Just Write!

For those of you that don’t know, I am a third grade teacher. This year I’ve been really struggling teaching writing to my little munchkins. That may sound odd coming from an author, but people often have trouble explaining things that they have a lot of experience with. It can be difficult to simplify something when we’ve been exposed to the real complexities of it. I’m often standing there thinking, “Just write!” and they don’t know how to even begin. To put it simply, I like to write – my kids do not. I know how to write – my kids do not. I’ve written a novel – my kids struggle with a paragraph.

I’ve tried many different ways to help kids plan out their writing, following the writing process we all know so well. Plan, draft, revise, edit, publish, blah, blah, blah. It was not working. I had a few kids who were still not producing a solid paragraph after an entire week or two. So then I had this idea – timed writing. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Ugh! I hate being timed! It’s the worst! So much pressure!” Yeah, I know. I get it. Hear me out.

The original idea was for me to have a quick way to provide feedback to students, so they can get experience revising their work. So this was my plan:

  • Students would be given writing notebooks in which I would paste a new writing prompt each day with writing guidelines.
  • I would set the timer for five minutes.
  • Students would respond to the prompt within the allotted five minutes.
  • I would collect the notebooks and provide written feedback to students writing. Those that needed to re-do would fix it the next day, those that were ready to move on would get a new prompt.
  • Repeat.

Below are some examples on how students have progressed. The first and second one show how one student has improved, and the third and fourth one show a different student’s progression. The last one I threw in just because I thought it was funny…

Writing Journal Examples:

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One reason I think it’s been working is that the pressure of being timed gives the kids a sense of urgency. When they know they have the entire writing block to write, they sit there twiddling their thumbs, claiming they are “thinking”. (Yeah right! You’re playing with that slime you’re hiding in your desk! Side note – why is silly putty so popular all of a sudden?) When there is a time limit, they don’t have time to waste. They simply start writing. And as we all know, getting started is the hardest part. This leads into my next reason why I think it’s working.

When students have not done any pre-writing, they just write what they’re thinking. That’s what we as adults do. Sure, we go back over our emails and essays and rough drafts after we finish, but initially, we just start by writing what we are thinking. The problem many of my students were having was that they didn’t know how to transfer their brainstorming ideas into sentences and paragraphs. They were struggling going from pre-writing to drafting. This makes so much sense! Now I’m not saying we should throw the brainstorming out the window. We are still using the rest of our writing time for longer projects that go through the entire writing process. However, I think it’s really healthy for kids to have times when they just write. Then, beginning projects gets easier and easier. It’s also a fun way of preparing them for standardized tests!

So that’s it. That’s my spiel on timed writing and journals. Do you have any tactics you use with your students to get them writing? Do you have any tactics to get yourself writing? Feel free to comment below!

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