Our Writing Table Conundrum: What Would You Do?

My teaching partner, Paula, and I spend a lot of time after school and through texts, talking. We talk kids. We talk program. We talk Self-Reg. We just talk, listen, and talk some more. Certain conversation topics come up again and again. One that we probably vacillate (I love that word 🙂 ) on the most involves our writing table. This space is one of our favourite and least favourite areas all in one. Maybe by finally blogging about it, others can help us work through this writing table conundrum.

Writing happens everywhere in our classroom. There are notebooks, Sharpies, clipboards, sticky notes, pens, pencils, and stacks of paper all over the room. We even have a long roll of brown paper, which we often roll out for another writing option. Students write us notes to ask for things, write each other notes to share their feelings, label their creations, create signs for everything, title their artwork, make lists, and help us create a print rich environment that truly belongs to them. We love that writing is embedded authentically within play, and that children continue to make the link between reading and writing. In fact, writing happens in so many spaces in our classroom that we waited a really long time to create a writing table. Students though were looking for this other  space to draw and write.

  • Some took an interest in stories, and wanted to create their own books.

  • Others wanted to write notes or create presents for their family members and friends.

We realized, with the help of our kids, that they needed another area for this. This space is not without issues though.

  • First, there’s the paper … boy do we use a lot of paper! Part of the problem is that for many of our students, the writing/mark-making process is really just about the process and not about the product. The children don’t care about what they make, and they will make many things on many individual pieces of paper … many of which end up in our recycling bin. We’ve tried covering the table with brown paper before, with the hope that this mark making could happen on this paper instead of on the plain white sheets, but most of our students are at a developmental stage where it’s about “having things for them.” They want their own paper, even if they might not bring all of it home. Even when we didn’t put the paper out on the table, students went to get their own, and the same paper mess ensued. We want children to have easy access to supplies, as this is also a way of communicating to them that the classroom is theirs and that we see them as “competent and capable” enough to make these choices. Putting the paper away then isn’t the solution, but knowing how much our children care for the environment, the thought of all of this paper mess also seems wrong. 
  • Second of all, this writing table is not all about “the writing.” In fact, sometimes it seems as though it’s about anything but writing. Paula and I have struggled with this issue. At first, we tried to insist that if children were using this table, they needed to be doing some “writing.” This might include squiggles, random letters, phonetic spelling, or words, but writing needed to be included on their work. Then we started to think more about what the Kindergarten Program Document says regarding The Arts as a way of communicating, and we wondered if this is what the children are trying to do here. Are their pictures just as valuable a way to share their thinking, storytelling, and ideas? Why are we insisting on writing? By forcing the writing process, do we turn some students off of it or create a cognitive stressor that doesn’t exist with a more open-ended space? Considering all of the other ways that students write during the day, maybe this space really can be about more than writing. 

The rest of our concerns stem from these two. Considering our thinking around art versus writing, we decided to look at this space as a drawing/writing table. Maybe the two areas could merge. Since we now have a MakerSpace place, and a creative table that often includes cutting and gluing, we thought removing the scissors from this area might help. Students just go and get their own scissors though. Pretty soon, this drawing/writing table includes a mixture of tape, glue, scissors, numerous markers (usually with no lids on them), and little writing. I resigned myself to being okay with the drawing happening here, but what about when a child creates a bow tie or makes some scary monster faces? I almost want to encourage this to happen in our MakerSpace or at our creative table instead.

Then it’s as I start thinking this way, that I overhear a conversation, such as the one that happened at this drawing/writing table yesterday.

It was the openness of this area, which allowed for this kind of writing, drawing, and storytelling. This makes me think a little more about a presentation that I attended by Karyn Callaghan many years ago. She caused me to think differently about spaces in our classroom, when she spoke about the value of children transporting items between areas. This is when some of the richest learning happens.

This is why I’ve learned to breathe deeply but not respond negatively when children bring palettes of paint over to the carpet, or move a chair to stand on so that they can reach the top of a painting or the top of a structure.

This is often when we see some of the best work and hear some of the best thinking. So why can’t I also let things go when it comes to our drawing/writing table? 

I wonder if my upcoming TPA (evaluation) is making me reflect more (not that this is a negative thing, but just a reality). Am I worried how my principal is going to view the room, the choices kids make, and the decisions that we support? Please don’t get me wrong here. Our principal, John, is always so supportive of our program, and he sees our daily posts, so he knows the environment that he’s going to come in and see. I will admit though that knowing that his visits are looming (his first one is on Monday after being rescheduled three times due to a snowstorm, an ice storm, and a meeting), I can’t help but look at the room as he might. What will he think if a writing table is used for drawing, or the distinction between the many art areas in the room, seem to be blurred?

Paula and I had another conversation about this table space after school yesterday, when I again shared some of my concerns with her. We’ve looked at making a change on Monday, and moving some of this writing, drawing, and creating onto the big carpet, but with the knowledge, that kids are likely to bring it back to the table by the window. That’s okay. Our hope is that the movement back to this table might inspire a conversation around our paper usage and writing concerns, and could lead to some class problem solving. Let the kids own it! Through this conversation, Paula said something really important: “The interest may not be in the writing yet, but it is in the art, which is the mark making that comes before the writing.” I think that she might be onto something here. This table space is a largely independent area, and are the kids showing us then what they can and wish to do independently?  

I keep going back to the Kindergarten Program Document and the number of expectations that actually focus on reading and writing. I know that our Board’s reading goal plays a role in our writing focus, but Paula and I also speak strongly about being responsive to kids. Are they telling us what they need, and is it up to us to listen? How much flexibility do you give to your writing spaces, and how do children respond? I’d welcome your feedback and stories as we continue to work through this great writing table conundrum.


