Have you ever seen your students sitting in front of a blank notebook with a still pencil in their stiff hands? Nothing on the page and only a blank look on their faces? For some students, giving instructions alone is not enough to get them writing.
You can give your students some direction, and that will often be enough to help them get past the barrier of writer's block. However, the most successful prompts are not about faraway places and people unknown. The best way for your students to write is to write about the things that they know, their experiences in life, themselves. The following ideas are meant to inspire your students to get the words on the page and share a piece of their lives at the same time.
How to Get Your Students Writing About Themselves
Sometimes all it takes to get your students writing about themselves are two simple words: I remember. Have your students write these words at the top of their page and simply start writing. They may remember and choose to write about yesterday or an event ten years ago. Either way, they will be writing about themselves, and that is the goal of this exercise. If your students need a little more encouragement or you want to take the exercise a step further, tie the memory to an emotion. Remember a time you were angry and write about that. Tell me about one time when you were frightened. When we have strong emotions, we remember the details of our experiences. If you want, have your students write about a time they felt proud or confident or silly. Any of these emotions will bring the details of the moment back to your students. Do you want to help them even more before they start to write? Partner your class and let them talk about the times they felt these emotions before setting them down on paper. Discussing with a partner or a group will bring more and more memories to the forefronts of their minds which will free them to write more and more on the paper.
Do you want another way to get your students writing about the things they know? Ask them to start with the words “I believe…” Everyone has beliefs. Their beliefs may be religious, philosophical, or scientific, for example. Asking your students to write about what they believe is sure to get the creative juices flowing. As with all the writing prompts given here, the intention is to get your student writing something. This type of writing is not meant to be organized or persuasive or even logical at first. This activity will simply help your students get some ideas on the page. From there, your students can take what they have written and organize and develop it to fit whatever assignment you have for them. The important part is that they get those ideas on the paper and really connect with their own beliefs.
A Tree Grows in Class…
Many cultures around the world place a high value and sometimes even worship their ancestry. Asking your students to write about their families, therefore, may tap into the spring of their creativity. Explain to your students the concept of a family tree. Busyteacher.org has a worksheet you can use to get your students started with a family tree. After reviewing the vocabulary for family members, ask each of your students to write about one or more people on that tree. How much do they really know about their families? How have their ancestors influenced the people that they are today? You will be surprised what your students will be able to tell you about their families. Once they have some general information written about each of the branches of their family trees, ask your students to compare and contrast themselves with one of their ancestors or one of their siblings. Ask them to make connections between who they came from and the person they are today.
Spring break or a school trip may be the perfect opportunity to assign your students a travel diary. For each day of vacation, ask your students to write about the place they are visiting. They should include how many miles they travelled and what sights they saw that day. You can also have students write about any unusual people they either saw or talked to. When your students return from their trips, they can compile their diary pages into a special binding. Give each student an 11x17 piece of brown craft paper, and have him or her mix up some brown and gray watercolor paint. They should then paint an irregular pattern over the paper. Once it dries, have them crumple it into a ball and unfold it. This should give the paper a worn, leather-like appearance. They can then decorate the cover with postage stamps from around the world or with rubber stamps and ink to look like passport stamps. Your student can staple their diary pages inside their travel worn cover and have a unique memory of their trip. Students who did not travel do not need to be excluded, either. Have them write about an imaginary vacation or a dream vacation as if it really happened.
Are your students old enough and mature enough to understand the meaning of “stream of consciousness”? If so, try out the technique of freewriting with your class. The first time your students freewrite, designate a short period of time, for example, three to five minutes. Challenge your students to write whatever is going through their heads during that time. The goal of freewriting is to never let your pen or pencil stop moving across the page, so make sure your students understand this before starting the activity. In freewriting, explain to your students that grammar and content are not important. What is important is to write without stopping. Your students are sure to share some personal information when they write their stream of consciousness, so reassure them that their freewriting is private as well. This is a challenging activity even in one’s native language, so do not let your students become discouraged if they struggle. Point out the success they have achieved and challenge them to write for a longer time with the next try. Then have your students use what they have written to compose a piece of writing that is more organized and refined.
Your students have a lot to say, they may just need a little push in the right direction to get the pen moving across the page.
With these writing activities, your students will get the push they need to get started writing about themselves, their lives and their beliefs. No matter what they write, it is sure to be enlightening.