I heard it a lot from students when I taught the upper elementary grades: “I’d like science if I didn’t have to write about it.” Or, “This is not math, it’s writing!” Have you ever heard this? In the younger grades they don’t often express it in such a way. Instead, those students will just sit back and not participate very much, knowing that they have to write about it. Sound familiar?
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Thankfully, with Howard Gardner’s book Frames of Mind (1983) came a whole new way of thinking about students. Gardner outlined eight different “intelligences” that a person could have: self smart, word smart, logic smart, nature smart, picture smart, body smart, music smart, people smart. This new way of thinking helped to shape some of the future thinking in how kids learn. In a word, differently.
Across the curriculum there are many advantages to students being good writers. They can express themselves so that others can “see” their understanding. However, to a large majority of students, understanding is one thing; explaining their understanding is a whole new ball game.
Here are some ways that I encourage students to “write across the curriculum” without them even noticing!
For younger students writing what they think they know on sticky notes and coming up to put them on a class chart is an active learning (and writing) strategy that is meaningful and fun. Having them culminate their understanding later in a little handmade book makes writing fun!
Writing about math can be fun and meaningful, too. Here are a couple of ideas:
Social studies is always a tough one because there is so much writing involved, but there doesn’t need to be. Class discussions are very valuable, as well as the following tips and ideas:
There’s nothing worse than having to write a summary, review, or retell of a book you just read, right? Sometimes a different kind of writing can spark more of an interest. Boys especially seem to feel frustrated when asked to write about a book. Why? It’s because it doesn’t mean anything to them. Many boys read books out of necessity. A book about how to build something might be useful. I’ve had boys tell me that when they read something that they find meaningful, they quickly break it into three areas: stuff they already know, stuff they absorb easily, and then the rest are things that they must write down because they don’t know it and need to write it to remember it. Obviously as a teacher, we must expose kids to all kinds of genres, so here are a couple of tips to get students writing about reading:
If students have a home reading program as a primary student or a novel study as an intermediate student, the potential for students to want to write about their book is higher if they choose the book themselves. I have students do home reading presentations that can be anything from a Lego representation to a diorama. Oddly enough, many kids choose to write.
Other ways to motivate writing and sneak it into their daily life is to have kids “apply” for jobs in the classroom, for student council, or what have you. Here, my students were asked to submit a letter of application to be technology monitors in my classroom. Only those interested submitted.
And here, students began projects that ended up full of writing based on their own “passion” or “genius.”
Writing can be a fun way for students to “show what they know” in their own way that is meaningful for them and helps you to assess their level of understanding.
Shelley Rolston teaches in a suburb just outside of beautiful Vancouver, BC. She is the mom of two teenage daughters, and she loves the great outdoors and getting into nature.
Here are some other places you can find her and some of the ideas she has talked about: