Friday, September 2, 2016

Here, We Write: Carving Out Time for Daily Writing

A poster in my room that accurately captures how I feel about writing! Plus, Margaret Atwood is a goddess.

This summer, I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Gateway Writing Project, which is a satellite of the National Writing Project. GWP is a month-long, intensive writing course for teachers who want to write for themselves in an effort to be a more authentic teacher of writing. Basically, I got to live the life of a writer for a month. I came out of the program with a renewed vigor for writing and a desire to interject the excitement I felt for writing into the new school year.
Mind mapping during GWP.
One of the ways I'm doing just that this year is beginning each day with 10 minutes of writing. At GWP, we always wrote for the first 10 minutes to a prompt a classmate had brought in. I thoroughly enjoyed that time. It helped me get into the right mindset for an entire day of writing and it let me experiment with ideas that I might not have otherwise. I knew that I wanted to do something similar with my students, so this week, I began our first foray into "Writing into the Day" (name borrowed from the #teachwriting chat I participated in this week!). Here's the recipe we're using to starting our day off right (And yes, I resisted the bad pun here):

Intriguing Prompts...but the freedom to write whatever you want! 
For our first week, I brought in the prompts to get us started. Eventually, I want to transition to having students bring in prompts, but I wanted to show them how multifaceted prompts can be--they're not just sentence starters! This week, I brought in a Reddit post that I thought was interesting, a music video that reminded me of Stranger Things (anyone else obsessed?), and a funny commercial.
The aforementioned Reddit post.
Some students chose to write about the prompt I presented. But I always, always told students that their own passion trumped the prompt--if they wanted to write about something else, that was totally okay! Style, subject, content--all negotiable. What mattered is that they wrote.

Expectations that foster creativity, not stifle it
I told the students that I had only two expectations for this 10-minute period:
1. Keep your pencil or pen moving as much as possible! It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense or if you just end up writing a list of all the reasons you can't think of anything to write. Just try to keep your thoughts flowing! I talk about my choice to use a pen for this type of writing simply because I can't go back and erase what I've written--I just gotta keep moving! I encouraged students to do the same and to not second guess their words. Just let them flow!
2. Let others write! It's super tempting to talk to someone next to you when you have a really good story idea. I completely get that, which is why I reserve the last part of class for time to share (see below). But during the 10 minutes, I ask students to stay in their own heads for a while. That can be a little daunting for some, but I think it's important to sometimes just write for yourself as an audience without the filters other people might apply to your ideas.

Volume matters, but it's not a competition
At the end of our writing period, I ask writers to complete their thought or sentence and to go back and count how many words they were able to write. They write their word count up in the upper corner of the page they were writing on that day.

Word count is just one way to see growth.
Word counts are tricky. If not used carefully, they can put the emphasis on the number of words as opposed to the meaning of them. However, at the beginning of the year, when their relationship is so new with writing, I want my writers to focus on volume. We need to write more. Period. I also want them to see and celebrate growth, and tracking volume through word count is easy to measure and a concrete way to visualize growth. We don't publicize these numbers; it's not a competition. All writers are different. It's just a way for each individual writer to see progress.

At the end of this week, I asked writers to just take a look at their circled word counts over the week and do a little self-reflection. We talked about how writing isn't the same every day--some days you may have more to say, and other days, you may have a bit of writer's block. Writing is hard, and that's okay! I emphasize that the goal is to see growth over time.

Give students time to share in a low-stakes way
At the end of every class, I try very hard to leave about 4 minutes for us to share our work from the day. I keep the share portion of our class very low-stakes, which means no one is forced to stand up and read their writing in front of everyone. Writing can be very personal, so I take that into account when asking writers to share.

Some ways I've structured our share are to have writers:

  • Turn and talk about what they wrote about that day. 
  • Choose one sentence that they liked--could be an intriguing sentence, a funny one, or one that sums up a bigger theme in their piece--and share with their tables quickly. 
  • Get in the author's chair! This comes into play at times when a student wants to share a larger chunk of writing with the class. We always respond with a power clap (where everyone does one giant clap at once). 
Whatever we do, I try to end the day with the words of my writers. It's so important to give them space and time to talk about their writing!

I plan to stay committed to protecting the first 10 minutes of our class as a time to write. I'm already seeing the relationships my writers have with the act of writing improving. You invest time in what you care about, and I care about cultivating my students as writers. So, for me, using 10 minutes of the 49 I have for writing is time well-spent.


  1. This is a great way to start class! Do they take any of their 10 min writing to final copy?

  2. Great post and waiting for Stranger Things to start back up ...