Writing Portfolio

At the beginning of the school year I put together a writing portfolio with my students using a combination of old teacher manuals, a new book on teaching writing, and Pinterest ideas I had been pinning for years. What came about was, in my opinion, a fun and interesting container for student writing, notes, and ideas. We used the portfolio 173 out of 180 days this year, the others were review and state testing days! Special Needs/IEP students used the exact same set up and papers as their classmates and working in these portfolios was like having an automatic active assessment as well as an immediate chance for remediation.

I have been asked a few times, by a few different people, to lay out how I set this up. I don’t think this is a hugely different design from the rest of the portfolio ideas that are out there, but I took some pictures and will now walk you through the set up and use of my Writer’s/Writing Portfolio.

Materials List:

1 – 1 inch 3-ring Binder (We used the ‘view’ type)

1 – Set Page Dividers/Tabs (OR tape and construction paper in

a pinch)

Loose Leaf Notebook Paper

Set of Graphic Organizers (grade/class appropriate)

Crayons/Colored Pencils/Markers Etc.

Scrapbook Paper (optional)

…………..I also used the book Getting to the Core of Writing (level 5) by Richard Gentry, Jan McNeel, and Vickie Wallace-Nesler. (My state repealed Common Core but the writing standards are similar and this book is GREAT!)

A Treasury of Critical Thinking Activities By Teacher Created Resources

And Pinterest ideas from various Bloggers for Anchor charts and craft ideas.

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This is what the scrapbook paper was for! We decorated covers to slide into the viewable fronts…just another way to personalize student writing. When they have that much time and interest invested, students might take more care of what’s inside (about a 50/50 chance!)

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As you can see, the first few pages of the portfolio offer more chances for personalization and connection with the students. The interior title page (“Ms. Tyree’s…) can be decorated etc, allowing for personality to show itself immediately. The dedication page makes future assignments go from horrid homework to being for someone students actually care about…whether they be friend, family, or famous. Dedicating their work in such a manner both transfers the responsibility from teacher to student (I dedicated to MY friends/family…I am the AUTHOR and must do MY best) and gives students a sense of ownership for their portfolio and their work.

The Table of Contents page gives students a way to quickly flip through to needed information. When coupled with the page dividers (shown in these pictures are actually strips of paper or sticky note written on and then attached via clear tape) the table of contents provides an extra organizational tool for all.

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In the “WRITING IDEAS” tab we have the ‘AUTHORITY LIST’. The authority list is literally a list of items the portfolio builder feels authoritative about. For example:  my list (shown above) includes mythology and movies (writing research…really!), and Tinkerbell, Minions, and Crochet. These are things I feel very knowledgeable about and if I need to decide on a topic for a quick in class essay, I can choose from this list and whip up a first draft fairly easily. That’s the point, after all, of the ‘ideas’ section: The ability to recall what you know about and write it down without too much of that frustrating contemplation that gets students down before they ever write a word.

Next comes the Heart Map. Students (or other authors) draw a big heart in the center of the page with the words “I LOVE…” written inside. They then haphazardly fill the page with the names of things that they love. These are not necessarily items that they have to know a lot about, but merely things that they feel emotionally attached to. Many students will write things like ‘my friends, my family, soccer, music…’ and this not only gives you an insight into that particular student, it also provides them with topics for research projects, science experiments, or even art projects (to name a few).

Third in line is the Treasure Map (not pictured). The Treasure Map is an interesting art piece in which students think of a place that holds a lot of memories for them. Hopefully this place will be a holder of both good and not-so-great memories, or mostly good (most people will not draw a map of a bad memories place holder). They then draw an outline/blue print of that place…much like a pirate’s treasure map would be laid out. Then they place an X over the places with the strongest memories (i.e. the tree house fort behind Grandma’s house, the creek next door, etc.). If they are asked to write a narrative and don’t know where to begin, a look back at the treasure map can provide a bevy of inspiration. WARNING: Younger students and some IEP students will have difficulty differentiating between writing a fictional account and writing the bare bones of whatever actually happened. With these students make sure that you either tell them to write the facts, or are VERY specific when it comes to the fiction you want. Don’t write it for them, but make sure they understand the difference.

Finally, we have the memory hand, I also call the Emotions Hand. Students trace their hand and write a different emotion on each finger, the thumb, and their palm. They then (in a different color works best) list a few things that make them feel the emotion listed. (i.e. ANGRY often includes siblings, teachers, homework….PROUD was a difficult one for elementary students and usually just included good grades, winning a race, or praise from parents/teachers).

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The beginning of our ‘Writing” section is a page for Goal setting. This is really included so that the teacher can have individual conferences with each student and set goals for their writing. You put the date set, the goal, and then eventually the date met. Pretty simple right? Well I apparently can’t just leave well enough alone, so I not only did conferences, I also had students do small group/peer readings and discussions…and then they set another goal as well! This really pushed them to view their work not as another grade, or another essay for homework, but as something personal to them. Some of the best goals were set, and met, by my ‘special’ students, because (and I quote) “No one told us we could before”.

After the goals page is a set of loose leaf papers for story ideas and first drafts. The first page was a mini table of contents…students were asked to put the date written, the title, and the page number of their works.

Then came the graphic organizers and outlines section. I passed out 13 pages of organizers and 3 types of outlines during the first week of school. These included a KWL Chart, A Fact Chart, A Vinn Diagram, a Tree Chart, A Brainstormer, and a Cause and Effect Diagram.

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Since I taught fifth graders, we did some minor modifications to these pages, allowing them to use these much more easily. For example, the KWL chart had an extra column to allow for ‘things we couldn’t find the answer to’, while the Timeline page was alternately described as a paragraph outline…giving students a slightly different way to outline their essays along with the typical bulleted or roman numeral set up.

The final thing in our portfolios was, in my opinion, the most important; the writing journal. Every entry began with the day’s date in the upper left hand corner, then the word ‘prompt’ and the day’s prompt written out. Most day’s I gave the students 10 minutes to write to the prompt, usually while playing music softly in the background (a variety of artists and types). About 1 day a week I made students write without music, so that they would be used to noise or silence and able to work through during the testing (you never know what the ‘quiet’ class work next door might include!). Friday’s were always ‘free Friday’…allowing student creativity to come out as they wrote to their own inner muse for the day.

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Over the course of the school year, most of my students went from maybe getting a sentence or two written in the 10 minute time limit, to getting at least a half page. Most of them started writing more than a full page! More than anything else in the portfolio, even more than the differentiated (yet all the same) outlines, graphic organizers, and ‘what we know’ pages, I believe that the daily timed writing allowed my students the room to grow as authors, which is the best aid you can provide for students or aspiring authors! (one more quick example: an IEP student upped their score from a 4th grade writing test score of UNsatisfactory {but about 2 points from limited Knowledge} to ADVANCED on the 5th grade test. Writing, just like anything else, has be a daily habit. Like exercise, your muscles get used to be worked and can easily jump back into the push ups and chin ups of your mind!)