Techniques that Encourage Students to Write and Write Well

Motivating Students to Write

We are all more motivated when a task has a specific purpose and an outcome or reward. One way of achieving this that Sue Cowley suggests is to publish students’ work online, on sites such as:
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Competition can also be a great motivational tool, so creating a writing task where the best entries are displayed in the classroom, published in a leaflet to be sent home to parents, or published on the school website are good ways of giving recognition for good writing.
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To help give students confidence in their vocabulary, I created a series of ‘word of the week‘ power point that I use as a starter activity once a week with each of my classes which works really well. It’s very simple – it simply has a funky phonetically interesting word (ominous, plethora, smorgasbord etc.) with a definition and a striking picture / moving background. Students copy the word and definition into their books and I allow them to use colours, create a border or draw a picture to go with it to make the words stand out in their books. A couple of times a week I ask students if they can remember the word, think of a synonym or antonym, or use it in a sentence. I’m always surprised by how many of these word creep into their language in lessons and how often they comment that they have heard the ‘word of the week’ and recognised it outside of school.
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Another technique that was recommended to me is the use of mystery objects that inspire creative writing. We created a mystery object box with objects such as Christmas crackers, stamps from around the world and old keys for the department to use. The students are shown the object and given time to discuss its possibilities with a peer, then they are given a specified amount of time to write whatever they like about it, be it a description, short story, diary entry, poem or newspaper article. The joy of this task lies in the freedom it allows the student as they can use the item as inspiration in any way they want. An old pocket watch could trigger a piece of writing with the theme of ‘memories’ or ‘time’ for one student and lead to a diary entry outlining a favourite memory, another might write a gripping time travel story, another a description of the owner of the watch.

Pocket watch, savonette-type. Italiano: Orolog...

Pocket watch, savonette-type. Italiano: Orologio da taschino (cipolla). Español: Reloj de bolsillo. ગુજરાતી: ખિસ્સામાં રાખવાની ઘડિયાળ. עברית: שעון כיס. Македонски: Џебен часовник 日本語: 懐中時計. Polski: Zegarek kieszonkowy. Português: Relógio de bolso. Русский: Карманные часы. Slovenščina: Vreckové hodinky. Slovenščina: Žepno uro so izumili leta 1510 v Nemčiji. Suomi: Taskukello. ไทย: นาฬิกาพก. 中文: 怀表. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Games, Exercises and Techniques that Encourage Students to Write

Writing should be fun. Here are some funky writing exercises that will kick-start students’ creative writing:

  1. The Story Game: Put students into small groups. Play a range of atmospheric music and ask them to start writing a story using any genre and topic they feel like. They must work individually, in silence, keeping their story a secret. When the music changes, the first student in each group calls out one word that they think is interesting or is a piece of high-level vocabulary and everyone in his or her group must incorporate this word into their story before the next song change. Through this game, students’ stories will change and develop in unexpected and unusual directions, which encourages students to be creative and fearless in their writing. It can also be adapted by assigning a topic or genre or providing connective mats, thesauruses, etc.
  2. Getting to know new students: Instead of asking new students to write ‘about themselves’, ask them to either create a facebook page for themselves, or write their own obituary, including a grizzly account of the cause of death.
  3. Verbal ghost stories: Telling stories verbally can develop skills in shaping a narrative and building tension. Turn out the lights, show a flickering candle or fire on your whiteboard to set the scene. Sit the class in a circle and pass a torch around, encouraging students to tell their favourite scary stories by the ‘firelight’.
  4. Story bags: Put together story bags with unusual or inspiring objects that students can base a descriptive writing piece around. Alternatively, you could include quirky newspaper articles, photographs of characters or students could pick out two genres from one bag and write a zombie romance or a sci-fi costume drama!
  5. Random-o-meter: create a Power Point with thought-provoking questions for students to discuss during planning stages in story writing, for example, ‘what is your protagonist’s greatest fear?’, ‘what kind of home was your character raised in?’. Change the Power Point setting to advance slide automatically after 00:00 (find this under the ‘animations’ menu), and under the ‘set up show’ options, tick the box next to ‘Loop continuously until Esc’. This means your presentation will loop continuously and quickly until you press ‘Esc’ on the keyboard to reveal a randomly generated question for the students’ perusal!
  6. Story consequences: Each student starts with a blank sheet of paper. They write a sentence describing a setting for a story in the past tense, e.g. ‘It all began in a grimy scrap yard in an isolated part of town.’ Students fold the paper over, covering their sentence and pass their papers to the next student, who describes one character, folds the paper and passes it on. This continues until the story has: a setting, a character, who the character meets, what the second character says to the first, what the complication is, what makes the complication even worse, and a resolution.
  7. Funny faces: Students get into pairs. One pulls an interesting expression and holds it for 30 seconds as the teacher counts down the time. The second student makes a list of words they could use to describe the emotions their partner is expressing, e.g. anticipation, excitement, enthusiasm, hysteria, etc. The students swap roles, then, as individuals they write a few paragraphs on an event that led to that expression. (Note: this is particularly good if you are brave enough to demonstrate some faces to the class first, or show some funny ones on the whiteboard.)
  8. Balderdash: Game based on the board game. Use a dictionary to find a list of unusual words that the students are unfamiliar with. You can do this beforehand, or ask the students to do it for other groups. In groups, one student reads the word aloud and the rest of the group writes a definition for the word. All definitions are read aloud by the first student and everyone else votes on which definition they think is the correct one.
  9. Graphology: Encourage students to think about how they present their work, by getting them to analyse each other’s handwriting. Guidelines can easily be found  on the internet. You could also use a range of examples of handwriting from other teachers.