Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
October 2, 2015 Promote Student Choice in Writing Workshop By John DePasquale
Grades 6–8

    "What Do You Want to Write?"

    Before we ever begin to write in class, I first listen to the different ways middle school students respond to this revealing question. As a way to launch our writing workshop, I ask them to mull over this question and advise me. Students write me letters with their ideas on the best ways to design our writing class. Some of the suggestions I have received are:

    • I want to write to express how I feel. I keep trying to find ways at school to express how I feel. 

    • I want to write about freedom. I just want to let my thoughts and opinions out. 

    • I’m not exactly sure what I want to write. I’ve never been told to just write in class. When I’m asked to write, I have to write an essay, or draft an essay, or answer a main question. When that doesn’t happen, I’m the one telling me to write, and, more often than not, it doesn’t work out. 

    These words, written by current eighth graders, prove to me the value of choice and flexibility during writing workshop to gently encourage students to take more risks as writers. Many middle school students I’ve worked with over the years express strong negative feelings towards writing because they believe they have too few creative writing opportunities. By middle school, many students internalize the message that writing in school requires the "right" answer or expressing the "correct" idea. 

    These negative feelings all too often cause some of my students to feel less confident as writers because they fear being wrong. Students tell me they feel as though their creative voice has been taken from them at school. My first goal of the school year is to challenge these beliefs by encouraging my students to reclaim their creative voices and confidence in a writing classroom that fosters and promotes risk-taking through choice and flexibility. 

    Choice and flexibility abound in our classroom while students create their first writing projects of the year. I provide my students with the freedom to make three important choices during this time: what they write, how they write, and how they share their writing. I remind students throughout the process that their writing possibilities are endless. As a result, powerful and creative voices fill our writing classroom. 

    Choosing What to Write

    My students first choose what they write. Students are free to choose both the topic and genre for their first writing project. As a class, we list on the board the different topics, ideas, and genres they might consider selecting for the project. This list is kept in a prominent location so we can add new topics and genres as they arise. I think it is helpful to make all of the possible writing project ideas visible to students because they serve as continual sources of inspiration throughout the process.   

    The number of students who know exactly what they want to write when they are told they can write anything always amazes me. Like racehorses at the gate, I let these students loose. From science fiction to memoirs, the hum of writers creating sets an initial spark that electrifies our writing workshop. I’m particularly excited this year because fan fiction and music reviews are popular for first time. 

    Since choosing what to write is not an easy decision for all students, I also create small writing groups to explore the various choices together. I encourage students who are indecisive or overwhelmed by their choices to use a variety of different open-ended writing prompts until they find one that works for them. I also provide students with mentor texts as we consider the writing choices. The collection of teen writing published by The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is my top choice for mentor texts while I work with groups of students. You might also consider using Scholastic’s Story Starters tool or a narrative journal writing printable to support students as they generate writing ideas.    

    Choosing How to Write

    After choosing a topic and genre, students then choose how they will write. Students elect to join a writing group, to work with a writing partner, or to write independently. Writing groups usually have three to five members that work together on a single project. For example, a current writing group is creating a collection of personal narratives all focused on the theme of heartbreak. Since this is middle school, these stories are intense! Some students choose to work with just one other writing partner. Some writing partnerships choose to create two voice poems or short stories told from different perspectives. 

    I believe it is also important for students to have the choice to write independently, because I know writing can make some students feel vulnerable. There are times some students feel more comfortable and safe when they write independently. It is important in our writing class that this is an option for students. Allowing students to choose how they write lessens feelings of pressure or anxiety that might be felt while also promoting the idea that writing can be a collaborative process.    

    Choosing A Way to Share 

    Once a deadline is set and guests are invited, students finally choose how to share their writing. Our shares include exchanging feedback through simultaneous gallery walks, group performances, and more intimate partner shares. Some students also choose at this time to anonymously share their writing. Students decide how public to make their writing when they select their share method. In choosing what will be read and by whom, students develop a stronger awareness of writing for particular audiences.

    I admit to being apprehensive the first time I decided to provide students with limitless writing choice. The thought of so many different types of writing happening at the same time in a single classroom was unnerving to me at first. I was not sure if I would be capable of providing students with all of the genre-specific resources they would need as they wrote. This is not a problem because I quickly discovered students usually gravitate towards familiar genres and passionate topics. This is incredibility valuable because it positions the students themselves as their own best resource. Their power and passion as writers truly comes from within, and providing choice and flexibility in writing workshop taps into this energy to elicit creative and amazing writing.  

