You’ve heard the phrase, “less is more,” right? Well, there are definitely situations where that doesn’t apply.
Ice cream is one of those situations :), and another one is students’ writing! In today’s post, I’m sharing the strategies that I use when some of my students just aren’t writing enough.
Photo Credit: racom, Shutterstock
The Problem With Page Number Requirements
I don’t remember if it was in high school, college, or grad school, but I once had a teacher who refused to give page number requirements. She told us, “Write enough to answer the question.” Some students groaned and tried to weasel a number out of her.
Personally? I loved having that freedom. When I’m given instructions like, “Write a 10+ page paper,” that number is constantly on my mind the whole time I’m writing. I’m always looking to see what page number I’m on and how many more pages I have to write!
On the other hand, my writing comes much more easily when I don’t have to worry about page numbers. I’m freed up to focus on the topic, my ideas, and my organization of the piece – rather than being preoccupied with trying to reach a certain number of pages.
Regardless, I’m not going to make a universal statement about page number requirements vs. no page number requirements. There are situations when they’re necessary, as well as situations where they’re not.
But when I’m working with writers in K-2, I almost always avoid requiring them to write a certain number of pages.
Here’s what happens if I ask them to write 4 pages:
- 9 kids write rambling stories and repeat themselves over and over, just so that they meet the 4-page requirement.
- 7 kids write 4 pages and then stop, even though they really could have and should have written more.
- 3 kids don’t write anything at all, because they struggle with writing and 4 pages seems like an insurmountable challenge.
- 2 kids happen to write exactly 4 pages, which is what they would have written anyway.
You get the picture. Page number requirements can limit some kids, result in poorer writing quality for other kids, and overwhelm certain kids.
Drawing with Details
So what can we do instead of giving kids page number requirements? Teaching them to draw with details is a great first step!
When kids create a detailed drawing or series of drawings, then they have a starting point to write from. They can write a sentence about each component of the drawing – and that really adds up if they’re drawing with lots of details!
Teaching kids drawing minilessons definitely isn’t a waste of time, because then we can teach kids to write from those details. Here are a few suggestions for drawing minilessons, as well as how each type of detail can translate into writing:
- Draw to show how you/the characters felt. -> Write about how you/the characters felt.
- Draw to show how people or animals were moving. -> Write about actions (what people/animals did).
- Draw people with multiple body parts and clothing. -> Write to describe what characters look like.
- Draw details in the background. -> Write to describe the setting.
- Draw to show how you feel about a topic. -> Write your opinion about the topic.
- Draw to show the body parts of an animal/plant/other topic. -> Write about what the animal/plant/other topic looks like.
I know that giving kids ample time to draw might seem unproductive. But when we give kids the right instruction and support, that drawing time can help them create longer and more detailed pieces of writing. We just have to do lots of modeling to show them how to turn drawings into writing.
Checklists are a great tool for getting kids to write more!
Of course, we need to spend time teaching our students how to use the checklists. We may even want to have students work as a class to develop a checklist.
But when the checklist is ready, we can have students keep a copy of it in their writing folders throughout a unit. After they finish a piece of writing, they check to make sure that it has all of the items on the checklist. And usually, if we’ve provided them with a really complete checklist, it will be hard for them to meet those requirements without having written a decent amount.
(This checklist is from my revising and editing toolkit.)
Every year, I explain to my kids that writers improve by writing more. I work with my students to help them set writing goals, and sometimes those goals pertain to how much students write.
One tricky thing about goal setting is that I don’t want to my students to compare themselves to other writers. Something that might be a good goal for one student would be far too easy for another child.
How much a student writes is a very personal goal, in my opinion. I discuss length with one student at a time, or with a small group (if students are all writing similar amounts).
I praise the student for what she has written and then help her set a goal for writing more (adding 2 sentences with more details, or filling up all of the lines on one page). It really helps if you and the student decide what the additional writing will be about, so she has a clear direction to go in. I then check back in with the student to see how it went, or how I can help her meet the goal moving forward.
As with so many other aspects of teaching, getting kids to write more is more of an art than a science. We want to encourage and coax rather than require or punish.
In addition to the strategies I mentioned in this post, giving students choice is a big factor in how much they write. If they’re excited about a topic, they’re much more likely to write more about it! You can read more about how I incorporate choice into writing workshop in this post.