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Motivating Students: Writing for an Audience

| Elena Aguilar

In a recent post, I shared a strategy for developing writing fluency in students. One comment asked about grades for journal writing, suggesting that if students don't receive a grade they won't be motivated to write.

The approach I was writing about, as described in the book Rain, Steam, and Speed: Building Fluency in Adolescent Writers, by Gerald Fleming and Meredith Pike-Baky, suggests how to grade journal writing. Basically, it's a C grade if a kid fills half a page, one side full is a B, and one front and back page equals an A. When I taught using this method it definitely motivated some reluctant writers and provided a way for some struggling students to be successful.

But what really motivated my students to write volumes of quantity prose was when they were offered an authentic audience, an audience with whom they genuinely wanted to connect.

Writing to other Students

Just before the Iraq War started in the winter of 2003, my middle school students had English-speaking pen pals in an international high school in Iraq. My students were very concerned about the impending war and they wanted to hear different perspectives on the brewing conflict; they also wanted to impress their older pen pals with their writing skills and so they wrote, re-wrote, and revised their email letters until they were polished.

And after they got responses, they were even more motivated to write long, detailed letters full of explanation and description -- and without a single grammar, spelling, or convention error.

I've always found that students are motivated to write letters to other kids and have found many ways to connect students with other children in our city, as well as in other cities and countries. I also learned that students loved writing letters to politicians, authors, actors, family members, incoming students, and so on. Students wrote letters to family members who had passed away or who were no longer in their lives. There was something about the format of a letter -- personal but structured, an invitation to dialogue, the anticipation of response that always got kids writing.

Writing to Inform Others

Another way that I motivated students to write was by providing them an audience who needed information, an audience who they could teach. For example, my students once researched and wrote about public health concerns such as the avian flu. They created informational brochures dispelling myths and providing information. These were translated into the various languages spoken in the community and dispensed throughout our community center. Adults appreciated the information and commended my students. They felt useful, valuable, and motivated to share their knowledge in a coherent format.

Sharing Family History

For another assignment, students interviewed their family members about rituals and traditions from their native countries or cultural heritage. Students used the information to write short essays. These were compiled into a book that was copied and shared with their families.

Students saw their own writing representing their families and their cultures and traditions. They felt proud. They felt motivated to continue working on their writing skills.

The Secret Sauce

As a teacher, I very rarely assigned writing assignments that no one else but myself read. Writing assignments always had an intended audience; at the very least, students would read each other's writing. When they got positive feedback from each other, they were again motivated to keep writing.

Audience was the secret, I discovered, to motivating my students to write, but that seems so obvious! As a writer, I am supremely motivated by the thought that someone out there is reading my writing, that it's influencing or moving someone or provoking a thought or feeling or idea that wasn't there before. Would I write if no one ever read my writing? Maybe. Writing does help me sort out my ideas and feelings. But I probably would never work on revising or refining my scribble-scrabble. I only do that because I know I have an audience and I want my audience to read me!

How have you motivated students to write? What kinds of audiences have you established for your students? How do your students share their writing? Please share your stories!

Related Resources

Conferencing with Students on Their Writing (blog)

Turning Students into Playwrights (blog)

Publishing The Writing of the Kids You Teach (blog)

Going Outdoors to Inspire Writing (blog)

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Comments (9)

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Fairytale Writing with technology

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My second grade students love to make up their own fairytale stories. I have Promethean technology in my classroom which allows them to make their story come alive while they share with the other students So, the audience is of course their classmates, and the opportunity to create the characters, setting, and other tools is the rewarding part. In order to use the technology they must complete a polished piece that is ready for sharing. That is all the motivation they need to begin writing because thye can not wait for the technology piece. The students who struggle with writing tend to do a fabulous job and admit that this is their favorite piece of writing all year.

