4 Tips for Teaching Writing

Yesterday, I started teaching my teen writing workshop. I have six students and they seem to have great enthusiasm, so I’m really looking forward to working with them! This is only the second time I’ve taught a writing class, so I’m not exactly an expert––but I’ve learned a few things that I think will be helpful for anyone who has considered teaching writing.


 

1. Plan ahead and make an agenda.

I’m a pretty timid person, so teaching is a little daunting to me (especially when I’m still getting to know the students!), but planning ahead always makes me feel more calm and in control.

Figure out a class format that works for you. When I’m planning a class session, I make a list that goes something like this:

  • A theme/subject for the day
  • Something we can all discuss/brainstorm together related to that subject
  • A writing activity based on what we discussed

For example:

  • Subject: character development
  • Discussion: What makes an interesting character? What are some of your favorite characters, and why do you like them? What are some aspects that are important to think about when you’re creating a character (i.e. what they look like, what their fears are, what their strengths are)?
  • Activity: Give everyone a character sheet to fill out, so they can begin to create their own character. Work on the sheets for 10 minutes. Then, spend another 10 minutes starting to write a scene about that character.

2. Make sure everyone shares their work!

Sharing your work is intimidating––I know that all too well! But from my own experiences, I know it’s vital to share your writing with others.

After the “writing activity” portion of each class, I ask that everyone shares their work. In the first class I taught, the students seemed very intimidated by this at first. But by the last class, they all seemed much more willing to read their stories to the class.

If students are nervous about sharing, try asking them if they’d prefer someone else read it out loud for them. Sometimes that eases the pressure a little bit!

3. Encourage discussion and constructive feedback.

If you ask me, discussion is the most important aspect of any class. Especially in a writing class, it’s essential that students talk to each other and give each other feedback.

After a student shares their work, I always ask the class what they thought of it. If someone says “I liked it”, I ask them to be more specific: what did they like, and did they have a favorite part? This helps students to pinpoint the strengths in each other’s work––and in turn, that may help them think of new ways to strengthen their own work.

Since my students are only in middle school, they don’t tend to heavily criticize each other. And as the teacher, I don’t feel the need to criticize their work too much either. But I do try to suggest to students how they could take their stories a step further.

For example, yesterday one of my students started a story about a world made entirely of glass, which I thought was a really cool idea! It had a lot of great details in it, and I encouraged him to keep thinking about the details of that world. Would it be impossible to walk across because it was so slippery? Would it be blindingly bright in the sun? I think it’s very important to encourage young writers to keep expanding their ideas and reach deeper into their imaginations.

4. Be flexible.

As much as I try to keep my class on schedule, sometimes there are distractions. Sometimes the discussion veers off course a little. And I’m okay with that. If a student wants to talk about a book they love or something crazy/interesting that happened in their life recently, I don’t have a problem letting them share it (as long as it’s brief). I think these minor deviations from the discussion can often help the students learn about each other and feel more comfortable speaking.

Of course, I don’t want the class discussion to go totally off-track for too long. If we get a little off-topic, I let it happen––but I also try to figure out a way to steer the students back towards the topic at hand without totally dismissing their off-topic discussion. I encourage them to write down their interesting life stories. If they’re all talking about a book/movie they like, I ask them why they like it and what aspects of it they could apply to their own writing.


 

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more teaching advice as I gain more experience, but that’s my advice for now!

Has anyone else ever taught a writing class before? If not, would you want to? Do you have any other advice to add? 

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4 thoughts on “4 Tips for Teaching Writing

  1. Wow, it sounds like you’re doing a really good job teaching this class! If I were one of your students, I probably wouldn’t like being obliged to share my work either, but I like your commitment to this. It shows you have a teaching philosophy.

    I’ve never really taught a writing class, but I have a good story about the only experience that comes close: The first time we all entered ABNA (at least, it was my first time, and I think yours too?), I noticed that one of the other YA semifinalists was the person whose summer “Writing to Get Published” class I took twice in middle school. I decided to write to him. He was still teaching “Writing to Get Published,” and he invited me to visit his class that summer. Well, I arrived on the appointed afternoon and learned that he was gone because his daughter was at the hospital giving birth to his first grandchild. There was a substitute teacher, and when I got to the classroom, she was like, “Oh, great, you’re here!” and left me alone with all the students. It turned out fine; I just did a Q & A, and it was a lot of fun. The students then went to a computer lab to write, and I found myself telling them things like, “When I took this class, we wrote in notebooks” and “I used to keep my writing on a floppy disk” and feeling old (even though I was 19).

    1. Thanks! I hope I’m doing a good job. 😀 I have two returning students from my last class, so hopefully that’s a sign I’m doing something right! I don’t like sharing my work either––but it was obligatory in all the writing classes I took in college and it always helped me learn something. And the more I did it, I got a little less scared of it. So I’m hoping to help my students get over their fear, at least a tiny bit. 🙂

      Hahaha that sounds like it was fun! My students always write with pencil/paper, which I think works better in a class setting. Even though I do most of my writing on the computer, I think in a writing class it’s important that everyone looks at each other (when they’re not writing, of course) and that there aren’t too many distractions!

  2. Great advice! It’s wonderful that that you have so many people interested in writing. I started my own teen writers group, and while I had two faithful people who would come, that was about it. Eventually, I disbanded the group because with only three members (and one was even leaving), there wasn’t a lot we could do in getting a lot of feedback and discussion as an actual “group.” It’s hard to find writers who are enthusiastic about the craft, so keep up the good work! You look like you’re bound to do a great job. 😀

    1. I’m sorry your group fell apart! 😦 Sometimes I think a small workshop group works very well, since everyone easily gets to know each other and becomes familiar with each others’ writing styles. But of course, it’s no good if no one shows up at all! Thank you––I still have a lot to learn, but I’d like to think I’m doing a good job so far. 🙂

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