Category Archives: Readers Writers Workshop

The Magic of the 100-Word Memoir: A Return

Three Teachers TalkJoin us for a summer series revisiting our top posts from this school year, and please “turn and talk” with us in the comments section each week!

Katie’s post in 2018 details the 100-word memoir, a workshop-ready writing activity students learn much from.


We (my teaching partner, Mariana, and I) never questioned the value of the 100-word memoir, the first piece we would take through a full prewriting – drafting – revision process with our students. After all, it’s what Penny and Kelly do in 180 Days. Need we any better reason? No. Turns out, though, there is major added value we hadn’t realized about this little genre as the first text we ask of our students. (My guess is Penny and Kelly knew, but didn’t have space to elaborate in the book.)

So, here are the values and beliefs that our experience of the 100-word memoir brought to light, mostly after the fact:

1. Short pieces offer even the most reluctant writers a sense of accomplishment. Those writers who need more time than their classmates — and we all see them right away — turned in their notebooks with a complete draft within the allotted time frame. Every single student turned in a complete draft (even if the rest of their notebooks were still in progress). Just a guess, but an early sense of “I can do what’s being asked of me in this class” can set a tone of that invites rather than excludes.

2. The value of re-vision in its truest sense becomes apparent, even palatable. I’m sure we are all used to the experience of reading a student draft that gets to any substance only at the very end, close to the word count. With the 100-word memoir, more students than I can count on two hands (out of 83 total) saw this in their own writing. They were not only willing to but intent on rewriting. Questions went from “Is it good enough if I just fix …?” to “If I’m rewriting the whole thing, should I do that in my notebook first?”

3. Students begin to understand their own processes as writers. The above questions naturally led to a class discussion of the difference between meeting a teacher’s requirements and cultivating good writing. Even my youngest students (sophomores) are mature enough to understand the value of knowing themselves as writers. “Do you prefer to rewrite the draft by hand? Or will you ‘revise’ as you retype the draft into a document?” The offer of that respect to them as real writers was a major trust builder at this critical early moment in the year. The concept of writing conferences is still alien for most students. But when they called for a one-on-one conversation about whether another “first” draft was required if they were completely rewriting, a conversation opened up about their own process. Doing so, I had the opportunity to point out we were in the midst of a writing conference right then. I don’t think it’s overly optimistic (no one has ever accused me of such a stance) to imagine that any trepidation a student had about a writing conference with me was at least a little dispelled — and I made sure that fellow writers at that table who were conspicuously keeping their heads in their notebooks heard that, too.

4. Students writers can benefit by learning the art of DELETING. Kristin Jeschke writes thoughtfully here about the value of teaching students to be incisive. Our 100-word memoirs aren’t long enough for us to do literal paper-cutting (or are they … hmm), but the practice of incision with a short piece can instill this habit early on. In Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom, Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder discuss — among other innovative cross-curricular ideas — the notion of “creative constraints.” I’ve pretty much fallen in love with this phrase in place of language resembling “criteria” or “learning targets” (and the meanings can conveniently satisfy the paperwork of performance evaluations). The phrasing helped students to see “criteria” as a creative challenge: at best, inspiring and at worst, less arbitrary than some assignment “criteria” can be. AND, as Mariana pointed out, inevitably our seniors must cure the logorrhea in their college essays, and the 100-word “creative constraint” gives them practice.

Coulda3Usually my own post-lesson, reflection phase is a litany of all that I could have, should have done. How refreshing, then, to reflect in a way that identifies value beyond what we’d hoped. What an affirmation that our practice recognizes beliefs we hadn’t even seen.

I have no intention of giving up my private, critical post-practice litanies. But the experience of the 100-word memoir lowered the volume of that familiar, reproachful teacher-self. At least for a day or so.

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Summer Reading Recommendations : what to read and how to go public

As summer winds down and I am heading back to school, I am taking time to reflect on my own summer reading.

Summer is always busy: our family travels from our home in Nicaragua back to our home in Oregon to visit family and friends, and we don’t really have a “home base” throughout the summer. We are always so happy to spend this precious time with our loved ones, and we end up visiting late into the night quite often. This means I’m not reading as much before bedtime, and in the afternoons when I might normally be reading, I’m visiting and playing and participating in summer activities.

