Building Elementary Writing Muscles

A visual writing prompt.

To help elemenatry students develop their writing muscles, early in the school year I introduce our daily sessions of 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing time. This is a very simple, yet effective strategy that can help students become comfortable with writing. I am all about helping students get over the hump of being reluctant writers! Our uninterrupted writing time leads into our main writing time.

I know that there are students who are already keen writers who will take the initiative to write independently and jump into a writing assignment as soon as it is given. This short burst of writing time is for all students, but especially for those who either struggle with writing, lack writing confidence, or just simply do not enjoy writing.

A visual writing prompt.

For the 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing time, students write on a self-selected topic. Before we start, I will remind them to consult the list of writing ideas that they generated on a previous day. As this is not writing that is intended for grading, students can have fun with it! Now, I have had a student say to me, “I don’t know what to write about!”, even after looking at their list. In response, I would say, they should write that they don’t know what to write about as many times as they can until an idea pops into their head. I know this sounds silly, but I have found that it does work! Students start out thinking it’s funny to write this silly sentence, but it is surprising how an idea will surface.

As students will be writing every day on a self-selected topic, they will either write something new each day or they will continue with a previous piece of writing. Either is fine as the intention is for students to be actively engaged in their writing, to stay focus for 10 uninterrupted writing minutes, and to build their writing muscles.

A visual writing prompt.

In addition to consulting their writing ideas list, a visual prompt could be displayed on a large screen. Students could write about the visual itself, use it for inspiration (Student: That’s interesting, but I’m going to write about . . .), or connect it to a personal experience (Student: Oh, that reminds me of . . .). Students could use the visual prompt or ignore it. The visual prompts in this post are available below.

A visual writing prompt.

Each day that we do 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing, I challenge the students to try and write more than they did the day before. This means, if they wrote 6 lines the previous day, can they double the amount today? (Enlarging the font size does not count!). Usually, students are very keen to rise to this challenge and will stretch themselves. Along with building writing stamina, I want students to aim to extend their writing over time.

Students can do their ten uninterrupted writing minutes in a physical writer’s notebook or an online writer’s notebook. I have found that there are two advantages to having students do this strategy online. First, students get to practice their keyboarding skills in preparation for online high stakes assessments. Second, the teacher can see students work immediately and give timely feedback. The biggest drawback to doing this in Google Docs is that it will auto correct and not give a true picture of how well students can construct sentences and their spelling ability. The auto correct can be turned off, but most students will be able to figure out how to turn it back on. So instead of focusing on sentence structures and spelling, I will focus on what it is students are saying in their writing. Sentence structures and spelling will be addressed later on.

For the 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing time to be successful, there must be a set time for it each day, students must have all their materials ready for writing before the ten minutes, everyone should know the expectations, and everyone should be writing, including the teacher.

After the 10 minutes, I will end the time by asking students if anyone would like to share their writing. I intend this to be a very quick share, so I only choose two or three students. Once a student has shared, I tried to make a short positive comment about something in their writing. When the class is new to the 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing time, I will share my writing first so students can become comfortable with sharing their work. As they develop their writing muscles, they become eager to share!

Happy Writing!


P.S. Free downloads of the visual prompts that are in this post.