Start Students’ Engines for Writing

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Last Monday’s Attentionology post presented the how-to of turning your instructional space into a classroom of the traveling story. Visit the post to review this approach to taking flight on the wings of words.

We’re “on the road” again this week, now with readers in 100 nations around the world. Thank you readers! Where are we going? To the track for car racing.

If your students’ writing skills need a boost, try my new attentionology trick…Tell your class this…

…START YOUR ENGINES FOR WRITING! Toy cars, like you see in my blog pic below, are the tools. (I found these small colorful racers in a dollar store.)

Use cool verbs, action words, that ZIP across the page like cars around a track!

Teaching kids to use verbs in their writing that “zip” across the page, like  cars race around a track is the trick.

Introduce this concept by pretending to “race” a “hot rod” across notebook paper in front of your class. Hold a pencil in your other hand as you do this.

START A RACING VERB ROSTER – Say a phrase or full sentence aloud with at least one “power verb” like “dash, flash, zip.” Your phrases and sentences can be about any subject you choose, but the kids will enjoy the racing car connection.

For example, as you pick up a toy car and make it look like it’s racing across paper, you could say, “The sporty red car zooms around the track.” Then you could ask, “What’s the power verb, the action word, that zips in that sentence, class?” “ZOOMS is it!” 

Ask the class to say the phrase or sentence back to you. Write each one on the board under your header, Racing Verb Roster.  (Option for Follow-up: Make a bulletin board of this verb work.) 

Continue this activity by inviting students to think up and say aloud phrases and/or full sentences that use “zippy” action words. Motivate reluctant writers to participate by allowing volunteer phrase/sentence writers/speakers to take turns holding your toy cars and pretending to race them across paper.

At the risk of stereotyping, I’m okay saying that this classroom-tested trick is especially popular with boys. Why? As a general rule of thumb, boys love cars more than do girls; don’t you agree? I’ve had many teachers tell me that they’ve had more boys than girls over time struggle with writing. Encourage boys (and girls) to rally around writing with car connections that draw their attention.

POST a BULLETIN BOARD with the HEADER: GET ON THE WRITE TRACK FOR GOOD WRITING! – Think of all the expressions (in English, at least) that connect with driving. “Get on track; stay on track.” “Slow down, you’re speeding through your work.” “Keep your eyes focused ahead”…the list goes on!

To make your bulletin board:

1) Find or make a black top circular road with a white center line that looks like a racing track. Post it in the center of the board.

2) Write the bulletin board header (see above) on a long strip of white cardstock in large dark letters. Or, make the header using bright cut out letters. Place the header in the top center of the board.

3) Depending on your grade level, find or make different color car shapes, write each student’s name on a car. Post the cars on the board to look like they’re driving around the track.

4) Copy the verbs from your Racing Verb Roster with or without the phrases and sentences onto cards and add them to the bulletin board track.

5) Add cards with good writing tips that connect with driving like, Don’t speed through your work.

6) Optional element (recommended for upper elementary grades) to add to your bulletin board:  Show how racing cars and their maintenance (italicised type below) are like parts of the writing process (underlined below).  Start with these analogies; invite students to elaborate on this approach to writing in a class discussion:

♦ the whole body of the car is the finished work.

♦ the engine is the main idea.

looking under the hood is like re-reading.

♦ making car repairs is like revising and editing.

Use visuals to illustrate the car maintenance-writing process connection – Find or make parts of a car using cardstock or colored paper or ask students to do the same. Post the car parts on the Get on the Write Track for Good Writing bulletin board. Write the analogies on cards and post them next to the corresponding car parts.

This boy is on the fast track to finishing an exciting story.

Helping students “start their engines for writing” isn’t limited to teaching specific writing skills like verb choice.

Put this car-centered theme to work to motivate kids to want to write, like you see I’ve done in my blog pic here. This student is “rolling down the highway” with his story.

When a teacher engages children in lessons that involve their personal interests (like a love for cars and car racing) she/he sets the stage for success.

One other tip – Track down online programs that can help your students start their engines for writing. Gather the class in front of a large screen in your own classroom or school media center, like you see in my blog pic below,

“Let’s get on the online track to learn how to be better writers.”

and access a colorful online resource like Steve Peha’s The Writing Process Notebook. Google pdf file Writing Process – Teaching That Makes Sense to find this program.

The activities that I’ve outlined in this post allow kids to picture themselves as car racers while they’re writing, willing to drive a story on a longer track, focused ahead from beginning to middle to end.

When kids “start their engines for writing,” they build self-confidence as well as skills. Confidence is something that winners in every circle share!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students continue to use lackluster verbs in their writing.

Solution: Show toy cars and pretend to make them zip across a page, telling the class that good writing includes action words (verbs) that have "zip." Ask the class for examples of "zippy" verbs like zoom, race, flash, rush, etc.

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