Subitizing 1-10 Resource. In this activity, children will focus on helping children learn to quickly identify numbers represented in different forms or patterns. This is a great option for the beginning of the year when kiddos are just getting started with write the room! 

6. Independent Practice

Once you feel that students are completing the activity in a way that meets the expectations for both behavior and the task, it's time to allow them to work independently.  Add the activity to your daily routine if it is something like independent reading or writing, or add the task to your center rotations.  

Once you reach this point you should be able to conduct small group instruction or writing conferences during this time while students work independently.

When it's time for independent practice when teaching independence with write the room activities, this measuring activity is a great place to start.

Keep in mind you'll want to choose an activity that simple for kiddos to use on their own like this Measuring Activity. In this resource, students will work on measuring length with standard and non-standard units. It's geared towards first grade, but it would also be a wonderful option for teaching independence in kindergarten as well! 

Maintaining Independence with Write the Room

One of the reasons I love Write the Room is because it can be used for a variety of skills and concepts while remaining consistent in the procedures.  This consistency is what allows my students to work independently again and again. Each time I add or change out a Write the Room activity it is important to review the procedures with the students.  While they will quickly become pros at getting their supplies and moving around, it is important to discuss the skill changes.  There are a number of ways you can do this!

Use a couple of the new Write the Room cards as practice activities at the end of of the skill lesson.  This gives you some ready-made practice questions and allows you to show the new cards to the students and model what to do. Alternatively, before beginning center rotations take a couple minutes to introduce any new activities.  I like to rotate when new centers start so there is no more than 1 new activity a day to introduce. Write the Room can become a year-long center in your classroom! Once you take the time to teach the procedures at the beginning, you have a go-to independent center for the remainder of the year!  Need more information on how to set-up Write the Room in your classroom?  Check out this blog post to help you out.

Are You Ready?

Are you ready to take the next steps towards teaching your students how to learn and work independently?  You can use the steps I use for almost anything!  Classroom Procedures, Classroom Activities, Walking in the Hallway, Cafeteria Expectations.  Really - anything!  They have been used again and again and I've seen how effective they are.

Here's some key take aways:

Keep these tips in mind when teaching independence with write the room activities.

Want more Write the Room?

If you are ready to add some fun skills-based Write the Room activities to your classroom here is a great starting place:

Write the Room Activities for kindergarten and first grade

Save these Ideas for Teaching Independence

You can teach your students to work independently in a way that helps your classroom run smoothly and efficiently.  Save these ideas to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can come back whenever you need to!

Use these tips and activities to help you when you are teaching independence with write the room activities. Teaching your students how to complete activities independently will not only be great for you but will also build life long learning skills for your students. #thechocolateteacher #teachingindependence #writetheroomactivities

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