Independent Writing Projects: Why They’re Great and How To Get Started

As educators, we want to do everything we can to open up more possibilities for young writers. Through our classroom experience and in work with educators, we’ve seen the evidence that independent writing projects further develop literacy skills.

Here are just a handful of reasons to give independent writing projects a try:

  • Increased engagement. Giving more choice always increases engagement. Letting kids choose any kind of writing will open many possibilities for your writers. Students might say, “I feel like I never get to write what I want.” Sound familiar? Many times, we go from genre to genre and never offer kids a chance or break to do what they want or have more freedom.
  • Writing volume will go up and students will write more!
  • Stamina will increase so kids will write for more extended periods. Isn’t this what we all need?
  • It will bring joy back into writing. Right now, your writing workshop might feel a bit lackluster. We are all challenged by online teaching and doing the best we can. Independent writing projects could excite and inspire your kids to write again (and even write more).

Getting started with independent writing projects.

Now that you understand all the great reasons for giving independent writing projects a try, here are some ideas for getting started. These tips will help you whether you’re teaching online, in the classroom, or any hybrid in between.

  1. Find out what kind of writing kids are excited about and wish they could write. Make sure to offer some of these as options.
  2. Offer alternatives of what kids can write and then set them up into small writing clubs, so they have others to support them when they try this type of writing. You can also help them with mentor texts.
  3. Focus your mini-lessons around the stages of the writing process since it will be impossible to teach into all the varied genres kids are doing.
  4. Ask kids to consider what kind of books they like to read. What they like to read may also inspire what they’ll like to write. If they love reading comics or graphic novels, they could try writing one. If they enjoy reading poetry, they can give poems a try. If fantasy stories pique their curiosity, they can test out some fantasy writing.
  5. Remember to plan a celebration. Celebration is such an important part of our writing process. Kids need to see that professional writers have a real audience and aren’t writing in a vacuum. There will be a time when they can share it and put it out into the world. Here are some of our ideas for celebrating.

Here are three different ways to schedule independent writing projects:

  1. Try one unit of study on independent writing projects.
  2. Select a day like Friday where kids get to work on their independent writing projects and have a lesson to support them.
  3. Leave gaps between your units. Think about times when you have a week or two before winter or spring break. Rather than starting a new genre with your kids right before time off, introduce independent writing projects or create an open genre cycle. When you come back from the break, you’ll need to decide how kids will continue to work on this writing.

We’d love to hear about your independent writing projects. Let us know what you’re trying and how it’s going.

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