Melissa Forney’s 12 Steps of the Writing Process

I wanted to post some additional information I gathered from Melissa Forney’s 2009 Writing Conference. Here’s her 12 Steps of the Writing Process.

  1. Think It
  2. Talk It
  3. Do It
  4. Draw It
  5. Explain It
  6. Gather Vocabulary & Put Money in the Bank
  7. Watch Modeling
  8. Write It
  9. Revise It
  10. Read it Aloud
  11. Edit It
  12. Share It

To explain the process a bit further I’m going to combine my notes from this summer’s writing conference and last summer’s writing conference.

Step 1: Think It
Students need some time to think about what they are going to write, so we must give them time to think about the topic.

Step 2: Talk It
Thinking and talking go hand in hand. Kids need to talk with their peers, with older kids, with younger kids, and with adults. The more opportunities we give them to talk about what they are going to write the better prepared they’ll be when they start writing. Talking gives them an opportunity to brainstorm.

Step 3: Do It
Whenever possible, teachers should add a “do it” element where kids get to do a hands-on activity related to their writing. Whether it’s giving them Pop Rocks to help them understand, grasp, and use sizzling words, or allow them to make butter and write about it. In the beginning of the year students can make a name bracelet and write about the day they made a name bracelet. The hands on experience will allow students to add more vivid details to their writing.

Step 4: Draw It
Students can make a quick little sketch using stick figures to help them picture what they will write about. Iconic drawings and stick figures can be easily and quickly done before students start to write as part of their prewriting activities. There are three important reasons why this step should not be skipped:
1. This step forces kids to focus and provides an anchor for their writing.
2. It is stimulating to the brain.
3. Drawing links thought with words and emotions with words.

Step 5: Explain It

Explaining requires reasons, examples, descriptions, quotes, anecdotes, samples. When students explain their drawings or what they will write to others it allows them to defend what they are writing and persuade their readers. A neat activity to engage students in explaining their drawings is the following:

  • Give each student an envelope
  • Play the “Mission Impossible” theme song
  • The teacher puts on sunglasses and tells students that they have a mission. Their mission, if they choose to accept it, is to explain their picture to someone in the school (another teacher, a faculty member, an administrator). The teacher can set up appointments with these people ahead of time. Or just allow the student to explain it to someone else in their class.

Step 6: Gather Vocabulary & Put Money in the Bank

This is a very important step for students. Sometimes we expect for them to use mature and sizzling vocabulary but students just don’t have “money in the bank” (words in their brain). So what we do as teachers is help them gather vocabulary so they can put money in their memory banks. Take a topic like “Ocean/Beach.” You would first tell students to think about other words they can use instead of Ocean/Beach to talk about the ocean/beach. This is done so that when readers read their papers, they don’t see a whole bunch of oceans throughout their papers. Students will work with a partner or group to come up with other words. Then students will share out so the teacher can create an even bigger word bank for other words for Ocean/Beach. Here’s a list for other words to use instead of Ocean/Beach:

  • seashore
  • enchanted sandy seaside
  • surf
  • deep blue sea
  • fisherman’s paradise
  • salty swimming hole
  • the sunny lagoon
  • the living sea
  • serene expanse of water
  • liquid topaz
  • nautical arena
  • kaleidoscope of blues
  • mermaid’s heaven
  • salty reservoir
  • sliding blanket of blue green
  • sandy playground
  • seagull’s domain
  • hypnotic waves of blue

The teacher simply gathers the vocabulary from the students before they write. The teacher can then type the list in the computer on small pieces of papers to hand to students so they can keep it in their writer’s notebook and use it as a resource when writing about the topic.

Step 7: Watch Modeling
The teacher doesn’t have to model an entire piece of writing. The teacher may choose to model one or two sentences or a section of the writing. Students then use what they learn from the modeling when they are ready to write their papers.

Step 8: Write It
Now the students are ready to write. As the students write, the teacher walks around the classroom to assist students as needed. The teacher may also choose to validate student’s writing attempts by simply stamping their paper, hole-punching and placing a curling ribbon on the edge of their paper, placing a stick-on jewel on their paper, etc. The teacher should be up and about encouraging and offering help when needed.

Step 9: Revise It
We call revision making the BIG changes. Students are told to revise their papers by adding more, describing more, changing a boring word into a sizzling word, adding a writing skills on purpose, etc.

Step 10: Read it Aloud
Students are given the opportunity to read their writing aloud either to themselves or to buddy up with another teacher or student. This will also allow students to continue revising their papers.

Step 11: Edit It
We call editing making the small changes. The small changes include capitalization, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Step 12: Share It
Teachers can be creative with this step whether it’s making a class book, posting the writing in a blog, making an audio tape of students reading their writing, etc.

Melissa Forney’s 12 Steps of the Writing Process will help students arm themselves with the knowledge and information they need in order to produce wonderful pieces of writing.


Melissa Forney Writing Conference ’09

Last summer, I had the great priviledge of attending my third Melissa Forney Writing Conference. She is a dear friend and an inspiration to me as well as other teachers. I learned a great deal from the conference and I would like to share some of that information on this blog.

Day 1: Writing a Beginning, Grabbers, Middle, Ending, and Zingers

Melissa had us practice writing a beginning to different topics she gave us. Each time we wrote a beginning to a topic, she asked us to share it, and then share out. She helped us differentiate between a grabber and a beginning and told us to only write a beginning for the sake of this activity. Afterwards, she asked us to write a new beginning to the same topic. She had us repeat this process about two to three times. It was a great revision activity and a great way to help students learn that there are different ways of saying the same thing.

Here’s an example of a topic she gave us: Living in Florida

Here are the beginning sentences I came up with:

Try 1: Sunny beaches, a variety of people, Disney World…these are some qualities I love about living in Florida.

  • This was a pretty good first attempt except that I have a grabber in the beginning and we were only supposed to focus on writing a beginning only. Melissa just wanted to make sure we knew how to write a beginning that was short, to the point, and introduced the topic.

Try 2: Living in Florida has been the adventure of a lifetime.

  • This was also a great second attempt. Melissa then told us that when we write a beginning, we shouldn’t have to pass judgment. This information helped us for our next try.

Try 3: Florida is the place I call home.

  • This beginning is short, to the point, it introduces the topic, and doesn’t pass judgment.

Here are some of the tips we learned about writing beginnings:

  1. The beginning should be straight to the point.
  2. Don’t over think your beginning and steal words from the prompt to use in it. You need to use words from the prompt. Some words may be substituted but it should have the same meaning as the original word.
  3. Write the topic sentence/begining first before writing the grabber.
  4. There are different ways of saying the same thing.
  5. The beginning should clearly introduce the topic.
  6. Topic sentence/beginning needs to be person and definite.


Here’s a list of the different types of grabbers we went over:

  • A humorous statement
  • A shocking statement
  • Dialogue
  • Onomatopoeia
  • A rhetorical question (an important question that makes you think)
  • Scenario
  • Opinion
  • Comparison

A grabber invites the reader to keep reading your paper. It may be general in contrast with the topic sentence/beginning which is specific.

Melissa then had us go back to our original topics we used when practicing how to write a beginning. We then had to create a grabber to go along with the beginnings we had written. Here’s the grabber I wrote to the same topic from above using the beginning I wrote on my third try:

Picture this: Sunny beaches, warm wather, and Mickey Mouse as your neighbor. Florida is the place I call home.

Here is another great examples written by one of the participants using onomatopoeia and alliteration:

Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle. Hot feet hopping across sand. I live in South Florida where the sun shines every day.

Some tips we learned about grabbers include:

  1. Don’t replace the beginning/topic sentence
  2. Grabbers are the wrapping paper and the bow of your writing. The topic sentence/beginning is the nuggest inside.
  3. Grabbers get your attention without giving away the middle.
  4. Grabbers keep you in suspense.
The middle is the biggest part of your writing. If it’s a Narrative middle it needs to tell a story and must include sequencing and the passing of time, as well as lots of details the reader can picture.
An Expository middle needs to contain details, examples, samples, reasons, logic, facts, quotes, personal experience, opinion, and a testimony from an expert.
It is important that your middle contains writing other people can picture. This is done through descriptive words and details. Be sure to not go on and on and linger on information that is not needed. Go right into the story.
Melissa then had us write a middle to the topic of an embarrassing moment. After we wrote, she asked us to read our paper aloud (everyone at the same time) and as we read our paper we had to look for places in our writing that needed to be revised. If we found a spot for revision, we had to raise our hand so she can count how many people were revising each time using a counter (the one you hold on your hand and just click away). We read our papers about four times and at the end she showed us how many hands she counted going up for revisions. It was an amazing strategy and one I plan on using this school year.
The ending needs to pass judgment and needs to tell the reader your most important thought about the topic.
Melissa gave us an opportunity to try writing an ending to our embarrassing moment paper. We then shared our ending with our partners and had some share outs before moving on to Zingers.
A zinger is a statement that makes the reader think, smile, or feel. It comes after an ending.

We practiced writing a zinger to our ending and again, we shared with our partners, and then had a couple of share outs.

We didn’t share our writing until the second day, but below you will find my embarrassing moment writing paper which shows a grabber in the beginning, the short and to the point topic sentence, the middle, my ending, and the zinger.

My Sample Writing Paper – Topic: An Embarrassing Moment

“Come on Ms. Sanchez. Limbo with us.” Little did I know this was an invitation for disaster. What happened next was the most embarrassing moment my students will never forget.

