Too often, we hear students (and adults) say, “I hate writing!” or “I can’t write.” Many people have a defeatist attitude toward writing, developed early in their academic careers. The love of writing may have been squelched by an over-zealous teacher on a red-ink frenzy or by an audience that did not support a personal opinion. No matter what the reason, our goal is to instill a true love of writing in the early years and give students a tool for lifelong expression and meaningful communication.
How do we teach students to love writing? This task is easier said than done. But it must be possible because I, personally, was once a student who defiantly claimed, “I hate writing.” Now I am an author. Go figure.
Make writing fun. Encourage students to write about topics they are interested in as often as possible. Students of all ages love music, so use it! Bring in CDs of popular and eccentric, yet appropriate, songs. Listen to them, discuss lyrics, and have students write opinion papers explaining why they like or dislike particular songs or genres of music.
Make writing relevant. Students need to know that they will actually use writing throughout their lives. Many students see writing as a necessary evil, only to be endured through the school-age years. I recently visited a third grade class that was just beginning writing preparation for standardized tests. I started my presentation by saying, “Raise your hand if you hate to write.” Only two children in a class of 24 did not raise their hands. I allowed the students to voice their complaints about writing. It amazes me that, through the years, the complaints remain the same. Students hate to write because they find the process tedious, boring, and tiring. They assume they will fail before they even begin, and they feel they are limited in their ability to be creative. Together, the class made a list of the different ways that adults use writing in their daily lives. The list could have continued indefinitely. The students were amazed at the true necessity of writing.
Eliminate barriers to effective writing. Many students are unclear in their knowledge of basic writing conventions. Others feel they are simply “bad writers.” There are many ways to ease the anxiety that students feel when writing. First, actively teach writing conventions. Second, create and maintain a word wall throughout the school year to assist with spelling and to help students avoid writer’s block. Third, post word usage rules and examples, such as those related to subject/verb agreement and irregular verbs. Fourth, encourage students to create personal word lists for reference. Finally, teach them to use dictionaries, thesauruses, and other resources when searching for words and correct spellings.
Make expectations known. When giving a writing assignment, let students know from the beginning which writing components will be assessed. Instead of always red-inking grammatical and spelling errors, occasionally grade an assignment based solely on whether or not a student got an idea across or developed a decent argument. Much of writing is subjective. In order to instill a true love for writing, sometimes students need opportunities to get ideas across without concern for grammatical correctness or standard writing conventions.
Interested in more tips? Check out Part 2 and Part 3.