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Inspiring and Motivating Student Writers

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We have talked extensively about finding ways to engage our students as readers, mathematicians, scientists, and explorers.  Writing is naturally woven into those roles that students take on, but do those activities truly prepare them to become writers?  As teachers, we must look beyond the dry list of objectives that must be met and embrace the methods that will motivate and inspire students to be the best writers they can be.  Take a “Words of Wonder” or W.O.W. approach to writing to inspire your students to writing greatness.

While teaching a 3rd-4th-5th Multi-Grade class, I found that my students would willing write their assignments, but that their writing often lacked that special something.  Oftentimes, their hearts were just not in the assignment and they were completing it solely to earn credit.  Without wanting to diminishing their work ethic or give them the impression that a completed assignment was not what I was ultimately after, I created a “W.O.W. Center” in our classroom.

Nestled next to the classroom library and stocked with different kinds of paper, pencils, pens, fine-tip markers, student dictionaries, and thesauruses, the W.O.W. Center became a reference place for creativity and inspiration.  Instead of having everyone complete the same writing assignment for a project or story, students were allowed to advocate for themselves and choose a writing project that inspired them.  For example, while studying the Great Plains the suggested assignment in the textbook may have been to describe the Great Plains.  In the W.O.W. Center, on a sheet of plain paper was a list of alternate suggestions for the same assignment.  “Describe what it was like to be a 10-year old boy working in the field with your father all day on the Great Plains” or “Write a letter to your best friend in New York City describing what you saw, felt, and smelled as your family’s wagon drove across the Great Plains.”

The key to the W.O.W. Center was that it encouraged students to pick a creative writing format that appealed to them.  If there was not something on the list that they wanted to do, they could always pitch their idea to me instead.  Most of the time, those ideas were accepted and, with a little bit of tweaking, turned out to be some of their finest writing of the year.

Throughout the course of the school year students turned the center into a living resource.  They would write adjectives on the paper background of the W.O.W. Center bulletin boards to share descriptive words and collaborate with their classmates.  It was not unusual to hear students sharing or suggesting adjectives with one another to help improve their writing.  After all, the students now thought of themselves as writers, not just students who had to write.

Why the switch in their attitudes and motivation?  What specifically happened to transform these basic writers into students who looked forward to writing?  The answer is that they were given choices that excited them.  The W.O.W. Center ideas made the assignments more than just something to trudge through, but something they enjoyed doing.  Teaching them basic skills while reinforcing their creativity was my job as their teacher.    Did that creativity come easy at first?  Of course not.  Teaching them how to be creative was just as important as teaching them how to write persuasively.

At the end of the year, my students scored well on their standardized tests and were very proud of their writing.  The W.O.W. Center was an acknowledgement that they were individuals with unique interests and ideas – that made all the difference.  Children are not created from the same cookie cutter mold, so why should their writing assignments be?  Think outside the box when it comes to teaching student writers and you may just end up with writing that makes you say, “Wow!”

How do you inspire your students to be better writers?  Share your ideas below!

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We have six assignments throughout the year that are required at the end of each theme of our 4th grade basal reader. Most are Response to Literature with the lit piece used district wide. It's like pulling teeth, teaching them the required elements using Thinking Maps and Write From The Beginning. Talk about dry.