Andrew, a fellow of the WNY Young Writers’ Studio, demonstrates how he uses Rory’s Story Cubes

Where do great writing ideas come from? They’re often inspired by our own experiences, the things we read or hear or see, or the thoughts and feelings that are stirred up in response to those we connect with each day. Still, defining an idea worth investing yourself in can be challenging, and that’s why it’s often important to connect the things we love to do beyond writing to our writing.

When I’m conferring with young writers who tell me they are blocked or those who confess their “hatred” of writing, a few things seem to help them most:

Ask them if they are experiencing writer’s block for a reason. Often, this has to do with issues relevant to comfort or safety. Maybe the writer isn’t ready to tackle the topic at hand. Maybe it’s not a good idea after all, for any number of reasons. This is what writer’s block can tell us, and in those cases, it’s important to listen.

Or maybe the writer fears criticism or judgment from whoever might be reading the work when it’s finished. I’ve found that expecting and teaching everyone to talk with one another in helpful ways alleviates this fear over time, as trust is built. Providing criteria-specific feedback as a teacher is important¬† as well. There are ways to coach this practice in students and to help teachers improve the quality of the feedback they provide as well.

Find out what they love to do. Try asking……where would you be right now, and what would you be doing right now, if you weren’t sitting in front of this screen or sheet of paper? Then, find a way to engage writers in these activities if possible or at the very least, challenge them to find a way to use what they love to do as writing material. The added benefit from this type of exchange is the learning that YOU will do as a result. This is how Luke taught me about LEGO writing. It’s how I’ve discovered that most kids who don’t like to write actually do like to make things. My action research findings are showing me over and over again that when we use materials rather than words to demonstrate what we’re thinking or build our ideas, this seems to result in higher quality writing, too. I’m going to keep doing this.

Invite them to fill their cups. Reading books we enjoy, sharing a laugh with friends, shooting hoops, tuning into our favorite television shows, losing time inside of iTunes–these aren’t worthless indulgences or mere time-wasters. These are some of the ways that we practice self-care, alleviate stress, connect with others, and yes….nurture the generation of great writing ideas.

When I’m presented with a writer who seems frustrated, bored, burned-out, or otherwise miserable, I often ask what they’ve been doing to take care of themselves beyond their requisite school work, team practices, after-school jobs, or chores. Often, self-proclaimed resistant writers often present a fairly short list. Meeting our daily responsibilities is a taxing and time-consuming endeavor. Our kids are stressed. So are we.

Making time for play is critical to our well-being and essential to our work as writers and teachers. With that in mind, fellows of the WNY Young Writers’ Studio spent the Saturday session of the school year exploring ideas at play! With a little help from our kids, five different play-based centers took shape in response to the sorts of activities they claim to love.

  • Some played Scrabble and used the words generated to create flash-fiction stories.
  • Some used the Rory’s Story Cubes app for the iPod Touch to create new stories or generate new ideas for works-in-progress.
  • Others went on a scavenger hunt through magazines, newspapers, and websites to locate specific Halloween-related items. They chose five to connect together inside of a story.
  • Some created Poetry Smash-Ups.
  • And in our most popular center, writers took to the field (literally) and worked with teams to invent a variety of games. After testing them out on the group as a whole, they brainstormed ways to work out the kinks, and then they came up with another idea: publishing their very own game anthology.

Several years ago, Ken Robinson reminded us that many people need to move in order think. My friend Matt would agree. He’s nine, and he’ll tell you that he hates to write for school, but that he loves designing games and testing them for quality. He also knows that in doing so, he’s sharpened his observational and sequencing skills and his ability to organize and revise his work. These are important lessons.

So, how do you integrate movement and play in ways that inspire great ideas and improve learning?


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