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.