The end of the school year was at hand and our fourth grade class decided to celebrate with a Luau themed party. Our classroom was the designated Limbo room. Students came dressed in their brigh tropical clothing all covered in flowery leis. The sounds of uplifting, island music filled the air and set the mood for Limbo. “How low can you go? How low can you go?” were the chants circulating around the room. It wasn’t long before students were inviting me to join them. I thought, “Oh why not. Everyone’s having fun. Let me give it a try.” To my surprise I was able to successfully pass under the Limbo stick the first time and I was beaming with pride. “This isn’t so bad,” I said to myself. I decided to give it another shot and you won’t believe what happened next! As I made my way under the stick once more, my flip flots slid on the carpet forcing both my legs to slide in opposite directions as if I was a cheerleader performing a clumsy split and then…KERPLUNK! I fell flat on my rear end in front of all my students. As they gasped and chuckled, I instantly tuned beet red. I was humiliated and wanted to hide under a rock. Instead, I decided to laugh along with the students. Nevermind that my body ached like a locomotive had smashed into me and that I had no clue as to how I was going to get up. As I laughed along with my students, I tried to turn my embarrassing moment into a humurous event fit for American’s Most Funniest Videos.

Next time I decide to Limbo in front of a class of fourth graders, I’ll make sure I try it barefoot instead. You better believe I don’t want to repeat that beet red face moment ever again.

Towards the end of the first day, Melissa gave us the materials to create our manipulative titled “Young Writer’s Survival Kit.” We took it home and started to put it together.

Day 2: Young Writer’s Survival Kit, Teddy Bodain’s Adventure Quest, Reader’s Theatre, Q&A

We began the second day by finishing up putting together the Young Writer’s Survival Kit. This survival kit is available for download throughout the summer of 2010. Get it while it’s available!

Here are some of the highlights featured in the Young Writer’s Survival Kit:

  • Where ideas come from?
  • The 12 Steps of the Writing Process
    • Melissa went through each step and had us practice some of them during the conference.
  • Sentence Variety
    • Melissa asked us to please teach this and the activity we did the first day with changing our beginnings to the same topic two or three times was a good activity to teach sentence variety.
  • Emergecy Landing
    • These are emergency endings that students can memorize (two or three) to use when they only have 5 minutes left on their state writing test and need to end their writing.
  • Writing Skills
    • We should teach about 8 to 10 of these a year so students are able to use them in their writing. Fourth grade students should use 6-7 writing skills in their writing.
  • Writer’s Checklist

There are many more pages that the Writing Kit includes. There are a total of 68 pages filled with grade writing information.


This was one of the free books Melissa gave us for attending the conference. It goes together with The Astonishing Journey of Teddy Bodain which is the free book we obtained during last year’s conference. It is filled with fun Language Arts activities that can be used in the classroom while reading about Teddy’s journey. In the book she highlighted on some Reader’s Theatres scripts which we performed in the conference. She also gave us a glimpse on part two of the Teddy Bodain story which she is currently writing.

I had a wonderful time at the conference and I was able to take so much from it. I thank Melissa for allowing me to attend and for being such a great inspiration. 🙂

Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher

I absolutely loved reading the book Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi. It has been a GREAT resource for learning how to implement a writing workshop into your classroom. Here are some of the things that I learned from the book:
  1. Kids need a regular and predictable time to write.
  2. Writing Workshop should be scheduled at least 3 times a week (preferrably 5 times) for a period of 50 minutes or more.
  3. Setup a place for writers to access writing tools like paper, pencils, notebooks, computers, folders, scissors, tape, stapler, dictionaries, thesauri, word lists, checklists, colored pens, etc.
  4. Create a comfortable place for writing.
  5. Create both short and long term goals for the writing workshop.
  6. Use a writer’s notebook
  7. Write with your students
  8. Teachers should also keep a writer’s notebook that they write in on a daily basis.
  9. Use read alouds to encourage writing and to set a basis for mini-lessons.
  10. Have procedures in place for when students finish their writing pieces.
  11. Start the workshop with a mini-lesson, proceed to writing time while conferencing with students, and then have a sharing time at the end of the workshop.
  12. Use conferences to determine future mini-lessons.
  13. When conferencing with students remember to: LISTEN, READ, UNDERSTAND, BUILD ON STRENGHTS, and TEACH ONE THING.
  14. Remember to keep conferences short. Try to confer with a total of seven to eight writers.
  15. The Writing Process is non-linear.
  16. Read alouds are extremely important. Make a list of 20 picture books you will read aloud.
  17. Encourage daily independent reading.
  18. Create an editing checklist that students will use to edit their work independently.
  19. Determine how you will assign grades for writing produced in the writer’s workshop.
  20. Kids should be involded in self-assessing their writing.

This has truly been a resourceful book and one that I highly recommend if you are interested in implementing a Writer’s Workshop in grades K-8. The book addresses all of these grades throughout.