Parents and teachers often ask me about how my students so consistently fall in love with writing. The answer to this question could probably fill a book, but here is one tiny example of why my students tend to love writing so much: Each week I sponsor one or more writing contests in my classroom. I choose the topics for these contests, and a panel of three independent, anonymous judges (usually teachers and former students) determine the winner. There is a standard prize for every contest, consisting of a blue ribbon, a certificate of achievement, an in-class privilege for the following week and the winner’s name added to a plaque of previous winners that is displayed in the classroom forever.
But sometimes I vary the prizes.
Inspired by Sharon Creech’s LOVE THAT DOG, this week’s contest requires students to write a poem that includes a dog and evokes sadness in the reader. There was a time when I would read aloud LOVE THAT DOG to my class, but after finding myself unable to get through the final pages of the book a couple years ago because I was in tears, I ask my students read it silently now.
Whenever I cry during the reading of a book, my kids never let me hear the end of it, so it is to be avoided whenever possible.
After explaining the origin for this week’s contest to my students, we entered a round of intense negotiation, initiated by them. It resulted in the following prize for this week’s contest:
- I agree to read aloud the poem of every student who enters the contest, in hopes that I will cry (their hope, not mine).
- I agree to record my reading of the winning poem.
- If I produce even a single tear during the reading of the winning poem, I will post the video to YouTube with the title “Grown Man Cries Like A Baby.”
This is one tiny example of why my students love to write.
I make it fun. Or more precisely, I allow my students to make it fun.