Recently, I had a teacher ask me for some guidance with student writing. She asked how to get students to “buy into” the revising process and not rely on teachers to always point out suggestions and errors. While I was writing my response, I realized that it’s really been some time since I thought about this type of situation.
Classrooms are meant to be a safe space for students. It’s up to us as teachers to create that environment, especially in the beginning of the school year when everything is new. By creating a community of writers, we are providing a supportive environment for students to make mistakes, which is ultimately the best way to help them grow as writers.
So, how exactly do we create a community of writers?
Before we jump into ideas and lesson activities, it’s important to remember the core values of the community- teamwork and trust.
Your classroom is a team. All students and the teacher(s) are learning together. Yes, there will be mistakes that are made, but it’s by working together through the writing process that lessons are learned.
In order to have a strong team, there has to be trust. Students have to trust one another to be respectful with feedback and comments, and that everyone will put effort into helping each other. It’s important to note that establishing trust will take time and may need to revisited throughout the year.
Once your students have the mindset that they are all on the same team, it’s time to start participating in the writing community.
Teacher modeling is an incredibly powerful instructional strategy. Personally, it’s one of my favorites and I have always found it to be effective with all types of learners.
- Model whenever you can. Any kind of writing activity/lesson can be modeled in some way. Even if it’s a 30 second demonstration, taking the time to show students you’re thinking about an approach, will have a lasting impact.
- Think aloud. I talk to myself constantly when I’m modeling. I want to make sure my students can see how my ideas connect to one another.
- Highlight specific tasks. Let’s say I reviewed editing marks with my students recently. Now, when I’m proofreading my own writing in front of students, I make it a point to use the appropriate symbols.
Talk about Writing
Building relationships is essential in teaching, and that goes for helping to build a community of writers. We want students to get comfortable sharing their work, and that can take time for some kiddos. We don’t want to isolate writing talk just for writing time, we want to include talk about writing all the time.
- Writing conferences. These are perfect for students to get some one-on-one time with you about their writing. There are so many different ways to structure these conferences. Some teachers have a clipboard that kids can use to sign up during writing time. Others write a few student names on the board to meet with during the class period.
- Partner or group sharing. These are quick ways for students to get feedback on a specific aspect of their writing (and can be a great wrap up activity). When I use this strategy, I tell partners/groups exactly what to share. “Read your thesis statement from the introduction paragraph you wrote today. Listeners should give feedback to the reader.” After this, we regroup and quickly discuss what was shared.
- Peer editing. When I first started teaching, I always thought that peer editing wasn’t very effective. Kids would rush, they wouldn’t know what to focus on, etc. Over the years I’ve figured out a system that has helped students participate in this activity in a positive and effective way. Give students a checklist of what to look at while they read their peer’s work. Have students read the work each time for all different tasks on the list. For instance, read it one time looking for spelling errors. Then read it again looking for capitalization errors. This strategy has been a game-changer for my students.
- Share what you’re reading. Do you ever come across a passage in a book and just love the way that it is written? Share it with your students! Encourage your class to share great writing they find or write themselves.
Celebrate Writing Together
Writing is a process. We know this as educators and as adults, so when we get to the end of this (sometimes painful) process it’s important to celebrate with our students.
- Sharing place/object. Make the celebration exciting by having students share their work from a special chair or spot in the room. Some teachers will decorate a spot on the wall to look like a coffee shop, others use a director’s chair at the front of the room. You can also have a special object that serves as a “microphone” so only that student with the object can speak (and share their work). I always used my silent ball as the object because middle school boys are very engaged when they have a chance to throw something.
- Theme readings. These are super exciting for teachers and students because it is so out of the ordinary. If your students just got done writing spooky stories, have everyone sit in a circle on the floor and read their work while holding a flashlight under their face. If they wrote descriptive paragraphs about the beach, have them bring in towels and read from their “beach spot”.
- Host an open house. Allow other classes to come in and see displayed work from your students. You can open it up to your team or the whole school depending on your building.
- Create a class “book”. The celebration doesn’t have to be limited to just your classroom. You can compile your class’ work into a “book”, Google docs are amazing for a project like this, and send/share it with parents.
Having a community of writers can be very powerful for learning. Students will feel empowered to take risks, try new things, and make mistakes. It may take some time, but having your class work as a team will be both memorable and beneficial.
Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.