But just because I’m not reading on my regular schedule doesn’t mean I don’t value reading and books like I always do, and when my students return to school in a couple of weeks I want to be able to demonstrate to them that it’s important for me and for them to all have healthy reading habits.

I’ve written before about how important it is to be public with our students regarding our reading habits and values. I just don’t think it can be said enough — showing our students how much we value and appreciate reading is perhaps more important than telling them. But the questions is how… so I have come up with a few more ideas this summer about how to share with my new students in the fall.

  1. First of all, I will show them my own list of books I’ve read over the summer.IMG_5385IMG_5386I’ve kept track in the Notes app on my phone, and it’s super easy to keep track this way. I could have added how many pages were in each book, genre, authors, etc, but those are easy things to look up later, so I just included the titles in my own list.

I’ll share this list with my students, and then talk with them about the diversity of the list — books in verse, graphic novels, nonfiction, middle school level, young adult, etc. My reading life isn’t just about reading “on level” books; it’s about reading what I like, reading to learn, and reading for fun. I want to both model this and be explicit with my students about this fact.

  1. Secondly, I’ll share with my students that I’ve been public all summer long. I’ve shared many of my current reads on twitter and instagram, and while I don’t have a huge following on either of these platforms, I have gotten good feedback from others, and it feels good to have a conversation starter about books.
ILHLInsta

A screenshot of one of my posts on Instagram this summer. Not only am I sharing what I’m reading, but I’m sharing that I read and it’s important to me. This leads to conversations that happen face to face!

 

 

My students can share their current reads in many ways – they don’t necessarily need social media, but they do need to see that a willingness to start a conversation about books and about reading is beneficial in creating a community of readers.

 

As an aside, I can heartily recommend all nine of the books pictured above. Actually, I can recommend all of the books on my list above — it was such a great summer of reading! 

  1. Thirdly, I’ll share with my students that while I wasn’t reading, I was often shopping for books for our classroom library. I shopped our local thrift shop, the Goodwills in my area, the St. Vincent de Paul, and some other local new/used bookstores. I even found a few copies in some little free libraries around town. I found treasures without having to spend too much money. Most of my book purchases were fifty cents apiece, and I made it a rule not to go over three dollars a book unless it was something I had to have. Even then I only went over the three dollar mark about three times, and most of my books were under a dollar.

 

I purchased multiple copies of the same titles so I could organize book clubs and book partnership units and activities, and so some of my students can organically decide to read the same titles together. (I was so happy to find about ten copies of Seabiscuit, for example, and I didn’t pay more than two dollars per copy.)

I understand that it’s not feasible for every teacher to purchase books, but that’s not the point. The point is that I want my students to see that I value reading, books, and their access to books. As teachers, we can demonstrate that priority in countless ways. In fact, last year, I built my classroom library from scratch with no money out of pocket at all. I just needed to make sure that I could immediately put books into the hands of my students, and I’ll keep doing what I can to make that happen.

I wonder how other educators will model their values as they get to know their students this fall? Please share in the comments, as I know there are some really good ideas out there, and I oh-so-selfishly want to hear them!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school year in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

I’ve been thinking…my classroom needs more poetry.

Alright, I will finally admit it.

No judgement, please.

Poetry is not my favorite.

Sometimes it scares me, sometimes it frustrates me, sometimes I am moved by it, sometimes I push it aside for my own comfort in the classroom.  That stops this year.  Just because poetry may be my weakness, doesn’t mean my classroom shouldn’t be filled with it.   More poetry is a goal of mine this year–more sharing of a poem just because, more independent reading selections of poetry, more writing beside and around, just…more.

In effort to ease myself and students back into the school groove and make good on my commitment, I will began this year where I left off last year, with Book Spine Poetry.  Perfect as a summative piece, an introduction to poetry, an introduction to more titles, or a one class period creation, Book Spine Poetry is a fun, low-prep activity that calls upon student’s critical thinking and creativity.  Book Spine Poetry requires students to use the titles of books to create an original piece of unique poetry, similar to Blackout or Found Poetry.

Screenshots 3TT

Emily analyzed Sethe’s killing of the crawling already? girl as an act of resistance against the cycle of slavery and the love between mother and child in Beloved.

