Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Teaching Teenagers
Chris Krenzke/Thoughtful Learning

It takes a special soul to want to teach teenagers. How often have you heard, "I'd never want to teach middle school!"?

I personally love that age. Teenagers haven't yet figured out who they are, so if I can teach them something that empowers them, they grab onto it and transform before my very eyes. They are so full of energy and potential that, given a meaningful direction, they will launch themselves toward a goal or endeavor.

Of course, without a meaningful direction, teenagers can also explode on the launchpad.

8 Ways to Empower Reluctant Writers
Thoughtful Learning

To develop as writers, students need to identify as writers. Instead, many students feel reluctant to write and discouraged by language in general. How can we engage such students, and how can we boost their confidence and belief as writers? This post explores eight teaching strategies for shifting the mindset of reluctant writers.

1. Make a personal connection.

Reluctant writers often feel like outsiders in writing classrooms. To create a welcoming environment, we need to show students that their presence is valued. Simply greeting students by name or asking how their day is going can go a long way to establishing trust. So can identifying and engaging with students’ interests outside of school. For instance, if a student is reading a Field & Stream magazine, we can ask about favorite experiences in nature and share our own. These seemingly small social connections establish bonds that make students more comfortable sharing ideas with us in writing.

16 Writing Prompts for Inspiring Inquiry
Thoughtful Learning

What habits of mind lead to good writing? The National Council of Teachers of English teamed up with the National Writing Project to identify eight mindful habits that produce exceptional writing in school and beyond. In this post, we introduce the habits and share writing prompts that invite students to use them . . . and have some fun along the way.

1. Curiosity

Curiosity is the desire to know more about the world. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Mysteries Next Door

The poet Oscar Wilde said, “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Take a walk through your neighborhood and closely observe your surroundings. What buildings, businesses, landmarks, or artifacts are mysterious? Pick a mystery and investigate it. “What is that? What goes on there? What function does it serve? Why is it part of my community?” Then write a short report that reveals the amazing mysteries you have discovered.

Multimedia alternative: Create a tourism flyer or video about the topic.

Back to the Beginning

Watch this video about the origin of popsicles. Then write "Foods," "Activities," and "Clothes" on a piece of paper and list favorite examples of each. Choose one example and research its origins. Answer the 5 W’s and H: “Who invented it? What did it first look like? When was it invented? Where was it invented? Why was it invented? How was it invented?” Create an essay that explains its origins.

Narrative alternative: From the perspective of one or more people involved, create a historical narrative about the item’s origins.

2. Openness

Openness is the willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

The Other Side of the Coin

Review the controversies at ProCon.org. Choose a controversy, state your opinion about it, and list three reasons that support your opinion. Now state an opposing opinion and list three reasons that support it. Write a brief essay arguing for this opposing view, including strong reasons and refuting one of the reasons you initially stated for your own view. Did you rethink your original position? Do you better understand the opposition's view?

Speaking alternative: Create a speech in support of the opposing point of view.

Feeling Like a Stranger

When have you been an outsider (the only girl or boy, a new kid in school, the only young person in a room full of adults)? How did the experience make you feel? Now imagine being someone from a different background in a setting where you are an insider. Write an essay that shares the experience of being an outsider and discusses ways that outsiders can become insiders.

Visual alternative: Create a poster with strategies for making your classroom or school more inclusive of diverse ideas, cultures, and perspectives.

3. Engagement

Engagement is investment and involvement in learning. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Moment in History

Interview an older person about a significant moment from the past. Take careful notes and then (1) write a narrative about the event from the person's perspective or (2) write a nonfiction article titled “What You Should Know About [Event] from Someone Who Lived It.” Research your topic to fill in any missing information.

Multimedia alternative: Create a slideshow presentation using photos from the person's life and providing narration of events.

What’s More Important?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." —Albert Einstein

How can this quotation be true? As a child, you spent much time immersed in imagination, but now you've spent many years pursuing knowledge. What's the relationship between imagination and knowledge? Write an essay that defines each term and tells how they relate. Explain Einstein's position but then state your own position, supporting it with reasons and evidence.

Visual alternative: Create a poster that represents the relationship between imagination and knowledge.

4. Creativity

Student writing about baking
Thoughtful Learning

Managing a writing classroom can be like trying to make the perfect pot of chili for a table of 20. You know going into it that no single recipe will align with the taste preferences of every diner. However, through experience and experimentation, you discover certain essential ingredients will create a savory base, which your diners can supplement with a choice of accompaniments that suit their tastes—a dash of hot sauce here, a glob of sour cream there.

Similarly, certain essential ingredients go into creating a successful writing classroom. When mixed, the ingredients that follow provide an effective starting point for developing students’ skills and identities as writers. Know that these ingredients are just a start to a successful writing class; they produce the best results when you make adjustments to meet the changing needs of your students.

Free

As teachers, we have many roles: instructors, counselors, air-traffic controllers, role-models, chief cooks, and bottle washers. . . . We shouldn't also have to be deep-pocket donors, buying all of our classroom supplies. That's why we love the word free, especially when it relates to writing resources. And free is best when it means not just "free of charge" but also "free to use, modify, and share." Really and truly free. So, as you set up your writing classroom for the year, make sure to use these free resources from Thoughtful Learning.

Writing Topics

Writing Topics

You assign students to write an explanatory essay, and immediately five hands go up: "But I don't know what to write about!"

Thankfully, you can find hundreds of writing topics sorted by grade and major mode—narrative, explanatory, persuasive, response to literature, creative, and research. When you go to k12.thoughtfullearning.com, just click on "Writing Topics" in the top menu bar.

Student Models

Student Models

Okay, so everybody in class has found a writing topic, but you still get a lot of questions: "What do you mean by explanatory essay?"

In answer, you can show students free online models written by other students and sorted by grade and mode. Each is a strong model of its type at its level, showing students how they can write effectively. You can use these examples to inspire student writers or to demonstrate a specific trait of writing (ideas, organization, voice) or a specific literary device (metaphor, flashback, sensory details).

Light bulbs
© Thoughtful Learning

It’s finally, mercifully, here—sweet summertime!

You deserve a break. We all do! So take some time to kick up your feet, read a good book, catch up on a favorite TV show, and maybe even sip an icy beverage by the beach.

Once you feel recharged, consider reserving a slice of your summer break for gathering new ideas and inspiration for your writing classroom. You can dive into all kinds of great resources, so we’d like to recommend a few books that have inspired new ideas for our latest K-12 writing resources.

Besides being chock full of ideas for invigorating your ELA curriculum, these books are fun to read. 

Young adult writing in notebook and typing on laptop
Thoughtful Learning

No matter what subject you teach, writing can empower learning. And yet, fitting time-intensive writing assignments into your crowded curriculum may not seem feasible. Here's some good news. Research suggests you don’t need to design lengthy writing projects for your students to benefit from writing as a learning tool. Instead, short bursts of low-stakes writing hold the most learning potential.

Boy writing while holding a mirror
© Thoughtful Learning

“The narrative is the first story, the primal story, from which all others come. It is your story.” These thoughts by writer John Rouse speak clearly to the importance of narrative writing. I share them because I, too, feel that narrative writing is a valuable or, dare I say, the most important element in an effective writing program.

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