How to celebrate students' writing

We often forget to celebrating students' writing.  Sometimes, after drafts and revisions, struggles and even tears, we move on to the next big writing assignment because we're afraid of falling behind.  Or a celebration implies food and drink and (let's be honest) this adds up for a typical high-school teacher who has about 150 students.

We can organize open mic events after school, publish literary magazines, and set up blogs, but this take a great deal of time.  Sometimes, it's hard to keep all students engaged.  My goal this year is to ensure I find small ways to celebrate student writing.

After students completed their first big writing assignment, which was a personal essay, I asked each student to select one chunk of text from his or her own essay using one of these criteria:

  • It carries a strong message.
  • It produces a memorable, meaningful image.
  • It just sounds good.

I gave them a sheet of colored paper so they could write down their chunk with a marker.  If they chose to, they could include their name.  I told them to leave the sheet face up where they sit and to stand up.

Next, I gave them a few minutes to walk around the room and read the different sentences and contemplate them.  They didn't write anything.  They didn't need to say anything.  This parameter minimizes any opportunity for students to ridicule or criticize other students' writing.  I just asked them to wander and observe.  Playing music during this part helped create a supportive, reflective environment.

Finally, I asked them to walk around again and write down their one--only one--favorite chunk written by someone else on their own sheet of paper.  They also had to write a few sentences explaining why they liked that chunk the most.

To help them develop social skills, I asked them to find a partner or two and share their choice and rationale.

To close the celebration, I asked a few students to share their choice and rationale or someone else's out loud.  Asking 8-10 students out of 30 is usually sufficient.  If this goes on too long, students get bored and the impact of the students' writing is minimized.  Plus if everyone shared out, some students might feel bad because no one selected their writing.

As we know, many times, teenagers only socialize with the students they know.  This celebration helps create a community of supportive writers as students get to know other students comfortably.

After school, I taped all of the students' sheets around the room to help students understand that this is not my classroom--it is our classroom.  I could have given out a few rolls of tape so students taped their own piece of writing up on the wall.  (This could have saved me time and helped students feel more ownership.)

That's it.  No food.  No drink.  No mess.  I just bought some colored paper.  I bought the markers some time ago when I saw them on sale.  (I keep a class set ready to use.)  It's a simple approach that can be used at the culmination of any writing project.

Click through the gallery of student writing and comment below.  Which is your favorite and why?

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