5 Ideas to Create a Classroom of Writers

Paige Vitulli‘s tweets recently caught my eye.  She posted students responses to I Am An Artist by Pat Lowery Collins and Robin Brickman.  Here’s an example of some of the students’ sticky note responses:

5 Ideas to Create a Classroom of Writers on Two Writing TeachersThis made me think of the way we help students develop their writing identities during the first months of school.  Some kids come to us knowing they are writers because they’ve been in writing workshops.  However, some students have never been in writing workshops.  Others are ELLs who are hesitant about writing in their new language, while others come to us as reluctant writers.  Therefore, teachers have to shape students’ identities as writers.

1.  Address students as writers.  

When the TCRWP’s lessons spread across the NYC Public Schools in the mid 2000’s, many people balked at the idea of starting minilessons with the word “writers” to get students’ attention.  As a result, I resisted too.  But then I heard Lucy Calkins speak for the first time and I thought, I should try this. The next day I called my students writers.  It felt silly at first, but the more I did it, the more it became second-nature.  And you know what, the kids began to think of themselves and call themselves writers too.

Another way you can reinforce this is by saying, “Writers, may I have your eyes?” when you want everyone’s attention for a midworkshop interruption.  Make sure you wait for every set of eyes in the room so that every student knows that you’re waiting for them as a writer. (Again, something else I learned from Lucy.)

2.  Let them pick their tools.

I’ve long been from the school of thought that students should have some say over the type of notebook they’re going to use and the kind of writing implement with which they’re going to write. (I would be unhappy if you forced me to write with a marble notebook and a ballpoint pen since I like spiral spine notebooks and roller ball pens since they help me write faster.)

There are two predictable problems with having students pick their own tools.

Problem — Students will pick tiny notebooks that don’t have enough space in them or will want to write with in neon green pen.

Solution — Set boundaries so students have choice within limits. You can specify a minimum number of pages notebooks must have or a measurement they must be.  Further, you can state you only allow students to write in blue or black ink.)

Problem — Your students cannot afford to purchase their own writer’s notebooks and special pens.

Solution — See if your school can allocate funds for you to purchase two or three kinds of notebooks and pens from which your students can choose.  If that’s not possible, write a mini-grant proposal on DonorsChoose, which is how I received funding for Moleskine and Blueline notebooks, as well as a variety of pens for my classroom.

3.  Establish a writing community in your classroom.

Begin by creating a set of expectations for writing workshop with your students (Ayres and Shubitz, 2010, 10). Hold regular share sessions at the end of every writing workshop period and make sure all students share something since this reinforces the idea that everyone has something to teach about writing. Celebrate students’ writing during midworkshop interruptions, share sessions, and at publishing parties.

4.  Read books to build students’ identities as writers.

Every year, during the first weeks of September, I would read books that related to writing and goal-setting.  You know, books like CourageI’m in Charge of Celebrations, Ish, and Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street.  However, I knew that list wasn’t expansive enough. So, I polled the TWT Team to get more titles you can use for this purpose during the first month of school.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • Big Plans
  • But I’ll Be Back Again
  • Courage
  • Dear Mr. Henshaw
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Hey World! Here I Am!
  • I’m in Charge of Celebrations
  • Ish
  • Landry News
  • Love That Dog
  • Marshfield Dreams
  • Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street
  • Ralph Tells a Story
  • Rocket Writes a Story
  • The Best Story
  • The House on Mango Street
  • What You Know First
  • When I Was Young in the Mountains


5.  Create an “I am a Writer” board.

Use Paige Vitulli‘s examples (See her tweets from August 26th, 2014.) to get students thinking about when they feel they are writers.  Or — use this idea as a jumping off point to create something that celebrates the writers in your classroom.

Betsy shared an online tool with the TWT team yesterday. I wanted to tinker with it so I summarized this post using the application. Click on the logo, below, if you’d like to view a summary of this blog post as an emaze presentation.
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How do you help your students see themselves as writers? Please share what you do below.