I had been making Google journal prompts for my team to use in a writing center. As they are slides, I made them really colorful. My son did a double take and asked me what I was making. At first, he laughed, "No way would I do that." Then I discovered a powerful word, a word that actually made him say he wanted to use the prompts. "Online. You type your responses on the computer."
He literally did a 180 degree turn in five seconds flat. "Oh I get to use the COMPUTER?"
This short conversation got me started thinking about online writing prompts. I mean, if all it takes to get my son to write is allow him type his responses, then I am so allowing him to use a computer. However, not every child will write just because you put them on a computer. It always makes me sad when a student only wants to write one sentence. Every class has a few kids that just love to write, but there are always a few that spend the entire period sharpening a pencil.
So why are some students reluctant to write?
1. Brainstorm FirstA big problem for many students is having something to say. If they do not have an interest or experience with a topic, they just give up. As a class, students could brainstorm some ideas for the writing topic before they begin. That way, all students have a list of ideas to use.
After the conversation with my son, I brainstormed a list of topics that I thought would be more engaging for students. I had my kids and their friends look at my ideas. I was surprised at the ones that were rejected - and often the kids gave me other topics. Ask your students to suggest topics and use them as prompts. You don't have to use them every time, but once in a while it could bring a boost to your period.
2. Focus on One or Two SkillsA struggling reader is often a struggling writer. No one enjoys failing over and over again. I had a college professor who corrected papers in colored ink, and frequently my papers looked like they had been killed with a felt-tipped pen. Wow. Now, not surprisingly I was a highly motivated Type A student, but for most students that would be an automatic shutdown. Decide what you will focus on in that writing piece. Does the student need to focus on sentences? Capital letters? Spelling? By only focusing on a specific goal, students can feel more successful.
For example, my son is a terrible speller. In his summer writing journal, I am not focusing on spelling. I know in a few short weeks he will not learn to spell. Heck, we have been working on this for a few years. He can improve adding details to his responses. Instead of returning his slides to him covered with spelling rewrites, now he can focus on what he did well - introduce his topic - and what he needs to improve - adding details.
3. Use Google Classroom (or other Digital Program)Don't discount poor handwriting as a hurdle. When I taught middle school, I wondered why writing down a sentence took students so long. After a while, I realized that the slow note-takers did not know how to correctly hold a pencil. Seriously. An entire generation of kids is wasting time holding their paper down because they start at the bottom of the letter. There is a reason why letter should be written a certain way - the paper doesn't move around! And don't forget the poor left-handed kids (my son). It takes so much longer to write left-handed, and you smear up everything you write. All of these kids with poor handwriting skills end up with cramped hands. Who wants to write then?
Typing is a great equalizer. Granted, some students learn to type better than others. However, most kids have a lot of keyboarding experience on their phones, gaming systems, computers, etc. Plus, they enjoy being on a computer!
4. Shake It UpDo you have a writing prompt every week? Is it always the same format? Perhaps it is time to shake it up. Consider losing weight. One tip they have is to always have the same breakfast or lunch so that you don't overeat or splurge on something. Why? Because you would eat the same thing without even thinking about it. Do you really want your writing block on autopilot? Try a different style of prompt. Have students study poetry this week. Do a group write, where each students writes a sentence and passes it on!
5. Change the Audience"Who cares what I put? Only my teacher will see it anyway." Change the audience from the teacher to their peers, their parents, etc. and you will see a big difference in their writing. When we did Florida industry projects, my students held an Open House for parents. Students were so nervous and excited to have REAL people see their work. (No, teachers apparently do not count.) In Google, students could share their journals with the class and get feedback from their peers. Some teachers send home writing journals for parents to read or put them out at Open House. Think about how you could change the audience in your writing block or, frankly, in any subject in order to increase student engagement.
What do you use to engage student writers?