Ever felt like teaching writing class is sucking the life out of you. Ever been the student that was feeling like writing class is sucking the life out of you?
I remember sophomore year of college my professor made me change my thesis because “he wasn’t interested in the one I chose.” I didn’t and I got a C. A paper that didn’t deserve such a grade but the joy was completely sucked out of the writing class that anything I produced was going to be a C.
Maybe you have been in a class like this…Or like my first two years of teaching– where we had no writing curriculum or direction and I knew I was failing my kids. I would get frustrated when they didn’t do what I wanted them to do and they were frustrated because I was killing the joy of writing for them.
I was lucky to listen to Matt Johnson speak this September at my local Writing Project. [If you haven’t checked out his book “Flash Feedback”… it’s wonderful.] Matt reminded me of something so simple that maybe you need reminding too. Students need joy in writing as much as teachers need joy in teaching it.
Bringing the Joy Back
Listening to Matt I was reminded of Ralph Fletcher’s book “Joy Write.” Another wonderful uplifting book by a lovely human… but getting to the basics of making writing joyful. After the past few years which have at least for me been the most life sucking years in education I need some joy.
So here are a few ways to spark some joy into your November
Become a True Community
Getting a student to believe they are a writer is a huge feat for some. When listening to Matt this fall one thing he encouraged is to create a writing community in your classroom. Have students play together. Do quick fun activities to create a vibe in your classroom where a writer would be comfortable sharing their words.
It’s said that Einstein had a group of friends the year before his greatest breakthroughs. He called this group Olympia Academy. They played games, talked, laughed, and ate together. The act of becoming a community — will spark joy in your writing classrooms and it doesn’t take but it will make a huge difference. Below are some ideas on starting your own Olympia Academy
- Would You Rathers
- Minute to Win it Games
- Walks Outside
- Coffee Talks (Bring in coffee or hot chocolate and have your kids chat at their tables)
Write from the heart
Expecting every student to sit down and write their best pieces of writing in the first quarter is a lofty goal. Especially when we are requiring students to write pieces of writing that aren’t from the heart. Students MUST have low stakes writing experiences that allow them to write about things that matter to them without the penalty of being graded at every turn.
How can you do this?
Simple. Give students opportunities to write everyday or consistently where their writing isn’t a part of their grade but a moment in the day of freedom. Here is a list of sacred writing topics I give my kids (it’s not a perfect list and it’s been compiled from many friend’s ideas over the years but it’s a starting point. Thanks to my many friends at Ohio Writing Project for their ideas!)
Or what about generating a class bucket of nouns. Students throw in 3 ideas and randomly you pull out three words and encourage them to write about those three things for 3 minutes. We always take a few minutes to share our silly stories– which normally involve someone famous doing something silly. It gets my kids laughing.
One last idea is to get the kids outside. Students love going outside — and it will amaze you the writing and self reflection that will happen when they have the space to do it. Recently I did a quick outside write to get my students scribbling in their notebooks. I called it the 40 step poem.
We labeled our notebooks 1-8 each skipping every other line. Students followed me to an area outside our school and I told my students to take 5 steps and describe something they see. Look all around up and down — use those rich adjectives.
We took our notebooks inside and I had students read through their writing with a trusted writing partner… they worked for 6 minutes on crafting or rewording their lines. And then we turned them into poems. Arranged the lines the way my students saw best. We called these 40 step poems because students took 40 steps and one stanza for each pause.
Check this 5th grade student’s 40 step poem below. We published on Adobe Express.
Whatever you do: spark some joy in writing class this month. If we want our students to become writers we have to set the stage. Create a community where students’ words are elevated and their words sacred.
Want some more ideas on how to create community? Check out my article from the beginning of the year.
Please reach out with questions, reflections, and connections in the comments below or on Twitter @Mrsablund. Check out my other articles writing out of the ELA classroom.
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I love these suggestions for sparking joy in writers! Particularly, I appreciate the emphasis on creating a community. I firmly believe that developing communities of practice allows us to significantly empower students to be and remain passionate, as they support, encourage, and work together to achieve great things.
Lovely post! My students are a bit older (college students), but I can see these ideas applying well to our class, too. The very first assignment they write is an “Introduction Paragraph” where they have a variety of topics to choose from, many about their favorite things or experiences; it was a nice low-stakes way to start the semester and build confidence for the longer pieces.
How I wish some of my school teachers read this. Sometimes, teaching is such a personalised thing, in that a teacher could make or break a class through their personal biases. Who’s to say what we learned was ever right? Anyway, thanks for this post!