My AP Literature students created original spine poems after their exam in May as a fun, creative way to close out the year.  Students were asked to create a poem of at least eight lines (eight spines) relating to a character, big idea, conflict, etc of a text they read in AP Lit this year, take a picture, then write a 1 pager that explains the connections and deeper meaning (Note:  I did allow students to add “filler” words, like pronouns or prepositions, so their Spine Poem was more clear and fluid). Spine Poetry also lends itself to teachers moving out of the way and letting students create, connect, and analyze due to the range of choice.  Additionally, Spine Poetry feels like an easy entry for students who, like me, may not enjoy poetry or consider themselves a poet (although these samples definitely scream “poet” to me!).

Largely, students created poems for the novel or poem that resonated with them the most that year, whether it was The Handmaid’s Tale in a Book Club or our study of Beloved, which turned into a fun reflection of the year.  When we shared our poems as a class, it was interesting to listen to different students who wrote about different aspects of the same text.

Above:  Elliot and Alysa’s different interpretations of Crake from Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake.

Amaia reflected when sharing with her peers: “It would have been easy to write an original poem and then connect the poem to a character or whatever because I could control the words.  Having to find titles that made sense was more challenging, but made it fun.”  Amaia dropped knowledge on me all year in AP Lit, so I will trust this kernel of wisdom:  Poetry as fun.

This style of poem creation has the potential to be so much:  a fun activity when you have a bonus day or two, a sub-plan, an assessment, an assignment, a spark to discussions or conferences, even as a means to connect multiple texts.  Book Spine Poetry literally puts more books in students’ hands as they search for poem lines, too! You could plan this writing activity to introduce students to a genre during book shopping or as a means to add more “To Read” titles from your classroom library (just be prepared for some re-stocking and organizing).

Above left:  Aria wrote about Gatsby’s quest for Daisy in three stanzas (note the spines turned around to create stanzas).  Above right:  Sandra, who selected Frankenstein as a challenge choice read and read “King Lear’ in class, created a poem that connected both texts’ discussions of revenge and madness.

I will keep you posted through my intentional poetry endeavors.  I already have new titles for the poetry section of my classroom library, a poem to start the new school year, bookmarked poems to write around, and quick writes to spark poetic responses.  Any advice, suggestions, wisdom, favorite poets or poems?  Let me know.

Maggie Lopez is spending the last few weeks of summer traveling to see her sister, savoring the long days of sunshine and mornings without rush or routine.  She wishes all of her digital colleagues a wonder end to summer and start of the year.  You can find her on Twitter @meglopez0.

Imitating Poetry: A Return

Three Teachers TalkJoin us for a summer series revisiting our top posts from this school year, and please “turn and talk” with us in the comments section each week!

Shana’s post in 2015 is a mini-lesson how-to for introducing writers to the process of imitating poetry.


Reading more poetry with my students has been a goal of mine these past few years, and it’s been a goal I feel has been readily achieved with ideas like creating Heart Books or reading novels in verse.

But writing poetry–well, that’s a different story.

Students who aren’t accustomed to writing poetry need a scaffold before they can leap into free verse composition without a topic, genre, or form prompt.  For this scaffold, I use imitation.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify patterns of language, structure, and punctuation in a given poem; Modify the style of the given poem to suit your purpose; Create a poem in the style of a given poem.

41KeFnbnPfL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Lesson — Before the mini-lesson, I will have already booktalked two of Mary Oliver’s books–A Poetry Handbook and Dog Songs, which is always a favorite with my students.  As the mini-lesson begins, I’ll read to them from Oliver’s chapter on imitation.

“You would learn very little in this world if you were not allowed to imitate,” Oliver begins. “Before we can be poets, we must practice; imitation is a very good way of investigating the real thing.”

“I have some poems here today for us to imitate and investigate,” I follow up.  I pass out the following options, lately garnered from my incredible poetry seminar with Mary Ann Samyn:

“Read over these quickly, and choose one you’d like to imitate.  Then open to a fresh page in your notebook.”

“I’m going to write with you, and I’m going to choose ‘A Display of Mackerel,’” I say.  “It seems long, but look how short the lines and stanzas are.”  I put my chosen poem under the document camera.  “Now, this poem is about a display of fish, and I want to imitate it and write about a display of something.  There’s a pretty big display of colorful objects in my room…” I trail off.

“Your library!” Nathan helpfully supplies.

“Yep,” I agree.  “I’m going to imitate this poem and write about my bookshelf.  I’m just going to change a few words per line, but I’m going to keep all the punctuation and the numbers of words the same.  It’s so easy to write poetry this way.”

On the document camera, I begin my imitation next to Doty’s original:

They lie in parallel rows,                   They rest in slumped rows,

on ice, head to tail,                           on shelves, spine to spine,

each a foot of luminosity                   each a sheaf of wisdom

“See how easy that is?  I keep Doty’s structure, punctuation, and even some of his words.  I just change a few to make the poem about my display of books, rather than his display of mackerel.  Now you take a few minutes to give this a start.”

We set about writing together.

After 10-15 minutes, we each have a full imitation poem.  We break into small groups, working with others who imitated our same poem.  We read our poems aloud.  Feedback is given on what we notice–similarities to and diversions from the original, and the effects of both.

Follow-Up — We’ll practice imitation a few more times before we leap into writing poetry independently.  When we do, I’ll ask, as always, that my students create a small anthology of their work on that genre–some samples of their early forays into poetry through imitation, as well as a few examples of their own independent attempts.  I’ll definitely include my “A Display of Books” in my own anthology, as I find it a lovely description of my library that I’d like to preserve.

My Imitation Poem: “A Display of Books”
by Shana Karnes & Mark Doty

They rest in slumped rows,
on shelves, spine to spine,
each a sheaf of wisdom

creased with cracked spines,
which divide the plots’
most gripping sections

like bands of color
in a double rainbow.
Vibrant, luminous

prismatics: think indigo,
the wildly rainbowed
spectrum of a springtime rain,

think sun spearing through clouds.
Wonder, and wonder,
and all of them in every way

unique from one another
–everything about them
a onetime blend of letters. Thus,

they’re all creative expressions
of a million different souls,
each a tenuous effort

of the soul’s footprint,
writer’s essence. As if,
after a lifetime of drafting

at this printing, the author’s
taken irreversible steps,
each as permanent

in its inked completion
as the one next door
Suppose we were shoulder-to-shoulder,

like these, the same but different
from our universe
of neighbors—would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be in print? They’d prefer,

plainly, to be award winners,
forever honored. Even now
they seem to be straining

forward, heedless of their lifelessness.
They don’t care they’re ink
and simple paper,

just as, presumably,
they didn’t care that they were imagined:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed shelf
and its acres of brilliant words,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How eager they seem,
even on shelves, to be different, selfish,
which is the price of publication.

Q & A: What are the essentials to making Readers-Writers Workshop work? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered

It can be overwhelming. We attend training sessions and conferences, read professional books and journal articles, search online and join Facebook groups, and try to figure out this thing called Readers-Writers Workshop. I did all of that for years. I still do. I suppose that’s one of the things I love best about this blog:  I get to share all my trial-and-error-years-of-learning-and-ongoing-ideas with all of you.

If I said I’ve got it all figured out, I’d be lying.

I think that’s the beauty of this model of instruction. While the routines might be the same: independent self-selected reading, quickwrites, craft study, time to talk and write, conferring… the texts we use to meet the needs of our students and the amount of time we spend on those routines vary, depending on the individuals learning with us in our classrooms.

So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this question:  What are the essentials to making readers-writers workshop work? and while my answer might be different tomorrow or next week, here’s what I think the essentials are today:

  • We have to build and nurture a community of readers and writers who identify as such and who respect one another’s right to explore, express, and develop in their literacy skills.
  • We have to believe that it’s more important to teach readers and writers, speaking to them as such, than it is to teach books — even if they are books we love.
  • We have to push back at standardized tests that crush authenticity in reading and writing tasks — and give our students choice. Lots of choice!
  • We must be confident in our skills as literacy teachers. We need to walk our talk and continually work to grow our expertise. If we don’t know YA books and other literature our students will want to read, we need to read more. If we don’t know how to teach writers, instead of assigning writing, we need to learn what writers do to craft meaning — and model those things for our students.
  • And perhaps more than anything, we have to dedicate the precious time we have with students to the things that help them grow confident in their own literacy skills. Time to think, read, write, talk, listen, and celebrate. Everyday!

There is no one way to do all this. However, if we’ll keep these essentials in our focus, we will find the one way that works for us — and for our students.

