3 Ways to Help Students Cope with Writer's Block

Three ways to help students cope with writer's block
Teaching writing has always been my favorite part of a class. From short stories to essays, I like to provide my students with fun and engaging topics and prompts to help them learn to love writing. However, it seems like every time that it comes time for papers, many students have a hard time thinking of something to write.

Everyone gets writer’s block. It’s not something new, but it something that people have an issue addressing a lot of the time. Sometimes, it can be uncomfortable for students to admit that they are struggling to come up with an idea, or that they have the idea, but just don’t know how to start. So here are three ways to help your students through their writer’s block.

Three ways to help students cope with writer's block
1. Set up a planning map
A planning map is simply a place where students can put everything that is going on in their head for a writing piece into an organized fashion. This can help students determine what pieces can go together, and still allow you to understand their thinking and help to give a little direction. A planning map can be a web where students put their main ideas in the center and create branches that go off of it with topics for their paper. From there, they can branch out more with examples or related pieces of information. It can also just look like an outline, where students write the main idea at the top and then move down similar to the web. Setting up a planning map and going through several prewriting exercises can help ease students into their writing assignments.

2. Have a class session for brainstorming
Having students work in small groups to help each other think of ideas can be a great help. While some students may already have ideas for things they want to write, it can help those who may not have thought of something. Hearing ideas from the others can make students think “That’s a cool idea! Maybe I could look at something similar, but focus on something different!”
This can also allow for them to have groups who they can peer edit with because they would already understand the other members ideas. One class brainstorming exercise I like is having my students complete group brainstorming posters with ideas, quotes, and illustrations. I then display these posters throughout the essay writing process so that my struggling students have a little more assistance.
Three ways to help students cope with writer's block
3. Set up a meeting with the students
In seventh grade, before we could even start on a paper, we had to meet with our English teacher to get our idea approved. I found it to be extremely helpful and made me feel a lot more comfortable to talk to her about my ideas in the future. These meetings are a way for you to know what and how your student is thinking when it comes to writing and allows for more individualization when talking about future pieces. Allowing students to bounce ideas off of you, helps them because they usually already have the idea and can express it talking. They problem they have is writing it down. Once they say what they’re thinking out loud, usually, they realize that they can write it on paper. These meetings also allow you to talk to them about an outline for their writing, which can help with their writing even more.

Helpful Writing Tools for Students:

Why I Love Assigning Mini Flip Books

Using mini flip books in the middle school and high school ELA classroom for instruction, review, and test prep
This past school year I started incorporating mini flip books into my instruction, and I absolutely love how they have transformed the way I teach and review content with my students.

Middle school and high school students are still kids, and every once in a while they need some “down” time in the classroom. That is why mini flip books are so great. As the students assemble to books, they get several minutes to themselves. As they cut out and assemble the pages, I allow them to listen to music, chat with friends, or keep quietly to themselves. My only request is that my students have their books assembled by the time the timer goes off. Side note: when my students assemble the books, I display a timer on my projector and give them 15 minutes to color, cut out, and staple their books.

Using mini flip books in the middle school and high school ELA classroom for instruction, review, and test prep
On assembly day, I display all of the paper on a table. I make sure that I place them in order from the first page to the last page, and I also set out a class set of scissors. I then dismiss students by rows or groups to gather all of the supplies needed and then return to their seats. Usually my students have about 15 minutes to assemble their books. With a couple minutes to go, I go around the room and instruct students to put their supplies away, throw away any scraps of paper, and I pass around the staplers.

1. They are fun
Using mini flip books in the middle school and high school ELA classroom for instruction, review, and test prepWhen I gave my seniors their first mini book, I was somewhat worried that my seventeen and eighteen-year-old students would find the books too childish, but I was completely wrong. They thought they were nifty, and they even enjoyed color-coding the tabs. Students are used to receiving content through direct instruction via lecture and presentations, and whenever a lesson deviates from traditional education, they are hooked. Mini flip books are fun.

One mini flip books I assigned to my seniors was the MLA Format Mini Flip Book. Even months after they completed the book, I still see them using it as a reference when they are writing essays. Another mini flip book I assigned my seniors was the IIntroduction to William Shakespeare Mini Flip Book. Before we read Macbeth, I wanted to introduce William Shakespeare and Elizabethan language in a fun and accessible way. I also wanted my students to have a reference to use as they read the play.

Using mini flip books in the middle school and high school ELA classroom for instruction, review, and test prep
2. They work great inside interactive notebooks
One major benefit to using mini flip books is that they can easily be stored and integrated in interactive notebooks. If you have a classroom that utilizes an interactive notebook, once your students have assembled the books and completed the activities inside them, have your students to glue the back cover of the book into their interactive notebooks. Then your students can come back to the books throughout the year as a reference.

3. They are hands-on
Many students are kinesthetic learners, and they learn best by doing, assembling, and creating. Introducing or reviewing content with mini flip books gives students the opportunity to create. With many of my mini flip books, I try to include activities within the books so that students can maximize their learning!

Using mini flip books in the middle school and high school ELA classroom for instruction, review, and test prep
4. They are great for test prep
As much as we might dislike test prep, teaching content that is frequently found on high-stakes tests is part of what we must do. Many questions on these tests, especially in fifth, eighth, and eleventh grade, deal with grammar and usage. Starting in the spring semester, I like to review this content with my students so they can brush up on their skills and also so that they are prepared for the test. Even though we might not like "teaching to the test", doing so helps yield higher test results. Many of the mini flip books I’ve created are great for test prep, and they are much more fun than traditional test prep strategies!

