When I show teachers a sample literacy block, one of the most frequent comments that I hear is that they aren’t sure how to find enough time for writing. Or, that their students don’t get enough time to write topics of their own choosing. Sometimes, this might be because teachers haven’t had a lot of background on how to support students in this way.
It can be scary to say, write about whatever you want.
The fear is that students will write for two minutes and say, “I’m done,”or worse, not start at all. So we fall into the trap of telling them what to write about, giving them prompts instead of empowering them to think for themselves.
Do you like it when people tell you what to write about? I’ve taken writing workshops before and for me, I hate being told what to write about or worse, finish this story starter. Some people like that, so a range of topics can be useful. The key, however, is to not stifle our students’ own creativity. When we let them write about what they want, we are teaching them to find their own ideas from the life around them, and most importantly that their life (and ideas) matter.
So a range of ideas can be useful but we don’t want students to always equate writing with following a specific prompt, topic or story starter.
Wondering how to integrate this into your own classroom without completely revamping your schedule and instruction? Here are a few easy tips to add more independent writing.
*Add to a center/workstation. Teach them how them how to keep a list of their own ideas (i.e. things I’m good at, hobbies, favorite foods, etc.) and how to write in different genres (i.e. letter, list, brochure, poems, etc.). When they visit this center, they can choose to write about anything from their notebook, in any genre that they choose.
*Heart maps (see my other post – Write your Heart Out – for more details on this)
*Let them share – whole class and in pairs This lets them know that their writing matters
*Model with your own writing – YOUR life matters too and is a lot more interesting than you might think. Don’t be afraid to write about it for your students. What you have to say is much more interesting and insightful than a pre-written prompt from your basal series.
*Display all examples of their writing – not just their “best” work. This will teach them to learn the writing process and take ownership of their work.
*Teach them to notice the way that other authors write. Keep a basket of books that you’ve read together that can help support their own writing.
*Use repeating texts and let them write their own verions. Put this in a center. Examples include:
The Important Book
When I was young in the mountains
When I am old with you
Letting students write about what matters to them doesn’t need to be scary or difficult. Once you let them go, you will be amazed at what they create, from their own lives and ideas.