You got the MOVES! Writing Non-Fiction with Voice, Choice and Clarity in Creativity

“Your assignment for today class is to write your state report in the voice of a snowman.”

“ A snowman?” you ask.

“ Yes, a snowman.”

ImageThis was simulated out of a conversation I had recently with a 3rd grade teacher where somewhere along the line someone thought it would be a creative idea to assign all 3rd grade students to write their state research reports in the voice of a snowman.  A snowman?  Yes.  A snowman.

“A snowman?” I asked.  Yes, a snowman.  What does the voice of a snowman sound like?  I wonder, as distant memories of Frosty’s voice pop into my head, “Haaaaaappy Birrrrrthdaaaaaay!!!”   What do snowmen have to do with state reports?   What if you have the state of Hawaii or Arizona where snowmen do not reside?  Would it be a melting voice?  A snowman?  Yes, a snowman.

And then to top it all off the report was to then be written in the shape of, yes, you guessed it, a snowman.  ImageNow call me crazy, but wouldn’t it make more sense to have a state report in the shape of the state the report is on?  Or perhaps just simply shapeless unless the writer chooses to make the report in any shape at all?

Wherever this idea came from, one must recognize that its’ intent, I believe,  was to allow for creativity in writing these reports.  My hunch is that what got in the way of this good intention was inexperience in writing,  the writing process  and how creativity can be discovered and is easily accessible to all writers through the study of authors and illustrators in ways that make sense for the writer and the purpose of the writing project. So many of us grew up without any writing instruction at all and many feel uncertain about how to teach writing.  Most teachers see themselves as readers but very few will identify themselves as writers.

So this 3rd grade teacher, Ashley and I decided to begin the journey encouraging students to create their own books on the states they were studying.  We began this unit of study with an introduction to a non fiction book called,  A President from Hawaii where we asked the students to read like writers and envision how they might use some of these techniques, or MOVES in their own writing. Image I read, did some thinking out loud, but not much before the students began to identify the many moves made by both the writer and the illustrator while Ashley charted their thinking on the white board next to us all.

As usual I found myself marveling at the kids “reading” of this text.  Amy recognized that the illustrator used a variety of techniques which included a background image that was either watercolored or collaged and then actual photographs and images were layered on top of that.

Joe saw that the photographs were delicately framed in bamboo, but not on all pages.  When we wondered why the illustrator might have made that move Michael wondered, “is the bamboo only shown on those pages where there were natural scenes in the background where bamboo really grows?”  And in looking back we identified that it was shown on the images of mountains and beaches,  but not on the pages that showed cities.

Shane talked about the bold words.  Michael noticed  how the information was embedded within the text.  I wondered going into the class if this book had enough moves in it, but of course they went deeper than anticipated.

Next, I shared a variety of non-fiction texts and asked them to take some sticky notes and do some noticing with a partner and then come back to the larger group and share one on the moves made by either the author or the illustrator that they might try.

I like this word, move, because it is more accessible to students, teachers and even non-writers.  In most professional texts these “moves” are referred to as craft, and the goal is to identify the different”craft” used by an author.  I myself I have used the word craft in my teaching but often found it did not resonate with those who were not engaged heavily in the process of writing already.  And by all means if “craft” resonates with you and your students then stay with it.  Katie Wood Ray’s description of Craft in her book, Wondrous Words is beautiful.  I am always seeking alternative ways in for writers.


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The word, Craft, carries with it a sense of “crafty” in that it is something that is part of an artistic process and that some are better at it than others, or that some have a “gift” for it.  Those with that gift are “writers” and those who were not lucky enough to be born with an affinity for “craft” are not writers.  Craft can be a loaded word in that it also has an underlying assumption that there is a “right” way to make the craft. (See paper plate snowman) One teacher explained that because she didn’t know what craft was that it automatically distanced her from writing and made her feel even more inferior.  She did not see herself as a writer and the idea of craft did not help her to move away from that identity.

The process of identification  is a critical one when working with writers.  Once someone actually manifests the idea of “I am a writer” then all things begin to change, as they “see” themselves as writers they find the confidence to play a little more, to worry a little less about doing it “right”, and discover the freedom to explore and try on some of the moves of others writers.

“Moves” seem to be more available to some.  Identifying these moves actually moves writers closer to that place of identification.  Anyone can try out a move.  In asking students (be they 3rd graders, 33 year-olds or 63 year olds) to try a”craft” is something that some cannot identify with.  Trying a move in your writing  is like trying a dance move.   It takes out that ethereal sense of “writer” and brings it down to earth, making writing available to writers of all shapes and sizes.

When the students regrouped to share their findings, their books were loaded with sticky notes and “moves” they would like to possibly try.  Each set of partners shared one move that impressed them the most.  The possibilities seemed endless.

So when I returned to that classroom I was eager to find out what had transpired over the week and what I found when I walked in was a very busy writing workshop with paper and scissors and computers and crayons and markers and pencils and busy writers abound.  There was a buzz in the room and so I began conferring to find out more.

