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
- 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?