Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Energizing Writing

I have been trying, over the past two years or so, to change up the way I teach writing in order to engage students more. My school had purchased the Lucy Calkins Units of Study years ago and I used them to teach personal narrative and essay writing every year. I also teach poetry and research skills that end with a report.

As much as I liked the approach to writing in the Units of Study, it took such a long time to do one unit. I know they're supposed to take a month, but it always took me and my teaching partner much longer. And I didn't feel that my students were enthusiastic about writing, even though they were good at it.

So I started reading blogs about writing and teaching writing, like Two Writing teachers. I dipped into Teachers Write and the Facebook discussion group on Craft Moves. I took the March challenge from Two Writing Teachers to blog every day. I attended a seminar given by Kristina Smekens on teaching language arts. And I started to follow the plans in the Units of Study less.

As I became more relaxed, writing time became more enjoyable for the students AND me.

This year innovation is the goal at my school, not necessarily using technology, but using more technology is also a goal. We started off with personal narratives as usual, then my partner and I were told about the Scholastic writing contest just for 4th grade students, Flaunt Your Differences. That segued well with the personal narratives, so we both took some time with have our students write three-paragraph pieces explaining and celebrating what makes each of them different.

Next, we started class Twitter accounts and challenged students to write 140 character tweets documenting our social studies "voyage" on the Mayflower. (You can follow us here!)

Then a happy chance found an idea for creating a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story by using Google slides. Even before I showed my class the example, they were expressing their delight. "We get to write fiction?!" "I LOVE choose your own adventure!!" "We can put in pictures, too?!" "We can share these?!" Fourth graders are so much fun!

We got started by having each student decide on a genre of fiction, consider who the main character would be, keeping in mind that the main character is the reader, and think about a story arc. I asked them to make a simple flow chart to track where there would be choices for the reader to make and what the alternate strands of the story would be. We will work on craft moves as they write their stories -- engaging leads, dialogue, and satisfying endings (multiple!). They are excited, I am excited. You can find the sample and the directions we will be using here.


  1. I love that you stepped out to explore alternatives in teaching writing. Your post became more and more joyful as you described your work. That's the way to be a writing teacher!

    1. Thank you! I do feel more joyful about it! I love how invested my students are in their work.

  2. "As I became more relaxed, writing time became more enjoyable for the students AND me." This is such an important part of powerful teaching. Enjoyment leads to engagement and engagement results in learning. So happy for you in your breakthrough.

  3. Innovating you are! You have recognized how important student choice is in engagement and it is revolutionizing your teaching AND their learning. Good for you! (Love the tweeting idea too!)

  4. Hooray for excited writers! :) I love that you've been able to create those writers that we all want: engaged and writing! :)