So maybe twice a week, give your students a free-writing topic. To make it easy on myself, I pick from a selection of interesting images or thought-provoking quotes. I get these from Pinterest (of course, duh) and I keep them on a board there that’s dedicated to just those things I can use for free-writes.
Check out my Pinterest ELA Free-Write boards here if you want to use what I have. I’m adding to them regularly so that there’s always something to choose from.
Whether you teach 6th grade or 8th grade Language Arts, start with having the students write for 3 minutes. I’ve found this to be a highly effective amount of time.
The cool part is that I have lots of “non-writers” who can’t believe how quickly those three minutes pass. It’s like they go from whining about having to write to asking for “just one more minute”.
Copy/paste it onto a PowerPoint slide and then you can show it nice and large on the big screen in your classroom. (Or just copy/paste it and print out that one slide if you want, and post it in the room for the kids to see as they walk in. Whatever you want to do!)
Put on some soft, instrumental-only music for the background. I go to Pandora and type in “new age” and I get that playing. Set a timer for 3 minutes and let it go.
My rules for the students include “keep your pencil moving at all times” and “if you don’t know what to write next, just copy the last word you have over and over until a new thought pops up in your head.” This totally works because then they’re not allowed to just sit there doing nothing.
I gradually work up to 20 minutes of writing in the upper grades. In fact, as you get to know your kids and your classes, you can even go higher. Every so often, just add another minute or two.
Ok, so that’s pretty much it right there.
These little Language Arts free-writes, when done on a somewhat regular basis like twice a week, will get your students used to writing every day, even when you’re not doing a free-write.
First of all, I totally do NOT read or grade these. Well, I do usually get a few kids per class who really, really want me to read theirs.
So of course I do.
And I have found that they really like sharing what they wrote… But yeah, we’re not going to spend half the class reading this stuff aloud.
So I hold them accountable by re-setting the timer for another three minutes and that’s how long they have to get up, move around the room, and share their writing with anyone they want.
When that timer goes off, that’s it.
They get back in their seats and we move on to the next Language Arts item on the agenda. I do not grade them, I do not read them, I do not spend any time on them.
I just think it’s really important for kids to be able to write in lots of different ways about a variety of topics in this standards-driven, cookie-cutter system we have, ya know?
Let’s be creative with the type of writing we have our students do. Let’s be consistent about doing that type of writing in middle school Language Arts, and then when we have to follow the rules and write a particular way, it’s not that bad for them because they’ve been writing and thinking the whole time.