This time my column is devoted to strategies for effective writing and discovering potential writers within our classrooms. Teachers continue to wonder: “How do I prepare my students for assignments and perceive them as writers?” We can achieve great things, if we convince students from the beginning that writing is worthwhile. It is also advisable to teach students that vocabulary and reading habits can help them express themselves better.
First of all, an assignment should be given on the writer’s own life, rather than on “What I did during Summer Vacation”. When students have finished writing, their attitudes will become clear to you, and, thus, you will have a clue what to teach.
If the writings turn out to be very powerful, the best work of the year should be put in a sturdy folder, with the titled cover and illustrations, as if it were a real published book. Students will have a fantastic experience, adding an “About the Author” page and trying to make their book more interesting for people to read it. To add importance to their work, the book will have a table of contents (including the title of each piece of writing and the corresponding page number). Tell the students that there should be at least three illustrations made on the computer or drawn on a piece of paper.
Writing Stories in the Classroom
Explain to students that you are doing an activity to teach the beginning, the middle and the ending of a story. Ask one student to write the beginning of a story and then pass it on to another student to write the middle part. The story is passed over again, and a third student writes the conclusion. The story should be passed around the class, so that each student would have the opportunity to write a beginning, a middle and an ending. Those, who are not writing, are asked to illustrate the part they have completed. When the story is finished, it is given back to the first student, who started it. He or she then reads it to the others.
Developing a Character
Using The Hundred Acre Wood (in A. A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh”) is a good way to learn about characterization. Several characters are very similar to us. The students are asked to choose a Pooh character that is the most similar to them, compare and contrast the character with themselves. Thus, they will learn a lot about characterization and themselves.
This activity takes only six minutes and involves students in a creative brainstorming. Words ‘duck’ and ‘apple’ are written on the board. Students are asked to choose one of the words and at a given signal write as much as they can about the topic selected. When one minute is over, the students are asked to count the words they have written. Write the numbers on the board. The second round starts, when the students select another word (‘umbrella’ or ‘beautiful’). Then, they repeat the process for one minute.
In the third round, the students choose another word (‘sock’ or ‘blue’) and do the same thing as before. In each round, the students choose a word, write down their own thoughts, then count the words after a minute of writing and record the results. It will become totally obvious from the chart of the three rounds that the activity promotes quantitative thinking and writing. Practising quantity is an important part of a comprehensive writing program, because students learn to write mostly by writing.
Encouraging Students to Learn about Grandparents
Ask your students to approach a grandparent or any other elder family member. The students can as well call them up and say that they would like to learn more about their grandparents’ lives. In order to help the students, you may suggest some questions, such as “What was your school like?” or “What did you like to eat as a kid?” Then, they can move on to such more general themes as “Why did you become a judge?” or “What was your wedding like?” While the grandparents are talking, the children should take notes. The written story then should be a general outline of what has been said: and whatever details they think are interesting, important or funny should be included. Students should decide which part of the story they want to tell. They then should make a rough draft that would include a beginning, middle and ending of the story.
Developing a Story
Several desks are arranged in a circle (four to seven students can participate in the activity). The students should get a sheet of paper and put their name on the back. Tell them to write down a story on any topic. Use a timer and at the end of a short period (about one minute or less, using your own judgement depending on your students) time is stopped. Papers are passed to the right rapidly, time is started again, and the students continue the story started by the first student. Go on, until the first student gets his or her paper back. There will be lots of giggles and excitement, as students try to read and write fast. Ask students to read the finished paper aloud. You can replace writing with drawing a picture, when working with younger students.
Writing a Journal Entry Every Day
Just as there are different teachers and users of language, the daily journal writing can also take many forms. Teachers may use journal writing to reach specific goals. Journals can either be left uncorrected or checked occasionally for polishing the skills of students. Some teachers prompt students to start writing. There also are some teachers, who leave the direction and flow of journals up to students. “Once students have built extreme confidence in their writing skills, they are not afraid of taking up any writing challenge that they might come across,” says Asma, a high school teacher. “Every time, when students enter the classroom, for the first five minutes they work on their journals,” says Asna, a primary school teacher, “this helps the class calm down.”