Tiny Writing: Boosting Opportunities for Frequent Student Publication

I love swimming in writing studies for weeks at a time with my students — immersing ourselves in mentor texts, gathering information, writing off the page, talking out our ideas, drafting, revising. But when the average writing study lasts 3-5 weeks, it’s hard to keep the momentum and excitement of seeing a piece through to completion. Last year, I dabbled with mini writing units between big genre studies, like writing our own Buzzfeed lists. But this year, I’m getting even smaller as I find ways to support tiny writing publication.

Inspired by Allison’s post last year about finding time in workshop by extending notebook time through a 5-day week, I have been using extended notebook times as opportunities for tiny writing studies.  Before I tell you about what we have written, let me tell you why this works:

  • We can be working on meaningful, publishable writing while we simultaneously work on our literature study.
  • I am using time already set aside in my class.
  • We can continuously ride the wave of publication — through big genre studies and though low-stakes tiny writing studies.
  • I can experiment with pieces of writing in my classroom that normally wouldn’t make the genre study cut because of other demands.
  • Students are getting more practice reading like writers & more exposure to the real world of writers.

Tiny Writing Study Logistics

For a tiny writing study, I use my regularly scheduled notebook time — the first 5-7 minutes of class when we play, explore, and discover in our notebooks. (If you want to know more about all the ways we use this time, we dedicate an entire chapter to it in Writing With Mentors, and you can check out our session on notebook time at last spring’s EdCollab Gathering.) Each day, we build on and expand our writing.  By the end of our fifth class period, we have a piece of writing that is ready to publish.

Day 1  – Introduction & Mentor Text Immersion

On day 1, I direct students to a slew of mentor texts and ask them to skim, scan, and look around for 5-7 minutes to get a sense of the genre. I don’t specify which mentor texts they should look at because I want there to be variety. This will help make our noticings more thoroughly developed tomorrow.

Day 2 – Noticings

Next, I grab a marker and we make a list of our noticings on the board. How is this thing made? What is it composed of? What will they need to do to create something in kind?

Students have been learning how to make noticings since the very first week of school. This is  awesome practice as they continue to practice and refine their reading-like-a-writer skills.

Students copy this list of noticings into their notebooks so that they have them as we work throughout the week.

Day 3 – Try one

In most cases, I reserve the middle day for trying — writing their own version of the mentor.

This often extends into homework. For example, when we did a “Humans of …” series, students needed to actually interview and photograph people outside of class. So students used  the “Try One” class period to brainstorm and share interview questions. When we wrote haikus, students tried their hand at writing a few during notebook time, but then they selected their favorite for homework.

Day 4 – Revise

On the fourth day of a tiny writing study, we share and then revise. We keep the task of revision simple: make your writing better.

Day 5 – Publication

We keep publication simple, too. Publication simply means “going public” and sharing our work in some way. But you don’t need to have a big author’s celebration every time. Here are some simple ways we publish:

  • Read-arounds
  • Jotting favorite bits and golden lines on the white board for all to see
  • Compiling a whole-class slideshow of writing
  • Tweeting out our writing.

It is so easy for me to make publication an after-thought — a nice-to-do but not necessary. What I forget is that this is the step that takes my kids from students to real writers. This is where we get buy in and show students that their words are real and that their writing matters.

Four Tiny Writing Studies That Have Worked for Me

Ready to try this with your students next week?

The secret to a tiny writing study is in the size. The product has to be very, very small in order for students to successfully study the mentor texts and produce their own original piece. Here are four tiny writing studies that have worked for me:

Two-Sentence Horror Stories 

 

This week, my ninth grade classes studied two-sentence horror stories. (You can find oodles of these on the web, but here are some I share with my students.)  We noticed that there was a lot of sentence variety, that they built suspense, that they usually begin with something ordinary and then twist it into something scary in the second sentence.

Students wrote their own and then Tweeted them. You can see some of them here:

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-08-18-am

Haiku

 

Allison came up with the brilliant idea to teach reading like a reader versus reading like a writer through haiku — something so small and so concrete students could quickly see the differences between their readerly observations and their writerly observations.

Using mentor texts from The New York Times’ haiku contest, student made noticings and ultimate wrote their own haikus about places they love.

Humans of …

 

Based on Humans of New York, students interviewed and photographed people around a theme they invented (Humans of My Neighborhood or Humans of the Trinity Basketball Team or, my favorite, Humans of Teenage Drama). By the end of the week, students had composed three slides, each featuring an image and bit of an interview.

