So you want to excite students about your upcoming writing unit? Before I wrote this post I asked some 7th and 8th grade students this question: What could teachers do to get you excited for a writing assignment?
Here’s what they said:
Blow a kazoo.
Buy a confetti cannon.
Play a prank.
Nothing will ever excite me to write.
Now, these tactics might make students laugh but eventually you’re going to have to break the news to them that they actually have to do some work. Yikes!
I followed up my first question to these 7th and 8th graders with this question:
Have you ever been excited about a writing assignment?
Most of them said straight up…no.
This was sad. I realized it was all the more reason to write a blog post on this topic, to help more teachers get students excited to write. So, here are some strategies that might work for some of your students.
Tell students they get to choose the topic!
Students are so much more likely to get excited about a writing assignment when they can write about something they care about. The way that you can facilitate students’ pursuit of passions is through choice.
For example, if students are writing literary essays let them pick the text they want to write about. Maybe, it’s a favorite song, poem, short story or book, or even a YouTube video! It is possible to teach literary essay writing concepts with videos too…rather than with confusing classics. You may be wondering how? Read this post for more information about incorporating video into your writing instruction.
Here are some other ways to allow for choice with other genres…
If students are writing argumentative essays let them pick the topic! If they are writing narratives let them make some things up. These choices will help tremendously when trying to motivate your students. Believe me, I’ve used all of these tactics and students often look at me wide-eyed when I say they have choices.
Tell students they get to participate in a contest!
We are all naturally competitive and yearn for opportunities to be recognized for our hard work. Contest are a great way for students to work toward achieving something they can be proud of. You could have students participate in the many contests available via the New York Times Learning Network or you could host your own class contest! Here’s how I go about doing this…
At the beginning of each writing unit I refer to the Writers’ Spotlight board and explain that the top three writing pieces will be displayed there for all my classes to read during our designated reading time each day. At the end of the writing unit I carefully choose the very best students’ work, print copies and tack them to the board. Students who want to read the winning writing can untack the piece of writing they are interested in reading from the board, read it and when they are done tack it back up
Tell students you are going to throw them a party!
Who doesn’t get excited about having a class party?!?! When you begin your unit, start with the end. Tell your students that a party is in their near future to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments with the writing unit you are about to start. You could do multiple things during the class party, here are a few ideas:
- Drink sparkling water and eat popcorn while reading each other’s writing
- Have students bring their own snacks and let volunteers take turns reading parts of their writing to the class
- Let students paint/doodle/do calligraphy covers during your a party
- Invite another class to party with you
- Record students reading parts of their writing and compile it into a video to watch for the party
- Get student ideas for the party, they often can come up with the best ways to celebrate
When you start your unit tell students that their writing is going to be published!
Now, I’ll be the first to say, as a middle school teacher, not all students get excited about their writing being published. But, a good amount do! If you plan to publish your students’ writing make sure to be specific about how in the beginning of your unit. Choose an option from the 10 Ways to Publish Student Writing A Complete Step-by-Step Guide and run with it. Many students will be motivated to make sure their writing is at least readable since it will be shared with a real audience.
Use Humor, Honesty & Bribes
Sometimes the best way to get students on your side (and therefore more motivated to please) is by making them laugh and being up front with them about what’s about to happen.
Here is an example of ways you can use humor and honesty to excite students about what they are about to experience in your upcoming unit:
“Look everyone, in the past you’ve written essays that go something like this… introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. Am I right? Or you’ve written personal narratives that have a character, a conflict and a sentence at the end stating the lesson. Right?!?! Some of you have these structures down almost so much so that you are a writing robot! Well in this unit I want you try to break out of that robot voice and find your own!”
Here’s another way you could go about getting students excited with a bribe…
“Students, I know a lot of you can’t stand writing. I know it. Sometimes I can’t stand writing either! Sometimes I just want to crumple every page in my notebook up and just go play some Fortnite. But, we can’t do that every time we face a challenge. We have to do our best, even if we struggle and the process is painful. This is an important life lesson! So…here’s what I propose: if we work hard on our writing each day for at least 20 minutes a day, after that 20 minutes is up we can crumple up some paper and play recycle bin basketball! Or one of these games: 5 Simple Games to Play with Your Students Anytime. Deal?”
Exciting your students about an upcoming writing assignment or unit is probably one of the most challenging things a writing teacher has to do. And you will fail, I have definitely failed many, many times. But, if you’ve learned anything from this post, you have to at least try and that is what counts!
So tell me, how do you excite your students about writing?