We have all heard, "I have nothing to write about," in our writing workshop or have seen students go to the bathroom, sharpen pencils, walk around, talk, and everything else they can to avoid writing. Below are some strategies Chris Lehman shared in both his book, Reviving Disengaged Writers, and during his session at the TC Writing Institute.
Some strategies for helping students who have no topics are:
- Make sure you model for everyone by aiming for a variety of tones in your demonstrations (funny, gross, emotional, and so on). Think about what topics are "burning" inside of your students that they may love to write about.
- Model writing about topics and situations that happened around the same age as your students so they can relate to your demonstration and use it as a mentor. Chris also suggested that you can write about "now" moments, but repackage them by replacing people in the moment so it is set at a younger age (change spouse to parent or sibling, change adult friend to childhood friend, and so on).
- Have compliment conferences with striving writers to help increase confidence since they probably have a lot of experience feeling like writing is not for them. Compliment conferences help make writing a more positive experience. In a compliment conference, you only compliment and don't get to the teaching part of the conference. For example, you may reread a line from the students' writing like you love it; compare their writing to an authors writing; treat it like a teaching point, but just tell them what they did and how they did it; act as though you are the reader by explaining what their writing made you feel as the reader and point to a specific part.
Some strategies to use with students who act like they are "allergic" to the writing process:
- Make goals measurable since striving writers often find it challenging to name and understand the qualities of writing. For example, students can make a goal/plan at the end of the mini-lesson for how they will use the time during writing workshop. It helps if the self-assignemnt has both numbers and words (how many ideas will you collect? How many entries will you write? How far down on the page will you write? and so on). Then stop mid-way during writing workshop to have students reflect on their goals to see what they need to do in the last 15 minutes.
- Make writing about experimentation by trying to see what works and revising. Have small sheets of paper available so when students want to try out things in revision, they can take two sheets of paper to try two different dialogue strategies, or two different beginnings, and so on.
Some strategies to use with students who are worried that it's not "right":
- Model uncertainty in some of your mini-lesson demonstrations by showing how you work through hard parts in your own writing.
- Have students re-teach conferences to classmates. To do this, have a writing conference with a student as you normally do, but tell the student that they are going to reteach the conference to a classmate at the end of the conference. When the conference is over, call over a second student and watch the first student re-teach the conference. This is a great way to examine your own teaching as well as see what students transfer and internalize from your teaching.
During his session, we also talked about strategies to use with "chatty" students who seem to talk, talk, talk, instead of write during writing workshop. I wrote about Chris Lehman's idea, to have a separate partner spot in the classroom that writers can use during writing workshop, in my post about his book, Reviving Disengaged Writers (click here to read more about the idea). If you have not read Reviving Disengaged Writers yet, I highly recommend that you move it to the top of your TBR stack! :)
Happy Writing! :)