Guest Blog Post by Shaelynn Farnsworth
“I don’t know what to write about…”
Getting started is difficult for all writers, not just for the students in our classrooms. (In fact, this is my third attempt at this post) In a student-centered writing classroom, the mantra, “teach the writer, not the writing” is commonplace. When a teacher identifies what the student is on the cusp of grasping as a writer and differentiates instruction based on need, the focus remains on the writer and not the writing. This moves ALL students forward.
Student choice in writing topic increases enjoyment, engagement, and relevance. When a teacher assigns a specific topic to write about, it quickly shifts to a teacher-centered classroom. Instead, a student-centered writing classroom models strategies that good writers utilize during brainstorming to help them “find writing”. In the future, and anytime students are “stuck” beginning a new piece of writing, they will be able to call upon these strategies independently to help identify a topic.
Here are 6 strategies to help students find writing. What good writers do:
1. Good Writers are Savers
Good writers have many pieces that are merely beginnings. Some are a few paragraphs long, while others are a sentence or two. No matter the length of a budding piece, good writers never discard, delete, or toss out their writing. In fact, good writers often flip through their writer’s notebook for inspiration when they are stumped on what to write. A writer’s notebook may come in a variety of forms. Traditionally, the writer’s notebook has been in the form of paper. In my writing classroom, students, kept a digital writer’s notebook. Using a folder within Google Drive for organization, students “tabbed” their writer’s notebook by creating folders within a folder. Writing Territories (Atwell), Drafts, Mentor Examples, and Writing Goals were individual folders within their writer’s notebook. When students were baffled on a writing topic, I often coached them to return to their digital writer’s notebook for inspiration.
2. Good Writers are Visual
Google Draw and Paper by 53, are two of my favorite visual thinking tools. When a student is stuck on what to write, I suggest drawing, sketching, doodling as strategies good writers use to help them generate writing ideas. By making their thinking visible, good writers are often inspired to write through the act of creating. Using images, symbols, and even words, good writers sketch to get their minds thinking.
3. Good Writers are Readers
Another strategy good writers use to find ideas to write about is to read something. Good writers are good readers, and digital text is consumed by millions of people daily. The internet offers students a plethora of options when it comes to reading. My personal favorite is Newsela. Newsela offers readers high-interest, lexile leveled, non-fiction articles. Good writers are inspired by events, politics, and news. Whether, digging deeper into a topic or spurring action through social justice, Newsela’s relevant articles and accessibility provides a resource for students to tap into when stuck on writing topic.
4. Good Writers Make Things Personal
We are a YouTube Generation; do not discount the power of video! Some of the most interesting writing my students have done were sparked by watching videos on Youtube. Good writers use multiple modes of communication to spark creativity. Videos, images, and music all provide good writers inspiration when they find themselves stuck. Creating a class YouTube playlist of inspirational or interesting videos and music is another strategy to share with students. One YouTube channel that consistently offers quality videos to use in the classroom to get kids writing is TED . Good writers do not just passively watch videos, instead, good writers are active viewers, asking: “Why?” “So what?” or “How does this relate to me?”. By making it personal, good writers do not summarize what they just viewed, instead, a small connection to their own lives can turn into a lead for their next piece.
5. Good Writers are Collectors
When ideas are stagnant, good writers look for inspiration in a different environment. Taking a walk to place distance between writer and the writing often leads to uncommon muses. Good writers are collectors! Moments, images, places, feelings; writers are coherent and aware, finding sparks of creativity in unusual places. Integrating Google Photos within Drive allows students to snap and save images on their phone and then add them to their writer’s notebook. Encouraging students to pause, be aware, and start collecting inspiration whenever and wherever it may strike reinforces the message of writing for life, not just for school.
6. Good Writers are Curious
An Inquiry Activity is meant to ignite more questions than answers and is a powerful experience for students driving wonderment, investigation, and demonstration of understanding (often times through writing). One of my recent additions to helping students find writing is in the form of a Cabinet of Curiosities created with a ThingLink (thanks, @brholland). Using an interactive image, students explore concepts through links to videos, articles, images, etc. Good writers think deeply, go beyond the surface-level, and delve into the meaning and relationship to solidify or question their understanding. Good writers are curious and question things they read, see, or think about. Through an inquiry activity, such as a collection of artifacts in a Cabinet of Curiosities, students find inspiration to spark their writing. Example
|Shaelynn is a School Improvement Consultant in the state of Iowa with an emphasis on Literacy, Technology, and AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work). Previously, she taught English for thirteen years in a 1 to 1 district. Shaelynn is a learner, trainer, blogger, and a gentle disruptor. She is a champion for student voice, equipping learners with skills necessary to advocate for themselves and others, and inspiring educators to reimagine teaching and learning! Shaelynn is a Google Certified Innovator, AIW Lead Coach,and has training in PBL from the Buck Institute, Lucy Calkins Writing and Reading Workshop, Jim Knight Instructional Coaching and Dianne Sweeney Student-Centered Coaching, and 1 to 1 Implementation. Connect with Shaelynn on Twitter, G+, or through her blog!|