 

Note:  This post is a part of a series. It’s based primarily on the most frequent questions about readers-writers workshop asked at our workshop trainings. For more see here.

Amy Rasmussen loves to learn. She reads a lot and writes a lot to figure things out. She loves her husband of 34 years and adores her kids and grandkids. Amy will be teaching senior English when school starts in just a few short days. Follow her @amyrass

Guest Post: Ways I Can Encourage More Students to Love Reading by Holly Dottarar

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”  -Malcolm X

At the beginning of each year, I spend close to a week talking about independent reading with my students.  To me, it’s worth investing the time because independent choice reading is the heart of my class.

MSDottararBookshelves

How I frame choice reading during the first week:

  • discussing how to find a just-right book and how that is different for every reader, different genres and their definitions,
  • setting a weekly reading rate (from Penny Kittle’s book Book Love),
  • speed dating a variety of books to find potential novels to read,
  • going over My Top-15 Reading List (adapted from Kelly Gallagher’s book In the Best Interest of Students),
  • discussing how book conferencing works, and how to keep track of books read.

Even though I check in with each student monthly, share my Top 15 List with my classes, and book talk new books bi-monthly, there’s always a small percentage of students who refuse to read, or read very little.  My avid readers love the freedom to choose books, but my non-readers, emerging readers, and the reading-is-okay-but-currently-I-have-no-time readers need more of a nudge.  

How can I help all students be successful in creating and cultivating a reading habit? How can I help them look forward to diving into their book, to truly enjoy reading? How can I keep up the momentum for those who love to read?  

I whole-heartedly believe in the reader’s workshop model, but it is hard.  

Keeping track of 150 students all reading different books, and all at different places in their books, requires commitment and organization.  It is a daily, conscious decision to sit beside a student and recommend book after book, hoping something sparks an interest, or to try to find a new book for a student who has read 50 books in the last two months and isn’t sure what to read next.  (Yes, I have about 10 of these voracious readers each year.)  Up and moving around the classroom, talking with kids about books when sometimes all I want to do is sit at my desk and read my book too doesn’t help.  (And there are days that I just read alongside students, but it is few and far between.)

While there are times I want to throw in the towel, I am reminded that the hard work pays off.  Those tough days are just a bump in the road.  Students deserve to be confident readers.  They deserve to learn to think critically. They deserve a teacher who will not give up on them.   

As a reflective teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot about the reader’s workshop:  what worked in my classroom and what I want to make better.  These are ideas that I am going to incorporate this fall to build upon the love and joy of reading for all students.

 

1. Be consistent about my Book Talk Wall and teacher What-to-read-next list.

BookTalkWall

I have a wall in the back of the classroom where I post the book jacket of every book I book talk.  My goal this past year was at least one book a week, usually on a Monday, but I was not consistent.  This year I plan to continue book talking books I’ve done in the past, but really play on the books I just read and books that are new.  

Which leads to my What-to-Read-Next list.  Two years ago, I had on the board these titles MsDottararReadingListswith books:  What I just read, What I am currently reading, and What I plan to read next.  Next to each phrase I had an arrow and a copy of the book jacket so students could see my book list.  I didn’t do that this year because I didn’t have white board space.  

However, after reading students’ end of the year reflections and seeing if they met their book goals, my students two years ago read more than my students last year.  While I don’t think that each group of students should be compared, as each year we have different groups of students, I can’t help but think sharing what I read and talking often about it made a difference.  I’ll collect the data on that this year and then draw a conclusion.  

 

2. Student recommendation share outs

Book Recommendation SheetTwice a year, right before Christmas Break and right before school is out, I have students fill out a recommendation form on books they enjoyed and think others might like.  It goes in a binder organized by genre.  However, students do not share these recommendations prior to turning them in.  Why have I not done that? Not sure.  It was kind-of like checking something off my to-do list.  In this area, I plan to have students share out books they wrote down on that sheet of paper before turning in.Recommendations Binder

 

Even though this binder sits on top of one of the bookshelves, SO MANY students didn’t even know it was there.  I plan on referencing it often so if students need a book and don’t have one in mind, they can go to the binder and see what others have recommended.  (As that was the whole point of this activity anyway.)

