Selecting writing prompts for children doesn't have to be a complicated process, and the writing students produce doesn't have to be the next great book. Writing is all about getting thoughts on the page, no matter how unpolished they may be at first, and no one knows that better than Heinemann author Linda Rief. Below, she shares some ideas for jumpstarting writing at home, whether you are a teacher or a parent.
A note from Linda Rief
As a teacher who left the classroom last June I can only imagine how stressful remote learning is for kids of all ages, teachers, and parents. I asked Heinemann if they would be willing to let me send out some quickwrite ideas for you to use with your kids. They agreed without hesitation. So, ask kids to grab their Writing-Reading Notebooks (or really any paper) and do some quickwrites to jumpstart their thinking and writing.
A quickwrite is a first draft response to a short piece of writing or drawing. On the following pages, we will include several of those mentor texts, along with prompts to help each writer get started if needed. We have included both teacher-facing and student-facing versions for each text. The writer writes fast either in response to anything the mentor text brings to mind, or borrows a line and lets the line lead their thinking. The point is to outrun the censor in all of us and find the thinking we were doing but didn’t know we were thinking until the words appeared on paper. It is writing to find writing, but using someone else’s words to stimulate our thinking. Ralph Fletcher says it is “riding the wave of someone else’s words until you find your own.”
Let your students see and hear the pieces we will share with you. Tell them to write fast, as quickly and as specifically as they can for two to three minutes. There are directions with each mentor piece, but they don’t need to be followed.
When your students have tried a few different quickwrites, have them read them over, find the one that surprised them the most or they like the most, star it, and go back to that one to further develop. As Don Graves so often said to young writers: Tell me more.
All my best,
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Linda Rief left the classroom (reluctantly) in June of 2019 after 40 years of teaching Language Arts with eighth graders. She misses their energy, their curiosity, and their desire to read and write. She has file folders filled with the thinking of these adolescents and will continue to share all she has learned from them through writing and speaking. She is an instructor in the University of New Hampshire's Summer Literacy Institute and a national and international presenter on issues of adolescent literacy. Her newest book is The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students' Thinking and Writing. She is also the author or co-editor of numerous Heinemann titles, including Read Write Teach; Inside the Writer's-Reader's Notebook; Vision and Voice; and Seeking Diversity. She is a co-editor with Kylene Beers and Robert Probst of Adolescent Literacy. For five years she co-edited with Maureen Barbieri Voices from the Middle, a journal for middle school teachers published by the National Council of Teachers of English, and for an additional ten years continued to write a column for the journal.
Follow Linda on Twitter @LindaMRief