“Go ahead. Just try to make me write!”

In almost every writing class I’ve taught, there’re always a few kids in the class who wear the above quote on their expressions. There’s the kid wearing the black beater. He’s sitting in the back scowling, and huge black headphones cover his ears. His arms are crossed. But he’s making eye contact—not the kind that is welcoming.

Can you relate?

Or maybe yours is not the classroom. Maybe it’s your own kids. You’re homeschooling or just trying to give your kids something productive to do, but when you tell them to write, they bow their heads, drag their knuckles around like neanderthals, and sigh (over-dramatically). They act like you’ve asked them pluck every dandelion from the yard by the roots without a trowel.

So, whatever your circumstance—whether classroom or living room—how do you get your kids writing and somehow make it fun? I’ve had so many people tell me horror stories about teaching writing (and I’ve had a few myself) that I thought I’d share a couple secrets to making writing fun again—for you and the kids.

Two ways to teach writing—the fun way!

We’re just going to jump right in here with a crash course on teaching writing the fun way. I know you’re busy, so I’m just going to cover two ways to make writing fun. This is not an exhaustive list, so I’ll probably be adding more articles on this topic in the future. For now, just the basics:

  1. Stop grading it
  2. Turn it into a game

The first is some basic philosophy. In the second point, I’m going to link you to a bunch of resources I use to turn writing into a game and get students assigning themselves homework.

Let’s take these one at a time.

#1—Stop grading their writing

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“WHAT?!?!?!?!”

Some of you are freaking out because not grading sounds scandalous. Others are freaking out because I overused exclamation points and question marks.

Yes, I want you to stop grading their writing. Or, at least, I want you to grade less frequently, change the name to review, and change your manner of grading in the process.

So the first thing I want you to do is to grade your students’ work less frequently. You need to increase the amount they write instead. Believe it or not, that’s how most of us learned to write. Sure, the writing classes helped, but it wasn’t the lectures and the grading as much as it was all the opportunities for writing you received in the process.

The next thing I want you to do is to drop the word grade and call it review or critique or response or something like that. It’s not because I’m sappy (I hate all things sticky), it’s because most people approach grading writing the wrong way.

I’m not going to go into all the science behind not grading today, but most of us grade writing based on grammar, spelling, punctuation . . . but these are actually the least important parts of teaching writing. Switch your focus to things like character, setting, plot, thesis, organization, flow (just to name a few—again, this is just the quicky-basics). When you focus on these concepts, reviewing student papers becomes more about improving what they have done, instead of correcting mistakes.

And that leads directly into the third thing I want you to change about grading writing: your approach. You are a coach. Come alongside writers in a collaborative relationship, instead of a master-servant relationship, and you will see a huge attitude shift (from both the student and you). Your job is not to get them to correct errors, it’s to praise what they’ve got and help them reach the next level—by focusing on higher order concerns (like character, setting, plot, etc.).

Why take this approach? Changing your grading and doing it less frequently will take pressure off your students. They will feel more comfortable to write without trying to please you. They will be more honest while they write, instead of writing what they think you want to see (so they can get a good grade). And honesty, as almost any writer will tell you, is a huge ingredient in writing successfully.

#2—Turn writing into a game

This scribe is tracing a path through the dungeon, following commands shouted by her teammates. Will she survive?

“That sounds more like death camp to me,” said one elementary student when his mom told him he’d be coming to one of my summer writing camps. To many students—that’s how they think of writing. It was my pleasure to see that same student get so excited about writing in my camp that he went home each afternoon, ran up to his room, and assigned himself homework—without being asked, forced, or coerced!

How did that happen?

Games. And lots of fun writing prompts and activities.

This is not the post for game theory or why gamification works in writing classrooms. This is the basic, what-can-I-do-today post, so here’s some games I use in my classrooms. Try these out and let me know how it goes.

The Random Story Machine

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You can download the instructions on my website for free. Get the Random Story Machine game here. The basic concept is writing a story that changes at the roll of a die. It’s a blast, and students love it! Download it here.

The What-if . . . ? Game

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This one’s another free download. Get the What if game here. It’s a list of questions students can take turns asking each other about movies, science, history, etc. By the end of the conversation, they are so inspired, stories are leaking out their noses (although that might just be mucus. . . whatever.)

The Volatile Adventure

On the road to adventure

Have students write an adventure story and give them a six-sided die. Each time their character does something that has a chance to fail, have them roll the die. If they roll a 4 or higher their character succeeds. They should write about the successes/failures of their characters. This is another favorite among my students—and it’s easy to prep for.

Dungeon Scribes Online Writing Game

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I coded this choose-your-own-adventure-role-playing-writing-game to make writing fun. It’s like the Volatile Adventure—times ten! Play it online for free here.

Wacky Writing Prompts

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There are billions online. But here are some of the writing prompts I use.

The Writer’s Sketchbook

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I wrote this book with the mission of getting students to start a writing habit—the fun way! Learn more about the book here.

Try it out

Try these two strategies: grade less and turn writing into a game. Then let me know how it goes. I hope your students start making themselves writers—without the tears, the sighs, and the attitudes.