I think one of the biggest challenges my students face when writing is finding the initial spark. It would be fantastic if I could assign my students a topic, genre, or writing style and they could begin writing immediately. That doesn't happen since middle-schoolers tend to be their worst critics. They agonize and over think ever little detail that it's hard for them to simply begin writing.
For personal narratives, our first major writing assignment, this can be incredibly challenging since many of them feel that they don't have experiences worthy of writing or they don't know how to start. It's hard for them to get out of their own heads and just write.
To combat this, I use many different quick-writes and free writes in class. There are no expectations when students do this except that they write. For the most part, I give students a topic or a way to think about their lives and they start writing about it. Many times these directions are very guided and this helps with students who struggle being productive when there is too much freedom. I use quick writes as a way to begin formulating many different drafts and writing pieces with the hope, that we can start drafting, students will have something to write about to take through the writing process.
The first time we use a quick write, I read through the Quickwrites Notes handout. I have students copy these notes down in their notebooks so they can use it as a reference throughout this unit and for the rest of the year well. These notes explain to students how to write when we use quick writes in class. They are not to think about a final product or focus on where the piece is headed but they just need to write.
These notes are reviewed early in the school year and at the beginning of the personal narrative unit since we will be doing a lot of quick writes during this unit. These quick writes really serve as a way for students to think critically about their past experiences so when we do begin drafting they already have some loose ideas that they can think about working with.
These quick writes are done throughout the beginning lessons of the unit and are not designated to it's own lesson. I want my students to constantly write so we do a few of these throughout the unit.
There are many different ways to use quick writes and free writes in class. It will all really depend on the time allotted for this. Some of the quick writes below can be used for an entire class period and that can be very beneficial. For me, I don't want to spend too much time on them during a class period as I don't want my students to over-think too much. I just want my students to write and giving them a specified time frame helps them to focus to accomplish what the task asks for. I usually will spend about ten minutes for students to write for each task. This amount of time works for me as it gives students enough time to think about the prompt, but also enough time to get some good writing done. After we write for a bit, I then move on to the rest of the lesson for that day.
Since these are done in the beginning of the year, it's also a great way for me to begin to conference with students to see where their natural abilities are. After I explain the writing task and answer any questions, I give students time to just write. I will write myself for a few minutes. If students see me writing they are much more inclined to write and, at times, I also share my own writing so they can see what works and doesn't work. After a few minutes of my own writing, I walk around to help students that need assistance. Most of the time with this work it's beginning that they need help with so I may give them a sentence to start with or reword the task.
Below are the various quick writes and free-writes I will also to begin the personal narrative unit. I usually will do each one on a different day. We will spend some time writing and then the rest of class will be devoted to reading other personal narratives.
Once we have done a few quick writes in class, we then start drafting and turning these sparks into longer narratives. Students have the option of choosing what narrative to take throughout the entire process, but I encourage them to try drafting a few different pieces to see what works.