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Keeping a writing blog: taking our writing workshop online

With the  Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge  just around the corner, perhaps some of you are thinking more than ever about starting a class blog just for writing.    Over the past few years, we have taken our writer’s notebook  online in my classroom, not just for the month of March, but for the entire school year.  Yes, we still keep our marble notebooks which we fill with heart maps, memories, writing ideas, and (most of all) our writing:
IMG_0303but our online writing has  grown in variety and complexity, it has become an essential part of our writing workshop.
On a day to day basis, my students work through our genre cycles from memoir through nonfiction and argument. We study poetry all year, too, and my kids experiment with different types of poetry, from free verse to odes and pantoums.  It’s a busy workshop and we have plenty of writing to keep us busy and nourish our writing souls.  So, what’s the point in online writing?
Here’s what keeping a writing blog allows us to do:
  • share our writing with our classmates, and receive instant feedback
  • learn from each other – a writing blog allows us to examine  writing techniques and “tricks” we admire and want to emulate, and it gives us a space to do this
  • experiment with different types of focused writing: from specific prompts to open ended “wonderings”
  • build a supportive and inspirational community of writers and readers of writing

For my students, there is always the element of surprise.  Will it be the “regular” slice of life, or something else? And, here’s the part that I, their teacher, love – it gives me opportunities to invent the “something else”.  Sometimes, these are the result of my own writing life, as with the One Little Word project:

I shared mine, as an invitation (also, because I try to write with my kids as much as possible)
Mrs.  Smith: My one little word is: PAUSE
The dictionary definition of pause is: : a temporary stop; a period of time in which something is stopped before it is started again.
I chose this word because I feel as though I am always in a rush to do this and that and a hundred other things…NOW! I think that I need to pause a bit in this daily rush to get every thing done, and enjoy small moments. I need to take a breath!
So, when I find myself rushing into class and feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to get done, I will PAUSE to look around our happy room and enjoy all the work my students have done, and all the memories I have of my students reading, writing, laughing in this room.
When I rush home, I will PAUSE to give my dog a hug and listen (!) to what she whispers in my ear, before I begin doing all I need to do.
PAUSE. My one little word. The word that is going to make this a better year!
And here are a few student samples:
The definition of BELIEVE in the dictionary is: “to accept or regard something as true”.
When I think of the word “believe,” I think of believing in yourself and others and thinking you can do it. If you believe in yourself you need to trust yourself. This year I want to believe that I can do anything. For example, practice sports regularly, take hard tests, and stay calm in stressful situations. I will try new things and not say that I can’t do it. I will believe that I am good at something and not be that person who says “I did terrible!” When I tell myself I will do something I will complete that and that will be because I believed I could do it.
When I have a soccer game I won’t say “I can’t score.” Instead I will tell myself I can do it and that will bring me even closer to completing my goal. Believing will help me a lot this year and will bring me closer to success.
K : My One Little Word is LIVE.
The dictionary definition of LIVE is: “to have life, as an organism; be alive; be capable of vital functions: all things that live”. But to me it means a lot more than that. To me the word LIVE means to enjoy what is happening in the moment, to savor every second of every day.
I chose the word LIVE because I am always looking ahead to the future. I am always thinking of what’s going to happen next. My parents are always telling me to enjoy the moment. But I still never did. Because of this I never focused on enjoying the company of others. I never thought about how I could be a better friend. I never thought about being kind to others. I never thought about stepping up for my beliefs. I never thought to savor the moment. For me, it was always to look to the future; to what was going to happen next. But I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want to go to school, not thinking about the next weekend, but thinking about what was happening around me. I want to go to my friend’s house, not thinking about where I was going after I left my friend’s house, but thinking about how I could be someone that my friend remembered as a great person.
LIVE. My One Little Word. A word that I will try to live by, not by the dictionary definition, but by MY definition. The One Little Word that will shape me into a better person.
J Practice
Meaning something you do to get better at sport, class, etc. I don’t like to practice all the time, but I do. I need to achieve goals in life. My Bar Mitzvah is this year and I know, no matter how boring it is I need to practice. In both the sports I play (soccer and lacrosse) you need to do the same drills about 50 times, you can’t just do it once, or you will not be good. Practicing is not always fun but I will try to, no I will practice much more because I know in the end I will benefit from it. That is why practice is my OLW.

In addition to the online writing, each student brought in a visual representation and here’s a bit of  what my kids brought in:

And sometimes it’s in response to events…or even the weather:

Perhaps tomorrow will bring a  snow day…and a snow storm.  Our writing task is to use our writer’s notebooks to collect sensory details about the storm (the sights, sounds, etc.) and then to create two paragraphs describing what this day was like for you. What did you do? How did you enjoy the snow? What was your experience of the storm? Use your notebook jottings to fill your writing with sensory details.

