Skip to content

So What?!?

I’ve noticed many of my conferences this week have centered around purpose. I’ve found myself asking again and again and agian, “So why are you writing this? Why is it important?”

Nancie Atwell in her lesson set, Lessons That Change Writers, teaches students to ask: “So what?” when they are writing. I think this sticks with young writers, especially those of the intermediate and secondary variety. It’s edgy enough to have a little attitude to it, but it’s deep enough to get to the heart of why we are writing.

Writing hinges on finding connections in our lives, and then sharing these connections with our readers. If we don’t take the time to ask, “Why is this important? Why am I writing this?” then it doesn’t really matter how much we know about conventions or how strong our craft is. We’ve missed the point.

This question crosses genre and topic and audience. We should always ask: So what?

Reminder: Starting today any comment you leave on posts (dated today through Wednesday, 1/19, enters you for a chance to win two copies of Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. If you want a chance to win Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares click here. If you want to read more about these books, click here.)

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

21 thoughts on “So What?!? Leave a comment

  1. I’ve been trying to get my middle schoolers to answer the “so what?” question. Some of them never even get to that point in their essays. We really need to work on that.

    Like

  2. Thanks for the reminder to encourage the kids to seek out
    their objective in writing. I’m just beginning student teaching
    (one week down, seventeen to go!) and look forward to implementing
    this! Shouldn’t it also drive us as adults? I write prolifically
    and if you don’t know why the essay/article/or WHATEVER matters,
    how can you expect your audience to grab anything from it?

    Like

  3. I’ve used the phrase “so what” even with my preschoolers who aren’t getting the deeper meaning and intent of the phrase but they are understanding that something significant needs to happen in their picture and that “event” is the reason for the record. I feel that hearing the phrase now, will create a link to its use later in K-1-2 – and maybe beyond!

    Like

  4. Nancie Atwell is my hero. I think the lesson of So What? gets at the heart of why we write: to convey meaning. By answering “So What?” students have to identify what meaning they are trying to convey. This is by far the most difficult part of writing for any writer, not just our students… now that I think about it, it’s not just the heart of writing, The rule of So What? is the guts.

    Like

  5. The “so what” lesson is a central part of everything I teach in writing workshop. Every genre study hinges on this question, and I have all my kids create a a purpose statement that encompasses this idea for every genre study we do. I am so in Nancie’s debt!

    Like

  6. This post is a great reminder about how purpose, not just choice, can play a key role in engagement with writing. One challenge I’ve noticed with the youngest writers is that sometimes they may not be aware of different purposes for writing; however, one benefit is that they usually have lots of stories or facts they want to share orally. Tapping into that as a starting point for purpose in writing can be helpful.

    Like

  7. I have found the “So, what?” very difficult to teach at the elementary level. Students can learn to focus their writing, but they often don’t communicate the real reason they are writing. I haven’t ever seen Atwell’s lesson, but I am thinking using more mentor texts and discussing what the “So, what?” is and how the author communicated it would be useful.

    Like

  8. Day one of school I am asking my kids “so what?” I saw Nancy at a conference and that was one of the MANY gems that I came away with. I always tell the kids that if they don’t know why they are writing something neither will their reader. Thanks for the great post.

    Like

  9. I used “so what?” in my conferences with fifth graders. It really made them think about what they were writing, especially to see if what they were writing related to what they thought was their topic.

    I haven’t tried it yet with my fourth graders – but may in the next week or so! Thanks for the reminder.

    Like

  10. Yay for contests!

    I use “So what?” a lot with my middle school students, especially when conferencing on their conclusions. Students need to understand that there should be a point to the writing.

    Like

  11. I have used Nancie’s “So What” lesson for years now. First
    with my 5th graders, and now with my 6th and 7th graders. It’s a
    great lesson, with an easy to understand concept that helps
    students get to the why of their writing. I even spend an entire
    class period focused on having them read a loud, and having the
    rest of the class try to identify the “so what” If we can’t find
    it, the author is back to the drawing board to revise and
    revamp.

    Like

  12. I just noticed Bree’s comment. I think that the So What has to link closely to choice. If the assignments are too narrowly defined and the writer does not care about the topic, then I don’t think the So What would make a difference. I guess it all comes back to engagement and motivation with topics.

    Like

  13. This is a good reminder to have a connection to help students focus on purpose.

    I love the Atwell resource as well. When I have used some of her students’ writings included in the binder to go along with the lessons my students love them. For one lead activity, they wanted to read the rest of the writing since the leads had them hooked.

    Like

  14. The problem with So What? for a college student cause me to not want to write that research paper. Hopefully it isn’t the same for jr/high school students.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: