“I can’t believe that they’re writing so much!”
Believe it or not, fourth and fifth graders love to write. Every so often, I get hired to visit a school and lead an “instant story” writing workshop, and every single time I hear this. Students surprise their teachers by not just writing a few sentences and then calling it a day. They scribble on and on and on and actually moan, “noo!” when I say, “two minutes.”
“Even the students who don’t like to write are filling the pages.”
There are several factors that make my job easier than that of teachers. I’m the outsider, the new face. I’m telling them to write stories that are fun, not dry assignments demonstrating that they’ve mastered a common core standard rubric.
I even ask the teachers to promise not to grade the work. (This gives the students freedom to make as many mistakes as possible—and allows their creativity to flow.)
But even without those advantages, there’s one trick that I learned that almost any teacher can put into practice.
- Give them lots of paper. Take their grade level and add 1, and give them that many each sheets on their desks before the assignment starts.
- If they ask, “Can I use the back?” say YES, but you don’t have to.
- Then, don’t tell them that they have to fill the pages. In fact, tell them that they can make it as long or as short as they like. They can do a short story, or chapters.
- Later, when they are finished, praise the students who have written fewer words just as much as those who have written many.
Psychologically, having the extra pages on the table encourages non-brevity. Furthermore, if a student does finish a page, she doesn’t have to raise a hand or get up to get more paper. It allows them to stay in the focused stream of thought and keep on going.
The other thing that I do that helps students keep writing is to give them the answers. “How do I spell blabidty blah?” I tell them. “Who was the first president?” I tell them. “What’s a good name for a dog?” I give them a name. (If you don’t like what I give you, I say, come up with your own.)
The idea isn’t to get it right, but to get it written.
Try it and see.