I compiled all of these into one giant slideshow that we enjoyed together.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Buzzfeed Lists

 

This is slightly bigger than tiny, but I’ve found that students are so well-versed in listicles that they can quickly pick this up and put it together.

Students worked on their own original list in the style of Buzzfeed. They incorporated images, gifs, and videos to support their list and boost reader engagement. Best of all, Buzzfeed allows you to submit your lists for publication on their site! Publishing for a big, wide Internet audience boosts students efforts in a race to see who will get published and who will get the most “likes”. One student even had his list featured for a day on the Buzzfeed main page!

Two More Ideas I will Try This Year 

I’m constantly on the lookout for great tiny writing projects. Here are two more I want to try this year:

Letter to My Younger Self

The Player’s Tribune, a site started by Derek Jeter, features writing by pro athletes. What a gold mine! While only some of these pieces feature enough craft to really be used as technique-teaching mentor texts, many lead to big-time inspiration for our student writers.

I’m dying to have students look at the series Letter to My Younger Self, in which athletes look back and give themselves advice. Students will love finding the insightful, personal letters written by their favorite athletes and then composing their own letter.

Crowdsourcing Pitches

One way that real adults write is in the form of crowdsourcing pitches. Sites like Kickstarter and Donor’s Choose rely on savvy pitch-writing and story-telling to elicit funds from donors!

Using this as fodder for tiny writing would be so much fun. It’s a very authentic form of writing, and it also asks students to be inventive. What would you want to raise money for? Maybe a film you’ve been dying to make or a video game you want to produce or a book you want to self-publish … or maybe a car for your sixteenth birthday! Students will learn to write persuasively for strangers (or in order to persuade their parents!)

Let’s pool our resources! What ideas do you have for units of tiny writing? Leave a comment below, find us on Facebook, or Tweet me @RebekahOdell1.

When Purpose Drives a Project

The Internet has the power to connect people across the globe. I think we can all agree that’s already been well-established. The realization that I’ve recently had, though, is what a powerful impact this can have on my own professional learning. The first time I participated in a Twitter chat, I felt like a superfan who had just received a backstage pass to a Broadway show. There were so many “stars” of ELA, and we were all part of the same conversation!

I feel that same electric excitement whenever I stumble across a blog in which another teacher writes about something I’ve also been working on. Such was the case when I read Allison’s post about children’s literature. In the post, there were a few main points that I felt immediately connected to:

Her kids worked with children’s literature as a genre. This was exciting because this year, I tackled the project of a children’s book with my literacy lab, an elective intervention class comprised of students who struggle with reading and writing. Using children’s literature as a genre was non-threatening while still allowing for in-depth analysis, and it opened the door to other, more challenging texts.

She wrote about the power of having students collaborate on their writing. Collaboration was crucial to our project – mostly because it was such a heady project to tackle. Instead of a bunch of individual stories each paired with artists, though, we all worked together on the same book and then partnered with an artist who was willing to illustrate their work. We found that we needed each other to succeed in this endeavor. Each student had different strengths ranging from generating ideas to rhyming, and they lifted each other up to make an enormous project seem a lot more “doable.”

She used mentor texts to drive the instruction. I share a classroom, and many times I wondered if my teacher-roommate thought I was crazy when she’d arrive before we’d finished cleaning up. The desks were stacked high with every sort of children’s literature imaginable from board books on up. The students even gathered a collection of anti-mentor texts, or books they deemed to be so awful they wanted to make sure to avoid pitfalls that could potentially put our book in that category.

As I reflect on my own experience with our children’s literature project, I know that these were three key factors to its success. What really was the game-changer for me and my students, though, was the authentic audience. Continue reading

Supporting Our Most Reluctant-to-Share Writers

 

We’ve all wondered what more we could do to help the Todd Andersons of our class–the painfully shy writers who would rather do a week’s worth of extra homework than read one line from their writer’s notebook aloud.

And while leaving the shy student alone and allowing him to skip his turn in the sharing circle may seem like a benevolent gesture, it robs that student of an opportunity to grow as a writer and, ultimately, as a person.

This year it seems I have more Todds in my class than ever before, so I’ve had to resort to new methods to support these reluctant-to-share writers and keep our writing community strong and balanced. Below I’ve shared five ways to encourage your apprehensive writers to join in. Continue reading

The Power of Reading Work Out Loud: A Culminating Project for Poetry Study

A few weeks ago, I blogged about different ways writers can share and publish their work in the classroom. In today’s post, I zoom in on one of those options: creating an audio recording of a piece of writing.

