by Tammy Dunbar
Expert Educator Columnist, USA
College and Career Ready Anchor Standards call for students to use writing “as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events.” Students are called to devote a significant portion of their time to writing, including many pieces over both short and extended time frames. So we dutifully assign essays, reports, weekly writing assignments, daily journal prompts, and assorted quick-writes.
But if students are not motivated, they will not give their best effort. If we overwhelm them, they will shut down. As educators, we know the only way to become a better writer is to write. So what can we do?
Why not use technology to help craft some engaging and unique writing opportunities for our students to practice argumentative, informative and narrative writing?
- Argumentative: One quick and easy way to start a lively discussion is to post a topic on your Classroom OneNote. The beauty of creating a Classroom OneNote is that you automatically have a space designed for collaboration (first tab: collaboration space). I like posting interesting questions that allow students to discuss, debate & argue their way to an answer (see example). A written discussion has a much different dynamic than an oral one. Often in classroom discussions, we only have participation from those students who are comfortable being vocal. In a written discussion, all students have the opportunity for their opinion to be in the argument. After their discussion online, students could then be invited to use the OneNote discussion to write an essay addressing the prompt in their personal OneNote folder. To learn more about OneNote, see onenoteforteachers.com
- Informative: One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve gotten is from my husband, a professional journalist. He says when you have “writer’s block” – if you don’t have a clue what you should write – you haven’t researched or thought about your topic enough. We must give our students quick writing prompts that allow them to use what they know so they have more confidence in writing. My class loves going on Animaljam.com, National Geographic’s cool massively multiplayer online game, so I decided to give them a visual writing prompt about it: “You just got a job at Animal Jam! Your job is to write a welcome to the webpage that tells new members how to create an account and how to create an avatar!” They were energized! They knew exactly how all this worked because they were so familiar with the website, so they didn’t even complain about the assignment. They got right to work, using sequence words without even being prompted, and the finished products proved that it’s easier to write when you have enough information about your topic.
- Narrative: Storytelling is an important skill, and there’s nothing students like more than hearing a good story. But telling one takes some creativity and crafting. At my school, we decided to enter a progressive story contest – the kind where a student from one class writes the beginning, and another from the next class continues the story, and so on. But we decided to make it even more engaging by allowing students to illustrate and record their narratives using Microsoft PowerPoint & Mix. What we got as a finished product turned out to be prize-winning, but the best prize was seeing how engaged the students were and how excited they were when we posted their final product on our school web page!
If the power goes out or you don’t have access to equipment for the day, you can still inject technology into your students’ writing! Try Tweeting Without Electricity! Create a Twitter board on your wall and have students write a “Tweet” (140 characters or less) as an Exit Ticket on a colorful sticky note. Grab a class set of color chips or cards from the local home improvement or paint store and write one question number at the top (from a set of questions from any curriculum or that you wrote yourself). Each student reads the question number and corresponding question, then answers it on the top section of the color chip. Ring a bell so students pass them clockwise and check the new question number at the top as well as the comment(s) made before, then invite the student to write his/her own 140 character response.
Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She will be presenting at ISTE 2015, CUE 2015 and CTA Good Teaching North 2015. Tammy has presented for CTA Good Teaching North (2014), Cap CUE (2014), all three California Subject Matters Project Conferences, Capitol Area Science Education Leaders, and several San Joaquin County Office of Education events as well as others. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She is on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee as the district embarks on their “Going Digital 2015” project.