One of the most rewarding parts of my job has always been seeing how deeply being published affects students. They don’t just smile; they glow with pride. Even though it was years ago, I still remember this one seven-year-old girl with huge brown eyes. She walked up to me just before she was going to do her author’s tea reading in front of her class. Bouncing on her heels, she looked up at me with this enormous grin she whispered, “I’m so excited, I can’t even stand it!”
Moments like that aren’t about finishing an assignment or getting a good grade in class. They’re about the absolute joy of becoming a published author. It’s one thing to get your students’ attention, but to truly engage them? That’s when the real magic happens in the classroom. The best way to make that magic happen and increase student engagement is to teach writing as a process, during which anything is possible and the end result is both affirming and inspiring.
I don’t know about you but keeping my students engaged in the classroom is more difficult than ever and project based learning activities that excite them like creating a classbook are helpful in keeping their learning on track.
Shifting the Focus
Too many teachers teach writing as a product and focus the lesson on the final result, a letter grade or a gold star. This tends to create a “finish line” mentality and tells your students that the only thing that matters in the writing process is how efficiently they can finish the current assignment and move on to the next. Instead of enjoying a chance to get creative, students are busy thinking about how soon they’ll be able to get the job done.
Teaching writing as a process, on the other hand, encourages your students to focus on each step in the process as they’re working on it. This helps them think about how to best tackle each step, whether it’s research, an outline, a rough draft or final edits. This shift in focus improves your students’ writing by slowing things down a bit and encouraging a more thoughtful approach over rushing to the finish line.
This increases student engagement while also giving your students the opportunity to really dig in deep during each writing phase and let their imaginations take the lead. Choose topics and writing prompts that you think your students will enjoy.
You can even tie creative writing assignments into other lessons. For example, if your students are learning about gravity, you can have them create a piece of writing about what they think a day on Earth would be like without gravity. For social studies, why not give them a writing prompt about what they would do if they were the leader of an ancient civilization? Just providing them with unique writing assignments is going to increase engagement but if you tell them that their work will be published in a classbook, that will only make them more excited to get writing!
Exploring Different Strategies
Everyone learns a little bit differently, especially when it comes to writing. Some students may need to rely on extensive outlines to keep their responses on-topic. Others may find graphic organizers or color coding more helpful. Taking the writing process one step at a time gives your students a chance to explore their options and, with your help, discover what works best for them as individuals.
Instead of struggling to complete an assignment using a predetermined process that may or may not be a good fit for their learning styles, your students will be able to experiment with different writing and editing strategies, perhaps even coming up with variations of their own. Writing will feel less like work and more like an act of discovery—one your students will be more than happy to engage in.
Teaching More Effectively
Teaching writing as a process doesn’t just help your students do better, it helps teachers do better, too! When you’re only seeing the end product of an assignment, it can be difficult to reverse-engineer errors to figure out how and why they happened in the first place.To really engage your students and improve their writing, you need to be able to show them not just how to correct mistakes, but how to learn from them—and how to avoid repeating them.
Guiding your students through the writing process one step at a time allows you to review their work at each stage and pinpoint which specific areas each student may be struggling with. You can then use this knowledge to engage with your students to figure out together how to tackle these obstacles.
More Tips for Increasing Student Engagement
Set up a quick morning meeting: Whether your students are virtually learning or physically in the classroom, having a morning meeting can help you set the stage for the day.
Use this time to discuss upcoming assignments, the agenda for the day and let them bring up challenges they might be facing. The challenges could be anything from slow WiFi at home or misunderstanding what they need to do to complete a writing project. You can also use this time to talk about things they are excited about like sports or video games. You can structure this meeting however you like. My only suggestion is to keep it to 15 minutes or less so that you can start tackling lesson plans for the day.
Create weekly student planners: Having your students create and keep their own weekly planner or agenda book is nothing new but they are extremely effective in helping your students stay organized and complete their work on time.
The key to making agenda planners work is taking time to check them so students stay accountable but you can also use those weekly checks as an opportunity to get them excited for their upcoming writing projects. There is some serious satisfaction in crossing off completed assignments and many of my students respond well to the organization that a planner provides.
You can also have them write down weekly or monthly goals in their planners and discuss their progress. If you are having class in person, schedule time to check each student’s agenda early in the week - you will only need a few minutes per student. If you are doing virtual learning, I suggest having your students or their parents take a picture of the agenda for that week and send it to you. You can then do a review with your student on a weekly check-in video call.
If there is a big writing project coming up like creating your classbook, your students can break down the writing process into smaller tasks in their planner. For example, Monday they will write the outline for their classbook page. Tuesday will be when they create their first writing draft. Wednesday will be for revisions and edits and so on.
Having and using a planner to organize their week is a skill that will greatly benefit them throughout the rest of their educational career and when they make it out into the real world.
Change it up: These days, it is more important than ever to keep lessons interesting. With virtual and hybrid learning in full force, it is easy for students to turn in assignments late or not put much effort into their work. When you choose assignments that are outside of the box or change up your teaching methods while still providing your students with everything they need to learn, they are more likely to enjoy and complete the assignment.
How Publishing Helps Increase Student Engagement
What about the final stage of the writing process? Adding publishing as the final step in your lesson plan is the ultimate secret weapon when it comes to increasing student engagement. Unlike a simple letter grade or sticker, this end result is both collaborative and highly individualized. Knowing that their work will appear in print can be a powerful motivational tool you can use to encourage your students to put 110% effort into each and every step of the writing process.
Instead of being the sole focus of the lesson plan, their published book becomes their well-deserved reward for working so hard throughout the project. It’s the perfect way to celebrate their writing—and an inspiring reminder that they can achieve just about anything if they put their minds to it.