independent writing · Kristi Mraz · motivation · writing workshop

Writing Mantras for the New School Year: Part of #TWTBlog’s Throwback Week

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Did you know that talking to yourself can be really helpful? It’s true! Researchers have long known that positive self-talk can be an incredibly helpful tool.

The power of positive self-talk is something that I hadn’t thought about much until recently. My friends’ Kristi Mraz’s and Christine Hertz’s book A Mindset for Learning has helped me think about the power of teaching positive self-talk to kids to help them become more resilient in the face of a challenge.

Earlier this year, I was visiting one of my favorite classrooms on the day they were doing one of my favorite minilessons. I like to call it the “I Think I Can!” minilesson (From Kindergarten Unit 1: Launching the Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins & Colleagues).

For those of you that don’t know this lesson, it’s quite simple. You teach the kids that sometimes writing gets hard — and that’s okay. Even grown-ups have to figure out the hard parts sometimes. But when the going get’s tough, writers don’t just give up — No! We say to ourselves, I think I can! I think I can! Just like the little engine that could.

Anyway, on this particular day, in this particular classroom, it was magical. Ms. F. started by singing a lovely song about trying your best.

And I believe it’s true
There’s so much I can do
And I feel good inside
I can do it if I try

The kids were already in a mindset for learning. Then, Ms. A.F. taught the lesson that many of us know so well, showing the familiar picturebook The Little Engine That Could and reminding kids that they can always say to themselves I think I can! I know I can!

As kids went off to spots around the room to work on their writing that day, I heard many of them mumbling to themselves, “I think I can!”

This week on Two Writing Teachers, we’ve been throwing back to our favorite old posts. I just love Kathleen’s post about writing mantras. It makes me think about self-talk, consistency of language, and other strategies we can use to help kids learn how to talk themselves through the tricky parts in writing–and in life.



“Rabbits are brave, rabbits are brave,” Benjamin Bunny  chants to himself in a wobbly voice when faced with the hungry fox, Mr. Todd, in the Nick Jr. cartoon Peter Rabbit. We watch quite a bit of Peter Rabbit in my house and Benjamin’s mantra has begun to stick with us. When my 2 year old daughter Megan has a doctor’s appointment, we’ll say, “Megans are brave! Megans are brave!”  When my almost 5 year old son Alex needs to get his nails trimmed, something he still avoids at all costs, I’ll try my best to convince him with, “Alexes are brave! Alexes are brave!”  It sounds silly (and grammatically incorrect), but it does help all of us get through those scary, doubtful moments.

A mantra can help you believe something you’re not quite convinced of yet and can give you that shot of confidence to keep going. In the article, “5 Ancient Mantras That Will Transform  Your Life“, Mandy Burstein writes, “When we select a word or series of words to repeat in the form of a mantra, we are affirming it to ourselves and allowing its meaning to seep below the surface, into our subconscious, helping to shift our negative habits and patterns into positive ones.”

In May, Betsy asked, “What is your class mantra? I didn’t have one then, but I’ve been thinking about what words inspire me to write and have confidence that what I say matters. This year, I want my students to believe in the power of writing to transform them and make their lives more meaningful.  What words can we say to ourselves to affirm the power of writing and help us when writing feels too challenging? I couldn’t settle on just one writing mantra, so I picked two for my class this year:

“Everyone’s Story Matters”

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The Fantastic Flying  Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore will be one of my first read alouds in writing workshop.  It is an exquisite book with many reading-writing connections.  The central message is that books and words can transform lives. As I read this book, there was a line that struck me: “Everyone’s story matters.”  How simple and true! All of the students sitting before us have stories to share, ideas, questions, passions.  Part of my job as a teacher is to help my students know that their ideas are important and worth sharing.  Everyone matters and everyone’s story matters.  This will be one of our mantras as we become a writing community this year.  We need all of the voices in our classrooms to be heard and read.  I think this mantra might also help students to look at the world differently and remember that every person they meet has a story.

A perfect place to share this with students is Humans of New York. This site shows pictures of people and then a quote from the person, telling part of his/her story.  Teachers would need to carefully preview what they share with students as many topics are inappropriate for the classroom.  Children are frequently featured and could lead to discussions about our similarities and differences.  How might a child living in another part of the world have a different story than you? How does learning each other’s stories tear down some of the walls and misconceptions we have about other cultures, races, religions, and groups? How does sharing your story connect you to others? Opportunities for rich discussion can lead to passionate writing. Class blogging and connecting with student bloggers from around the world helps reinforce this message and mantra: “Everyone’s story matters.”

“Writers are Brave”

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All of our stories matter, but sometimes our stories can be challenging to write. I’m borrowing from Benjamin Bunny, but “Writers are brave” is one mantra that I want my young writers to believe and say to themselves often.  It takes bravery to stare down an empty page or screen and believe that you can fill it with something worthwhile.  It takes bravery to share your writing with a partner and be open to suggestions and feedback.  It takes bravery to admit your writing needs work and to try again.  It takes bravery to share your writing.  Writers ARE brave.

It isn’t easy to write and I need to remember that when I work with my students.  I need to model for them the struggle, the times I got it all wrong and needed a partner to help me fix it up, the times I was so stuck or embarrassed by what I wrote.  The times I said things in writing that were painful to say aloud, but were begging to be said.  It takes courage and confidence to put yourself out there through your writing, but it is also a way to empower yourself, to try to make change in a world sorely needing it, and to connect with other people.

One book that emphasizes this message is My Pen by  Christopher Myers.  In the book, the boy feels small and helpless but then his pen empowers him.  The book is dedicated: “To the people who make things, and to the people who share things.” May this be the year we believe in the power of our own stories and have the courage to write them and share them. “Everyone’s story matters” and “Writers are brave.”

What will be the words that inspire and push you and your writers forward when the going gets tough?

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