Test Prep Mini Flip Books:

5 Reasons to Assign Collaborative Writing

5 reasons to assign collaborative writing in the middle school and high school English language arts classroom
As a high school English teacher, I assign my students a quite a bit of writing assignments over the course of the year. Some assignments are quick 3-sentence responses, some are literary analysis paragraphs, some are narrative responses, and some are complete, multi-paragraph essays. In addition to assigning and assessing individual writing, I also assign several collaborative writing projects throughout the year.

While it is essential to assess student writing on an individual level, collaborative writing projects are extremely beneficial for students...and even teachers.

1. Built-in peer editing
When students work together to produce one well-written piece of writing, they take each other's’ best ideas and incorporate them into the final piece. Not only do students have two (or more) sets of eyes looking at the paper, but students also draft and revise as they go.

2. Less grading
When students partner up to produce one paragraph or one essay, that reduces the grading load in half! As an English teacher, I easily get more than 150 papers to grade at a time. When that workload is drastically cut in half, I can provide meaningful feedback to my students much quicker!

5 reasons to assign collaborative writing in the middle school and high school English language arts classroom
3. Students learn from one another
Teachers are not the only ones doing the teaching in a classroom. Students also teach one another, especially with group work. Assigning a collaborative writing assignment is a great way to help students learn from their peers.

4. Learn to collaborate
As much as some students loathe group work, it is a necessity. Many careers and jobs require people to work together. Assigning a partner essay provides students with another opportunity to learn how to collaborate to produce the best work possible. A collaborative writing assignment is another opportunity for students to learn to work together.

5. More individualized time
When students write collaboratively, teachers have more time in class to provide meaningful and individualized instruction. As students write their papers in class, there are fewer papers to read during those precious instructional minutes. This leaves you with more time to help students improve their drafts as they write.

3 Poems Every English Class Should Analyze

Much like short stories, poems are great analysis fodder because they can usually be read within one sitting and there is often a surprising amount of meaning hidden within a few scant words. Written below are three poems which I believe every English class should analyze.

Each and All by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The speaker of this poem observes both society and nature and realizes the truth that, “Nothing is fair or good alone.” The speaker supports this conclusion by reminiscing about how the sparrow’s singing and the delicate seashells he found by the shore were beautiful in nature yet seemed to lose their immaculateness when he took them home, away from their original context. Within the final stanzas of the poem, the speaker relents that logic and experience are not enough to understand nature and yields that true beauty can only be found within the “perfect whole.”

Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
The speaker of this poem embarks on a coach ride with a personification of death as the horses slowly take the speaker “towards eternity.” Dickinson uses balanced imagery to paint an almost comforting representation of death although one stanza in particular could be considered foreboding as it refers to the speaker’s house as a “Swelling of the Ground--.” What is particularly useful about this poem is how open it is to interpretation and is sure to elicit varied responses from students in regards to Dickinson’s personal interpretation of the nature of death.

In Just by E.E. Cummings
This poem is just plain fun to teach because it shows how literary devices extend beyond just metaphors and similes. Cummings stimulates the senses through the structure of his poem such as creating the effect of the actual sound and range of a whistle with the line, “whistles          far           and wee.” Despite how short this poem is, students might take a whole session just to discuss all ways the poem’s irregular structure work towards its and the reader’s understanding of the scene which Cummings masterfully and jubilantly displays for the readers.

Here are some resources to help you teach poetry:
Annotating Poetry
SMARTePlans Digital Poetry Interactive Notebook
Academic Vocabulary: Words About Poetry
FREE Blank Verse Poetry Project
FREE Universal Theme Analysis Poetry Project

3 Tips for Teaching Editing

3 Tips for Teaching Editing in the Secondary English Language Arts Classroom
As an English teacher, I find few things more cringe-worthy than looking over a student’s paper and seeing they’ve made easily avoidable mistakes. Such errors might include forgetting to capitalize a name, using “your” when they meant “you’re”, or even misspelling the title of the book they spent several days reading. I feel that the reason that most of these problems arise is that students place all their energies in getting the assignment finished and avoid investing time in the art of revising.

Here are three tips I hope you will pass along to your students on how to become better editors and turn in more polished papers.

3 Tips for Teaching Editing in the Secondary English Language Arts Classroom1. Read for a specific error
I speak from personal experience from back when I was a student that a lot of grammatical errors are overlooked because students only reread their writing once. They place too much trust in themselves that they can find every error in a single scan. While it is likely they will find the majority of errors that first time, it is equally likely that several mistakes will fly under their radar and lower their grade. To avoid missing out on easy points , students should reread their papers at least three times, each time looking for a specific error. For example, the first read could be for punctuation, the next one for grammar, and a third time for checking that the assignment answers the prompt without tangents. By looking for specific errors, a student’s editing will be more focused and thus more likely to catch simple mistakes.

2. Get a fresh pair of eyes
I remember writing once for a school assignment -much to my embarrassment- “must of” when I meant “must’ve.” The biggest pitfall with self-editing is that our brains trick us into believing we wrote what we meant to write, essentially making our errors invisible to us. It can be helpful to ask someone you trust to take a look at your paper after you carefully self-edited. It is also beneficial to ask your reader if he/she could follow your line of thinking in answering the assignment prompt and readability. This is where peer editing helps students produce better writing.

3. Read your paper out loud
Earlier I mentioned how self-editing can be tricky because our brains have the tendency to read what we meant to write. To avoid such editorial entanglements, instruct students to read their papers aloud to themselves. When a student verbalizes their writing, they are more likely to catch grammatical errors because they won’t sound right when spoken. It might even be beneficial to students to present their essay to the class in the form of a speech as part of an in-class editing session.