10 thoughts on “Our Writing Table Conundrum: What Would You Do?

  1. Hi Aviva; since emergent literacy is one of my special loves, I found this post fascinating, both from the lens of the teacher who is accountable to others (principals!) and also through the lens of how children learn to write…so often through ‘messing about.’ I think your approach to the writing table and how it’s used is just about identical to my own. I’ve always nurtured every kind of symbolic representation (as you do) as simply other languages that children use to express meaning and eventually merge into more conventional forms. So where they ‘write’ (whatever that looks like) has never been an issue for me. That said, I don’t like waste! Especially when resources are costly or in short supply, as they are in some settings. Sometimes, I’ve cut paper into smaller pieces, so that if they are writing or scribbling very short messages or stories, there is less waste, and larger pieces are available (and they do love using tape to join all their little messages together if they turn out to be bigger messages after all!). I loved the way that, in one video clip, the child who was sorting was encouraged to write labels. So functional and authentic in terms of using print!

    • Thank you so much, Susan, for your comments! As someone that I really admire — I refer to your Pedagogical Documentation and Emergent Curriculum books a lot — it’s wonderful to hear your thoughts on this topic. I love the idea of cutting larger pieces of paper into smaller ones. We did do this once, but never really continued. This could certainly help with the waste though. Our kids do love tape, so the idea of joining these little papers together, is something that they are sure to do. A small change here, but something that could definitely address our paper usage problem! I also appreciate your insights around “mark making” in the many different forms out there. This is something that Paula and I talk about often, but hearing someone else support these choices is very valuable. Thanks for weighing in!


  2. For us the art/writing table during “open/free choice” activities, were just that. The kinders decided how to express themselves within the limitation of three papers. Environmental respect was a motivator to limit the use of paper and understand this decision. As always appreciate your thinking and reflections.

    • Thanks for sharing, Faige! When you say, “within the limitation of three papers,” do you mean three types of paper or three papers used at most? All of our play is open/free choice, so we’re looking at how to support the literacy expectations around writing, while also appreciating that art is another way for children to communicate in our document. Mark-making can also align with fine motor skills, which are addressed as part of the Self-Regulation and Well-Being Frame. I can see the connection of this space to many different expectations, even if these expectations are not always the ones that we expect. Maybe we just need to be okay with that.


      • During free drawing time, kinders are asked to use only three papers. The other day a student wanted a clarification; if a friend gave her a paper she drew for her, did that count as one of her papers! The negotiations were priceless. I explained it only meant three papers she used. Size of paper varies as to what’s available at the table. During writing workshop “writing marks” are encouraged and time of year kinders’ proficiency guides our expectations. Drawing as part of “telling their story” is valued as is the writing itself.

        • Thanks for clarifying, Faige! I never really considered limiting papers before, and I have conflicting views on this one, but it would help reduce some of the use of paper. We definitely need to address the amount of paper usage, especially when so much of it ends up in the recycling bin. Thanks for also sharing about your Writing Workshop. This is something that I did a lot when I taught Grade 1. While we don’t have a specific Writing Workshop, it’s funny how some of our writing mini-lessons overlap with the kinds similar to those used in a Workshop model. It’s always interesting to read more about what different people do.


  3. Hi Aviva,

    Your post got me thinking about my own classroom and our writing table. As you mentioned, writing happens everywhere but I have found, from a materials management perspective, to have a “writing centre”. For us this looks like a shelf with various writing materials (markers, coloured pencils, pencils, erasers, rulers) as well as our tape, hole punch, stapler, as well as some literacy materials such as magnetic letters, letter tiles, whiteboards and markers. And of course, the paper! This year I bought one of those rainbow drawer carts and we have labelled the drawers with the type of paper. The GOOS paper drawer is always full, I make sure the “books” drawer has mini booklets, there is writing paper and sometimes “special papers”. The “blank” paper only gets some sheets in it once a week – it pushes kids to reuse! I almost never “set up” the table near this shelf. It is open for students to use as they see fit. It often turns into a drawing table, or paper building table (tape + staplers). Its right beside our art table so if someone feels inspired to paint there is a table already covered with a tablecloth. It’s one of my favourite spots in the room but I think it’s one of the first years it’s been one of my favourite spots. Like you wrote, it’s a flexible space but tends to encourage writing simply because of the proximity of the materials.

    • Thanks for sharing about your writing table set-up and success! I’ve never been the best at saving those GOOS (Good On the Other Side) papers, as I, personally, like the look and feel of a new piece of paper. Maybe I need to change my perspective though. These other papers could be a way to reuse some of the papers already used. I wonder how our kids would react to them. It’s always interesting to hear how others set-up their spaces and what they include. Thanks for the food for thought!


  4. Hi Aviva,
    How about putting your conundrum about waste vs the need to write to the kids. In my experience, they often have highly creative solutions. When it comes from them, they tend to buy into it as well.
    Other thoughts… using white boards then snapping photos, using technology as a writing surface, using the Seesaw app so the kids have their own portfolio to add to independently…

    • Thanks Joanne for your idea! After a little change on Friday for today, Paula and I spoke about bringing the issue to the kids. We think that having them own the problem and the solution will help. Many of our kids are at an age when they want something physical to go home with them. They don’t always bring it home, but this is what tends to drive their “making.” We take, and they take, photographs of other work, but the whiteboards and chalkboards don’t do it enough as writing surfaces for them. They always move away from them for paper instead. It’s about wanting that item that can go home with them. Now to work through the other issues together.


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