10 Ways to Get Students Writing (Anything But an Essay)
Updated: Jan 29
Writing is important- we all know that. We all know we're supposed to include writing in our lessons as often as we can. But with so much else to teach, how can we cram writing into our already overflowing schedules?
Don't worry, writing doesn't need to be a month-long unit on essays. You can include it every day with relatively little effort- and the best news is, you don't have to grade it all! Some of these I do assign grades for, but more often than not I collect these tasks and just give a grade for completion, or skim through and jot a few notes in response to the students' thoughts.
So how do you include more writing in your lessons? Here are 10 ideas:
1. Journal. When I was student teaching, I set up a journal system with my 7th grade students. They were free to write down whatever they wanted, and once a week I would collect them and write a short response back. I chose not to grade it, as it was just a way for me to get to know my students, but it certainly could be done for credit. For larger classes you could collect a few each day to avoid having to respond to 30 students in one night. I've also done this through emails with students, which they loved- and it's a great way to find out things you'd never know about your kids otherwise!
2. 4 Minute Prompt. My students are require to bring a Prompt Notebook to class, and we start each day with a 4 minute prompt. Sometimes the prompt is a quote, a question, or even a picture. Students are given 4 minutes to write their response, with the only rule being that they must write the entire 4 minutes even if they run out of ideas. At the beginning of the year I get a lot of "I don't know what to write anymore but I still have two minutes," but the more they write the better their stamina becomes. After a few months, most students end up asking me for more time!
3. Opinions. Who doesn't love sharing their opinions? Give students a few minutes to write about their favorite movies, books, games, music, or their opinion about something you discussed in class. This could be anywhere from a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs, depending on the time and topic. Use it as an intro to a lesson, or as an exit slip at the end of class.
4. Cross-Curriculum. Students shouldn't only be writing in English class. Talk to the other teachers and see if you can collaborate on any projects. My kids just finished a science project that had them designing a superhero based on an element they were studying. They got to write about their heroes' backstories, nemeses, and then even pull in art to draw their characters. It was a long project that required a lot of coordination between the science teacher and me, but it was worth it!
5. Summaries. If I've got an odd chunk of time to fill, I have students write random summaries- it might be on an article we read in class, of the Super Bowl, or just of their day so far. I've found that my struggling writers especially benefit from the extra practice in summarizing, and when I keep it small (a paragraph or less), they get to practice their skills without the pressure of it being a big assignment.
6. Reactions. When we're reading novels or short stories for class, I sometimes pause after an intense scene and ask students to write their reactions to what was just read. This lets me check for comprehension and make sure students are more invested in paying attention, and also gives them a chance to express their thoughts and opinions in a private manner, rather than in a whole class discussion.
7. Spelling Tests. My school does not have a spelling curriculum for middle school, but still requires us to teach it. As a result, I ended up developing my own materials that targets what I believe is the most important part of spelling- vocabulary. Students have a pretty constant access to spell check, so I'm more worried about their ability to use a word correctly than their spelling. Because of this, our spelling tests look a little different. Rather than just writing the words, I require students to write their words in a paragraph. Students get a point for spelling the word correctly, and a point for using it correctly- and it gets them using words they may not normally work with.
8. Comic Response. Not all writing needs to be in paragraph format. Rather than writing a report after reading something, sometimes I have students draw a comic. They still have to express their understanding of the material, but they do it through images and dialogue. It keeps them focused on the most important details, and gives doodlers a chance to shine.
9. Community Writing. Think of this one like a message board in notebook format. Keep a notebook out somewhere in the classroom, and let students know that they can write in it during free times. You can write a few prompts to get things started or to get conversations back on track (when you start it, you'll get a lot of "hi" and "how's it going", so starting the topic yourself for a while might help.) I've had students write about after school sports, movies, and field trips. Occasionally I'll read some of it out loud- the kids love it!
10. Free Writing. Before starting a bigger writing project (like an essay or a report), I like to have students free write to get their ideas out. Set a timer and let them write uninterrupted for a few minutes (I like to play movie soundtracks in the background.) Stress that this kind of writing does not need to be grammatically correct, can include spelling errors, and that everything they write doesn't need to be included in their later drafts. The idea is just to get their thoughts down.
There you go- 10 ways to get your students writing more. What do you do to include writing every day? Leave your tips in the comments!