Using Color as a Writing Strategy

Using Color Coding as a Writing Strategy

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I taught first grade for eight years before coming to fifth. When I started, we immediately decided to departmentalize and I chose writing as my speciality. I was a bit nervous because I had only taught first grade writing in the past and assumed it would be overwhelmingly different.

There are many differences between first and fifth grade writing. But as I came to eventually learn, the basics are very much quite the same. In fact, I found myself falling back on many of the same strategies that I used with my first grade (and ELL students) to teach my fifth graders. I leave my writing strategies posted all year long.

One of these strategies is color coding. Color Coding is such an important writing strategy. I use this with my ESL students all the time because it helps them visualize better. Just because students are older, does not mean color coding won’t work for them. It can be used to modify or even challenge writers at any level. There are so many different ways to use this strategy and there really is no right or wrong way. Generally I color code new vocabulary, sentences, paragraphs, sentence revisions, and with post it notes.

Color Coding Vocabulary

When color coding new vocabulary, you can easily have students spot new vocabulary words by highlighting or circling them in different colors. I will even color code definitions to match new vocabulary words. Using this strategy, students can visualize the words and differentiate them from others. Another strategy is to have students highlight words they do not know in one color, words they have heard but unsure of in another, and then words that they are comfortable with in a different color. If you stay consistent with your colors, students will pick up on this strategy quickly, and learn to identify words more consistently and independently. A strategy I have pictured below, is circling overused or repetitive vocabulary in one color, and rewriting a better word in a different color underneath.

Color Coding Sentences

This is one strategy that I highly recommend at ALL grade levels. If using in the lower grades, keep the language more simple. For example, have students underline the “naming part of the sentence” in green and “the telling part of the sentence in yellow.” As they get older, you can begin to use the grammatical terms subject and predicate. However, still using the colors helps students visually see the separate parts of the sentence. I generally recommend using three colors at most. This way you can show the subject, simple predicate, and then the rest of the predicate in a different color.

Color Coding Paragraphs

Graphic organizers are my life. I use them all the time for writing with my students. When writing paragraphs, we always use a graphic organizer to show what a good paragraph should look like and what elements should be included. I will always color code the essential three elements; topic sentence, three details, and conclusion sentence. You can choose whichever colors you would like for these, however it is good to stay consistent. I often refer to colors when I am telling students which elements they are missing. For example; “I would add another yellow detail, or don’t forget your green topic sentence.” The color connection tends to stay in their minds as they write.

The above picture shows sentences that are mixed up in a paragraph. The student has to identify the introduction, topic sentence, detail sentences, and conclusion in the correct colors as directed.

Color Coding Sentence Revisions

Sentence revising can be tricky. A lot of times when we are revising longer stories, student notebooks end up looking quite messy. It can sometimes lead to a lot of confusion when they are ready to type their final drafts, also. Using specific colors to edit parts of writing is an essential strategy in my room. I generally assign specific colors to different types of editing/revising. When students go back to look at their edits, they are able to clearly see what needs to be changed for their final piece.

Color Code with Post it Notes

An extension to the above would be to use post it notes. This is generally done more effectively when students are in the revising stage rather than the proofreading stage. They can use the post its to locate parts of their stories where information can be added, deleted, or moved. We use different color post it notes for different types of revising. The nice thing about using post it notes, is students can manipulate them as needed. They can be taken off, rearranged, or thrown away. I also like to use post it notes for peer editing. Peers can write notes to their partners and stick them to their work without having to actually write on their writing. Peer editing runs much more smoothly this way.

This is one essential strategy that I use in my room. I have many more writing strategies that I use throughout the year. If you like the posters and sample lessons pictured in the above blog, you can find them by clicking here.

If you would like to view more of my writing strategy resources, you can view them by clicking here.

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