Authentic Purposes for Writing Blog Series · family · growth mindset · independent writing · writing workshop

Carving Out Time: Authentic Purposes for Writing

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I believe in writing. I believe that the more you write, the more you discover your own thoughts and ideas. Your voice grows stronger.  You become more fluent. Writing becomes a part of who you are, how you see the world, how you process your thoughts, how you communicate effectively with others. It is not enough for students to just write during writing workshop. Writing needs to be woven into the fabric of the day, across subject areas, in ways that are meaningful and authentic for students.

As a third grade teacher, I am all too aware of the time crunch. The curriculum is packed and fitting everything in can feel impossible. These are some ways I’ve found to build time for writing, where the writing has an authentic purpose:

  • Family Dialogue Journals: The Family Dialogue Journal is a place where students can reflect upon what they are learning in school. Students write a letter to a family member about lessons we have learned and ask the family member to share his/her thoughts and opinions on the subject. Earlier in the year, we engaged in some growth mindset activities such as The Marshmallow Challenge and Saving Fred. We also learned vocabulary words like resilience, flexibility, and persistence. Students wrote letters describing this learning and family members wrote back about times when they showed persistence and why it is important. The Family Dialogue Journal gives students the opportunity to process what we they are learning in school and opens up conversation with family members. The written exchange provides an authentic opportunity to write and invites parents and other family members to model writing for their children, too.
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In January, my third graders selected a #OneWord2017 and wrote to a family member about why they chose their word. Here, a student describes his choice and asks his brother, a college student, what word he would select.
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Kyle’s brother takes the time to respond in writing, explaining his choice for #OneWord2017.
  • Digipals- Digital Pen Pals: My friend and Long Island Writing Project colleague, Nicolette James, has collaborated with me to create digital cross-grade level pen pals with our students. Nicolette’s high school students were matched up with my third graders as pen pals. We use Google docs and Google Drive instead of mailing letters. Nicolette and I have done some similar activities with our students around growth mindset, including a lesson on Marble Theory of Intelligence. Our students wrote to each other about taking part in this lesson.  Pen pal letters can be written during morning work time and do not take away from other lessons, yet yield a lot of enthusiasm and engagement from students as they eagerly await a response from their high school buddy.
  • Free Writing in response to a read aloud: Reading aloud to students is one of my favorite parts of teaching. I try to select books that are beautifully crafted and have an important message. Sometimes, after reading a book, I invite my students to write in their “free writes” section of their writing notebook. I do not give them a topic, but just ask them to write what the book made them think of. Recently, I read Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down  by Andrea Davis Pinkney. The book ended right as we had to leave for Physical Education and I worried that students didn’t have the chance to share questions or thoughts around this powerful book. When we returned from Physical Education, I asked the students to write about what the book made them think or wonder. The ideas that were shared filled the room with questions about why people wouldn’t treat others equally. A digital option is to have students write their ideas about the text on a Padlet. Here is an example of students reacting to the end of The One and Only Ivan last year through writing on a Padlet. I usually write my own response to the reading as the children write, to show them that I am a writer in the room as well and writing is how I process my thoughts, too.
One of my third grade student’s written response to the book The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts.