3. Theme Topic Books

Penny Kittle has inspired me in so many ways.  Six years ago, over the summer, I took 42 composition notebooks (because that was the number of students in each class that upcoming year—yikes!), scrapbooked the covers, and wrote on 3×5 cards the theme topics.  (You can find more information about this in her book.) One of my goals was for students to write in them three to four times a year, thinking about how their book connects in some way to the theme topic.  And how cool is it for students to see what others have written years prior?  However, this past year, they only wrote in it once.  My goal is to incorporate this at least once a trimester.

Theme-Topic Notebooks

The other goal was if a student wanted to read a book about that theme topic, say compassion, they could look in the notebook and read what books others have read dealing with that topic.  However, these notebooks were filed in a cabinet with other supplies.  Not an easy way for students to find.  So, in this area, I am thinking about a good space to display these topic notebooks so more students can read what others have said.

4. Creation of Book Trailers

I am growing in the area of technology.  When I started teaching 16 years ago, I had an overhead projector and a chalkboard.  Phones were installed in December, and I couldn’t wait to pick up the phone to call the office instead of pressing the intercom button when I needed something.  When we went to white boards a few years later, I jumped up and down.  I no longer had chalk marks along the side of my right palm or somewhere on my back.  When our school installed projectors, I begged a friend in the history department—as they received a grant for document cameras shortly thereafter—to loan me an extra one so I could teach writing through a step-by-step process.  In terms of technology, this is the extent of my expertise.  A coworker had to show me how to use Google Classroom last year.  

With so many of our students interacting with technology, why not use that to our advantage? There have been some really good book trailers lately.  My favorite still is with the novel Salt to the Sea.  The music is haunting, which fits the book perfectly.  (You can check it out here.)

If I show professional book trailers for students on novels I think they’d like, why can’t they create their own and share on Classroom?  Something I plan to look into more and try this next year.

5. Virtual Book Stacks

Students keep track of books they’ve read on a sheet of paper titled My Top 15, but why not have a visual book stack at the end of the year to share and celebrate growth? I thought of a real book stack, as I’ve seen them all over Instagram, but to have students try to find each book they read and stack it up felt daunting to me, especially if students checked out books from the public library and not mine or the school’s library.  I plan to use Padlet for students to share their books and maybe even categorize it by their favorites.

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in more reading on this topic, I suggest the following books:

Nancy Atwell’s The Reading Zone

Carol Jago’s The Book in Question

Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer

Lisa Donohue’s Independent Reading Inside the Box, 2nd Ed.

Penny Kittle’s Book Love

Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders

 
Holly Morningstar Dottarar is an 8th grade English teacher in the Pacific Northwest.  While she spent her adolescence as a reluctant reader, once she read The Hobbit—in college—she became hooked.  Now, she carries a book wherever she goes.  When she’s not reading, teaching, or spending time with her family, she can be found in her kitchen baking.  She blogs at www.hollybakes.com and www.hollyteaches.com.

Quick Writes That Work: A Return

Three Teachers TalkJoin us for a summer series revisiting our top posts from this school year, and please “turn and talk” with us in the comments section each week!

This post from Lisa in 2017 gives us a variety of quickwrite ideas that work well for all writers. 


QUICK WRITE

It appears daily on my agenda and often sparks great writing, discussion, and even revision. My bestie Erin said it beautifully: “Quick writes produce pure honesty and they’re a good place for me to “talk” with my students.” The writing is low stakes, the creativity can be high, and we can “talk” with our kids and provide feedback on issues and ideas, over syntax and conventions. Plus, it helps with the endless struggle for volume, volume, volume.

But sometimes, quick writes can end up feeling a bit routine, which is not cool as I am trying to keep writers excited about their writing and producing more and more of it.

writers-block

So, because I’m sometimes known to Google my life (last weekend my foot hurt after a run and the Mayo Clinic suggested I might have cancer, so there’s that), I often head to the internet for curricular inspiration.

There are countless sources online that will lead you to quick write topics, if that’s what you are in the market for, and I am often in the market for someone’s fresh thinking to get my students writing when I haven’t left enough time to plan or the same old quick write feels bland.

graves

For example, I was inspired to write this post after I saw our friend Gary Anderson tweeting a journal topic of the day on Twitter. I’ve used several, and loved writing along with my students on his thought provoking prompts.

Here are a few reflections I have on quick writes. The process, their power, and providing writing opportunities to our kids every day.

