writing workshop

Exploring Feelings Through Writing: Authentic Purposes for Writing

This week, my TWT colleagues and I are writing about the importance of authentic purpose to writers. We all agree that our students will benefit from having strong voices, clear messages, and wide audiences in our quickly changing world. Sometimes, we sit down to write, and we know exactly what we want to say, and sometimes, we discover some important ideas as we draft.

During a recent professional development session, I asked teachers to write.

“We have to write?” One teacher was a little astonished at the task. (BTW- I think one of the most important ways for teachers to know how to teach writing is by writing!)

“You get to write,” I answered.

They were embarking on a personal essay unit, so I instructed them to write about their topic–just a free write. That particular teacher wrote about her place, but, after five minutes, when I asked them to underline what was important so far, she underlined visiting her father.  I had the group move into a freewrite about what they’d underlined, and her writing was emotional and authentic.

“I didn’t realize how much I was missing him,” she said. She went home that afternoon and called her dad. 

Many of our fourth grade  teachers duplicated this process in their classrooms, spending time with freewrites and lingering with ideas. One boy went from writing about video games to recognizing that an important aspect of the video games involved his father. His initial essay went from being about why he likes his video games to why his dad is important in his life. (He still managed to get in Mario Brothers, but is was about how he appreciates the time his father spends playing with him.)

Taking a quick aside…

I’m pausing here to acknowledge the fact that writing an essay about videos has value. (I can’t believe I said that.) Students learn and practice structure, development, and conventions with relatively vacant topics. These sorts of topics just don’t easily lend themselves to learning about themselves, developing emotional reactions, or containing much voice. Is it terrible to point out that we can meet standards without emotional content? I digress…Back to the post on hand!

So what are some specific strategies that could tap into more meaningful writing that taps into feelings?

  • Create time and space for low-stakes writing. Freewrites are a perfect example. Teach into what a good freewrite involves. While the chart I’m sharing was developed for a fourth-grade essay unit, free-writing is important for all grades and all genres. You could easily tweak the teaching point of “sometimes essayists get their best ideas by just spending time free-writing” to “sometimes writers get their best ideas…” We really do come up with so many ideas when we just set our pens and thoughts free.

    Chart inspired by Boxes to Bullets by Lucy Calkins, Kelly Boland Hohne, and Cory Gillette: Heinemann Press
  • Teach students about the value of rereading their own writing from the lens of “what are the important parts?” Highlight them. Engage in conversations about why those parts are important and teach into expanding them. Challenging students to use thinking prompts works really well for this:screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-6-14-08-pm


  • React to student’s writing on an emotional level. The simple phrase,  “This is big,” is a really useful one to add to your repertoire.


Even, “I don’t know why this is big, but it is” can work if you’re confused, but it obviously matters to the child.


As a writer, it is powerful to make an emotional connection when we write. Let children know when they are tapping into that power, and you’ll see its frequency increase.

  • Georgia Heard has done beautiful and important work around getting students to write what matters. If you don’t own any of her books, I highly recommend Heart Maps and Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, both by Georgia Heard. (I recommend anything by Georgia Heard!) Take some time to have students develop heart maps, and revisit them. What matters and what worries us changes over the course of a year. Actually, it can change dramatically over the course of a day!


When you give students time to freewrite in classrooms, you will be amazed at the energy and the results. Students come up with more ideas, and those ideas are more important than many they list when we assign them generating ideas. We all have many different reasons for writing, and certainly many students write because writing is part of the curriculum, and they are compliant. I encourage you, as the lead learner in the classroom, to see what happens when you explore ideas through your writing, and then give students the opportunity to try out that process as well. Writing serves many purposes, and sometimes we can discover hidden truths and feelings about ourselves that lurk just beneath the surface and feel great to recognize and share.

