Group Writing: How to Inspire Your Students to Enjoy Writing

Sixth grade students love to talk and interact with their friends and peers.  They solve problems through talking, play games while talking, and even talk when they shouldn’t be talking.  Many sixth grade students tend to be very outgoing and interpersonal.  They experience life through social interactions, as they love doing things together in small groups or with a partner.  Teamwork and group work play vital roles for sixth grade students.  If offered the choice to work alone on a project or activity or to complete the task with a partner, most sixth grade students would choose to work with a partner.  They crave social togetherness and feeling like a part of something greater than themselves.  These connections are crucial to how successful sixth grade students feel and actually are in reality.

So, to capitalize on this important facet of sixth grade life, I wanted to try a different kind of writing activity today during Humanities class.  While many of my students have already begun to find the fun and enjoyment in writing, a few of them are still stuck in thinking that writing is a required task and not something they enjoy doing.  To help inspire my students to get into the Halloween spirit today while also helping them find the fun in the writing process, I had the boys participate in a Group Writing activity.  The students each received a different spooky story starter that was the springboard into their story.  They used this prompt to begin their story.  Each student worked on their story for five minutes, formulating a strong beginning.  They then all traded stories with a peer, read what their classmate had written, and then continued building on this new story for five minutes.  They rotated stories with their classmates three more times, as they added to new stories, building on what was already written.  The last rotation had the students finish the story that was worked on by four other students.  Throughout the process, laughter was heard on numerous occasions as they read each other’s stories and added to them.  Smiles spread across the faces of my students as they busily worked to craft scary and strange Halloween-themed stories.  The boys had a blast with the writing portion of this activity.  They all seemed so proud of their work as they pointed out some of the highlights from their pieces while they traded stories with their classmates.  One student came to me towards the end of the writing process and said, “Mr. Holt, I’m loving writing so much now that I may start doing it during my free time.  This activity is so fun.”  Another student, who struggles to write as he finds it boring, told me, “Thanks for doing this activity, Mr. Holt.  It was a lot of fun.”  The boys seemed to thoroughly enjoy crafting crazy, weird, and morbid stories together as a group.  They loved adding to what their friends had crafted and enjoyed reading what their peers had written.  While there was very little talking happening during the writing part of this activity, the social interaction component was quite high.  The students were silently interacting with their peers in written form.  I was impressed and amazed by how much my students seemed to like this activity.  It was awesome.

Before moving into the sharing portion of the activity, I asked the students for some feedback on the process.  Almost all of the students raised their hands to express how much they loved this activity.  To wrap things up, I had the students gather in the reading area of the classroom, turned off the lights, and read aloud their group write stories.  I not only had a blast reading their bizarre, scary, and often funny stories, but the students couldn’t stop laughing.  When their part of the stories was read aloud, shouts of laughter and “This is mine” were heard.  It was such a remarkable experience.  By making writing a social activity, I inspired my students to find their passion.  My students found the fun in writing during today’s activity.  While this is only one way to teach students how to write and craft stories, it is a highly successful method as it allows the students to silently engage in social discourse.  They talked with their friends through their writing.  Many of the stories had tinges of a video game the boys love playing together during their free time.  Almost every story seemed to include some reference to this game.  While I have done this activity every Halloween for the past four years, I’m amazed each and every year by how much my students truly enjoy it.  This activity is usually just the bridge many of them need to cross over the river of challenges and into the land of Writing is Fun.  I can’t wait to see what wonderful masterpieces my students put together during our next writing activity.

Varying the approach to teach writing is important in helping all students see how much fun writing can be.  While some boys love writing creative stories or historical fiction pieces, others like writing non-fiction essays or reports.  Each student is different and unique in their own way, and as teachers, it is our mission to help them tap into their potential as a writer.  What type of writing activity or genre will inspire them?  By providing the students with various writing opportunities throughout the year, we are helping them unlock the writer within.  Group writing activities like the one I did today, can help students uncover the writer inside of them.  Who knows what’s possible unless we give our students a chance to try?  So, if you’re looking to mix things up and make writing fun for your students, try a Group Writing activity.

Making the Most of Festive Holidays in the Classroom

When I was in school, it was totally acceptable to celebrate Christmas and the other slightly religious holidays.  Doing so certainly didn’t mess us up or confuse us as students.  While we didn’t celebrate every religious holiday, we did at least discuss most of the major ones.  Now, in the crazy, politically overly correct world in which we live, teachers aren’t allowed to celebrate religious holidays.  Instead of having the students participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange, we have to call it a Secret Snowflake Gift Exchange.  It’s just ridiculous, in my opinion.  I’m sure many people out there would disagree with me, but I do feel as though we’ve gone a little overboard, as a society, on the whole PC thing.  Anyway, before I digress too much from the beaten path, things in the classroom are much different now than they once were.  Despite that, as an elementary teacher, I’ve always enjoyed finding creative and unique ways to celebrate the holidays without crossing too many lines.  Yesterday being my third favorite holiday to celebrate in the classroom, I did a little Trick-or-Treating of my own.

So, to celebrate Halloween in Humanities class, I wanted to do something special and different.  A few years ago I tried having the students create a class Twitter story right on my professional Twitter Feed.  It was pretty amazing and the boys seemed to really enjoy it.  But, I didn’t want to do something that short again.  I wanted this year’s Humanities Halloween to be even bigger and better.

Yesterday in Humanities class the students participated in a Group Write activity in which each student was involved in writing a part of 10 different Halloween themed stories.  Each student started the activity with a different writing prompt with which I provided them.  They spent three minutes beginning the story.  Then, each student passed his story onto the next student to their left in a circular fashion.  I gave the students time to read what was written before the timer began again.  Then the students added to this new story for three more minutes.  To be sure the students would be able to effectively complete this activity, I started the class with a discussion on how to complete a group write story.  I explained the importance of reading what is already written and then adding to and developing upon it when you write.  The boys seemed to understand this.

While the boys wrote, I had some Halloween sound effects music playing.  They seemed to enjoy the inspiration.  Throughout the activity, the boys were giggling as they were writing and reading each other’s stories.  Some of the boys exchanged words while they read each other’s pieces: “My name’s in this story,” “Oh my goodness,” and “This is really funny.”  It was awesome.  They seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly throughout the activity.  I was so excited.  At the end of the activity, each student received back the story he had started with and had a chance to read it.  Much laughter and shocked comments ensued.  It was quite a spectacle to enjoy.

As I glanced at each story while collecting them, I could plainly see how much fun they did indeed have.  They added crazy, random, gruesome, and humorous bits to each other’s stories.  At the end of the class day, I chose one story at random to read aloud to the class.  I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time I was reading it.  They really had gone over the top.  They had included tiny vignettes of each other and our time together in the sixth grade in their pieces.  They were so amazing.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the stories that began with, You probably won’t believe this story, but it’s true: “Cliiiiiiick!  Creeek!  I see a ghost!  I am very  scared!  Who would do this to anyone??  AHHHH! as the refreshing coffee drips from my face.  And the ghost died.  It was the deadliest word.  That was it.  That killed the ghost.  If you say the word, you will die.  A person said that word and he died.  Even a baby died too…”  So great.

I was thinking that it might be a fun activity to revisit these stories in a few weeks and assign one to each of them to bring through the writing process.  Perhaps they could craft these masterpieces into amazing works of fiction.  They might really be engaged in an activity like this.  I’ll keep this idea on the back burner for now.

So, while it didn’t take much planning, the students were engaged in a different type of writing activity that allowed them to utilize many of our Habits of Learning and celebrate a great holiday.  Sometimes breaking free from the confines of the routine and having a little fun on special days can be a nice break.  I know my students enjoyed this activity and will never forget it.  On the way out of the classroom, they couldn’t stop talking about the stories they had written.  It was awesome!