When I wrote Make Writing in 2015, I’d just finished a lengthy action research project that focused on engagement in the writing workshops that I led. That project began long before the maker movement took the education world by storm, but by the time I was culminating the findings, the connection was clear: inviting kids to make in workshop was a powerful game changer.

More than mere distraction or a path away from the writing process, making became a gateway that invited print resistant kids to share their expertise, opinions, and stories. As they gained confidence as writers who embraced alternative mediums, the transition to print became organic. “Blocking” each form and tinkering with each piece bit by bit made it manageable, too.

Kids who hated writing were enjoying the process, and their parents were over the moon. My only regret was the fact that I didn’t discover this connection sooner. I’m remembering some of the students I taught during the first decade of my career, and I want to tell them to come back and give me another chance.

I know more know.

I know better.

I don’t have all of the answers I’m seeking just yet, though. Make Writing was a mere morsel of a book, and all of this work is still brand new to me. Teaching, documenting, and researching is very different than distilling and communicating what I’m learning to others, too. The struggle is real, as much as I’m really enjoying it. I’m still wrestling with these ideas, and I want your feedback. I want you to push me, too. Truly.

Here’s what I’m trying to do right now: I’m trying to define exactly how writers make in workshop, when they do it, and why.

My students have taught me everything I know, as well as many others that I meet and teach in the schools that I support–especially the ones who claim to be “reformed” resistant writers. These are the four ways I notice them making. When we confer about their purposes and their practices, the connection between their builds and their drafts is very clear. Every single time, making elevates their writing–it isn’t something they do to evade the process. This requires a lot of intention on my part as well, though. I’ll speak to this more in a future post, because it’s critical to ensuring quality.


Four Ways to Make in the Writing Workshop:

  1. Making motivates writers, especially when the subjects of their writing pieces are built around their making lives. Teachers may choose the form under investigation, but as I suggested last week, inviting writers to translate that form through alternative mediums is rewarding. Inviting them to center their drafts around the things they’re making and learning through the process is powerful as well.
  2. Making can be a quick fire starter, igniting critical thinking and the analysis of form. Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder have really pushed my thinking here. Given a set of creative constraints (a provocative prompt, a specific set of materials, and limited time, to name a few), how might students build a stories? Their opinions? Pieces that inform or even teach? Multi-modal experiences are richer, and according to Amy and Dan, “stickier” too. I find they also help print-resistant kids make powerful contributions to our learning and work.
  3. Writing is also enriched by making. Building requires writers to consider the finer elements of a subject. It also helps them consider things about their topics that they may not have even noticed otherwise. The products that emerge from cycles of making serve as artifacts that invite close analysis. Writers emerge from this kind of study with new details to add to their drafts. More importantly, those details typically add nuance and complexity the their written pieces. Especially if we create protocols that inspire this kind of thinking. Finally, making helps writers solve the problems they face when drafting. I often invite blocked writers to “build the part you don’t have words for just yet.” They rarely decline this invitation, and building almost always moves them forward.
  4. Finally, when writers treat print as a collection of loose parts, the resulting work is typically far more inventive. Making writing in this way sustains their stamina, too. Coaching writers to see form as a series of blocks makes the modes and genres of writing far more tangible. Helping them draft block by block and even bit by bit increases their confidence as skills are rapidly developed and opportunities for feedback and intervention happen daily or even multiple times a day. More on this in a future post as well. The writers I supported during my action research project made a complete study of Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist and they combed through his Instagram in search of almost daily inspiration, too. This is how they learned to draft on index cards and to move them around as well. I haven’t seen a single graphic organizer since. Sunni Brown, Dave Gray, and James Macanufo inspired us to Gamestorm, too. If you teach writing, you need to read their work.

I know they don’t hang out in the writing workshop circles we typically travel in, but these are worthy detours, friends! Go see for yourselves. More importantly, recommend others whose work I should know. Tell me how this post resonates with you. Tell me what’s bugging you, too. Drop a comment or come find me on Facebook or Twitter.




  1. Erin Quinn Reply

    I read this light little AYA book awhile ago called A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall. It was cute, and different in that it was told through fourteen different perspectives. What struck me most, though, was the Q&A with the author at the end of the book where she explained how she planned her novel. Guess what? Index cards. Here’s a blog post where she wrote about it, complete with photos: https://www.swoonreads.com/blog/guest-author-sandy-hall-to-plot-or-to-pants-there-is-no-right-answer/

    • Erin! Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I’m bookmarking to use with kids in a couple of weeks. More and more often, I’m appreciating how writers share their process and habits. Last summer, while visiting a friend, I picked up a copy of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. It includes profiles on nearly every writer and artist you can imagine. Such a great book to read one little bit at a time. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Brene Brown’s books or if you’ve seen her TED Talks on shame or courage or perfectionism, but like you, I dipped into the Q&A at the end of one of her books, and it inspired me! That’s where I began learning about grounded theory—the research methodology I used for my action research project. She is a qualitative researcher. Her books are great, but learning more about how she wrote them was even more interesting.

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