Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Words, The Words, Where Are The Words?

Tuesday slice of life, Aug. 16, 2011

The Words, The Words, Where Are The Words?

       Sometimes the words
       don’t work.
       The labor is too intense.
       No poem is born.
       I think I may wait
       until the words
       come a bit easier.

I wrote this poem, trying to find one way to share my feelings with students when I can’t get started with a writing idea, and to let them know that sometimes I can’t get started, too. 
Sometimes in the classroom when we have writing time, I see students fiddling with their pencils, getting up to get a drink or another writing instrument.  I see they are struggling with finding an idea that that editor in their heads will approve.  How I help depends on the student.  When I know that they usually don’t struggle, and have plenty of ideas percolating in their notebooks, I leave them alone.  When it’s a student who muddles through consistently, and I’ve seen the slim entries in their notebooks, I try to intervene in a variety of ways.  Sometimes my aids work, sometimes not.  I do believe that as a teacher, I should try, but I also believe that there are students who are challenging to help, even resistive.  Here are a few ideas I use with those students. 
I have conversations with students that include questions about life outside school, sports played, musical pursuits, current status of friendships, etc.  Just talking can help a student begin an opinion about something, and then I encourage the writing about it.
There are lots of poems to use for student response, but the one that can be fun, because anything goes and it works for all ages is Judith Viorst’s poem “If I Was In Charge Of The World”.  If the student will begin just listing all the changes he or she would make, sometimes one thing on the list is what I respond to with “how would you do this?”
And finally, one topic that works well for me is to ask about other people.  What has the student noticed that indicates that a person is having some kind of problem?  It may be a friend that’s had a recent disappointment, a parent that is stressed about something at work, or someone at school this particular student knows has struggled in some way.  Helping the struggling writer think about someone else can motivate the writer to describe the person, the problem, and even to project further into a ‘what if’ scenario.  Here again, I’m just digging deeper into what this student knows, to help her or him see that they have indeed a wealth of interesting things to write about.
             I wonder what you do when a student struggles?


  1. Love the Viorst poem. I have used it A LOT! I talk to students many times when they can't think of something to write about and we do many, many, many activities to help them think of ideas.

  2. Great poems - yours and Judith's. Sometimes with the young ones I will do a combination of transcribing and writing. The process for the struggling writer in first grade is often a physical one, not a creative one!

  3. I always sat down and talked with my kids one-on-one, like you do. I often got parents involved by having a three-way conversation about things the child could write about. Sometimes when the three of us got together, we were able to break down the walls the child put up around writing.

  4. Having a conversation with a young struggling writer (grade 3 or 4) often helps. One of my students found it very amusing when I suggested that she could write about how she doesn't know what to write about. If a talk with me doesn't help I sometimes send them to my lovely colleague who writes so she speaks how she solves her problems as a writer.

  5. I love your poem Linda! Perfectly speaks to those moments when the words don't come so easily. I think, as most have already mentioned, conversation are key. Heart maps and journal jots about possible topics to write about in the future. Also talking about our struggles as writers and how the editor in our heads doesn't always approve either. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I use to refer students to books, hoping they won't just start reading and not return to their writing. Sometimes just making a list of likes, dislikes can spur them on. Good luck and have a good year.

  7. I love the poem you wrote, and would love to use it with my students (giving credit to you as the author, of course) with your permission. Your students are lucky to have such a thoughtful teacher; one who considers the reasons for their wordlessness and tries to help accordingly.
    Lists are a great way to get ideas flowing. After reading Penny Kittle''s Write Beside Them, I have been writing alongside my students and sharing my writing with them. Sometimes I show them that all I could come up with is a list of things that I might write about later.

  8. I think that the talking you do with your students really helps nudge those ideas. We story tell the first week of school and create ideas lists - these come in handy when my kids "go blank" - as they put it.

  9. You have created a place with lots of good ideas for working with the struggling writer. I have used the Viorst poem too, but ask what would you do if you were in charge of the school. My next best idea was using lists. One list we make is Memories Inside of Me. But the most important idea is having that connection with the student, talking is key.

  10. @Mardie-of course you can use the poem. It's a compliment to me!

    To everyone else-thanks for the ideas. It would be fun to have a conversation to share more ideas, just as we do with students. Lists are indeed such a help, too.

  11. I love how compassionate you are! It's clear through this piece alone.

    One of my favorite supports, for those kiddos that seem to struggle EVERY day at the beginning of writing, has been to have a "Prompt Pail" at the writing center. Each week, we brainstorm a list (not too many, to overwhelm anyone - usually no more than 5) ideas to write about. With smaller kiddos, I add a picture. Then, students that seem to be stuck regularly know they can go to the Prompt Pail and pick out a topic to write about that day. In all honesty, we KNOW students do better when they have choice, so they still have a bit of choice. But they also get sick of using ideas they didn't come up with, so quite quickly, almost always, the students start coming up with their own ideas. I haven't had too many serial pail pickers! :)

    The other option I have done is to have a prompt book out, that we sticky note prompts we like on Mondays. Again - not too many sticky notes. They can go and choose one of the sticky note options.

    I find that choices, with limits, cuts down on time. One year, I had a Serial Pail Picker, so I added a sand timer. He had to flip the timer when he arrived at the writing center, and he had to have chosen his writing topic by then end of that ONE minute. Worked like a charm... thankfully! :)

    I also found that the quick discussion we had on Mondays led to more independent writers adding to their topic lists in their notebooks, and led to some very fun "bonding over writing" time for our class!

  12. Thank you so much for these excellent ideas! I would also like to share your poem with students and teachers, if it is okay with you. :)

    I've used the book When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis with a fair amount of success. And images, photographs, and video clips seem to help stir up thinking for some writers.

  13. @Diana-I'd love to share my poem, as I've already copied some of the work you've shared with your wonderful record-keeping. And thanks for the book idea. I know Jamie Lee Curtis, but not the book at all. Happy to have another source!


Thanks for visiting!