No, it’s not so your students can draw rainbows in their books (although I’m sure that they’d enjoy that).
It’s not for picture plans either.
It’s so your students can identify where in their writing they have met the success criteria for your writing lesson. See here for a more comprehensive list of success criteria for different writing genres.
We need our students to understand what makes a “good” piece of writing. If they understand what “success” looks like and have access to the tools they need to produce that too, then you’re setting them up for success.
So where do coloured pencils come in?
Students use different colours of pencil to write over words or phrases that meet specific success criteria for a lesson. For example, in a character description, students write over all of the adjectives in red:
Have you met the Mad Hatter before? You’d sure remember him if you had. You can’t mistake his vivid orange hair like flames in a furnace or eyebrows like carrots. Not to mention, his distinctive rose-red lipstick which frames his creepy grin. When he walks, his gangly arms flail out to the sides like a fish out of water.
Here’s an example from a recount with time connectives in blue:
Next we visited the furry meerkats peeking out from their sandy burrow. My sister thought they were the cutest animal in the whole zoo! After that, we raced over to see the tall giraffes. The zookeeper was feeding them carrots for lunch. I watched as the giraffe gobbled its third carrot and wondered when it would stop. Suddenly, I realised that my sister was no longer next to me. Where had she gone?
But we don’t use coloured pencils in our Writing books
Says who? Writing books aren’t there to look pretty; they’re there for students to practise their writing skills, right? The purpose of using the colour is educational not aesthetic.
But students will ruin their writing books with coloured pencils!
It’s less likely than you think. I spent three years teaching Year 2s and I never had any issues with students deliberately messing around. The one blip was when I had a table of students shade in the words (like highlighting) instead of writing over the top of the individual letters...but that was my bad.
Let’s jump into some more detail.
Here’s an example from a lesson with my Year 7 students. It followed on from some lessons on figurative language and a couple of character descriptions writing tasks. Our Lesson Aim and success criteria were:
WALT describe a setting
I can brainstorm what can be seen, heard, smelt and felt
I can describe the theme park using:
This picture by Jason Knight was the inspiration that we used as our starting point.
Below is the piece of writing that I came up with for Modelled Writing time. We assigned colours to each of the success criteria and then went through the passage (on a live doc) and identified examples of each figurative language feature.
The Theme Park You’d expect a theme park to be a bustling hub of energy and excitement. The happiest place on Earth? Not this one. Abandoned long ago, there isn’t the faintest glimpse of a cheery child or the cliché clown. Tones of grey and brown litter the scene, as the dark light stretches its claws out from the shadows. As you approach the theme park, the temperature drops to Arctic chilliness. The lingering smoke clouds your lungs as you breathe in. Wheeze. Cough. This place is a prison, trapping all happiness. The roller coaster tracks curl high above like the spines of the old and weary, while the deafening silence of screams hang in the air. Will you turn back or will you enter?
As I’m sure you can guess, my students went on to write their own descriptions of the abandoned theme park setting and used coloured pencil to identify where they had used each of the figurative language features.
Using this method, students collect their own evidence of meeting the Lesson Aim. They also find it easier to identify what specifically they are struggling with. Students who struggle in Writing feel empowered because they can see their page littered with colours which represent success!
I’m not shying away from a splash of colour. Are you ready to take the plunge too?
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If you're ready to dive into your next Writing unit, check out these child-speak success criteria resources to get the ball rolling: