Reading. Writing. Listening. Speaking.
When we look at the four basic language learning skills, it is undoubtedly writing that gives our students the most difficulties.
There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, listening and reading are both passive skills as the student is required to interpret what someone else has expressed.
In other words, someone else has done all the creative legwork and grammatical groundwork. The listener or reader is the receiver of the communication.
With writing and speaking, the onus is on the student to express their ideas by navigating the complexities of word choice and grammar, etc, while doing so.
While spoken language has a much more relaxed approach to grammar and sentence construction, written language is booby-trapped with opportunities to fall foul to the myriad rules of the English language and the wide-ranging criteria of the various text types.
The one surefire way to motivate students to do what’s necessary to overcome the significant challenges that writing presents is to inspire a love of it in your students.
And that is precisely what this article is about!
Now, let’s take a look at six simple ways to teach writing lessons that your students will love.
1. Choose Topics That Inspire
What your students write doesn’t matter so much as that they write.
At least in the beginning. Writing is an intricate craft that can only be mastered through constant learning and practice.
All the theory in the world won’t help a student become a better writer if they don’t put in the time to apply the concepts they learn in class into their work. This means writing lots!
To help overcome the reluctance many students feel about putting pen to paper, we must do our best to choose topics to write about that spark the imagination or inspire interest and enthusiasm in our students.
One way to achieve this is to allow the students themselves to choose the topics they write about.
While this isn’t always possible, it is usually more frequently possible than it may seem initially.
While it may seem, for example, that a nonfiction text type such as instruction writing might be prescriptive and leave little room for the student to exercise their imaginative flair, with a bit of thought and reflection, a touch of spice can surely be added.
For example, you could challenge students to develop their own set of instructions on how to do something their favorite superhero does. For example, “How to Fly Like a Bird,” “How to Travel Through Time,” or “How to See Through Walls.”
Though the above ideas are clearly highly fictitious, they will allow students to practice their writing chops while having fun. As long as the students cover all the criteria of the specific text type, they will benefit from the writing.
Also, in instances where there are specific skills you want the student to practice that may be inhibited by a free choice, you could develop three or four suitable writing topics for the students to choose from.
Limiting choice in this manner gives you some control over what the student produces by giving them an opportunity to choose a topic that engages them.
If you are looking for prompts be sure to check out our huge collection here.
2. Only Give Laser-Focused Feedback
As teachers who want our students to make quick progress, it can be tempting to correct every error we find in a student’s work. However, this can be counterproductive to instilling a love of writing in our students.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” as the old idiom has it, and if every block the builders laid back in classical antiquity was critiqued and corrected, the Italian capital probably wouldn’t have been built at all.
From our perspective, feedback and correction come from the desire to help the student improve. Sometimes, however, it can be anything but a positive experience for the student. Particularly when they’re already overwhelmed by the considerable challenges writing poses.
Instead, when offering feedback to a student, choose one or two manageable areas on which they can work. Be as explicit as possible. Also, find something worthy in their writing to praise to encourage them.
For the younger students, the 2 Stars and 1 Wish format works well. Here, the teacher identifies two praiseworthy things in the student’s writing (e.g. handwriting and use of adjectives) and one thing they should work to correct in their next piece of writing (e.g. the use of capital letters at the start of sentences).
Whether dealing with students young or ‘old’, the more precise you can be in identifying the areas they need to work on, the easier it will be for the student to effectively target their efforts and fix these errors in the future.
Providing feedback in this manner helps the student build their skills over time, increasing their confidence and the standard of the work they produce.
Here are some broad areas to focus your feedback on, but be sure to drill down deep to get to the specifics when feeding back to students:
- Genre specific criteria
- Overall structure and layout of the text
- Headings and subheadings
- Use of images
- Genre specific criteria
- Varied sentence structure
- Correct grammar
- Accurate punctuation
- Use of transitions
- Creativity and imagination
- Appropriate and varied word choice
- Suitable tone, mood, & register.
3. Focus on Quality
Ask most kids what they think about chocolate and they’ll tell you they’re big fans of it.
Ask them the same question after a gut-bursting, festive, chocolate feeding-frenzy and their response probably won’t be as enthusiastic.
It’s one of the underlying dynamics of life that too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. And the same is true of writing.
Consider this when you are setting writing tasks for your students. Rather than setting a word or page limits, try setting quality limits. Encourage your students to produce a piece of writing that does the job and does it well, rather than some abstract target unrelated to quality such as word count or time spent writing.
If we want our students to fall in love with writing, they’ll need the space and time to do so. If they’re manically trying to crunch out the requisite number of words to meet some arbitrary quota, there’ll be no time or space for them to fall in love with the beauty of the well-crafted sentence.
Make quality over quantity a key principle when setting writing tasks.
4. Create Time to Share the Power of Writing
For students to see the value of writing, they’ll need to understand how it can impact people.
Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. Without writers, there’s nothing to read. Without readers, there’s no audience for the writers.
Some of the greatest achievements of humankind have been communicated through the written word. Think of how the roots of our democracies stretch back through time to the writings of the ancient Greeks, for example.
For students to develop a love of writing, they must nurture a love of reading. Encourage your students to share with the class extracts of writing they’ve found that inspires or moves them.
These can come from anywhere and be on any topic. From the letters of a famous person, they admire to inspirational memes they’ve stumbled on. Or, maybe they just want to share a silly joke they find hilarious. Whatever it is or wherever it came from, as long as it isn’t obscene, encourage your students to share it.
Shakespeare isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t allow any personal preferences or even unconscious snobberies to quash a student’s enthusiasm for the lyrics of some pop singer’s ramblings, for example.
That they are moved by writing at all is a victory in itself and enough to be getting on with in the beginning.
Likewise, while you make time for your students to share the writing that they’ve enjoyed or been inspired by, make time for students to share the fruits of their own labour too.
Too often in school, writing becomes an activity far removed from the communication it’s intended to be. Frequently, students write only to be read by teachers. Creating time in class for students to share their work with each other reminds students that, ultimately, writing is about communication not just making busy work for teachers!
5. Collaborate to Reanimate!
There’s no getting away from it. Learning to write well can be hard work. For reluctant writers, few school tasks can be as daunting or depressing as a blank page that needs filling.
To reinvigorate your students, be sure to include collaborative writing as a regular teaching tool. Not only is it often more fun to work together, but in the classroom, our students don’t just learn from their teacher, they learn from each other too.
Collaborative writing can take many forms. How you choose to use it with your students will depend on the type of writing you are teaching and the specific objectives you want to focus on.
Some ideas for incorporating collaborative writing into your writing lessons include:
- Prewriting: Give students time to discuss, debate, and explore a topic together before they go off to produce their individual piece of writing. This can be an effective way to prep them beforehand as well as to engage and enthuse them. Sometimes it’s a good idea to allow students to plan collaboratively, then set them to each produce their own piece of writing. Done well, they’ll be chomping at the proverbial bit to get their ideas down on paper after a lively session with their peers!
- Team-writing: At times, team writing can be a useful stimulus to inspire reluctant writers. The greatest danger here is, of course, that the reluctant writer fades into the background and lets the enthusiastic writers do all the work! But, carefully moderated, team-writing can not only be an effective tool to produce well-written nonfiction writing (such as explanatory texts), but it can be very effective when writing fiction too, e.g. drama. Just make sure everyone involved has a job!
- Post-Writing: The editing process that begins on completion of a first draft provides a great opportunity for students to collaborate. Swapping drafts, students can check each other’s work using a criteria checklist. This will identify specific areas for improvement in the second draft. It’s also good practice to have peers read over each other’s work to double-check spelling and punctuation use, as it can sometimes be difficult to spot these errors ourselves.
6. Change the Writing Environment
For a majority of students, writing and school are inextricably linked. Frequently, the only extended writing students do is either as classwork or homework and almost always sat at a desk. This can suck the life out of what should be a creative and imaginative process.
Mixing things up by changing the writing environment itself can help breathe life into the writing process.
Why not take your students out into the school grounds to write sat under a tree the next time poetry is on the agenda, for example?
If they’re writing about sports (e.g. report writing, instructions, etc.), is it possible to take the students to the gym to do their writing task? There, they could soak up the atmosphere and the little details that could help bring their writing to life.
If you can’t take the student to a new environment, why not try to take the new environment to the students?
For example, if they’re writing on a topic from a bygone era, say, Shakespeare, why not convert the classroom into the Globe Theatre for the day? Students could even wear Elizabethan costumes to really get them in the mood.
Getting creative with the context in which students write can really help to inspire some enthusiasm for their work.
There we have it. Plenty of ideas to help put some joy back into the writing process.
Remember too, that how you approach the teaching of writing can have a great impact on how your students will look upon the act itself. The single greatest tool in your writing toolbox is your own enthusiasm for the craft.
When you are excited about writing; when you are a little in love with the act itself, your students will pick up on that.
Enthusiasm is your single greatest asset for teaching writing lessons your students will love.