IMG_0359

Students use fluency phones to practice reading their work out loud!

“Here, try it,” I said, nudging the fluency phone towards Cameron, a 9th grade writer.

“I looks like something I used in second grade,” he said, taking the macaroni-shaped PVC pipe in his hand. He put it up to his ear and whispered hello into the opening. “Wow, that is really loud!” He smiled.

Carthen grabbed the phone from him. “Let me try!” she said and whispered something inaudible into the phone, giggling at the sound of her own voice amplified.

At first my students were skeptical of the fluency phones. They look like toys, or something out of an elementary school teacher’s bag of tricks. But soon, almost every student had taken one from the oversized bag.

The fluency phones are perfect for young students learning to read books with expression, and they are perfect for high school students learning (mustering up the confidence!) to read their own work out loud – an important step in the writing process but one that students often shy away from or skip altogether because they hate hearing the sound of their own voice.

Students used the fluency phones in preparation for the culminating step of our poetry study: making audio recordings of their work. This project took three days and revealed a lot to me about students’ fears connected to writing. It’s hard enough to share your ideas, they said. It’s even harder to force yourself to listen to them as you read out loud.

The Mini Project

On the first day, we talked about how to read a poem out loud with feeling. We listened to a few different recordings of professional poets, and one by a former student. For instance, we listened to a live recording of Billy Collins reading “Forgetfulness.” If you follow this link, you’ll find his recording, along with several hundred other recordings of poets reading their work. The Poetry Foundation really is an amazing resource!

With the text pulled up in front of them, students listened to the recordings, honing in on

  • how the poets “read” line breaks
  • the pace of each poem
  • how the poet communicated emotion with his/her voice

Then we made a list of all of our noticings. Students observed many things about the different recordings, including how readers drop their voices to indicate the end of an idea or create a somber mood; poems that are presented “faster” are still read slowly enough to hear every word, every pause; the readers sound like they are talking to you rather than giving a presentation; most readers slow down at the end of the poem; and poets pause on significant words, dragging them out more than others.

Then I gave students some guiding questions to help them think about how they might read their own poems:

  • What is the mood of my poem? How can I communicate this mood with my voice?
  • Is my poem fast- or slow-paced (are there more end-stopped lines or enjambed lines)? Where should I speed up my reading and where should I slow it down?
  • What are the most important words in my poem? How do I want to emphasize these words with my voice?

Students spent the rest of the period practicing reading one of their poems to a friend or to themselves with the help of a fluency phone.

The next day, the technology coordinator at our school previewed several apps that students could use to record their work, and students had an opportunity to try out different software and ask the coordinator questions.

The audio recordings were due two days later. I asked students to complete them at home, knowing it would be very difficult or impossible for each of them to find a perfectly quiet space on campus for recording.

When I asked my students to reflect on the experiment, although many of them said they hated listening to their own voice, they recognized the value in the project. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I enjoyed the experience of recording because now the reader knows how I want my poem to sound in his mind.” — Cory M.

“[When I recorded my poem] I noticed how line breaks played into the speed of my poem.” — Cameron B.

“I enjoyed [this project] because it made me feel like an actual poet reading [my poem] out loud.” –Ella N.

“[When I read my work out loud], I noticed how some words didn’t sound well with other words. I also heard how my line breaks sounded and if I needed to edit them.” –James G.

“I was really able to notice the effect of line breaks. I hadn’t really noticed how much line breaks change the flow of a poem, in a good way.” Blair H.

“I feel like my poem was more deep and meaningful when read thoughtfully aloud.” — Liza R.

“I noticed that the last line of each stanza needed a really long pause for effect.” Daniel M.

“When I wrote my poem I meant for it to be sad and emotional to express how I felt when my Grampa died, but after I read it aloud I really got to hear how emotional it actually was.” — Abby E.

“The way you read it is the way you want people to read it, so it’s interesting to see what that is.”  Julia K.

What’s next:

Next week I am going to set up listening stations so my students can listen to one another’s poems. I plan to organize each station by theme, and invite students to listen to 1-2 poems at each station. I’ll be sure to report back about this activity in one of my next posts!

How do you encourage students to read their work out loud? Do you offer alternative ways of sharing or publishing work in your classroom? Leave us a comment below to tell us what you’re thinking about or find us on Facebook or Twitter @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1.