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Topic Choice

So often, we run into students who say, “I don’t know what to write about.” We work to help them develop topics. We make lists of writing ideas. We encourage them to explore writing territories. They find possible stories.

What I’ve been realizing lately is often my topic choice has more to do with what I don’t write about than the lists of ideas to write about. Audience, genre, and purpose have even more to do with my topic choices.

My choices aren’t made based on what I want to write about, but about what ideas fit the audience, purpose, and genre.  I’m wondering if we focus on developing audience, purpose, and genre sense for students if they will get past being stuck on a topic.

For example, last night I wrote an acrostic poem about something that is really poking at me. I didn’t write about the issue surrounding the topic; I didn’t write my solution to the the topic; I didn’t write the back story of the topic. Although it is something I’ve been spinning in my mind and an issue quite personal to me, I haven’t written about it because it just didn’t work with the audience, purpose, and genre of my professional writing.

Last night, the topic bubbled to the surface because:

  • I needed to write a post to share with the slice community (purpose).
  • I wanted to write something short and focused (genre).
  • The audience is expecting a snippet of my life, not an application for their teaching (audience).

The more I think about this twist on topic selection, the more I realize my topics often stem from what I don’t write and twisting them into topics I can write appropriately for audience, purpose, and genre.

I write my reflections of teaching, because I don’t write about my insecurities and frustrations. I write ways to teach grammar within minilessons and conferences because I don’t write about Daily Oral Language. I write about slowing down the school day because I’m not writing about the meltdowns in the living room that come from speeding kids through a hurry-scurry day. I write about the importance of sharing our stories because I’m not writing about the struggles adoptive kids face from the holes in their stories.

My topic choices are not dependent on what I want to write, but rather the things that are tugging on my heart and I can make fit for my audience, purpose, and genre. I think the next time students are struggling with what-should-I-write-about, I’m going to connect the things they care about to audience, purpose, and genre to help find an idea.

Ruth Ayres View All

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

5 thoughts on “Topic Choice Leave a comment

  1. Ruth, Thank you for the reminder. It is just what I needed after a day where a few of my students are having trouble coming up with topics to write about. I will redirect them tomorrow and have them think about purpose, genre, and audience when they choose topics. That’s the beauty of teaching. If we don’t get it right the first time, there’s always another chance to re- teach. Peggy


  2. Where you find the brain space to develop these big ideas amazes me. This is an illustration of my favorite part of my journey as a teacher this year: the way that workshop teaching really allows us to continue growing and learning as teachers and as writers. The way you share your latest understandings demonstrates your continuous growth. It is both admirable and inspiring.

    I have been doing a lot of thinking about my processes as a writer. I think for a long time I kept hidden the way the I really did things because I felt like it was not the right way to go about writing and developing topics. Now, I embrace my process in an effort to figure out what I can learn (and then teach) from it.

    Your explanation of what you are writing because of what you are NOT writing is so close to the bone for you that I admire your bravery in sharing these thoughts so specifically.

    Thank you for pushing my thinking forward tonight. I hope we can connect again soon!


  3. Ruth,
    I’m so glad I took the time to visit and read your post tonight ( really I am always glad when I read your blog!). Very thought provoking – it never occurred to me to that we approach writing from these places, but it makes sense. Writing workshop is off to a good start in my room this year and I really owe so much of that to the knowledge I have gleaned from you and Stacey here and from your book. I also appreciate your positive spin on the not so positive aspects of life. Cheers to that and slowing down with less melting down. ~ Theresa


  4. This post rings true for me. Early in the school year, we had a spider outside our window. My prompt that day turned from summer reflections to let’s write about the spider which eventually led to a student’s essay (and my blog post) about our class spider. Topics happen. We just need to be present and open to them when they do.


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