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.

Abstract illustration of high school writer

Teachers often ask us, “How do I motivate my students to write?” One solution is to create engaging prompts.

What makes a writing prompt engaging?

The best prompts are clear and relevant. If the topic or task is not relevant to students, they will be less motivated to persist through the steps of the writing process and do their best work.

As an example, suppose your class is working on a persuasive writing unit. Consider the following prompts. Which is most effective? Why?

Two students discuss a piece of writing. One points to it. The other has a question bubble above head.

Do your reading discussions ever feel a little stale? Are the same talkative students the only ones responding? Are you doing most of the talking?

Thankfully, whole-class discussion is not the only way students can converse about reading.

When your class gets in a discussion rut, have students work on text rendering.

What is text rendering?

Text rendering is the practice of picking out, sharing, and reacting to a short section from a reading. At a basic level, the process asks students to do the following:

As you prepare to teach grammar this year, focus on fundamental questions: What do my students know? What do I want them to know? How can I help them learn?

At the start of the school year, you may have a decent understanding of the last two questions. But what your students already know about grammar—that can feel like a mystery.

Rather than making assumptions, why not give a grammar pretest?

Our students, ever the digital natives, are awash in images. They scroll through them—scrutinizing, liking, and commenting. They capture, share, and meme-ify them. They create their own images and even break news with them.

As writing teachers, we can tap into this energy for imagery by inviting students to incorporate visuals in their writing and storytelling. But when we do so, we should also teach how to use images ethically and effectively. Captions can help.

To become a better writer, volume and frequency matter. According to literacy experts, students are not getting enough of either.

The teachers we talk to agree. They want their students to write more, but they question the logistics. They wonder, “How can I carve out the time? How can I create motivation? What will I do about reluctant writers? What will I do about feedback? Do you really expect me to grade even more writing? Again, where is the time?”

These high-stakes concerns have a low-stakes solution: daily freewriting. No matter what subject you teach, having students freewrite in class for 10-15 minutes every day builds important writing skills, creates community, and deepens learning.

Eyes on Editing

My freshmen recently turned in a lengthy inquiry project. They had been working on it for weeks, and it was thrilling to see their research and writing take its final form. I was particularly excited to review one student’s exploration of a historic neighborhood. And indeed her work was engaging, insightful, and well-researched.

There was an issue, though. The project included erratic capitalization and numerous misspelled words. Reflecting on this, I realize I should have done a better job of preparing her and the rest of the class to edit their final drafts.

Young people routinely pass through our classrooms, and despite our brief time together, we form lasting bonds. We want our students to have happy, enriching lives.

It usually warms our hearts to hear life updates from former students: news of a college acceptance, a new job, a wedding date, a baby on the way. However, sometimes news of a former student leaves us shaken.

In recent years, youth suicides have risen at an alarming rate–up 57 percent for people ages 10 to 24. Many of us–too many–know of students or former students who have attempted or died by suicide. We mourn for their families and friends. And we grieve, too. The trauma ripples through our schools and communities.

The spike in youth suicide rates is part of a broader mental-health crisis affecting young people. As Derek Thompson reports in an important and illuminating piece from The Atlantic, 44 percent of high school students felt “persistent sadness and hopelessness” in 2021. Another large study found that one in four high school girls seriously contemplated suicide during the pandemic. These sobering statistics are clear calls to action: All sectors of society must pitch in to address the mental-health crisis of young Americans.

In our classrooms, we can play a vital role in supporting students' mental health and addressing pervasive sadness.

Like a bee and a daisy, ELA and SEL benefit from close interactions. Get the buzz about five ways ELA and SEL are stronger together.

ELA SEL Connection 1

SEL teaches students to recognize and control their emotions, make positive choices, connect with classmates, and prepare to learn. This process requires reading, writing, speaking, and listening—the core skills developed in ELA classrooms.

Young writers sometimes assume that any thought that begins with a capital letter and ends with a period passes as a complete sentence.

But too often the group of words is missing something essential: a subject, a verb, and/or a complete thought. The result is a fragment and an incomplete sentence.

Fragment: Performing his original songs at the talent show.
Corrected: Akira performed his original songs at the talent show.