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Playful Changes for the Writing Workshop

Great writing workshops have all the hustle and bustle of Santa’s workshop: Students bend over their rumpled notebooks, squeezing their eyes shut in moments of imagination. Others thoughtfully tap pencils as they sprawl out on rugs while a few students scurry to make changes after a peer consultation. Even during a writing mini lesson, students jiggle their legs and tap their fingers in anticipation of their writing projects.    

Writing workshop should be filled with playful, joyous writing opportunities in addition to more serious essays. If you’re ready to re-invigorate your writing block, here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Hello, World.

To emphasize the interconnected, communicative nature of writing, look for opportunities to get your students writing things to share with the world. Older elementary students can easily manage a class blog, for example, or fill a website with news stories about school events. Perhaps students could contribute to the class newsletter parents receive every month. In addition to being fun, writing for a real audience means revision and editing have a tangible purpose.

Book reviews are another shareable, fun writing task. Most students already understand the process of choosing a library book they love but now they get to put it in writing! Plus they practice audience awareness and choosing the right details. Have students submit book reviews to a class website or library database so others can read their recommendations and even rate the helpfulness. Take it a step further by printing and displaying recommendations in your school library.

For a much smaller project, add letter writing or thank you notes to your writing block. With a little guidance, students can build their sense of gratitude while working on academic writing skills. For a fun twist on letter writing for younger students, implement a 20 minute silent period where all communication must be done in writing. That’s right: you’re teaching students to pass notes! Participate by passing compliments via note to your students.

Change it Up

Writing development (and workshop fun) demands more than just formal essay writing. Writing advocate and author of Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher argues that kids need wild, un-graded, un-supervised writing experiences to flex their creative writing muscles. He suggests keeping journals that are off-limits to teacher eyes. Fletcher loves silly, creative writing activities like writing fortune cookie entries, classroom advice posters, and comics.

Get creative with how you invoke memories and explore ideas. The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, by M. Colleen Cruz, suggests sketching a map of old childhood hangouts (school, playgrounds, neighborhood) to uncover memories about which students might want to write. Even older students can benefit from mapping out ideas and places. A smart colleague of mine routinely uses timelines to help students explore how events connect.

Even the classic journal can afford a change-up. Push students to vary the ways they start their journal entry. Maybe a few lyrics from a popular song dance across the page before any student writing appears. Or perhaps students start journaling with a drawing or photograph from home. For more tentative writers, audio recording can be a way to think through ideas before they actually grab a pencil.

Sometimes it takes a little re-invention and experimentation to get our students engaged in the writing process but I hope you’ll keep working until your writing block sizzles and sparks.


Written by Marissa King

Marissa is an educator in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She likes insulated coffee mugs, public libraries, and getting schooled on the latest slang.