Introduce this low-pressure writing strategy to increase engagement and lessen anxiety.
Written by: Rebecca Alber
Are you giving students permission to fire write (write like crazy)? If there is too much pressure to get it right on the first draft it can often freeze up writers—not just young writers, all of us. Share with them the golden rule of fire writing: Don’t stop to erase, just keep writing. Sneeze those words onto the page!
Also, think of ways to create a space that is inviting to your writers. That might mean playing music at a low volume while they fire write, or taking them outside to sit under the trees with their notebooks. Contemplate all the ways you can lighten the mood to convey, hey, we’re just writing.
Highly engaging writing prompts are one way to assist students in building writing fluency and stamina. Find or create prompts that allow students to share their lives, opinions, and prior knowledge. Consider including an image to help students make deeper meaning of the prompt.
Once your students finish writing, don’t just have them close their notebooks or laptops. Let them share in pairs or triads. Have them read or talk about what they wrote. Make it optional for them to hand their writing over for others to read. This lets them share in a safe environment. Sharing as a routine takes their writing out of isolation and can encourage them to write more or more deeply, knowing they will be sharing their thoughts and ideas with peers.
Creating a space for your students to write often and routinely in a low-pressure way allows more creativity to discover what they might want to say—and to see what they don’t want to write about. Just as we tell students it’s fine to abandon a book they are reading and choose another, we can invite them to do the same with their writing—start again, with a new topic or a different structure.
In terms of grading, simply give credit, but do not correct. Students can choose a fire writing assignment to develop later (for more formal writing assignments), and that’s where and when accuracy comes in. In the meantime, tell your students: Let’s get it down and then worry about making it better later. I’d show my eleventh-grade writers a copy of Tupac’s book of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete. In the book, to the left side of each typed poem, is his handwritten draft of the poem, words crossed out, some misspellings, and arrows redirecting lines. “See,” I’d say, “writing begins by just getting it down.”
Choice Is Essential
Speaking of formal writing assignments, just because we formally measure a writing assignment with a rubric or criteria chart, it doesn’t mean that the assignment should not include choice. We engage and motivate young writers more when we design assignments that allow for choice. This may mean, for example, a choice in the structure—a short story, report, skit, poem, or spoken word piece.
When possible, give room for them to have some choice in the topic as well. If they are learning argumentative/persuasive writing, let them decide on the issue they are most interested in—social, environmental, political, local, or global—that they would like to tackle in their writing.
While designing those more formal writing tasks, consider using a planning strategy called GRASPS (Goal, Role, Audience, Structure, Product, Standards, and Criteria). You decide on the goal and the standards and criteria, and let the student choose the role, audience, structure, and product.
An Audience Beyond the Teacher
School writing has historically often meant an audience of one—the teacher. Take some of those writing assignments beyond the four classroom walls and into the homes and communities of your students. Having an audience beyond the teacher will entice students (especially your reluctant and struggling writers).
Letters are a great way to engage students in writing for a real audience. Can they write a persuasive letter to a parent or guardian? How about an informational letter to a younger family member sharing advice on what they’ve learned in life so far? What about a letter to a local elected official about a community issue? A few other writing products students can create and share outside of the classroom: informational pamphlets, blog posts, and articles and editorials for the school or community newspapers.
What are ways you engage students in low-pressure writing? In high-stakes writing, how do you use choice to motivate your students? Please share in the comments section below.