What I discovered was that the “move” most decided to try was to write their reports in the “voice” of something significant from their chosen state be it the state bird, produce or in the Hawaii report in the voice of the waves.  I had to laugh  because this project started with the idea of voice and seemed to be ending here as well.  The idea of personifying something from their state took on a life of it’s own so much so that the narrator from Alabama, “Fuzzy the Peach” actually “visited” the narrator, the Cactus Wren, state bird of Arizona, on the pages of the Arizona book.  So now these kids were learning not only about their states, but about the states their classmates were studying as well.  They were collaborating and sharing ideas and admiring each other’s work and ideas during the process, finding an immediate audience with authentic feedback.   One gets an idea from another and it snowballs.  It was infectiousphoto 1

I also noted how all of  the writers were in such different places and stages and that for some, the gift of time to really work on an illustration with incredible depth and detail was appreciated. “I love making this book!” Josh told me.  When I asked him why he said that it was fun, relaxing and enjoyable to show his information in a book.  I could see from his writing alone that it was not something he excelled at as his letters looked young and his words were far and few in his research, but by focussing on what he loved about his state of California, the sports teams he was creating the most detailed images in the room.


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I also realize having the eyes of the occasional observer are different eyes than those of the teacher who has a list a mile long of things to get done with her students and that handing that time over, even when we know it is valuable, can feel too long or too free or too unproductive.  Fortunately, this young, intuitive teacher, Ashley, understands and sees the value in what each child is doing and how individual the process of each student is.  It takes patience. Then it takes more patience. It is not easy for every student and there are always those who struggle, those who seem to be wasting time and those who are not engaged.  It takes time and it takes a great leap of faith and trust in ones’ self and the kids themselves.

Finally, I noticed was how sacred the oaktag  was to these kids.  Some cut theirs into smaller pieces to make more pages, others just talked about how lucky they were to be using such expensive paper and how it was different than any other “paper” because it was so sturdy and perfect for book-making.  One girl stroked the smoothness of the tagboard telling me how she just LOVED the feeling of this paper.

ImageAll of these things, all of these tools, all of these conversations, all of these moments are part of being a writer, of the writing process of a working Writer’s Workshop.  It is messy, it is chaotic, it is time consuming, but it is organized chaos where the voices, choices, creativity and sounds of the writers are front and center and the snowmen, well, they are out where they belong, on the playground.

21 thoughts on “You got the MOVES! Writing Non-Fiction with Voice, Choice and Clarity in Creativity

  1. Oh, how I love this post. A Snowman? Actually, I was “noticing” plenty of snowman art throughout your piece. Silently funny.

    This is why I never ever dive into skill workbooks for writing- haven’t in a million years. They always have strange things like this that feel flat- and kids never buy it. Regardless, this is exactly why you need to teach intuitively. Noticing students and what they notice is the most important thing- what they notice and deem as important will become their focus. That is how to capitalize on interest and motivation, thus producing writers proud of their moves and proud of what they are to create.

  2. I’ve fallen so behind on blog reading that I’m only now catching up with this. But coincidentally enough—or not, given that we often live parallel lives—I used the word moves with a high school teacher the other day and he asked if I meant craft or strategies. I had to push myself to think how those words were and weren’t alike, and you capture here more articulately than I did in the moment what I think the differences are. I also love how you pointed the spotlight on what happens when we give students beautiful materials, like the oaktag. It elevates everything. And, of course, no surprise that the kids saw so much in a book you were worried about. It happens all the time when they believe that what they notice is valued. THANKS!

  3. Pingback: Don’t Box Me In: More Thoughts on Worksheets and Graphic Organizers | To Make a Prairie

  4. I just found this thoughtful blog! I love your thinking behind using the word ‘moves’ instead of ‘craft’ with writing. As I’m working on my own writing project for teachers, I have found it more and more difficult to refer ‘craft’ in writing; not because I can’t find the techniques, but because I’m struggling with the word choice of ‘craft.’ I’m taking your lead – and Vicki’s – and am going to work on my moves.

  5. I was introduced to this idea of “craft moves” from a colleague who attended the UNH Literacy Institute courses a couple years ago. I like the idea even of getting rid of the “craft” piece until students have actually experienced this practice, so they can all come to realize that they ARE crafters with writing.

    I love this observation that you made, and you said, “They were collaborating and sharing ideas and admiring each other’s work and ideas during the process, finding an immediate audience with authentic feedback. One gets an idea from another and it snowballs. It was infectious.”

    It is!

    This is where that classroom vibe is born: This comfortable place where kids feel like they can share their work and learn from each other. Every year, I share with my classes how many ideas I get from students. Notebooking is a wonderful way to connect with writing and learn about students’ various approaches to processing information.

  6. I also prefer the term “move” when describing the choices writers make. Demystifying the writing process for children can help them relax into the purpose of their writing, improving the clarity of ideas and in turn, the power of their words. Kids need to know that fancy is often ineffective.

    Also, it’s absolutely true that with choice comes engagement in reading and writing. We work harder at the things we love. The trick is giving kids the opportunity to make informed choices. Studying great writing is the best way I can think of to inspire the kind of choices that get kids to “dig in.”

