Engage Reluctant Writers – Write Out LOUD!

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

Ever found yourself encouraging a child to “just picture yourself doing it (whatever it is) and you’ll be able to get it done?” Researchers tell us that when we picture something happening we put the power of our mind to it; some call this approach to life “the power of positive thinking.”

I’m not an expert on the science of mind-eye partnerships but I’ve had success helping elementary school students learn how to write by helping them picture themselves writing a poem or a story about doing something they enjoy. How? I write out loud using them as the subject! Like this…

First I ask for a show of hands in class for anyone who plays a sport. Hands fly and I choose a student who I know is having trouble with his/her writing. In one class I picked a boy we’ll call Jorge, shown in my blog pic below.

“When I’m on the soccer field I feel like a king!”

Jorge is the boy I’m speaking to; you can see that he’s attentive because he’s picturing himself at play.

Jorge announced that he plays soccer and I said “Okay, great, I’m going to write a poem out loud right now for Jorge. This will be Jorge’s soccer poem.” To assuage students whose faces show disappointment that I didn’t call on them I say, “You listen for your sport, because we’ll all be writing in a few minutes time, but this poem is for Jorge.” By now, the class is all ears ready to hear how Jorge plays soccer! Some students have already started to write.

Then I say, “I’m going to write out loud with just a few lines.” I advise the class to listen for words that describe, show action, feeling and sound that suit the sport. “Here goes,” I say…

My name is Jorge,

Soccer is my game.

When I’m on the soccer field,

I feel like a king!

Pass the ball to me,

Watch me run,

Down the field I dash

Faster than a cheetah,

I stretch my leg back,

Whack, smack,

I kick the ball hard.

It flies into the net,

Score!

Our team won the game!

Every time I write a sports poem out loud about one student, the whole class breaks into applause at the end. Why? Because they can all picture themselves as winners; my goal is to help them achieve that same sense about writing.

When I write out loud I use hand gestures to draw lines across the air in front of me, marking the lines of the poem, “down the imaginary page I go,” I tell the class. The kids in my blog pic thought that my sports poem about Jorge was improvised because my voice sounded casual. In fact, the poem I presented is a proven winner; I’ve repeated it with different children’s names and different sports (adjusting words to suit different sports) many times over. It’s an effective and fun teaching tool to use.

If you think about it, we can make an analogy between slow-starters on sports teams and reluctant students in writing and other subjects, as well. Kids who lack skills and/or self-confidence tend to sit on the sidelines until something or someone draws them out. I’ve observed that more boys than girls tend to be on the elementary classroom bench during writing time; I’ve found that introducing a sports focus attracts the attention of boys (and girls) as we warm up before private writing time.

One of the most effective tricks I use to engage reluctant writers is to read poems that I or others have written that show empathy for the predicament of kids…as in being required to sit in school when they could really be outdoors or somewhere else playing a game. Here’s a poem I’ve written related to soccer…

DISTANT FIELD

Out there,

beyond my classroom window,

on the other side

of the Principal’s office,

past the cafeteria courtyard and gym,

in the brightest hour of the day,

silently sits the soccer field,

waiting, just waiting

for my friends and me.

Why, oh why

am I

studying science

when I could be playing SOCCER!

Writing out loud to engage reluctant writers isn’t limited to sports subjects. Some kids are reluctant about playing sports; for them I offer opportunities to write about many other subjects.

Cinquain poems are ideal for out loud writing to help students jump-start their own poems. In just five lines, cinquain poems include a focus, description, action and feeling, with a quick wrap up that brings attention back to the focus.

“Let’s write a poem with only five lines.”

In my blog pic here I’m pointing to a paper with printed lines that are ready for a cinquain poem. I’ve posted a model on the white board behind me, a poem about spring (in the Northern Hemisphere); I’m reading it aloud and inviting the class to write about their favorite season.

Spring

Flowery, showery

Windy, warming, bursting

Happy days growing longer

Season

When students start calling out words to add to the poem I don’t tell them to hush; I say enthusiastically, “Listen to you, do you hear yourselves writing poems out loud! Now we’re ready to write on paper!”

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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