I used to absolutely DREAD teaching writing. I always struggled with how to teach students to put their emotions into words without it sounding dry or being illegible. I felt like my students were bored, I was bored and nobody wanted to read or write about one more personal narrative. I decided my writing block needed a MAJOR change, and here is how I turned it around.
EVERY week I tie a mentor text into our writing unit. If we are studying narrative, I find a narrative, if we are writing opinion pieces, I find opinion pieces and when we do informative, I put out a plethora of informative books that students can peruse through and explore to get ideas on how to make their informative writing come to life. My mentor texts always have a purpose. Whether the purpose is to show positive language models, a specific writing strategy or is to provoke the topic for our writing, is entirely dependent on the unit. This provides students a constant, real tool to revisit and look to for ideas while also engaging students.
Changing up what we were writing about was KEY for making our writing more engaging. Our curriculum and the common core are very vague about what students should be writing about, using broad topics such as “personal narrative” or “informative piece” rather than giving specific topics or prompts. I used to let my students come up with their own topics, but found that they quickly run out of materials and ideas, and often were bored about writing about their weekend or birthday parties they had attended. Instead, I tried to find funny and current books that I could share with students to come up with fun topics to write about that my kids would love. This motivated my students SO much more to write, because while it was “silly” sometimes, it ALWAYS followed the common core standards and often was more rigorous than what our curriculum would ask for.
This is NOT to say that you should never let your students pick their own topics. When my students do their writing journals, they are ALWAYS picking their own topics. We also do free writes and additional writing that is their choice. They have the choice too to change the topic to be personalized to what they want. However, I provide them with a creative idea that they can either use or alter to be their own.
Every week, along with making an illustration, I provided a craft for students to tie to their writing. This was a great way for me to squeeze in more art time for my students while also working on dexterity skills that seem to be fading away more and more from our school day. This provides “fridge worthy” work each week for parents, plus is an easy way to constantly be updating bulletin boards in the hall. Plus, this is another easy way to get kids motivated to publish and share their writing with others.
Time to Share
Providing time to share each day and week is VITAL. Students want to talk about what they are doing, and it is vital that we provide them time to talk about and grow their ideas with their peers and other adults. One way I encourage this is by always providing our weekly writing topic to parents, and encouraging them to talk to their students about it at home. This is a great way for students to come up with unique details to add to their writing that are fun to read and out of the box. It is important that students are given opportunities to share with each other throughout the writing process, and not just when they are finished. I try to have them work with multiple partners throughout the week so that they can hear lots of opinions and receive lots of feedback about their writing. I also allow them to share with other students and other teachers (at times) when their work is complete.
Wonderful Writing Wall
Another way that I encouraged my students to do their best writing is by having a “Wonderful Writing Wall”. On this wall, I display 4-7 writing pieces from the week before that stood out as being amazing. Sometimes I pick the pieces, but most of the time I let students vote on what the pieces that they felt were the best for various reasons and we always talk about WHY these pieces stand out. Students can then use this wall the following week to model their own work off of. Sometimes, it is as simple as having an amazing illustration to accompany their writing, sometimes it is great handwriting, but most of the time it is the use of juicy adjectives, complex sentences and entertaining details that earn a spot on the wall. There are various ways that you can change the expectations for these coveted spots, and I try to switch what I am looking for so that all students have a chance to shine for their strengths.
I also worked on building my writing stamina with students. If you are interested in reading more about that, check out my blog post here.
Do you have tips for making writing more engaging in your classroom, or questions about how to implement any of these tips above? Feel free to drop a comment below. I would love to help out in any way that I am able.