     

    "What Do You Want to Write?"

    Before we ever begin to write in class, I first listen to the different ways middle school students respond to this revealing question. As a way to launch our writing workshop, I ask them to mull over this question and advise me. Students write me letters with their ideas on the best ways to design our writing class. Some of the suggestions I have received are:

    • I want to write to express how I feel. I keep trying to find ways at school to express how I feel. 

    • I want to write about freedom. I just want to let my thoughts and opinions out. 

    • I’m not exactly sure what I want to write. I’ve never been told to just write in class. When I’m asked to write, I have to write an essay, or draft an essay, or answer a main question. When that doesn’t happen, I’m the one telling me to write, and, more often than not, it doesn’t work out. 

    These words, written by current eighth graders, prove to me the value of choice and flexibility during writing workshop to gently encourage students to take more risks as writers. Many middle school students I’ve worked with over the years express strong negative feelings towards writing because they believe they have too few creative writing opportunities. By middle school, many students internalize the message that writing in school requires the "right" answer or expressing the "correct" idea. 

    These negative feelings all too often cause some of my students to feel less confident as writers because they fear being wrong. Students tell me they feel as though their creative voice has been taken from them at school. My first goal of the school year is to challenge these beliefs by encouraging my students to reclaim their creative voices and confidence in a writing classroom that fosters and promotes risk-taking through choice and flexibility. 

    Choice and flexibility abound in our classroom while students create their first writing projects of the year. I provide my students with the freedom to make three important choices during this time: what they write, how they write, and how they share their writing. I remind students throughout the process that their writing possibilities are endless. As a result, powerful and creative voices fill our writing classroom. 

    Choosing What to Write

    My students first choose what they write. Students are free to choose both the topic and genre for their first writing project. As a class, we list on the board the different topics, ideas, and genres they might consider selecting for the project. This list is kept in a prominent location so we can add new topics and genres as they arise. I think it is helpful to make all of the possible writing project ideas visible to students because they serve as continual sources of inspiration throughout the process.   

    The number of students who know exactly what they want to write when they are told they can write anything always amazes me. Like racehorses at the gate, I let these students loose. From science fiction to memoirs, the hum of writers creating sets an initial spark that electrifies our writing workshop. I’m particularly excited this year because fan fiction and music reviews are popular for first time. 

    Since choosing what to write is not an easy decision for all students, I also create small writing groups to explore the various choices together. I encourage students who are indecisive or overwhelmed by their choices to use a variety of different open-ended writing prompts until they find one that works for them. I also provide students with mentor texts as we consider the writing choices. The collection of teen writing published by The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is my top choice for mentor texts while I work with groups of students. You might also consider using Scholastic’s Story Starters tool or a narrative journal writing printable to support students as they generate writing ideas.    

    Choosing How to Write

    After choosing a topic and genre, students then choose how they will write. Students elect to join a writing group, to work with a writing partner, or to write independently. Writing groups usually have three to five members that work together on a single project. For example, a current writing group is creating a collection of personal narratives all focused on the theme of heartbreak. Since this is middle school, these stories are intense! Some students choose to work with just one other writing partner. Some writing partnerships choose to create two voice poems or short stories told from different perspectives. 

    I believe it is also important for students to have the choice to write independently, because I know writing can make some students feel vulnerable. There are times some students feel more comfortable and safe when they write independently. It is important in our writing class that this is an option for students. Allowing students to choose how they write lessens feelings of pressure or anxiety that might be felt while also promoting the idea that writing can be a collaborative process.    

    Choosing A Way to Share 

    Once a deadline is set and guests are invited, students finally choose how to share their writing. Our shares include exchanging feedback through simultaneous gallery walks, group performances, and more intimate partner shares. Some students also choose at this time to anonymously share their writing. Students decide how public to make their writing when they select their share method. In choosing what will be read and by whom, students develop a stronger awareness of writing for particular audiences.

    I admit to being apprehensive the first time I decided to provide students with limitless writing choice. The thought of so many different types of writing happening at the same time in a single classroom was unnerving to me at first. I was not sure if I would be capable of providing students with all of the genre-specific resources they would need as they wrote. This is not a problem because I quickly discovered students usually gravitate towards familiar genres and passionate topics. This is incredibility valuable because it positions the students themselves as their own best resource. Their power and passion as writers truly comes from within, and providing choice and flexibility in writing workshop taps into this energy to elicit creative and amazing writing.  

     

Comments

Share your ideas about this article

My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
About Us