While I can not attest to this (and I am certain that I never will), people tell me that there’s a wall you hit when you’re running a marathon. Somewhere around the twentieth mile, you’ve got to dig deep and figure out a way to finish, and sometimes, even finish with energy. A six to eight-week writing unit may not be the equivalent of running a marathon, although some may beg to differ this year, but it still requires some creativity for strong and energetic finishes. As I work with several teachers who are in the final third of their information writing units across a variety of grades, here are a few ideas for maintaining energy.
Have a Mini-celebration Before the Unit Ends
There are several ways to have a mid-unit celebration, but a compliment celebration is one of my favorites. In a third-grade classroom, we challenged students to fix up a favorite piece so that it would be ready for others to read it. Some of the students were working on pieces, but not quite done, and we encouraged them to share just a page or a section. Then, each student left a “Compliment Sheet” on their desk along with the piece or the page they wanted classmates to read. Classmates read pieces, left compliments, and moved to other pieces to continue the process.
As they circulated, we also gave students “Goal Forms” that traveled with them. On these forms, they wrote what they say that they admired or wanted to try and where they saw it.
This celebration encouraged students to consider the important skills they were working on since we didn’t let anyone get away with vague feedback. In fact, we provided checklists and referred to classroom charts as they read pieces and decided on compliments. The energy and excitement was high, and students were excited to read about other people’s topics, as well as think about and read how their peers had tried out new skills.
Offer Choice of How Writers Decide on Topics
Introduce Students to New Ways to Present Information
One of my favorite new professional books is Shelly Harwayne’s Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop. There are many ways to use this book and the multitude of writing challenges she offers, but one of the ways I’ve loved using it is to challenge students to write about the same topic they’ve written about, but in a new and creative way.
As an example, I’m sharing the beginning a piece that a fourth-grader wrote. She had written an information piece about squirrels, and she loved the idea of revising it using the repetition frame of If you were a squirrel.
Harwayne’s book provides many other creative ways for relaying information, and they breathe life and energy into units when you’re ready for it.
For all of you out there who are reading and run marathons or even 5K races, I’m impressed and in awe, and I’m sure you have tricks for finding energy as you reach your point of exhaustion. I’ll stick with my challenge of finding tips and tricks for infusing energy into writing units when it seems to be waning, and I welcome any of your ideas!