The National Writing Project has a long standing practice to write into the day. Every in-person summer institute I have ever been a part of began the day with this practice. Many writing project events, such as Write Across America, also often begin with the leader inviting participants to write into the gathering. As a National Writing Project teacher focused on inviting my students into a writing community I have long been a fan of the bell ringer. While I have often advised teachers to take care to handcraft icebreakers and bell ringers, the number one tip I want to share before the new school year kicks off is to create a ritual that invites your students to feel like a writer and support the creation of a community of writers. As Mike Kaechele notes, class rituals have power.
As a teacher who has witnessed the power of a classroom writing ritual for the past two years I cannot recommend this practice enough. My ritual is simple: I ask my students to write this sentence stem into their notebooks and then respond in writing for just a few minutes:
My name is ____ and I am a writer from…Borrowed from Richard Louth, founder of the New Orleans Writing Marathon and Director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project
We then go around the room beginning with me: My name is Deanna and I am a writer from… Students can simply share their completed sentence or more of their writing as they choose. This simple process is how I take attendance and offers me the ability to take a quick check of student mood and well-being but the ritual is so much more.
This writing ritual is the first collective action of our class and clearly establishes that writing is the priority. The ritual repetition of both writing and stating “I am a writer” many times over the course of the semester has power. The ritual sharing of our writing also has power as it makes clear that student writing is valued and celebrated in this classroom. Class rituals have power and this is definitely a ritual you want if you are interested in making writers and creating a community of writers.
I actually had zero interest in changing this practice for the coming year, but a recent conversation with some amazing National Writing Project teacher leaders has me reconsidering my ritual question.
I made a note of this question because I thought it was such a powerful writing prompt and one I knew I could use with my students and writing groups in the future. I love recognizing and encouraging emerging writers to contemplate and explore their unique journey. So much of our writing focuses on this journey (because authentic writing and PBL are awesome) that I like the idea of leaning into this question.
Write Across America facilitator and writing marathon expert Kelly Sassi noted that she likes to use:
I am the kind of writer who…
That question connects powerfully with my emphasis on authentic writing and focus on audience awareness. Throughout my classes I constantly challenge my students to think about their audience but also to think about who they are as a writer. Even if I don’t use this question as our opening ritual it is certainly one I will use for reflection.
What question can you ask as part of your writing ritual?