Engaging Students in Writing

This year students in READ 6306 were required to contribute a post to the Readinginthborderlands blog.

By Anita Castillo

As I reflect on my learning experiences with writing, my mind goes blank.  I can not remember how I was taught to write; all I can recall was to create five-paragraph compositions about topics that were of no interest to me.  As a student, my teachers did not render writing as an engaging process that I wanted to be linked to.  Now, as a teacher, I desire to give my students the experience I never had with writing.  I want to create an environment where writing is engaging and meaningful for my students.  I would like to provide a memorable experience that will help my students appreciate writing and hopefully, that enjoyment of writing will continue throughout their life. 

After reading Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12, a professional book written by Janet Allen, for one of my graduate courses, I considered it to be a resourceful tool for myself and any teacher attempting to spice up their writing instruction.  Allen writes a specific chapter, Reading the Way to Writing, about integrating literacy with the instruction of writing.  As Allen reveals, “Literature can be a valuable resource for all aspects of the writer’s craft: topic development, organization, details, sentence variety, effective leads and ends, and characterization” (p. 194). 

Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12

Shared writing is a proposal that can make writing an engaging process for students.  One method to help students write is to do read alouds.  A read aloud will assist students in creating their own ideas about what to write.  Allen suggests students jot down their ideas, personal experiences, or connections made through the read aloud using a log – Ideas for Writing.  This record will supply students with their own ideas to use when they are ready to write.  My students were constantly complaining that they did not know what to write about.  I introduced this log to my students and it helped by allowing them to keep track of their thoughts or connections they made with the read aloud, which, in turn, gave them ideas to compose a writing piece. 

My students struggle with words.  They lack vocabulary that will help in their writing.  They have difficulty expressing themselves on paper, so Allen offers great ideas on creating word banks.  Allen created a log – Language Collection – that serves as a personal word wall for their journals and supports their awareness of language.  She also generated a chart – Language Choice – that assists students in creating new words for overused words.  I really like these concepts because they function as an alternative to making language more creative and accessible for students to grasp.  As Allen shared, “Language activities … help students move from their natural speaking to a wider repertoire of language” (p. 190).

Teachers may decide to choose literature that incorporates patterns for creating writing pieces.  Some examples of patterned writing are poetry, song lyrics, and picture books.  Teachers can introduce these forms through a read aloud to expose students to the nature of patterned writing.  Because the writing follows a pattern, it offers a framework of support for struggling writers.  I have utilized poetry in my instruction of writing, which my students composed different pieces based on the variety of poetry texts I introduced.  They enjoyed the ability to demonstrate their creativity through poetry.  My next goal is to introduce song lyrics as a means of writing.  I’m interested in witnessing the originality my students will produce through this form of patterned writing.

 Writing does not have to be the boring five-paragraph compositions many of us may have grown up using.  As teachers, we need to make writing an engaging process that will stimulate the minds of our students, and, simultaneously, bring awareness to the language that writing can incorporate.  I truly believe in Janet Allen’s vision of employing literacy as sources of effective writing.  She has great ideas for making writing a pleasurable and meaningful learning experience for teachers and students.  One of our goals should be to transition our learners from reader roles into writer roles.  I think Allen says it best “When readers begin to think like writers, and writers begin to write with readers in mind; the lines that separate the teaching of reading and writing disappear” (p. 198).

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