Feb17 Blog Series Image


  • This giveaway is for one copy of Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing by Georgia Heard. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy of this book.
  • For a chance to win one copy of Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing, please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Sunday, February 5th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Lisa Keeler will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Monday, February 6th.
  • You may leave one comment on every post in our Authentic Purposes for Writing blog series, which runs January 30th – February 5th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • Heinemann will only ship the book to a winner in the United States. If you live outside of the U.S. and wish to be considered for this giveaway, you must have a U.S. mailing address.
  • If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – HEART MAPS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t receivedwithin five days of the giveaway announcement.

28 thoughts on “Exploring Feelings Through Writing: Authentic Purposes for Writing

  1. Melanie,
    I think it’s the “energy” that comes from student passion that really appeals to me in your post. The student’s (and teacher’s) feelings make it easier to choose those “Big Ideas” that really do matter (a lot!) and make the writing MORE interesting. It’s the difference between the routine and possibly “ho hum” and the discovery of feelings and possibly an untapped passion for the writer. AND the reader reaps the benefits when he/she takes that risk to include feelings!



  2. I tried this with one of my classes, today, with a variation because we have just begun the year and they have done a lot of ‘write about yourself’ for heir teachers. We talked about emotion ‘vocab’ and then I picked two emotion words and asked them to create a piece of writing that used both words. We got some very interesting work – my favourite was the cheese burger that murdered the unsuspecting worker, as it was pretty quirky. I’m going to try another variation with my EALD class.


  3. I’m glad you mentioned taking the time to devote to low-stakes writing. Ralph Fletcher has an entire book about this topic coming out later this year (or next year) about just this! It is so important for our students to engage in lots of low-stakes writing, especially if we want them to grow ideas that have meaning/value to them.


  4. Love free writing. Corbett Harrison has a great model (called. S.W.T. Or Sacred Writing Time). Every other day, the first 10 minutes is spent “making out pencils dance” in a free write. Students have choice to respond to a prompt (I modified all Corbett’ slides to fit my students) or if they have heir own thoughts they need to unload. My fifth graders LOVE S.W.T. !!! Thanks for validating the power of free writing!


  5. I remember loving to read my sixth graders writing and learning so much about them as people because they wrote! Truly it is about giving them the opportunity to write who they are!


  6. I enjoyed this post. I have had much success with free-writing in my classroom, but it is helpful to see sample anchor charts from other classrooms. “This is big.” Love that!!


  7. I have been waiting to see “Heart Maps” from my local library for such a long time. I love the ideas you give for language when talking with our students about their writing, especially “This is big!” My students will love that! Thanks for the opportunity to win!


  8. Great post, Melanie. Think it’s important for kids to know there are many different ways to move through the writing process. And I think it’s absolutely true that we often don’t know what the “Big Idea” is until we actually start writing.


  9. “This part is important,” just helped me this morning as I reread my journal entry. How can it not help my upper elementary writers? Thank you! Off to work with a new strategy!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Proof we all need to increase our writing volume…. so we can get to the heart of our feelings, innermost thoughts and opinions. Being able to write about it will lead to being able to talk about it and vice versa. Love today’s post and looking forward to the rest of the week.


  11. Wow, this blog came right as I am beginning a ten week unit with 4-5 grades on informational writing. I am looking forward to helping my students find the heart of writing in nonfiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Too funny, Melanie. Today my slice was about where and how my idea for writing came from – from writing (not from a graphic organizer either)! Finding the BIG IDEA in our writing is critical because that is where our emotions – our passion – lies. Capturing that passion provides focus !

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is such an important post. I think we have lost our way a bit in the area of writing. We have to stay focused on the real prize – writing about things that resonate with us and with our audiences. I think these strategies will help us with this.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Funnily enough, I saw a tarot card teller in Chile a long time ago and she told me something I already knew, which was that I must write to get my feelings and thoughts out, and it´d help with getting rid of negative thoughts. I´m always looking for ways to become a better writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love the conversation: “We have to write?” Reply: “No, you GET to write!” The scaffolding on that writing process is brilliant. I’m going to try it.

    Liked by 1 person

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