Why You Need to Do Shared and Interactive Writing

Shared writing and interactive writing, key parts of any balanced literacy framework, are very powerful tools for teaching just about anything. They are also super engaging! But there is often confusion about what exactly they are, how they differ, and who it’s for.

So, let me answer some questions about shared and interactive writing that come up a lot.

Both Shared and Interactive Writing are an important part of any balanced literacy framework!

The most often asked questions about Shared and Interactive Writing are these:

Q. What exactly is the difference between the two? Is there a difference??

A. Yes, there’s a difference. While both are powerful tools for modeling, and both have strong reading-writing connections, the level of student involvement varies between the two.

In shared writing, the teacher and students compose the message together. Word choice, organizational structure, and craft moves like introductions and voice are negotiated between both teacher and student. This is done out loud, together. But it’s the teacher who does the actual writing, and conventional spelling is always used.

All of this negotiation happens the same way with interactive writing too. But this time, the teacher will strategically have students physically write (or type) letters, words, or even phrases. The teacher will write all the parts that are either too easy or too hard for students.

For example, if every first grade student already has full control over the word “can,” the teacher will go ahead and write it. But maybe little Johnny is really working on “because.” Johnny would be the one to come up to write that word, with the teacher right there to help out as needed. Once you know what each of your readers and writers need, this type of “we do” writing becomes a very powerful teaching tool!

For this reason, shorter amounts of text are written during interactive writing at one time.

Q. This is just for younger grades, right?

A. Nope. These tools can and should be used across grades! This teaching tool can be used to frontload students into a new type of writing, and is powerful for showing students how to think through any part of a piece–crafting a lead, explaining an example, developing a conclusion….anything! It’s also a beautiful way to show students how to craft a reading response of any kind.

Any time you develop a piece of writing together, you are not only pulling back the curtain on the writing process to help students understand exactly what this kind of writing entails, you are also showing them where you’re setting the expectation bar.

Q. What kinds of things is shared or interactive writing useful for?

A. EVERYTHING. Hopefully, you’ve gotten a few ideas from the previous answers, but some more things that come to mind are:

  • Class rules
  • Summary/retell of a read aloud
  • Summarizing a content-area concept
  • The steps to the science experiment you just did
  • Any classroom procedure
  • How to solve a math problem
  • A thank you letter
  • An invitation
  • A comparison of something
  • A review (book, food, place…)
  • A class newsletter
  • Morning Message
  • Revision of a part of previous writing

Throughout the entire process of this–planning, writing, rereading, revising, and editing–you are also modeling what writers do. Everyone gets involved, too–there is never only one person getting all the benefit. During shared writing, kids are turning and talking as different parts of the piece are developed, and they are also invited to share out. It’s a very low-stress, engaging activity.

During interactive writing, it’s important that ALL students are participating. Of course they’re working together with you to compose the message, but here, they’re also all practicing. Younger students will “share the pen” with you at the chart stand, and come write directly on the piece you are crafting together. Often, all the other students will have a whiteboard (or something similar) on their lap where they can also do what Johnny is doing, or they might “write in the air” with their finger, or “write” with their finger on the rug in front of them or on their palm.

For older students, where you’re often writing a longer piece (but for a lesson just focusing on one small part), a student might come up to type a part on the computer you’re using–this is still “sharing the pen.” I’ve also used Jamboard very successfully for this. Partners or triads might come up with, say, an introduction, and add their idea to a sticky note on the Jamboard. Then, all of their thinking gets contributed, and together you can piece together elements of one or another to create an agreed-upon piece of text. This further reinforces important ideas like rereading for clarity and word choice.

Finally, I just have to point out how much practice with grammar and conventions these methods offer. Every time a sentence is composed, you are, together, thinking through how it sounds, and making sure the punctuation you use helps the reader to make sense of it and read it the way it’s intended. Sometimes, this will actually be your sole focus for a lesson, but more often, it will be naturally embedded into the writing process.

This natural application of spelling, grammar, and punctuation is far more powerful than any time-consuming, isolated lessons you might otherwise do. Authentic application of these skills will lead to transfer to students’ own work far more successfully than isolated skill and drill.

I hope this post has helped to clarify what shared and interactive writing are, how they might be used, and how all students benefit. They are both very powerful instructional tools you do not want to miss out on! How do you plan to use these teaching tools in your classroom this year? I’d love to hear about it!

Want some help implementing these strategies in your classroom? Let’s chat– I’m always here to help!

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Related Posts: Mastering the Mini Lesson, Lesson Planning Tips That Help You Do More, Better–and in Less Time, Getting to know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later

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