  1. Link your quick write to what you’re work on in class that day, an essential question you’re studying, or relevant topic to your study. Or don’t! Quick writes can lead naturally into a mini lesson. They can also put that mini lesson on hold as students take off into small group and then passionate/uproarious/contentious whole class discussion. I’ll often have my students go back into their notebooks after discussion to add to their thinking, so even if they didn’t share, they are working with the ideas that class is chewing on and writing more.
  2. Let students write about what inspires them. At the beginning of the year, many students balk at the “opportunity” to write about whatever they like, but by the time you’ve established a rapport and let your students know that they belong to a community of writers, many are excited to be given time to get their thoughts on paper. And when you have them take some time to revise at the end of the writing and share their ideas or powerfully written lines with others, they take more seriously the production of that work.
  3. Give limited choice to guide writing toward a necessary discussion for that day’s mini lesson or topic of discussion. When I do want the quick write to lead into the mini lesson, I try not to lead too much. I want kids to write and discover. I don’t want to slip back into old habits of guiding students to a fixed answer. They feel duped, I feel cheap, the whole thing is a mess. So, when I am heading in a specific direction, I really try to give choice in these instances. Our mini lesson in American Literature the other day was on bias for our argument writing unit. I could have had them write about where they see bias and how it impacts an argument’s credibility. Totally fine. Instead, I asked them to choose:
    • Write on any topic from the perspective of someone who is heavily biased toward a particular outcome. Then, write the same appeal from the opposing viewpoint.
    • Consider the bias of an author you’ve read or a story you know well. How did the bias serve the author? How did the bias impact the story?
    • Defend, challenge, or qualify the idea that media bias is detrimental to a functioning democracy.
  4. Early on, I stole something I heard Amy say during the professional development she and Shana ran at Franklin last year. I always remind my students to “write as much as you can, as fast as you can, as well as you can.”Amy taught me that kids need to outwrite their inner critics, and I’ve coupled that with the discovery that, often times, a student’s inner critic sounds an awful lot like…a teacher. We need to help retrain kids to see the first quick draft of anything as just that, a quick draft. I scrap half of what I write when I consider it for revision. This is something new to most kids, who train themselves to pour writing out on a page and see that as the first, last, and only draft. We work to write quickly, revise in the moment, and later, choose some pieces for further expansion, refinement, and polishing. But in the six or seven minutes I am giving them to write, their job is to write in that moment and to keep moving.
  5. Remind students to write and respond as they see fit. Students can write, jot, draw, change colors, compose a poem…Students often limit themselves unconsciously by the “rules” they have been taught over the years. Quick writes are a place to explore, not fit in the lines or a box. Unless you want to write in boxes.quick-write-1quick-write-2
  6. Have students respond to quotes, images, poems, videos, their own writing (we are doing this today!), the writing of other students, current events, lists, song lyrics, letters to the editor, overhead conversations…You get the idea. Students can creatively explore just about anything and should. Their opportunities for creative expression are often too few and far between. We can be the place where questions, emotions, fears, innovations, and discoveries find a safe place to take root.

Some of my recent favorite topics are below. These are quick writes that generated some fantastic discussion in small groups and whole class debriefs.


From Gary Anderson a few weeks back, I had students choose one and write:

Today…
I am concerned about…
I am upset about…
I do not understand…
I wish I could change…
I am grateful for…


From Austin Kleon’s blog that I started following last week, students took this image in a thousand directions and one class even had a collegiate level discussion on the implications these suggestions (directives? nudgings?) could have for society:

goethe


I will sometimes choose several images and have my students respond to one, or try to tie them together, or imagine they are the photographer, or…whatever best suits our purpose for that day. The exploration of the human condition is reason enough to put pen to paper. “Tell this story” is a great search term to yield a wide variety of results.

tell-this-story-2


Quick writes can even be 2-3 minute reflections on the simplest of reading adventures. At the start of the new calendar year, I had my kids search for what their lives would hold in 2017, according to their independent novels.

quick-write

Have a favorite quick write topic that gets the pens moving in your classroom? Please share your ideas and insights in the comments below! 

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of English educating gods and goddesses at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She has no fewer than six quick write journals going at once, mostly due to her inability to settle on spiral vs. bound. She added to Goethe’s list that we should smile at the thought of someone each and every day. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum. 

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