Have you ever given a writing topic and looked at your students, only to see a herd of deer in headlights? I know I have! I worked for years, and did a lot of research to figure out how to get rid of those "headlights" for good. The trick is getting kids started...that pencil to paper moment. Once they get going, things usually flow. Before starting your next writing assignment, think about the ideas below. They sure helped me, and it wasn't long before those "deer in headlights" turned into giggly writers who could hardly wait to share their creative stories and research! They may just be the "magic" trick to nudge those reluctant writers in your classroom into putting pen to paper too!
1. Write the way you talk. Some kids get hung-up with some mysterious "voice" in their writing. In truth, the best writing is written in the voice of the writer. It's the way they talk that makes the writing engaging. If they use the same words they use all the time, their writing will ring true.
2. Don't worry about "The rules" of spelling and grammar. Just write! A lot of kids try to edit as they go. One fun way to stop kids from doing this, is to give one minute quick-writes. For these writings push them to "Hurry, you only have a minute!" The idea isn't to get a literary masterpiece, but to free-up kids to just write, and not worry about anything else. Make it fun, this shouldn't be stressful. You might ask, "Who has a sentence they really like on their paper?" or "who wrote more than five lines?" The idea is to celebrate that words went on the paper...as many as possible. Do this a couple of times a week, and kids will start to really enjoy it, as long as the topics are fun. Yes, editing is important, but not at the beginning of the process! A few quick-write ideas are:
a. Describe a dog
b. Tell, in detail, what you ate for lunch today.
c. On the other side of the door was....
d. I heard a scream!
e. The lights went out in the cafeteria!
f. I will never do that again!
g. Outside the window I saw...
h. I found a dragon egg in my dresser drawer.
i. I opened my door and saw a box of 50 donuts!
j. My pencil started to dance!
k. I heard the ant say, ......
l. My favorite pizza is....
m. My mom bought a cactus....
n. Describe what your teacher does after school
o. A skunk walks into the classroom....
p. A spaceship lands on the playground and...
and so on!
3. Limit the topic! Before any pencil hits paper make sure the topic is small enough. That's right! Limit writing to something that can be covered in a short amount of time. I have had students tell me they were going to write about Egypt. Well, that's nice, but to write about Egypt would take a lot of time, lots of paper (think books full) and more research than the student can do all year. I then asked them what one thing about Egypt they thought was interesting, then we went from there. The smaller the topic, the easier it is to write about. Instead of writing about "My vacation", write about riding on the roller coaster. What did you feel, smell, think as you plunged down? Small topics give themselves to more descriptive writing, and that makes more interesting writing.
4. Don't skip that prewriting stage! Many times my students would just jump into a topic and start writing without thinking. Prewriting helps them think through what they want to say, and gives them confidence that he or she knows where the writing is going. That makes writing less intimidating. Once a topic has been decided upon, brainstorm with a friend, draw a picture, make a visual map of what you want to cover. Basically, make a writing plan.
5. Play restful music (instrumental) at a low volume. Music truly does have the power to calm the savage writing beast. Music goes right to the brain. Calm music calms students. Calm students are less stressed. Writing can happen. I always play music, and often turn the lights a little lower in the room. Yes, I know they are writing, but between the music and the lower lights a calming atmosphere sets into the room and not only do kids write like crazy, they are really quiet (gratefully).
6. If handwriting is a struggle, allow the student to write at the computer. Just being at the computer is often enough to get the creative juices flowing.