  • Blogging: My students blog at least once a week. I’ve set aside one period a week to devote to blogging, but students can choose to blog at other times of the day or at home. Blogging has been an important way to teach my students about voice, digital citizenship, and how to be part of a writing community. When students blog, they become skillful at selecting their own topics and you can really learn more about their passions, interests, and family life. With only one period a week dedicated to blogging, it does not take a lot of time away from the curriculum and it has many positive gains, such as establishing writing identity. My students bring a portable word wall file folder with them to blog and students add words to their personal dictionary, showing they care about spelling and are considering their reader when they are blogging.
  • Cards: One of my awesome third grade colleagues, Liz DellaRocca, shared this idea with me when I was new to third grade. When a student celebrates a birthday, each student creates a birthday letter for that child. The letters get assembled into a birthday book for the student to keep. These become treasures for the birthday child! In addition to writing birthday letters, we make cards for different occasions. We created holiday cards for our kindergarten buddies, we made Valentines for Veterans, we made “Welcome” cards when a new student arrived, and we made “Happy Retirement” cards when our school nurse recently retired. Cards and letters offer students the opportunity to write for authentic purposes and also demonstrate what it means to be part of a caring community. Stacey shared about the importance of letter writing in her post earlier this week.
  • Independent Writing: This year, I have tried opening up one period a week for Independent Writing. I have a period where several students leave for an Academic Intervention Service, leaving me with about half of my class. This period has become a chance for students to write anything they want to try and has become a favorite time of day. My students have been writing book after book, creating a series based on characters they invented. Recently, two students collaborated, creating a book where both of their characters interacted. Students sign up to read each other’s books and eagerly share their latest creation at our Morning Meeting. Even students who are not present for Independent Writing (because of their Academic Intervention Service) have caught the book-making bug and write books on their own time to share with the class, too. There is a true sense that we all can be authors.

Because I value writing, because I am a person who writes myself, I find ways to include writing throughout our school day. The writing I weave through our day is authentic and filled with student voice and choice. How do you find ways to incorporate writing in a jam-packed curriculum?


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  • 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 winnes, 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 received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

22 thoughts on “Carving Out Time: Authentic Purposes for Writing

  1. So many practical ideas that are easy to implement! Thank you for the reminder that Padlet is great tool for reading responses connected to a read aloud!


  2. Great post. I’ve been using a dialogue journal to communicate with my third graders this year, with mixed results. I like the idea of incorporating the family into the mix.


  3. I agree that students should write across all learning areas. In high school it’s a little hard to convince students of the merit of this and you can also get some odd results. In my first lesson for the year with year 9 maths class I asked them to write about what they loved in life. I gave some prompts and mostly received a list of dot points that answered these prompts, usually not in sentence form. I may have to ditch my free write approach and add some guidelines, all the while groaning against the loss of intention.


  4. Even though I know how dedicated you are as a teacher and a writer, I was still amazed at the variety of ways you have offered your students opportunities for authentic writing. It proves to me that when a teacher is him/her self a writer, blending writing into the curriculum becomes second nature. I wonder if you’ve thought of a way to get kids writing across the curriculum, say, about science or other topics. That would be a way to strengthen their learning in that subject area as well. Because you have such an “authentic” voice in your writing, I am not at all surprised that your kids have picked up on that quality and embedded it in their own writing.
    Have you thought of creating your own website? Just saying….


  5. I love the idea of making cards for birthdays. Although we are Title 1 Kindergarten, we do “make” cards throughout the year for various people and purposes, but not independently as much. I may wait until next year to start for birthdays as I do not want to leave anyone out. However, we will definitely up the bar by writing special cards for our staff, starting with Valentines Day for our class custodian. (We have been talking about how hard he works in the evenings to make our room so clean and nice.)
    This, also, gave me the thought to incorporate texting a grandparent, family member, or friend as a homework assignment occasionally. They can write the sentence first, then type in mom or dad’s phone with their supervision. This is current technology and interest. Hopefully, I can even have them type into my computer a sentence they have written for mom or dad and we can e-mail it to them.
    Thanks for the “brain boosters”! 🙂


  6. I love all of these authentic writing ideas as well as giving our students time to “free write”. I find that is when I get the most creative stories from them! Thanks for the opportunity to win Heart Maps. I have been wanting to add that to my professional library for a while!


  7. So many wonderful and useful ideas that can be implemented across grade levels. I’m a fourth grade teacher and we just started reading aloud THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Katherine Brubaker Bradley (a moving and powerful story, if you haven’t read it!). Wonderful idea to have students respond using Padlet. I think I will try that this morning! Thank you for the shares and inspiration.


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