I’ve been rereading Vicki Spandel’s Creating Young Writers: Using the Six Traits to Enrich Writing Process in Primary Classrooms over the last week, in anticipation of the summer that I have ahead of me. Part of it will be spent working with teachers of very young writers, and part of it will be spent working with writers of this age myself. My own daughters’ primary teachers reminded parents that their most important objective was helping kids fall in love with reading and writing. They also knew that providing them with writer’s words, so that they could speak with others about the writing that they were doing and begin to notice the traits of good writing as they read was empowering as well. Vicki Spandel’s thoughts about teaching the traits conceptually are helpful to teachers who are eager to help writers understand that the traits are merely a way of “thinking about writing” that leads to real understanding and meaningful use.

She suggests approaching instruction around ideas in three different ways:

  • As imagination and observation
  • As pictures in the mind
  • As messages

Over the next week, I plan to think and blog about each of these approaches a bit more, sharing out some of the lessons and strategies I’ve used as well as what I’ve learned from the writers I get to work with along the way. I’m wondering where others get their writing ideas from–what inspires you? How do you inspire or prompt the discovery of great writing ideas in others?



  1. Mine is a tried and true method — giving students choice over topics and finding a real audience for them as best I (or they) can. I teach an intro to genres course in which the students write every genre. While they have to write a particular genre, I do not limit topics. I also work into each study of a genre as authentic an audience as I can find beyond me the teacher. The students enjoy having their own topics and knowing that someone else is really reading their work — plus, experimenting with each genre helps them find styles they like too. This is an important aspect I think to choice — allowing choice but also pushing students in new directions they do not even know to choose yet.

  2. Susanne–
    I’m interested in learning more about your approach around the genres. Many of the teachers that I work with find that when they allow full choice around genre within their workshops, students don’t yet understand enough about HOW to write each genre. There are different ways to provide kids these learning opportunities–from individual conferences to center-based experiences to whole-group direct instruction. Each experience allows for a different level of choice. Eager to hear, from your experience, what works for your students….

  3. I’ve been struck in the past couple of days about what Susanne mentions: the power of a ‘real’ audience. Of course we’re part of a real audience too, as are the students’ own classmates. But just yesterday a respected outsider (who has come in last week to talk to our students about his love of Homer) joined our class ning and started to respond to some of the students’ writing. The students and I weren’t expecting this, but I immediately felt the power of it. It’s too early yet to say whether it will lead to an obvious raising of the standard amongst the students, but I’m imagining it will.

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