Do College English Writing Classes Ignite your Passion?

He Doesn’t Get a Chance to Write about What He Loves

My grandson used to write a lot of stories and loved to invent interesting story lines. Now that he is taking his college generals, English writing is one of the requirements, so I asked him how his writing classes was going. To my surprise he told me he was doing alright but was not enjoying it at all. Apparently the class was micro-managed as far as content. 

Isn’t writing motivation one of the biggest aims to get students to develop writing habits? Why should college writing classes hamper motivation? Apparently his class has become a perfunctory requirement that with a prescribed topic of little interest to students and one in which they have no choice.  

Essays have general formats and these can be meticulously monitored to improve the art of writing but why should the topic or content be imposed on a student when the purpose of the class is to improve writing? The guidance and encouragement of a skillful teacher should be enough without imposing the topics as well.  Diaries; journal papers, blogs, books, novels, and movie scripts are all great candidates for assignments? If the writing aim is to write an essay then essay guidelines should be provided for the student but even an essay can offer total freedom of topics.  

There is a certain amount of passion in whatever you write If you are writing about something that is deeply interesting to you.  When you write in the form of a diary or journal you write things that are deeply personal and that reflect your world view. You write about things that you want to remember or share; you write about ideas that are interesting. There is no reason why these cannot be put into an essay form if that is the learning aim. In fact putting similar content into different writing formats is an excellent way to improve writing.

I worked for years at a university writing center and was meticulous in helping students be accurate and improve their writing skills. But if it was not a research paper on a specific topic that had to be completed for their final year project, I always felt that giving student autonomy to choose their topic was the wisest move. This kind of freedom fuels the love or writing.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF AS A TEACHER:
What would your students fight for, cry for, die for?  Have them take an inventory and write a list of the things they are most passionate about. Then let them choose one of the topics for any writing assignment. If students are hard nuts to crack and cannot come up with an idea then, and only then, can you make suggestions. Give plenty of options however. The question is always give them a choice and encourage brainstorming for topics. 

TOPICS FOR THOSE THAT DON’T HAVE TOPICS:

You might provide a list of famous people to choose from as inspiration. Additionally, famous people also have or had passions they would fight for, cry for, die for. Some of these people are the ones you most admire. Many have become heroes or someone we wish to emulate. They are the people that fought for, cried for, or died for something they believed. 

THREE ADDED BONUSES FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE SPEAKERS OF OTHER LANGUAGES:

biographies for grammar studies
If I were Martin Luther King, what would I do?

Reading, Writing and listening are language skills that go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the others. When you read something, you know that somebody wrote it and when you write something perhaps someone will read it. If it is written with passion, just like a good song, then you will enjoy both the reading and the writing sides of the process.

Likewise when students hear an inspiring biography as a warmer for their writing lesson they will empathize with the life of the person in your narration. Remember, good biographies don’t just have birth dates and a list of major events in the person’s life. Biographies that inspire empathy are the ones that tell about people who had to struggle against many odds. They had victories and perhaps achieved fame after a long struggle. They are inspiring and inspiration is a forerunner of motivation.

Narrating these biographies to the students hones their ‘listening’ skills. and offers an opportunity to ask questions. whether offered to the students in the oral or written form should bring about an emotion of empathy for the life of the person in the biography.

ADDITIONAL WRITING TIPS:

1. (changing 3rd to 1st person):
After reading and going over a biography and acquiring vocabulary from the content, have students rewrite the biography by putting it into first person as if they were stating their own biography. (basic skills)

2. (modifying outcomes with an addendum):
Have students write an addendum to the biography (now written as an autobiography) The addendum can be a way to change the outcomes of the subject’s life. This section can start with something like: If I could go back I would…..(advancing skills)

3.  (projecting themselves into an imaginary future):
Using the model biography as a template, have students write a biography about themselves by projecting what someone in the future might write about their lives.  They will be able to apply creativity and personalization while scaffolded by the original biography of this lesson as a sort of template for their own future biography.

4.  (editing correcting and revising for viewing):
Edit and revise any of these writing assignments to polish them. Mount the featured best ones on a bulletin board for public viewing. (reinforcing core skills through writing)

5. (staged reading):
Have students rehearse reading any of the biography versions to present in front of the class. A vote and prize can be given for the best reading. (oral proficiency)

Please comment and share tips on how you bring students into your content to motivate them for writing. 

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