Reluctant Writers Writing

Have you ever faced some very reluctant writers? You know what I mean; those students who would rather eat spinach or stare down a crocodile than put pencil to paper!  I must admit that I’ve spent some sleepless nights trying to find some snazzy way to entice, to engage and provide opportunities for every learner to have voice.   Over the next months, I hope to share some learning here about digital writing (or writing using digital tools) and writing workshop that addresses differentiation.

I’m starting off with poetry…. oh you can just hear the groan!  It’s a great way to work with language, emotion and visual images.  Research tells us that individuals who remember or who comprehend deeply do so because they remember the emotions evoked or have a movie playing in their mind. I know-what’s a thing like comprehension doing in a topic that’s supposed to be about writing? In fact, they’re interconnected. And part of great writing is making sure the reader “get what’s in your head”.

So I’ve been playing with a little site called PicLits.  This is a 21st century version of those crazy refrigerator literacy magnet games.   The site provides incredible images and an organized wordbank  (categorized in nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives..) for students to drag-and-drop onto their image.  Each image has its own wordbank.

What did I do? Our goal? – practice combining and expanding vocabulary to produce really ‘juicy phrases’ that enhance an image (eg. understanding that images and words evoke/enhance powerful mental images). Using the website in the classroom, I modeled (using a projector) with a selected image,  how to use the words in the wordbank, selecting, swapping and adjusting as I spoke aloud my thinking strategy (eg. make my ‘thinking bubble’ explicit). I invited help from the audience in finding the right words to capture emotion and a “story that’s begging to be told”.  (Here’s where a Smartboard would have really come in handy.)  Our completed poem was a freeform style, which we screen captured so we had something to refer to later.  Then we practiced using a bunch of photos that I grabbed from magazines.  In pairs the students came up with words/phrases to describe (visual, emotional) their photo. Each of the pairs did a 4-pair share.  As we didn’t write these down, they ended up helping each other reword their creations.  I call this a happy accident. If  groups or individuals found really cool ‘juicy’ words or phrases, they wrote it on scrap paper and posted it on the word wall.  (*If you use chart paper to post these phrases, it can be taken to the lab with you as a guide.)    

Then it was lab time.  (*Do a fast review of the website – I used Insight (lab management software) to help with the details.) Although each student had their own computer, they sat next to their learning partner so the partnership could continue supporting each other.  Some students chose to keep to the drag-and-drop method, choosing their words and rearranging them to make them more powerful.  Others who were more adept at language went the freestyle method.  No matter what, we stopped every 15 minutes and swapped with another student (a bit of musical chairs and a bit chaotic) to give feedback.  These were scribbled on post-it notes and stuck on their monitors.  (*In prior lessons, we spent some time on learning how to give feedback.)

Here are some results:

WHAT DID I NOTICE? The engagement level went sky high.  Those reluctant writers were focused as it was easier to select words from a list and still come up with fabulous writing just like everyone else.  The images were captivating to give depth and imagination to a story.  Choice was key.  Use of post-it notes a novel element – no one wanted to waste their stash of notes on saying things that didn’t make a difference (IM language, shorthand, phrases and no worries of spelling all accepted as long as the receiver understood the information).  Their comments had to make sense and be specific with examples.  Students asked for more editing and re-editing time to make their poems really jump out.

Here’s a simple rubric (in msword so you can edit) in case you’re wondering what we used. You can also use your writing performance standard.

I WONDER: what would happen if everyone did the same image – what words would come out…And could this be used for ‘point-of-view’?  I’d be very interested if anyone has tried this or would like to try this learning journey and post a comment on your journey or any questions.


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