Developing the Writing Habit
Writing instruction has become my favorite part of teaching, though it didn’t always come easily. In the beginning, my own writing was stilted in structure and lacked voice. I wrote what I had been taught, which was a five paragraph essay and a five sentence paragraph. Not only was my writing boring. The moves I made to create it were not defined enough for students to use as models, except for stilted, formulaic writing that also lacked voice and a sense of ownership.
It also took a long time to produce this writing because I didn’t care about it. I knew I needed to write more and I needed to write things that I cared about. Essentially, I needed to develop my writing habit so I could help my students develop theirs.
The Value in Habit
One summer, while planning for narrative-poetry writing in the fall, I ordered Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises. Here I found my dream writing. The challenge was to write for one minute without edits for 10 days. I found that after a minute I didn’t want to stop, so many days I didn’t.
I still use this exercise when I am stuck, or when I have more assigned writing than pieces I choose myself. Overall, it helps to clear my brain and return to the habit of writing.
It helps my students, too. They realized the power to clear one’s brain and write every day, as a way to generate topics. It helped my students set goals as well. If I can write 30 words in just one minute, then how many can I expect of myself in 15 minutes?
Using these exercises, my writing models came faster and my voice showed more than before. But my writing was still very one note. I needed some new craft strategies to vary the way I was writing.
So I studied my units of study, in order to really understand the writing skills and moves that I was asking students to use.
Detailed further in my earlier post “My Favorite Writing Strategy,” I also imitated mentor texts. As I have said before, when imitating mentors, you can learn what makes their writing great, but eventually the writing becomes your own. As I wrote in this way, my model texts became excellent mentors for my students. I used skills I asked them to use, and I explained how and why I made those choices. Metacognition became an integral part of my writing progress and the culture of writing in my classroom.
Other Steps to Keep in the Habit
Writing for students may be hard and it may be scary, but as a wonderful mentor told me once, “You only have to write slightly better than your students.” In the end, if we are going to teach writing, then we have to be writers ourselves.
With this in mind, here are a few other strategies that I have used to remain in the habit of writing:
- Found Poetry. The idea is that you choose any text that is 50-100 words long. From there, you choose 25-50 words. Make a list out of those words, and use only those listed words to create a new piece of poetry. You have the opportunity to add just two words to your list that did not come from the text.
- 50 Images. Make a list of 50 images. These can be things you see around yourself, like magnets lined up on a refrigerator, or a glass of iced tea with melting ice cubes. Make sure the list is labeled with numbers. Then have a friend choose two random numbers. Using the images on your list that correspond to those numbers, create a piece of writing that includes both of those images.
- 25 “Because” Statements. Make a list of “because” statements. “Because I am almost finished writing this post,” or “because it is Monday,” and many others. Use these statements as a starting point for writing.
Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and is currently pursuing an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at Oakland University. She is a current Galileo Leader. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.