Recognize and Engage the Maker in Your Midst: 4 Ways Building Breeds Better Writers

Author and writing coach Angela Stockman on engaging the makers in your midst

My discovery about making continues to resonate with me, but in recent years, I’ve learned that making isn’t merely an intervention for kids who dislike writing. It’s a powerful means for elevating every writer’s process and work.

In fact, when we make with intention inside of my writing workshops and studios and the classrooms where I coach, we notice improvements in performance. 

Making motivates writers, especially when their writing is built around their making.

Teachers may choose the form in much the same way we always have in a writer’s workshop, but inviting writers to choose their own topics, and more important, to center their drafts around the things they’re making, is pretty powerful stuff. 

Making also ignites critical thinking and the analysis of form. Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder, the authors of Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom, inspired me in this area.

Given a set of creative constraints (a provocative prompt, a specific set of materials, and limited time, to name a few), how might students rapidly prototype stories, their opinions, pieces that inform, or even teach?

When we invite kids to make their responses, their experiences are richer, and according to Amy and Dan, “stickier” too. Kids remember what they build. I find that quick challenges like these help print-resistant kids make powerful contributions to our learning and work.

While one might think that the finer elements of a subject lend themselves to print, making requires writers to consider things about their topics that they may not have even noticed otherwise.

The products that emerge from cycles of making serve as artifacts that invite close analysis. This kind of study helps writers uncover new details that enrich their drafts with nuance and complexity.

Making helps writers solve the problems they face when drafting, too.

I often look for signs that a student is a maker—perhaps a blocked writer—and work to especially engage the student in making. I might invite the student to “prototype the part you don’t have words for just yet.” This invitation is rarely declined, and building almost always moves writers forward.

Finally, when kids treat print as a collection of loose parts, the resulting work is typically far more inventive. Making writing in this way sustains their stamina, too.

Coaching writers to approach any form as a synthesis of blocks makes the modes and genres of writing far more tangible and easier to pull apart and play with. It also enables us to linger over each of them longer.

Helping writers draft block by block and bit by bit increases their confidence as they rapidly develop skills, hit their targets with higher frequency, and provide opportunities for feedback and intervention daily or even multiple times a day.

Helping Kids Enjoy the Writing Process...Starting Tomorrow!

These are the most promising practices that I’ve unearthed by making writing with kids of all ages and all interest and ability levels. I hope you add your own practices, based upon your experiences.

Share your ideas in the #MakeWriting stream on Twitter. You may inspire other teachers who follow this topic.

INVITE WRITERS TO USE MOMENTS FROM THEIR MAKING LIVES TO FUEL THEIR WRITTEN WORK. 

Have you ever asked your students what they like to make outside of school or what they’re working on in other school-sponsored spaces that they find particularly compelling? Invite them to tap the well of these experiences and define subjects and topics for their writing. 

OPEN EACH WRITING SESSION WITH A QUICK YET CAREFULLY CRAFTED FIRESTARTER. 

Firestarters are creative constraints that we bundle together and light at the start of a workshop session. Aligned to that day’s teaching point or learning target, firestarters include a provocative prompt, a handful of loose parts for rapid prototyping, and limited time for completion.

You’ll find an entire slide deck of firestarters waiting for you in the supplemental resources folder at the end of this Hack.

WHEN WRITERS ARE BLOCKED, PROMPT THEM TO SWITCH MODALITIES OR TRY A DIFFERENT MEDIUM.

When elementary students struggle to reflect a character’s emotional evolution in their writing, I invite them to map it out using emojis. 

When high school writers are eager to design more innovative plot structures, I suggest they tie their storylines onto lengths of string.

Then, they play around with the strings. Each bend, knot, and braid generates new and interesting ideas about form. Would you like to see other examples of medium and modality switching? Follow the QR code at the end of this Hack to the supplemental resources folder.


TREAT TEXT AND THE ELEMENTS OF FORM LIKE LOOSE PARTS.

Rather than expecting students to write draft after draft, or equipping them with static graphic organizers, why not help them craft each form one small bit at a time?

Investigate story hooks, and then tinker with them together: Invite writers to experiment with hooks using three or four different approaches.

Expect them to solicit feedback before choosing the one that readers will most likely prefer. Show them how to draft on index cards or sticky notes.

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