When writers have a strong purpose beyond a checklist or a score, motivation and creativity can improve. So often, though, our students trudge through a writing process checklist with a given topic, creating a piece that only their teacher, classmates, and parents will see.
One key to unlocking writing engagement and stretching their craft is to add an outside audience. For young writers in grades 3 through 6, this can be as easy as inviting the teacher down the hall to come check out their projects, or as complex as entering national publishing contests.
5 Audiences to Increase Effort and Growth in Writing
1. Other teachers and administrators. A low-prep way to add an authentic audience is to let students know that their work will be shared with or used by another teacher, their principal, or the office staff. Students can write persuasive pieces offering solutions for campus challenges, create promotional flyers and resources for school events, or even just prepare high-quality work for other teachers to view.
While a contest is a great motivator, you may be surprised how excited students can be to share their writing with past teachers or the teacher they hope to get next year. Let them know you’ll be inviting the principal or other teachers to your “gallery” or “book release party,” and your writers’ enthusiasm will level up.
2. Students’ families. Another option is to write for your class families. Try having your students author pieces about school events and class happenings for your newsletter. When I did this as a monthly magazine for our class parents, my students were really hooked into naming the magazine, submitting topics, and writing quality pieces. You can create a shared magazine in Google Slides with designated sections for announcements, event summaries, book reviews, and classroom recaps to share with the families. Students can sign up for a particular section, then write their piece and design the layout directly on the shared document.
A colleague recently did something similar in video format, where students wrote the scripts for the sections, then created a simple video montage to share. You can also form a schoolwide news crew or have students create pieces, such as informational brochures, for school events. Not quite ready for adding something like that to your plate? Just creating a shareable gallery of projects you’re already doing can add authenticity to who will read students’ pieces.
3. Other classes. Another audience beyond your classroom walls may be as close as the class next door. Students can be highly motivated by the opportunity to show off their writing to other students, whether by creating resources or mini-lessons for younger grade levels (my sixth-grade students once had a weekly animal lesson for the kindergarten classes), doing presentations for buddy classes, or collaborating with another class for a team project.
Pen pals are a relatively simple way to authenticate student writing and connect your class with students from a different school. You might even have your class create museum-style displays with caption cards, presentations, or infographic posters to share at schoolwide events or in designated showcase areas on campus.
4. Local government officials, city workers, business owners. Persuasive pieces about city or community topics can be highly motivating to students, especially if they’re connected to a personal sphere of relevance, such as revamping their youth softball fields or adding a splash pad to a local park. You may need to help students understand that they might not get a direct reply, and to encourage them to reach out to other community leaders or try a different approach.
This is an opportunity to talk about how our writing doesn’t always get a response or make visible change, but why we can and should still take these risks as writers, not just in fifth grade but later in life as well. If you’re nervous that your classroom community isn’t ready for these conversations, you can also form a connection ahead of time between some local leaders and your classroom, so that recipients have already agreed to read and respond to students’ letters.
I’ve also seen classrooms where students write incredible Shark Tank–style product proposals, which tie together engineering, simple economics, and so much more into their writing. Teachers can recruit local entrepreneurs to be the “sharks”—a live audience for their students, which alleviates that worry of “What if no one reads my idea?”
Lastly, stay on the lookout for local contests that students can enter. Places like the county fair, the water district, local museums, libraries, and other local organizations often host various contests to get students creating for larger audiences.
5. Larger audiences. The grand scale is getting your students’ work in front of a much larger or higher-profile audience. These are definitely worth working your way up to, especially once your students are used to their writing being in front of people outside their classroom community safe zone. Students’ engagement will increase, and along with it, growth in their writing craft.
Going bigger with national, state, or company-sponsored contests and fairs (I’ve recently seen these hosted by snack food companies and kids’ TV networks) is one mode, but also consider writing that isn’t based on a contest. A key part of persuasive writing is identifying a relevant problem you’re passionate about, which lends itself extremely well to finding a grander-scale audience to write to, such as corporations or congresspeople. This lays the groundwork for students to see that their writing might have an impact and consider that their idea might just be the one to shift a viewpoint or spark an idea, even if they don’t get a response.
I hope these five ideas have your wheels turning, and I can’t wait for you to see the difference that a genuine and relevant audience makes in your writing lessons.