Where Can Ideas to Write About Come From?
When searching for ideas to spark quality writing from your students, don’t forget the obvious. The ordinary, everyday things that happen during the course of your school day can be turned into writing assignments that students will buy into, and put an honest effort into, because they are things that mean something to them.
For example, there have been times when the appropriate use of the bathrooms has become a problem at my school. We have, unfortunately, had random acts of vandalism by unidentified students. Toilets have been plugged up, graffiti written on the walls, and sometimes worse. In total frustration over the situation, and our lack of success in identifying the culprit out of the six different classrooms in our wing that use the same bathroom, I led my class in a serious discussion of the importance of taking pride in our school. We discussed the classroom rules that we had all agreed upon, as well as the school wide rules and why they were important. When I felt that they had been sufficiently aroused to the need for holding each other accountable for the greater common good, I had them write a paper on why it was important to each of them for the school property to be respected.
I assigned a similar paper after having been absent one day from school. As many of us can relate to, upon returning to school the following day, I was quite disappointed to read about the behavior of some of the students. As with the bathroom situation above, we discussed the situation in detail. We listed on the board all the possible consequences of misbehaving for a substitute, as well as all the possible consequences for good behavior. Then I assigned them to write a paper explaining why it was in their best interests to behave for a substitute in the future.
There are all sorts of things that happen during the course of the day that could be turned into meaningful writing assignments that your students would buy into because it affects them directly. Do you have a bullying problem at your school? Has there ever been a problem with tattling? Have you ever found students engaging in dishonest practices? These could all be turned into writing assignments.
One of the most effective assignments I ever gave was towards the end of last year. I told the students that they were to write to try to persuade me to not assign any more homework for the rest of the year. I promised them that if they all performed well, I would indeed not give them another homework assignment. Of course, since it was near the end of the year, I was as tired of grading the homework as they were of doing it, but they had no idea that was the case. I had some very creative writing turn in. One student even used quotes from a song by Pink Floyd. Talk about voice!