One thing that makes teaching kindergarten so interesting (and challenging!) is that students begin the year with such a wide range of prior knowledge and skills. This range is even more apparent when it’s time to work on writing! If you’re feeling a bit stuck when it comes to supporting all of the learners in your classroom, keep reading for some easy ideas and tips for differentiating writing instruction in kindergarten.
The Importance of Differentiated Writing Instruction
Young students have to draw on so many different skills in order to write a simple sentence:
- Language: They need to have the vocabulary and grammar knowledge to know what a complete sentence should sound like and formulate their thoughts.
- Phonemic Awareness: Once students know what they want to say, they need to listen for the sounds in the words they are trying to spell.
- Phonics: After identifying the sounds in the words they want to write, students need to match those sounds to letters.
- Letter Formation: Students need to have knowledge of the letters of the alphabet and how they’re formed.
- Fine Motor Skills: Finally, they need to use their coordination and fine motor skills to put pencil to paper.
With so many different skills needed to write a simple sentence, it should come as no surprise that every student in your class will have a different combination of the skills listed above. Some students might have strong phonics knowledge but have difficulty with the physical task of writing. Other students might still be working on their communication skills but they have strong knowledge of the alphabet.
With such a wide range of experience and ability, it’s essential that your writing instruction is differentiated in order to best support each individual student. But don’t worry! It’s not as complicated as it sounds.
5 Tips for Differentiating Writing Instruction
Even though teaching writing in kindergarten can feel like a daunting task, there are a few things you can do to make it easier to differentiate instruction and skill practice in your classroom. Here are five quick tips for differentiating writing instruction in kindergarten:
1. Start with the Same Picture
Picture writing prompts are one of my favorite tools for writing instruction in kindergarten. The visual support gives students a frame of reference for their writing. Looking at the picture can spark ideas and help students activate prior knowledge. This will help them as they try to formulate a complete sentence about the picture.
By using the same picture prompt for your differentiated writing assignments, you’ll be able to do a prewriting discussion with your class as a whole. For example, if the writing prompt is a picture of Santa’s boots sticking out of the chimney, you can spend time discussing this situation as a class. Some of your students might not know what that stack of bricks on the roof is called! By using the same picture, all of your students can benefit from discussion about the topic.
2. Use Sentence Starters
For many students in kindergarten, sentence starters can be a very important part of differentiating writing instruction. You could verbally provide a few sentence starter ideas to your classroom, but many students will forget those sentence starters by the time they’re ready to put pencil to paper. For other students, transferring a sentence starter from the whiteboard to their own paper can be a huge challenge, as well.
By providing a writing paper with sentence starters, you help to reduce barriers to writing that many students in your class will experience. Many sentences can be completed with just a word or two. This allows students to complete the sentence without becoming overwhelmed.
3. Provide Traceable Practice
To support your students who still need to work on letter formation, you can provide traceable sentence starters as part of the writing activity. This helps to reinforce proper letter formation as they work to complete the sentence. It can also get students in the groove of putting their pencil to paper as they get ready to finish the sentence.
4. Challenge Students with Blank Lines
There will usually be at least a few students in your classroom who are ready to write multiple sentences on every topic you introduce. For these students, you can provide a picture writing prompt with blank lines. This allows students to use their own creativity to come up with a sentence (or more!) about the picture.
The best part about picture prompts is that students can add to the pictures to illustrate their sentences. This is helpful for keeping your early finishers engaged until it’s time to move on.
5. Celebrate Your Writers
Writing is one of the most difficult things that we ask kindergarten students to do. Be sure to celebrate the effort of all of your writers! One fun thing you can do is create a journal of multiple pictures prompts for each of your students. The journal can be filled with the writing paper that's most appropriate for that student. It’s always motivating for students to celebrate a completed journal and take it home to show their families.
Printable Writing Prompts for Kindergarten
I have put together a bundle of picture writing prompts that you can use for differentiating writing instruction all year long! Each picture prompt pack in this bundle includes three different levels of support: A sentence starter, a traceable sentence starter for extra fine motor practice, and blank writing lines for more independent writers. With these writing prompts, everyone can write about the same topic with the level of support they need.
Free Prompts for Differentiating Writing Instruction
You can try out my picture writing prompts for free! Just fill in the form below and I’ll send a set of ocean animal picture writing prompts directly to your inbox.
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