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5 Classroom-Tested Ways to Inspire and Engage Student Writers

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Show Notes:

Do you dread teaching writing (like so many other teachers I know)?

I believe that teaching writing well is actually just like teaching any subject well in our classrooms: Our passion, our interest, and our enthusiasm towards the subject (or conversely, our LACK of passion, interest, or enthusiasm towards the subject) will most impact our students beyond anything else we do.

So our first job, when it comes to teaching writing, is to find a way to enjoy it.

How, you ask? I think the way we do that is by thinking about what helps us to enjoy learning, no matter what the subject, and apply those same principles to the teaching of writing. And for that reason, it’s really much simpler than you might think to get kids excited and engaged in writing.

Last week, we talked about the five foundational pillars of how to help students become engaged and excited readers, and so today, we’re going to talk about how we can apply similar foundational principles to teaching writing in a way that is simple and very practical.

I promise you that what I’m going to share with you today is information that you can take and use in your classroom right away tomorrow.

Also, if you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, Episode #55, you might want to go back and listen to that one first so you have more of a foundation with regards to what we’re going to talk about today.

All right, let’s dive in!


1. Build in Student Choice Whenever Possible:

Nothing kills inspiration faster than being TOLD what you have to write about. If someone was sitting over my shoulder right now, telling me what I needed to talk with you about each week, my inspiration and excitement to create this podcast and blog would die pretty quickly.

So, to get my kiddos super motivated and inspired to write, I love to hold a brainstorming session with my students to think about all sorts of great ideas for things they’d like to write about – both in terms of narrative writing and expository writing.

For narrative writing, I’ll remind my students that stories are all around them.

We tell stories every day, and I remind them how many mornings when they come to school, they can’t wait to tell me all about what happened last night or on the weekend.

I remind them that writing is just a story written down so that other people can enjoy them.

I like to give a few examples of stories that they’ve told me to get them started, and I’ll remind them that many great stories begin with that feeling of

“Oh, I can’t wait to tell my best friend/my Mom/my Dad/my teacher about this!”

So, some things they might want to write about include:

6 Narrative Prompts to Get Students Writing:

  1. You won’t believe what happened this weekend/this morning/last night…
  2. The very best vacation I ever had was when….
  3. My dog/cat/goldfish is the most hilarious animal in the world. He/she….
  4. It was the most amazing day in my life….
  5. I am absolutely obsessed with __ and here’s why.
  6. My best birthday ever was the time when...

You might want to have your students keep a section in their writing folders where they can jot down story ideas for when we start writing each day, because it’s sometimes hard to remember all of those great ideas when they finally get a chance to sit down and write. 😊

Also, nothing inspires your students to write more than when you share your OWN writing with them. There is nothing like sharing stories about experiences that have happened to you to inspire your students to want to create their own!

2. Implement a System for Regular Practice:

If you aren’t using Writer’s Workshop in your classroom yet, I really encourage you to give it a try. Implementing Writer’s Workshop made all the difference in my classroom because it finally gave me a structure within which to teach all of the important skills needed for students to become great writers.

What I like most about Writer’s Workshop is that this approach to writing allows for constant revision and improvement of a piece of writing, which, in my experience, most accurately aligns with what writing outside of the classroom is most like.

The stages of Writer’s Workshop most often include giving a short, 5-minute
Mini-Lesson, followed by Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, Editing, Reviewing, and Publishing.

To learn more about how to implement Writer’s Workshop inside your own classroom, check out this free resource created by Lucy Calkins that will walk you through how to get started in your own classroom.

Just a caveat: Lucy recommends this model for Grades 3- 5, but I modified this structure a little bit and used it very successfully with 2nd grade for years, and I highly recommend it. I think you’re going to love it.

Also, I know that you likely have a whole range of student abilities in your classroom, and it can be a little overwhelming sometimes to figure out how to differentiate learning and how to meet the needs of all of your learners.

So, I created a Differentiation Teacher Cheat Sheet that you can simply download and print and keep handy to help you to continue to think flexibly about how you can modify and adapt any lesson you teach to meet the wide variety of needs of your students. Just click the pic below to grab your free copy now:


3. Make Writing Relevant and FUN:

One of the reasons that I love the Writer’s Workshop model so much is that you can use this framework to help your students create mini-masterpieces with both narrative writing, which we’ve already talked about, and with expository writing. 

Here are 10 of my favorite expository writing prompts I use with my students:

10 Uber-Engaging Expository Writing Prompts:

  1. Teach somebody how to do something that you’re really, really good at.
  2. Write a critical review of your least favorite book or movie. What are some of the ways it could have been improved?
  3. Write a top-ten list of the BEST things to do on the weekend/winter break/summer holiday.
  4. The most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me is...
  5. You get to design your ultimate bedroom. What would you include and why?
  6. Five things you would change in our classroom if you were in charge.
  7. Somebody changed my life. Here’s what happened.
  8. The top 10 things parents do that you WON’T.
  9. How things would be different if you ran the school.
  10. How things would be different if you ran the world.

4. Give Them a REASON to Write (for a Real Purpose):

If you want to see your kiddos light up and start to see the real-life purpose for writing, we need to give them more opportunities to write for real reasons. It makes sense, but this can be so easy to forget in today's assessment and data-driven world.

10 Meaningful Writing Prompts:

  1. Write a thank you letter to someone who you are grateful to.
  2. Write to Costco/Walmart/Target to ask for a specific donation for your classroom.
  3. Write the ingredients and steps to making a recipe (as you make it) as a class.
  4. Write to a famous celebrity, hero, or athlete to tell them what they admire about them.
  5. Write to an animal shelter to ask how our class could get involved and help the animals.
  6. Create a list of materials to complete a class project.
  7. Write to another class to invite them to a puppet show/reading experience/celebration.
  8. Write to their parents to let them know about an upcoming field trip.
  9. Write to a friend to let them know why they are special.
  10. Write an (anonymous) letter to someone who they think is awesome.

Also, experimenting with creative ways to publish your students’ writing can also inspire and motivate your young writers. Check out this article where you can grab 28 unique ideas for publishing student work! 

5. Help Your Students to Gain Confidence:

Last week, I talked about a research study done at Harvard university in 1964 by a researcher named Rosenthal. This study examined how a teacher’s expectations of their students can actually be a determining factor in a student’s success or failure. If you haven’t already heard that episode, I encourage you to go back and listen to Episode #55 because it’s a pretty stunning study.

If our belief in our students’ can be such a strong determining factor when it comes to their success or lack of it, then what are some practical things we can do to help our students to believe in themselves as writers?

3 Ways We Can Help Our Students to Gain Confidence as Writers:

1. Help your students to see themselves as real authors by showcasing student writing as read-alouds.
2. Use student writing in your mini lessons to highlight specific skills and talents.
3. Share a piece of your own writing and ask for your students’ advice on how YOU can improve a piece of your writing. Oh, they will feel SO grown up!

Nothing will build a student’s confidence in writing more than knowing that you truly value their ideas and opinions as you shape a piece of your own writing. 

So there you have it – five classroom-tested ways to inspire and engage your young writers.

I hope this was helpful for you, and don’t forget to get your copy of the Differentiation Teacher Cheat Sheet that you can simply download and print and keep handy to help you to continue to think flexibly about how you can modify and adapt any lesson you teach to meet the wide variety of needs of your students.

Just click below to get your copy now, and until next week, remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one. Bye for now!

πŸ’› Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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