Delaware City School District students are becoming better writers thanks to a new pilot program this year.

Delaware City School District students are becoming better writers thanks to a new pilot program this year.

The writing program for students in grades K-4 uses new tools and techniques to bring focus to writing, said Paula McCue, a first-grade teacher at Smith Elementary School.

McCue said when she looked at papers written by first-graders who had been part of the program in other parts of the country, she was shocked at the results.

"I couldn't believe that a first-grader had written these papers. They were exemplary," she said. "When I saw them, I said, 'No way will our students do this' -- but they are. Our first-grade students are writing three- to five-page detailed and focused stories."

McCue said when students start out having to write, it can be overwhelming and hard to pin down ideas. This program helps students in the planning process so they can plan for a story, she said.

"It's getting them to think differently about what they want to write about," she said. "They have an exact plan."

For example, when students used to write about what they did on vacation, they might include details but wouldn't focus on any specific aspects of it, she said.

Now, when students write about the beach, they use comparisons and home in on exactly what happened there, she said.

Students are encouraged to give examples and descriptive words, and answer the "who, what, when, where and why," McCue said.

"It's amazing to think that in kindergarten they were just learning their letters, and now they're writing a focused three-page paper," she said.

Students are learning to write about their personal knowledge and experiences, McCue said.

"They are focusing on things they know -- not just open-ended ideas, but writing things they've experienced or seen," she said.

As part of the curriculum, students must learn the mechanics of writing, such as punctuation and parts of speech, as well as types of writing, such as informational and opinion.

Although the curriculum has not changed for teachers, the ways in which they convey the lessons have changed, McCue said.

"This is just one tool that helps us to communicate these things in the curriculum that students need to learn," she said.

Students review each others' stories and offer feedback. They're also reading works by their favorite authors and considering how the authors grabbed their attention and how they can duplicate that in their writing.

All the teachers have the same planning charts in their rooms that students can reference to help them improve their planning for stories, McCue said.

"This is a pilot program, but we are all seeing results," she said. "All the teachers are now using the same language and we're all on the same page.

"I can't wait to see how far the kindergartners will be able to go in first grade after having a year of this under their belt."