Quick Tip Tuesday Original: Writing tips from Mark Overmeyer

September 7th, 2010

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Quick Tip Tuesday on the Stenhouse Blog, right? But this Tuesday is a bit different, because instead of sharing a Quick Tip from a Stenhouse book, we bring you a Quick Tip Original from Mark Overmeyer, author of What Student Writing Teaches Us and When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working. What does it mean that it’s an original Quick Tip? It means that it’s never been published anywhere, and that it comes straight to you from a master teacher of writing. Enjoy and share!

Writing Tips from Mark Overmeyer

Have fun when you teach writing. Be joyful.

Whether you have just started back to school or you are weeks into your writing workshop, I cannot stress enough the importance of joy. I am lucky enough to visit many classrooms in schools across the Denver metro area, and the ones that function best seem to include one key element: joy. Here are some tips for creating more joy in your workshop:

Encourage the use of humor. Consider using humorous mentor texts with your students. Mo Willems has become a standard feature of most primary classrooms I enter these days, and I have yet to meet a student who wouldn’t jump at the chance to write a new Pigeon book (along the lines of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! or a book similar to Knufflebunny: A Cautionary Tale. Also for primary students, consider Melinda Long’s books How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don’t Change Diapers if you sense kids might like to write a pirate story. For intermediate grades, the books I continue to see in so many backpacks and on so many desks have a wimpy kid on the cover – Jeff Kinney has done us a huge favor as we try to convince students that they do have moments in their lives that are worth writing about. Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are full of short anecdotes in the form of diary entries that have helped many of my students in the past few years generate ideas and develop enthusiasm for writing personal narratives. And the film can be used in excerpted form to help students understand the concept of writing a scene, or a short part of a day, rather than the entire day.

Have fun while you read their writing. I work in a district just like many of yours: teachers have a lot of testing to do in the beginning of the year. Even if this testing includes some kind of required writing sample, raise the energy in your room by talking about how happy it made you to read their writing. Don’t read writing just to come up with a rubric score – have fun while reading it. Go in each day and talk about how much you are learning about your students as people because of their writing. One of the most resistant writers I have encountered in awhile is a third grader who managed to write a few words about fishing the first day of school. I use him as a model every day when I work in his classroom now. I say things like: “Writers, you are doing the work all writers do when they first come up with ideas – you are writing what you know. And Tyler knows about fishing. He knows about carp fishing on a lake, and he knows about fly-fishing in a river. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with today!” Though I cannot tell you that Tyler has produced pages of text, he does not produce at least half a page, and a picture, every day. And most importantly, he does not groan when it is time to write like he did the first day I met him.

Allow plenty of time to share. Don’t save sharing time for just the end of the workshop. Expect students to share ideas before they write, interrupt the workshop briefly to celebrate a student’s writing during writing time, and make sure to include as many students as possible at the end of the workshop sharing time. If your students are writing longer pieces, you can edit this process by asking them to share a favorite part of their story, or you can ask them to orally tell part of the story and just read their most recent page. If you have some shy students who do not like to share, ask for permission early in the school year to share their work with the class. All students, hopefully, will become confident enough to share their writing frequently as the year progresses.

Be positive about your own writing experiences. Be honest about your own struggles as a writer, but share your joy as well. Talk about how rewarding it is to create your own pieces and to share these pieces with the class. Let them into the world of your own writing process by sharing some real world examples of how writing made a positive impact on your life. You can think of cards you have sent, poems you have written for special occasions, or opportunities you have had because you worked hard on your writing. Help students to see that writing is alive and well in the “real” world: writing matters. Writing makes a difference.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mrs. V  |  September 7th, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    It was fun to see an “original” Overmeyer tip. I loved his two books, and I was excited to see more of his insights. My students love the DIary of a Wimpy Kid series and we are doing a genre study on personal narrative study right now, but I had not thought of utilizing the Kinney books to tie into our genre study. I am glad that he mentioned it!

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