Go ahead: ask your students what they want to write about. They will amaze you!

On my first-day-of-school survey, I asked my 8th graders:

If you could write about anything this year, what would it be?

Their answers remind me why it’s so valuable to give students choice in their writing. I never would have guessed they would want to write about so many interesting topics. Here are some of their plans:

I would write about…

  • a kid who is anxious about the future.
  • equal treatment for everyone. Or mental health.
  • social difficulties and internal conflicts in the modern times because I can easily relate.
  • my dog because he’s really goofy.

    justin-veenema-147056-unsplash

    Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

  • an imaginary island.
  • people who are stuck in the wilderness, like in Hatchet.
  • a realistic fiction novel

(NOTE FROM THE TEACHER: WHAT 8TH GRADER SAYS THEY WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL?!? Must be an 8th grader who knows she will be a NaNoWriMo novelist this year!)

I would write about…

  • the U.S. military because it is something I want to be a part of.
  • Disneyland!
  • owning a corporation and the crazy antics that would follow because one of my dreams is to own a company.
  • politics and feminism.
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Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

  • the impact of a family that loves and supports you, compared to the opposite because I’ve always wondered.
  • natural disasters.
  • my friend Jack, who has Down Syndrome. He means the world to me.
  • history.
  • my puppy being able to talk. It would be really funny.
  • a family surviving in a bunker after the world ends.
  • different cultures. The stories we would learn would be very interesting and it would be nice to know about other people’s cultures.
  • having to evacuate my cabin over the summer due to the Carr fire. I think I can be very descriptive about what happened.
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Photo by Denys Argyriou on Unsplash

  • current events. It’s important to know what’s happening in the world.
  • politics. There are a lot of political issues that need to be addressed.
  • intentional and unintentional racism in public schools. It’s a real issue.
  • mental disorders, because it’s a topic that nobody ever addresses.
  • my trip to Niagara Falls. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

An added bonus to giving students choice in their writing is how it affects our relationship. When I ask them to tell me about their topics, their faces light up with enthusiasm as they share about the puppy they rescued, the rally they went to with a friend, the business they started over the summer, or the post-apocalyptic world they’ve created. What better way to get students invested in their writing (which means they are more likely to write thoughtfully, proofread carefully, and invest in the final product) than to let them write about their passions? Go ahead, try it! What would YOU write about?

 

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5 comments

  1. HI Laura

    What a wonderful post. The topics they identified give me hope for the future since the present is rather depressing given the polarization and lack of respect for people that permeates our daily life.

    As I have always believed, you are an outstanding teacher, tuned into the relevant, willing to take risks, and provide kids with meaningful writing experiences.

    I am honored to have know you since you first started teaching. You have come “a long way, baby.”

    As for what I would like to write about, I am toying with writing about what I have learned and experienced in my life: professionally, through traveling, and with family and friends. It won’t be for publication but to share with people especially my niece, nephew, godchildren, and their kids as I am very grateful.

    1. Thanks, Marilyn! Remember when I wanted to try Nancie Atwell’s writing workshop with my Altimira students? You were so supportive – and it was the same kind of approach that gave students choice over their writing. Some things never change, including good pedagogy!

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