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Creating Change: Authentic Purposes for Writing

Feb17 Blog Series ImageCreating real change in the world can seem out of reach, especially to a child. We sometimes forget that heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Annie Sullivan, Marie Curie, Mahatma Gandhi, and Malala Yousafzai were once all young children with dreams and aspirations. Each persevered through difficulty and overcame injustice among so many others who have risen when faced with challenges. Their determination and bold pursuits are what inspire so many on a path toward change.

With my third-grade students, I wanted to give them multiple opportunities this year to share their opinions, ideas, and dreams about changing the world in both big and small ways. There are so many wonderful books that encourage children to reflect and think about their actions. One of my favorites is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. The idea that every action we take, good or bad, sends ripples into the world is a powerful message to children.

Over the past several months, students have explored and practiced writing about change, thinking about their place within that change. We’ve discussed that even when our actions are small the impact can be great and ripple out, inspiring many. Students understand that sometimes they are on the receiving end of the change and that their response can keep the cycle going. Writing and sharing these experiences creates an imprint of that change, making it more permanent. It has been important to me to make these writing experiences as authentic and purposeful as possible. Encouraging students to see when writing about your passion, one doesn’t always have to follow an essay form. Changes and impact can come in little bits sprinkled throughout our lives.

Here is a summary of ideas to create authentic experiences that share what students notice, believe, dream, and feel.

The Wall of Topics

I asked my students a few questions prior to creating this wall of ideas. What breaks your heart? What do you wish in the world? What brings you joy? Students used these questions to develop statements with a partner or individually. We posted them on the wall of our classroom and the span of ideas was vast. One wished everyone could take a dance class because it makes her so happy. While others wished that people wouldn’t pollute the environment or hurt animals.

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Sneak Attack

For several years now I have had students write about a sneak attack of kindness. It could be an act that you did for someone or one someone did for you. I had students write a short paragraph to share their sneak attacks.

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Click images above to enlarge. Forgive any errors as my students navigate the world of typing. 🙂

Shout Out

From day one in my classroom, I have encouraged students to find the good in others. Several months ago, someone shared on Facebook a shout-out board. I can’t give credit where credit is due, but I will say whoever you are, thank you! Students take the opportunity throughout the day to recognize a peer for something great. Teaching children to notice the good and recording it in writing can have such a positive influence on the culture of a classroom. I hope students continue to take note and write little encouraging words to their peers long after I am their teacher.


Be Heard!

On January 16th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we had school. Several of my students felt we should have had the day off. When I asked them why and what we should do a few voices piped up with, “Who decides this stuff anyway?” I explained that days off of school were often decided by many people but they could start with our principal or superintendent if they wanted their voice to be heard. A handful of students decided to write letters explaining their reasons and thoughts about having school on this special day. Below is one student’s letter.


Click image above to enlarge.

Heart Maps

More recently I got a copy of Georgia Heard’s book, Heart Maps, the featured book for our giveaway during this series. Although I have done heart maps with students in the past, I have usually kept them more general. This time, I showed students examples from Heard’s book of how children created maps about changes they would make in the world or concerns and worries they might have about big problems. These maps will serve as a nice springboard when we begin writing more information and non-fiction pieces in the coming months. I hope to put a focus on students choosing projects and topics they are passionate about and processing their ideas through the writing process. I remind them all the time, “You never know, the next great hero of change could be sitting in this room.”



  • heard_cover_smallThis 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 I 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, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – HEART MAPS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

34 thoughts on “Creating Change: Authentic Purposes for Writing Leave a comment

  1. Betsy,
    I love all of these ideas. And since I teach 3rd grade, too, they are all something I can do with my students. Thanks for this post.


  2. I absolutely love the idea of making Heart Maps for changes children would like to make in the world or concerns/worries they have about problems. I am excited to share this post with the teachers at my school! I love your Wall of Topics, too!


  3. Betsy,
    I love, love, love the “sneak attack of kindness” – we need to notice and name those “kind” actions that are so important in our lives! How can one kind word change the outcome of the day for even one student? That’s a change I would love to study!!! ❤


  4. I love this idea of recognizing kindness. I was recently in a first grade classroom and the I noticed the children having issues with one another! After if reading this post I now have some excellent ideas to use with the class. Thanks again. Sharon Peck


  5. I would love to own this book, both as a resource for me to use in teaching my students but also as a guide for myself as a writer! Thanks for the opportunity!!


  6. When we planned this blog series, I didn’t realize how timely it would be. But this post — this post about writing to affect change — is huge. Thanks for showing us ways to make this happen in the classroom. It is only after kids try it out in the classroom that they can grow their audience and create change with their words (for social justice).


  7. I would love the Heart Maps book for my third graders! We are right in the middle of our opinion unit and I really want to create a space for them to do sneak attacks ! Thanks


  8. What wonderful ideas! I want to try the Wall of Topics and the Sneak Attack as soon as possible. We have been working on building a community in my class because there is a definite and negative divide between boys and girls. We have made progress, but these ideas will help.


  9. I love this purposeful writing and how it enhances the culture in your classroom. This is so refreshing and a chance for children to think as individuals and a change from the strict compliance expected of them all day long.


  10. Hey Betsy, what a wonderful post. As a middle school literacy consultant, I can definitely see your idea of creating a “Wall of Topics” helping to launch an independent bend of argument writing for 6th-8th graders. “What breaks your heart? What do you wish in the world? What brings you joy?” are all great questions to stir the kind of impassioned writing we hope to see our students generate! Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Betsy, your classroom sounds like such a lovely place to exist. After sending my kids on the commute to Ohio to be in Deb’s 1st grade classroom, I will start planning the commute to Michigan for 3rd grade. Be kind, do good things for others, use your voice. I have goosebumps reading this.


  12. This post is so timely for our school community! Tomorrow we launch a “random acts of kindness” initiative. This post provided multiple ideas for extending our initiative, and for incorporating writing. Hooray!


  13. I love the idea of having students write about topics that matter to them. I often see too many story starters and generic topics given to students in writing centers that are ineffective.


  14. As an instructional coach I will take the idea of The Wall of Topics back to the teachers. They are always looking for amazing strategies. Authentic real world writing is a powerful tool to use with students, they often don’t want to write just to be writing.


  15. A great idea to get reluctant writers to get their thoughts out. Having a heavy ESL class and high learning needs, teaching them the units of study this year has become an exhausting process for all. I like the ideas mentioned here to try out with them, especially The Wall and the Shout Out board.


  16. The Wall of Topics and your Shout Out Board are two wonderful ideas I hadn’t thought of before! Thank you for sharing these ideas. EACH KINDNESS is such a heartwarming, moving story. We read it multiple times and reference it quite often throughout the school year. Thank you for taking the time to write, Betsy. I’m always inspired as I read each post and the many comments that soon follow! 🙂


    • I just read a blog entry yesterday about how a Kindergarten teacher structures activities to foster the idea of student agency (check out the latest iTeachwithiPads blog entry). Children often feel that they don’t have choice so how can we give them opportunities in our classrooms to do that? How does my choice affect me? I couldn’t help but think of that blog entry as I read this one.The ideas presented in this blog entry are such a natural extension of those ideas of student choice. How do my choices affect others? How can I be a change agent for someone other than me? So powerful!!


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