Sometimes our students need a little nudge when it comes to writing. It would be lovely if they all came to our classrooms excited about putting pen to page, but when they aren't, there are several things we can do to jump start their creativity.One of my favourite ways to get my students' creative juices flowing is with brainstorming carousels and gallery walks. I especially like to use this strategy when we're working on idea development. I adhere titles on the top of pieces of chart paper and then put each one up on the wall in various areas of my classroom. Next, I group my students and send each group to a piece of chart paper. There, they need to brainstorm words, ideas, phrases, etc. to develop or describe what is written in the title. After several minutes, groups will rotate to the next poster where they are instructed to add new details to the paper. We repeat this process until they've added detail to each topic. Finally, groups go on a gallery walk to read what has been added to each poster. When they return to their seats, they will choose one of the topics as a basis for a writing assignment. Reluctant writers will have a whole arsenal of ideas to get them going, and even the stronger writers will find inspiration from their peers.
This works beautifully for any type of writing: descriptive, narrative, persuasive, etc. I use it quite often as pre-writing for literary analysis. I'll put the name of a character, a theme or a motif at the top, and the kids will use the brainstorming carousel to fully flesh out their ideas for each one. If you'd like to try an activity like this, you can grab a selection of titles here. Just print them off and adhere them to chart paper. Alternatively, you could just leave the title at a station and have the kids write on looseleaf.
I love using group challenges to jump start my writers. First of all, a little healthy competition is always good. Students will dive excitedly into an activity when they know they can "beat" their classmates -- and offering candy as a prize amps the competition up considerably! These challenges are not just for fun, however, because writing as a group also helps the reluctant writers--they get to see the thought process and ideas of others and hopefully learn from their classmates. Even if they use the ideas that are generated from the group, rather than their own original ones, they have a starting point for their own writing.
English teachers are always telling students that they need to show, not tell. That's something that we need to do when we teach too. Mentor texts can be used to show students what engaging and effective writing looks like. Using them has been a game changer for me. In fact, some of the best student writing this semester came from inspiration from mentor texts. I used the passages on the left this year for a mini-lesson on character development, and was blown away by what my kids created. Even my weakest writers were able to use them as a model to write a reflection about their childhood. If you'd like a copy of it, just click here.
You can check out my Mentor Texts, as well as the ones on Moving Writers. There, you'll find an amazing collection of texts, arranged by genre, that you can use to teach and inspire your students. In both collections, the passages can be used for both reading and writing workshop.
Writing prompts are low pressure writing, an opportunity for kids to experiment and to increase their writing skills. I love looking for interesting photographs and videos to use as prompts, especially ones that will elicit a variety of responses. I just project the image and instruct students to tell the story and let them follow whatever path they choose. Another task I like to give them is to brainstorm the various types of writing the photo could inspire. For example, is the picture of the sneaker an ad? Or is it the basis of a narrative? Perhaps it could inspire an essay on the importance of exercise or following one's dreams. The whole point is that these photos can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, and so the students can let their imaginations run wild -- or even just find a little inspiration if they have trouble coming up with ideas.
Recently, The Metropolitan Museum of Art introduced Open Access at The Met, making over 375,000 images available for use under Creative Commons Zero. It's an amazing resource for finding images you could use for writing prompts. If you're looking for something a little more quirky, try Gratisotography.
Video prompts are my go-to for inspiring response to issues. I show my students clips that are relevant and thought-provoking, so even my most reluctant writers are moved to respond. My favourites are ones that are a little controversial, that can cause some debate after we view them. I've got a collection of ones that have been successful with my students on this blog post.
Too often kids just want to sit down and have the words magically spill off their pen on to the page, without much thinking or effort. But we know that great writing takes great effort -- and a number of important steps. Students usually need a reminder that it's important to slow down and not skip the stages of the writing process. For me, this is always time well spent.
We focus a lot on the idea generation stage in my room, and add in a component that doesn't always require a pen or keyboard: speaking. When I'm trying to work something out, I need to talk about it. Just the act of speaking my ideas out loud helps me see them better. I also get some of my best ideas when I'm out for a walk, so I like to combine these two experiences with my students. During the pre-writing stage, I will often send them for a walk 'n talk around the building or the grounds. They go with pen and paper, so when inspiration strikes, they can record it. If you aren't comfortable with letting your students wander unattended, you can do a modified version of this in the classroom--just push the desks back and let them stand up to talk with each other as they expire their ideas.
My favourite strategy -- and by far my most successful one for getting students to focus on the process -- is to use learning stations that require them to look at one area of their writing at at time. I'm always so pleased to see the effort they put into improving their work, and the final results have improved drastically since I started using this approach.
It's taken me two decades to collect all of these tools and strategies for inspiring my writers, and I know that I'm not yet done learning how to do so. Do you have any tried and true tricks for helping reluctant or stuck writers? If you do, we sure would love to hear about it in the comments.
My fellow coffee shop teachers have some ideas for inspiring writers that you may want to check out too:
Presto Plans: Journal Writing Prompts
The Daring English Teacher: Descriptive Writing
Stacey Lloyd: Paragraph Writing Task Cards
Thanks for reading!