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You might be a teacher who loves to write (like I do), or you might be someone who has never found joy in writing.
I’ve had those kids who, when I first met them, thought they hated to write. Maybe you were one of those kids, too. However, after we are done talking today, you just might be as amped up about writing as my kids were once I share these super fun and very practical tricks and secrets!
So, let's dive in and talk about...
Remember that kids feel your energy – if you’re having fun, they’re much more likely to have fun, too. Inside my Meet My Monster writing unit, I share how I order special monster sunglasses, glow in the dark rings, and play monster music to signal to my kids that it's monster writing time.
How could you signal to your students that the writing unit you're doing is something special? Or, how could you create an environment that feels different and special ONLY during writing time?
You might only have 5 minutes, but make it happen. Here’s why. We so often ask children to write, but their writing happens in a vacuum. If someone asked me to write a podcast episode every single week, but nobody ever got to hear it, it would be pretty hard for me to stay motivated and to keep writing.
The very point of writing is communication, and children LOVE to share their ideas, so one of the easiest ways to get kiddos more engaged in writing is to build in regular opportunities for them to share their writing with their classmates.
My Meet My Monster writing unit is built around using Writer’s Workshop, and this model of teaching writing involves a mini lesson, time for students to write either individually or in pairs, followed by opportunities to get peer feedback in small groups before then being given an opportunity to share during what’s called “Author’s Chair,” where kids can volunteer to share with the entire class.
When children are given regular opportunities to share their thinking – when they know that what they are writing will have a real audience, they are so much more inspired to write.
Even if you’re teaching online, you can divide your students into breakout rooms using Zoom, and then just pop in to each group to check in on them and see what they’re talking about.
Now you might be thinking, “Hold on Lori, sometimes kids aren’t that kind and supportive to each other. How do I ensure that kids feel safe enough to share?”
Well, here’s what I did in my classroom.
Whenever kids gave feedback, I asked them to do so in the format of "A Star and a Wish." Here’s what I mean by that.
Whenever a child gives feedback, they first need to give a star – in other words, they need to say something that they really like about their writing or their story.
Then, they’re welcome to say, “One way I think it could be even better is, or one idea I have for how you could make it even better is if you…” and then give their idea.
That way, the young author’s ideas are protected and validated, while they are able to get feedback to continue editing and expanding their ideas.
So, for example, my students might say, “I really like that one of the secrets you shared about your lil’ monster is that he’s afraid of the dark. One thing that I think would make your writing even better is if you tell us what he does each night when he goes to bed. Like, does he have a night light, or what does he do?”
Not only does this make a child’s writing even stronger, but it helps them to get to know their character even more deeply.
Nothing kills creativity and inspiration faster than a red pen.
We’ve all had this experience – for me, it was in university in an actual writing class.
I had always loved to write and even thought of becoming a writer as a career – I wanted to write books. But then, I had a writing teacher in university who just killed my love of writing, and for a very long time, I didn’t think I ever wanted to write again.
Up until that point, I had always been praised for my writing by my teachers – and by the way, this is the incredible power you have in children’s lives every single day.
When correcting your students' writing, don't use red ink, and ask students to correct 3 things each time they do some writing with you.
Also, ONLY have your students correct what you have explicitly taught a lesson about.
The writing unit example I've given here is all about monsters, but my students get to design their ow. monsters & create their personalities. They get to know them as “monsters” - their feelings, their fears, their loves, their hates, their preferences - even what they want for Christmas - lol!
When you give emerging writers choice within boundaries, it can be a safer framework than leaving the choice open to write about "anything you want to."
With this in mind, how could you provide freedom within boundaries for your young writers?
Inside my Meet My Monster writing unit, my students participate in seven lessons to learn all about their monsters BEFORE we talk about the components of an informational paragraph & create Missing posters, imagining that their monsters went missing.
This amount of pre-writing and character development ensures that my students’ final projects are going to be rich with ideas and language and depth that they otherwise likely wouldn’t be, especially for my students who before now, thought they couldn’t write.
There’s nothing more satisfying in my opinion than watching an author bloom – watching a child who thought they couldn’t write, stand up in front of his classmates and read an extremely well written, carefully thought through piece of writing. There’s just nothing like it.
So often, we ask students to write about things that they don’t know enough about, so just be sure that your students have the background knowledge to be able to write about a topic in a meaningful way.
Your Common Core Standards are actually extremely helpful in this way. Here’s what I mean.
If you’re asking your students to write an informational paragraph, you will need to break down, for your students, what makes a great introductory sentence. Which tools and strategies do great writers use to get their audience’s attention?
Next, how do they develop their ideas? What kinds of details will be most helpful for your audience? What are transition words and how do they help make a piece feel more cohesive and provide flow to a piece of writing?
Finally, how do authors end or conclude an informational paragraph?
Those are all independent mini-lessons that you will want to teach your students as part of a whole so they can learn to craft a piece of writing, just as an artist would craft a painting. It isn’t just art: it’s a set of skills that need to be carefully honed and practiced. That’s what makes a great writer, right?
So, be sure to teach each element in a piece of writing as part of a whole so your students can digest and apply this information in bite-sized pieces.
For students who struggle in writing, ask them to do less writing, participate in paired writing, or provide the digital version of the assignment so they can type instead of physically print. I have provided Google Slides for all of the writing templates inside my Meet My Monster unit that I would be using with some of my students who need a little more support.
Also, be sure you have prepared ideas and resources for your fast finishers. You can provide incentives for these students to use their expertise as student teachers (helping their classmates), and by providing extension activities. For example, during one pre-writing activity, my students choose a meal for their monsters from a Monster Café menu. When they’re finished this pre-writing activity, fast finishers can watch a video tour of the REAL Monster Café in Orlando, Florida!
At the end of our unit, we celebrate with a Monster-Themed Author Party where kids get to share their writing with the class while wearing monster sunglasses, eating monster snacks, & dancing to the Monster Mash & other songs on their monster top 10 playlists.
Kids need to feel a sense of celebration and completion at the end of a writing project. This is a big accomplishment that they’ve completed, so taking a little time to celebrate it is well deserved.
How could you create a meaningful writing celebration at the end of your writing unit?
I hope this has been helpful for you as you think about ways to increase writing engagement in your own classroom. I'd love to hear your ideas so be sure to join the conversation and comment below!
Also, if you'd like to check out some of my growing writing resources on TpT, just click any of the images below.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one!
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 drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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