    • You say: “Studying great writing is the best way I can think of to inspire the kind of choices that get kids to “dig in.” and I could not agree more! It is also one of the most joyful parts of teaching writing…all of the great scouting you get to do to find text that will speak to our writers!

  7. Your use of the word ‘moves’ instead of ‘craft’ is so thoughtful. Having students identify different types of writer’s moves and then being given the opportunity to implement those ideas into their own writing, gives students not only a voice but a choice on the outcome of their writing. Appreciate the insight on how to generate student excitement and interest in writing.

    • You say: “gives students not only a voice but a choice on the outcome of their writing. ” Angie is connecting this to choice as well. Isn’t that the goal here? To have our kids engaged in their writing and understanding the process and how it works FOR them?? Yes!

  8. Like many other commenters, I had never thought to replace “craft” with “move.” Now that I think about it, though, when I analyze texts with my high schoolers, I think I most often opt for the word “choice.” “What choices is the author making here? Which choices would you want to try to copy in your own writing?” Using inclusive, jargon-free vocabulary to discuss writing with any grade level seems like it might help students feel more connected to the process!

    As for writing in the “voice” of something, such as a snowman or a fruit, I can see how a similar, high school-minded activity might help students think about tone and audience (and, of course, help them feel comfortable in being silly and creative throughout the writing process).

    • I love the word of choice as well! Making a list of “choices” a write can make is also accessible to more students. In the end, what language is going to engage them and help them feel as though they are part of the writing club!

  9. I really like the idea of using the term “move” to talk about what writers do. Often in my own classroom when I use the term “craft move,” students seem intimidated. I love the idea of asking, “What moves did this writer (or artist) make?” and “What moves could you try in your own writing?” The term “move,” like you said, makes me think of a dance move…or even a move you might make as an athlete. I think many students would benefit from this shift in language!

    • Language matters so much! Love this connection you made: “even a move you might make as an athlete”. Imagine bringing in athletes to the writing game! I even think about all of the langauge we are using these days to define moments in history and if those words were perhaps different, what that might look like!

  10. Tomasen! I was just writing about this in my notebook before reading this blog post. As I mentioned in class today, I took a lot away from our note booking class last summer. My students so enjoyed the supplies I put together for free writing time. I had everything from buttons and stamps to ribbon, decorative punches, tape, glue, scissors, staples, old greeting cards, envelopes, you name it! I sent a letter home to families and asked for contributions as well. this turned out nice because it helped my students take on ownership of the center in terms of taking care of the supplies and keeping it somewhat organized. Today, as I reflected in my journal about how to take this to another level in the classroom next year, I began to write about how I can give even more choice when we do special projects. Let them glue the hat on the side of the head if that’s what they want. Let them be different. Let them, do them! That can be hard for me. It was especially hard in the beginning of my teaching career but I’ve come a long way. That being said, I know I can do better by offering even more choice when we do whole class projects. Let them pick out ALL of their own colors. Let them decide what kind of paper they want to use. Do they want a cover on the front? why or why not? What do they want to put on the cover. Let them make their own choices. Let them be happy with their choices. Let them be disappointed with their choices. Let them learn!

    • You say: “how I can give even more choice when we do special projects. Let them glue the hat on the side of the head if that’s what they want. Let them be different. Let them, do them!” yes yes and yes!! Add this to your intention page and think about how you can spread this independence to them across the day!

  11. Talking about voice, I hear yours perfectly while reading this! I’ve noticed similar reactions from my students when I use the word “craft.” It doesn’t sit well with them and seems to make them uncomfortable because it does sound so professional. I always start by introducing writing “moves” but then try to transition to calling it writing “craft” once they get it—why do I do this?! The connection to dance moves makes a lot of sense for them, and then I ask them to share their best (or worst!) dance moves. I can’t get over the snowmen. My first thought was….what about the states where it doesn’t snow!? Taking away the choice of how to present the information in their state reports could have robbed those students of their voice. It’s the choices we make as writers that let our voices be heard.

    • You say: “Taking away the choice of how to present the information in their state reports could have robbed those students of their voice”. I had never thought about it in this context. The idea of “robbing” our students is almost offensive to me and yet, you are spot on!! That is exactly what we are doing! Robbing! I will keep this image in my head and spin it around for many different angles…what else are we robbing from our students? What else are we doing to silence them? You got me thinking! Thank YOU!

  12. It is interesting that the connotation of a word can impede progress. “Craft”…so hoity-toity! “Move” means action. It is familiar and can lead to choices more readily.
    I like the idea of letting a native animal or object narrate the state projects. It requires creative role-playing and deeper thinking than just a dry factual report.
    This was an interesting and informative blog which I enjoyed. And I also liked the typing snowman cartoon! Thanks!

  13. I love the idea of using the word “move” when talking about writing. I know there are so many people who are talking about this too but I really think it is a great idea. Writing and talking about writing (ex. “craft”) can make a pretty intimidating environment for students but changing how we talk about writing can really help students. Who would have thought just changing one word would make such a difference? I can’t help but think about Mike Anderson’s book (I can’t seem to remember the title) where he talks about the power of changing our language.

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