Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tools to Inspire (Student) Writers

#WhyIWrite - An Introduction

"Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’” Exodus 4:10-12

I write because, from a young age, writing is how I am best able to express my feelings and communicate with others. I have always struggled to have the confidence to speak in front of people, a limitation I am slowly fighting to overcome, but I have always been able to communicate through writing. I believe God gives us gifts, and I feel that writing is the gift that has been given to me. I write to communicate, and believe that words are power. Because the ability to write has helped me so much in my life, I want to share this gift with other students.

My #WhyIWrite project is a list of strategies and ideas for teachers looking for new ways to help and inspire their students-- those who love writing, and those who do not. Although this list is directed at teachers looking to inspire their students, I believe that writers of all ages and stages will find it to be a wonderful compilation of resources. Let's begin!

Strategy #1: Grammar Review

Teachers can take for granted that all students are on the same level of understanding grammar and basic writing skills when, in reality, this may be far from the truth. In a college classroom, the students are coming from various backgrounds, and the best place to begin is with basic grammar. Here is a review of basic grammar from Cayuga Community College, prepared by Professor James Delaney.

Another fantastic tool for anyone interested in refreshing their knowledge of grammar is The Gremlins of Grammar by Toni Boyle and K.D. Sullivan. This book is both engaging and educational, and deserves a spot on every bookshelf in the world. It is particularly excellent for students who need to refresh their grammar, but find traditional instructional methods to be incomprehensible and dry (sorry, Strunk and White).

By starting on the ground floor, each student should feel that they are prepared to tackle what comes next-- the actual writing. At best, the students who are unfamiliar with basic grammatical rules will have the opportunity to learn. At worst, the students who already have an understanding of English grammar will be able to refresh their knowledge.
If you or your students are interested in the “why” beyond some grammar rules, than Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, is the girl for you. Her blogs and podcasts cover topics such as the difference between affect and effect, used to vs. use to, and who vs. whom. Whether you’re writing a paper, or are just curious about the intricacies of the English language, Mignon probably has the answer.

Strategy #2: Structure Review

Much like grammar, we often are quick to assume that students are all on the same page in knowing how an essay (of any kind) is structured. While I had the five paragraph essay format hammered into my head at a young age, I cannot assume that each of my readers (or students) have had the same experience.

The following link includes a wealth of guiding information from Dr. Randy Rambo, of Illinois Valley Community College, regarding the basic steps of composing an essay. It also helpfully includes samples.

In addition to essay writing guidelines, Rambo also provides a detailed explanation of punctuation and grammar, stylistic matters, writing with sources, and more.

Strategy #3: Writing is Crucial to All Majors

“I’m not an English major, I’m an [insert major here].  I don’t need to know how to write well.” This ever-popular straw man argument against writing classes is often heard uttered from the lips of students disinterested in writing, but forced into it by course requirements.  In reality, the ability to write and communicate well is as crucial for every major as the ability to do basic addition and subtraction. As true as it is that writing is crucial to students of all disciplines, this truth is not necessarily going to be embraced by every computer science or engineering major who could easily question when they’ll need writing skills in their respective fields.

For some people, examples are key. Below I have listed three articles from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Forbes, all dates from within the past five years, stating the importance of writing skills in the workplace.

Strategy #4: Make it Fun!

As someone who has been immersed in grammatical studies all my life, it is easy for me to slash at a paper full of egregious grammatical or spelling errors. While the correction of such things does certainly have its place, it is important to remember that such things can be disheartening to students. It can be easy to forget that to many students, the intricacies of grammar only matter in dusty, old textbooks and bear no relevance to reality. In this case, a relevant example can make all of the difference in the world-- after all, don’t discount the importance of fun! Before jumping into the serious stuff, an intro like the following can be a great way to get students’ toes wet. These lessons examine such things as metaphor, visual representation, and speaker/audience relationships, all of which are important to understand in the student’s own writing.

For the sake of holding students’ attention, I would recommend a quiz or worksheet in addition to this video, but I recommend it as an entertaining, relevant way to introduce the importance of analysis.

Strategy #5: The Internet is Your Friend

“Teacher knows best.” Although the traditional classroom approach may have once supported this impression, we now have tools that can eliminate this antiquated philosophy entirely. The internet provides a wealth of information, and much of it is completely free! In addition to free-of-charge information, writing inspiration and tools for writers are also widely available.

One quick Pinterest search led me to this list of fantastic resources for writers along each step of the writing journey. One in particular that stood out to me was Stellar, which allows users to tell their story with pictures and videos, alongside text. Some students are more visual than others, and this is a cool way to incite their interest. Although it would not work for every paper expected in a freshman comp class (i.e. research papers), it could be an exciting thing to incorporate in a short story or memoir. Students need to see that writing while crucially practical, is not limited to professional settings.

Strategy #6: Inspiration

The best way to learn is by doing, and the best way to learn writing is to write. However, how do you know what to write about? One-size-fits-all prompts aren’t meant for everyone, and might give students the ability to say, “I didn’t know how to respond.” In this day and age, that’s no longer than excuse, evidenced by the existence of sites such as Writing Exercises, and their Random Subject Generator. In addition to the subject generator, the site has functions such as Random First Line prompts, Random Plot Generator (if you were looking for a story idea), and Random Scenario. No more excuses!

Another way to inspire students is to encourage them to use their own platforms to find writing inspiration. Sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook are filled with groups and accounts dedicated to inspirational quotes to respond to, and writing prompts-- they’re only one quick search away.


Considering the amount of inspiration and helpful resources that the internet has to offer, there is no longer any reason for writing to be considered boring or irrelevant. This article covers a lot of resources, and this is only a small fraction that the internet has to offer. I have learned so much through my findings, and I hope you have as well. It is my most sincere hope that you use these resources for yourself and your students, and find success in encouraging young minds to write.

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