How To Write a First Draft (Video Lesson)

Recently I created a video minilesson about how to write a first draft. As I was collecting resources, I remembered this collection of thoughts I wrote about writing drafts. I wanted to share it again because I think it might spark teaching points for conferring with writers who are writing a first draft, as well as follow-up minilesson ideas.

Although originally posted a few years ago, my experiences with teaching young writers how to draft have continued to confirm that these thoughts are just as true now as they were then. 
Here’s a chart for a share session to collect ways students do their best when writing a first draft. It becomes a collection that encourages and inspires the entire writing community.

Drafts by Ruth Ayres (10/12/2011)


Today’s post is a collection of my thoughts about drafting. I hope it is applicable to a range of writers — not a specific grade level.

  1. Drafts happen outside of the writer’s notebook. I like to think of the writer’s notebook as a tool for the writer and when we get ready to write something for an audience (ie: a draft) then that happens outside of the notebook. I’m sure there are other opinions about this, but that’s my thinking. I believe this for a few reasons: (1) If students draft inside their notebooks, then the notebooks fill up fast; (2) Drafts are for an audience and when students write outside of the notebook, it provides a concrete place to begin crafting with intention; (3) It helps solidify the idea of a writer’s notebook being a tool for the writer.
  2. Writers write the best first draft possible. We do not make sloppy copies. We don’t ignore punctuation and put it in later. We write our best — the first time. Now, as one third grader shared last week, we don’t have to use our neatest handwriting on a draft, but we do need to do our best writing. I am on a mission to rid the world of the term sloppy copy.
  3. Rereading is an important part of drafting. I’ve realized I reread more than I write words when I draft. I want to do a better job of teaching students to become proficient re-readers of their drafts.
  4. Even though older students are more experienced, their drafts are still filled with approximations. They are attempting to write dialogue. They are attempting to paragraph. They are attempting to craft. Sometimes, as a teacher, it’s easy to forget the best writers take risks. When students take risks, there are going to be errors. I have to slow down and consider my words when talking with kids about their drafts in order to make sure I’m empowering them as writers instead of sucking the energy from their writing lives.
  5. Specifically to the third graders I’ve been working with, I see their attempts at making their drafts look like books. They’ve added title pages (out of draft paper) and they staple their drafts with three staples to make a binding. To me, this shows they way they are attempting to take something they are comfortable with (making a book) and apply it to a new concept (writing a draft).
  6. We’ve put four kinds of draft paper in play in the third grade workshops. Wanna see the draft paper? Click here for the four kinds of draft paper.
  7. I’ve been impressed the way their understandings of illustration has lifted the level of their writing. I’ve also noticed they don’t choose the same paper for all the parts. Ali explained to me, “When there are more details in a part to keep straight, then I get a picture box page and sketch before I write. If I have the part in my head, then I just get lines. Sometimes I need just a small sketch for a character in the part, then I get the small box paper.”
  8. Bode suggested copying lines on the back of each draft paper. “In order to get the picture in the reader’s head, I need more than a few lines for each part, especially now that you’ve got me thinking about character details,” he said. Later he showed me how he taped lines to the bottom of each draft paper, making more lines to tell his story.
  9. I think when we empower kids to plan by drafting each part on a different page, it helps them focus their story and their writing to the most important parts. I’ve noticed less “bed-to-bed” narratives this year than in years past. 
  10. Ultimately, I must remember to meet them where they are. I have to trust this is their best work and I can teach into what they already know, helping them to refine their drafting processes in order to become even more effective writers.
My offerings to encourage writers (and their teachers), because I’m smitten by the way writers work…
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    4 Comments »

    1. Love the video! I will be sharing it soon. Thanks for all the information you share with the world. Your passion for writing always comes through and it ignites a spark in me too. BTW, love the new glasses!