And here’s some of what’s been contributed:

C: Winter Storm SOL
I was sitting in the living room, listening to the wind roaring outside. I turned to peek out of the big windows that looked out to my back yard. The strength of the wind blew the tree branches to the left, making a slight rustling sound. The snow looked like white sheets, floating down from the clouds. You could only notice the individual snowflakes if you peered very closely to the clouds of snow. Once you could notice the snowflakes, they looked like butterfly wings, fluttering ever so slightly. The snow perfectly coated the bare tree branches, creating the illusion of powdered sugar being gently sifted onto the branches. On the deck, the snow was piled so it sat up to at least a foot. I wondered what I could do outside in the snow, with my friends. But that is a story for another time…

A: The snow was coming down heavy, in a thick sheet that landed softly on the already white ground. The wind shook the trees as they were gently being covered with a sparkling white blanket. It was building up quickly, almost a foot. The bushes were bending under the weight, but the trees looked majestic and delicate with the snow. It really made a true winter wonderland.
Later, as I shoveled the steps I happened to glance to the side and see my brother chasing me with a giant snowball. I shouted and laughed at the same time and started running as fast as I could. Which wasn’t fast at all, through all the heavy snow. So I ran as fast as I could to find a hiding spot. I found the perfect one, nestled deep in the bushes. I breathed heavy and tried not to move. But then I heard my brother’s footsteps…and a snowball hit my face! When I asked him how he found me, he said it was easy. He followed my footsteps. Of course! How could I not have thought of that?!

J: When I first woke up I looked at the clock and it was 7:45. Not thinking to look outside, I ran into my parent’s room screaming, “I am going to be late for school!!!” My mom, propped up against her pillow ,looked up from her phone and said “Look outside. You have no school today.” A little firework went off inside me as I looked outside to see a white winter wonderland. The wind howling and the snow blowing and falling everywhere. Sitting on the couch I had to keep turning the TV up, the wind was so loud! After watching TV for an hour and embracing the school less day. I got on my 3 layers of clothes. I stepped out into the frigid world and grabbed a shovel. After what seemed like hours of back breaking work ,we were finally done. I was so happy! I hung up my coat and ran upstairs expecting to see a cup of hot chocolate, but was instead greeted by my mom. She said we had no more hot chocolate!!! I was sadder than a monkey without bananas. I went onto the couch and started to sulk. But then I forgot that sadness when I started to play Xbox. I stayed cooped up inside not wanting to face the cold again and not able to do or go anywhere. I kind of actually wanted to have school by the end of the day!

Which brings me to the part about our writing blog that I really love – the spontaneity that our  online writing allows.  We never know who will say what, how they will say it, or what response it will prompt (who’d have thought that a student would actually miss school on a snow day?!).      Whether it is to practice our writing, hone a particular technique, focus on a specific task, experiment with something new, or just observe an event, our writing blog is an important part of  our writing workshop … it allows us to grow as writers, and have fun in the process.

So, if you are thinking of taking part in the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge, or just want to begin a class writing blog, now is the time! A writing blog is a wonderful way to enhance your writing workshop.

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

4 thoughts on “Keeping a writing blog: taking our writing workshop online Leave a comment

  1. Tara, I’m taking the plunge with my kids this year. They already have blogs set up and well established. My question is, as a long time slicer, i know how challenging the SOL challenge can get. Can you talk more about support young writer in slicing? Or are there already some posts up on that? I’m confident that my stronger writers will push through as writers do, but for my students that need more structure I don’t think my invitation of the day will be enough. (At least it hasn’t been in the past.) What thoughts do you have on how to support these writers while still empowering them and not enabling them?


    • Hi Katie,
      How wonderful that you will be doing this with your kids this year. For writers who need more support, I offer prompts and topic lists. I also encourage these students to refer to their heart maps and writing entries in their writer’s notebooks. For these students, I think it’s more important that they participate daily than that their post is a true slice of life. The daily invitation could be a photograph or a quote or an incomplete line – something to jog their thinking and get them going. These writers benefit the most from slicing every day, so that is my focus. Midway through the month and after, when it gets rough to keep up, we stick around after school for a quick brainstorming session. This helps them see that others are experiencing the same challenges – it fosters a support group. We have a mid-March party, and big celebration at the end – these are extrinsic rewards, and some may frown at them, but it keeps momentum going and makes it fun.
      It’s so worth it to give this a go…look forward to hearing about it all!


  2. This is so informative! I have been nudging my elementary teacher colleagues to dare to blog with their classes and I am sending this link their way today! It seems to me that your students can’t help but learn so much from one another, through this class blog. It captures what is on their individual minds and allows them to pursue new writing tangents, inspired from their peers. Love this! Such dynamic writing!


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