I read this post for the

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I read this post for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I keep finding myself coming back to it. The thing I think I appreciate the most about it is your common sense ideas. Without a doubt, there are so many research based methods of writing instruction out there that it makes your head spin. Some school districts adopt a curriculum and everyone is required to use it. Others simply suggest some and let teachers choose what works for them. While these methods are useful for the basics of writing instruction, how many of them give a purpose for writing, or tell you how to create a desire to write? This seems like common sense to me. If students have a reason to write that is meaningful to them, they are far more likely to put serious effort into their writing, versus just going through the motions to make their teacher happy.
Thanks for sharing. Definitely something for discussion at a grade-level meeting when we are stressing about state writing scores!

Educational Speaker, Writer and Coach

Being Authentic

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Insuring that we provide authentic learning opportunities for our students is critical to both their motivation and success. My students loved the monthly anthology of poetry and prose that we posted and distributed in the school as well as sending home to family and friends. It was a great motivator and also did wonders for the popularity and self esteem of many students.
Wayne
www.classroommanagementstrategysite.com

Lori, That is a great idea.

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Lori,
That is a great idea. As part of my sons' homeschooling he blogs and I have seen an uptick in his writing. You may find it interesting: http://learnmeproject.com/2011/02/16/not-too-optimistic/

Elena, thanks for the

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Elena, thanks for the article. I will use the writing for an audience technique with my son, whom I homeschool. He writes about his homeschool experience: http://learnmeproject.com/2011/02/16/not-too-optimistic/

curriculum and projects learning centers

Poetry and Art

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Dear Colleagues,

I am a writer and an artist, and they just are two expressive parts of me that come naturally together and spiral round in rhythms of my life...

So when I came across this Metropolitan Museum of Art video about this connection I enjoyed it and thought of sharing it with other teachers
who are in the classroom looking for ways to engage students in the various expressive arts: including writing.

http://www.metmuseum.org/connections/poetry/

Much of the narration in this video is adult-oriented in its visual and literary sophistication, but the message is clear and adaptable to any age level: poetry and art are inseparable, they both arise from the same human source...

Fill your classroom with both and many more expressive arts...

Allen Berg

Educational Psychologist and Consultant at Lori Day Consulting

Using Blogging to Encourage Reluctant Writers

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Another form of "audience" that I have found motivating to student writers is the internal school blog. Students post their writing on the school network and comment on each other's writing. The classroom blog is private between teacher and students. An added benefit is the opportunity to teach students how to give and receive feedback...how to give constructive criticism kindly, how to praise, and so forth. It's an electronic form of workshopping, but close teacher supervision is required. There can be bumps at first and egos can be fragile, but over time, I have seen students who hate to write and/or have significant writing disabilities embrace this format and become "unblocked" and creative because they so enjoy having "readers," checking to see what comments have been left, and getting to read and comment on the writing of classmates. Successful blogging is not only current, it is a good first step before learning the more formal rules of excellent writing.

Lori Day
www.loridayconsulting.com

Empowering parents to empower their children (www.totthoughts.com)

Writing to tell stories

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One of the most powerful forms of writing is storytelling. Storytelling requires that children understand and process the information around them, applying it towards creating something new and meaningful. This exercise is highly empowering and should not be overlooked as a learning tool.

We tend to think of storytelling as imaginary play. It is, and there is an undeniable benefit to this kind of behavior. Not only does it give children a space in which to utilize the knowledge they are acquiring but it teaches them to envision ways of transcending that knowledge, prompting them to seek out further learning experiences and to develop the skills they need to communicate those experiences. This not only instills in children a desire to learn but the skill development they undergo adds to their overall complexity as human beings.

Stories, however, should not be written in isolation. In fact, what makes storytelling such an empowering experience is its potential to serve as a venue through which to create meaning. This requires that children be able to work in a collaborative setting, sharing ideas and engaging with others in understanding what makes an idea meaningful.

A new media-based tool is currently under development. As envisioned, it would allow students to collaborate on a global scale in creating stories. Children would be able to write stories, evaluate them, discuss them, expand upon them and even transfer them to other mediums all through a single web application. The end result would be a collaborative creation forged across nations. If you are interested in learning more about this initiative, the proposal can be found at: http://rightbrainsare.us/ideas/the-bitty-project.

I admit that, having written stories my whole life, I am a bit biased towards storytelling. That said, I do believe it has tremendous value.

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