We all know that on-demand writing skills are important for students to develop because that is what is most often used for assessment. So, lots of us gather prompts or develop our own prompts in preparation for that on-demand writing assessment. However, that isn’t the only kind of writing students need to embrace. We all know that in order to improve at anything we have to practice, practice, practice. So, with that in mind, we encourage students to practice writing in any way we can.
Most any writing teacher worth her salt will tell you that students need to choose their own writing topics when writing creatively. So, we encourage students to collect ideas for writing. For some that means a list at the front of the composition book we use as our writer’s notebook. For others it is a collection of sticky notes attached to the journal we carry around with us. Those of us who utilize electronic devices as our day book for writing tend to make lists or snap photos to remind us of something that inspires us to write.
The assignment my teacher friend made (mentioned in Blogs Take Hold) for her students to choose a topic might provide students with the freedom to dig in and write about what is on their minds. Such an assignment provides some structure and focus but still allows students to make choices and keep their writing personal. However, it might also be a stumbling block when they cannot narrow their focus enough to choose something about which to write. Sometimes our students claim they have nothing to write about and need a bit of inspiration. So, how do we help them bypass this excuse and support them when they make such a claim?
In my classroom I found that writers start off with lots to write about and have lots to say. Then, they sort of hit a slump. So, that might be when you pull in something such as The Boston Globe’s Big Picture or NY Times Lens or even a magazine, an article, or an issue mentioned in something like Scholastic/NY Times Upfront and provide that as an inspiration piece for their freewriting assignments. I also use things like images and documents from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Tennessee Holocaust Commission’s Living On, or the National Civil Rights Museum or any number of topic specific resources – even a video clip from Discovery Ed or TED Talks would be good. Providing such a thing as inspiration just prevents some students from sitting idly trying to come up with a topic. I simply offer that up with a statement such as this: If you aren’t sure what direction you want to take with your writing today, you might want to use… posted on the board as inspiration.
Of course, the best way to generate writing topics is to be an observer, a reader, a noticer, and to do lots and lots of writing!