Do you want to create a daily writing habit in your classroom? Learn how by using a habit loop with a cue, routine, and reward. It’s easy!
How often have you known students who moan and complain every time you tell them it’s time to write? I know I used to have this happen all the time, and it caused me so much stress. Then I wasted time trying to convince the students that writing is fun. I saved time by discovering a secret that leads to a happy and successful experience in writing class.
Experts tell us the most important ingredient to achieving mastery is the power of habit. The power to stay motivated. The power of a growth mindset.
Want to know how to apply this mastery technique in your classroom? When you do, your students’ enjoyment and abilities in writing will soar.
The Tremendous Power of Habit
The power of habit is your best tool to improve your students’ writing. By setting up a habit loop with a cue, routine, and reward, you’ll be able to get your students to write every day without complaint. It’s up to you to create a habit for yourself and for them. Read on to learn how to create a daily writing habit in your classroom with joy and no pain.
Once I set up a solid routine, my students readily adopted the new habit, and complaints seemed to evaporate. They knew this was what we did, at this specific time, each and every day, and it didn’t get them anywhere to complain or try to talk me out of it. In fact, many students told me that they thought they would hate writing at the beginning of the year, but by mid-year, those same students were telling me how much they liked writing. They would even ask for extra writing assignments and offer me prompts for new assignments! Teaching writing can’t get much better than that, right?
The Habit Loop
If you search the term “habit loop” online, you’ll find thousands of resources explaining what it is and how it works. In short, it’s a neurological response to a cue that starts a specific routine and ends in a reward. Sometimes it’s called a “cognitive trigger”.
For example, in the morning my alarm goes off, (the cue), I get out of bed and go to the kitchen, (the routine), and get my hot coffee that’s already brewed, (the reward.) That’s possible because I have another routine each evening. I finish loading the dishwasher after dinner, (the cue), then I prep the coffee for the next morning, (the routine), and I don’t have to grind coffee beans in the morning (which I hate to do) and wait for the coffee to brew. My reward is having a fresh, hot cup of coffee already waiting for me when I wake up.
The Importance of a Habit Loop in Teaching
My mission and my goal for you is to create a simpler, more efficient way of teaching writing. The habit loop is an integral part of a simple system that saves you time. You can incorporate this into any activities you do in the classroom as well as in your personal life. As you may have guessed, coffee is especially important to me, and so is my habit loops around my nectar from Colombia and Guatemala.
Use your knowledge of your students and your schedule to create a cue that is unmistakable from any others. I used the end of recess as my cue to do daily independent skill practice writing. You may want to use the first ten minutes of class while you take attendance. You could play a particular song or piece of music that lets the students know it’s time to write.
You choose the cue. But make it unmistakable. Once you’ve chosen your cue, keep it the same for the rest of the year. When creating good habits around studying, consistency is key.
The Routine is Royalty
This writing routine is a consistent, low pressure skills practice time. Always choose consistency over novelty. To teach writing in a simple, straightforward, and effective manner, the routine is royalty. Students know what to expect. Students know that complaining will get them nowhere. Students become accustomed to the routine. Students then will routinely turn out better and better writing.
Check out my blog post from September 22, 2020 about independent writing with ideas for prompts and download the free writing journal skills checklist and table of contents. This checklist gives you twenty-seven different skills to focus on in order from most basic to advanced. It’s enough to last for a year if you focus on one a week and then spiral back and reteach the more difficult skills.
The writing checklist is a perfect pairing with mentor sentences routines. You can fold these into your daily writing habit almost effortlessly. Once the students know the routine, they can do it independently.
Create a Calm Environment as Part of the Routine
One thing that I use as part of the routine but is also a type of cue, is creating a calming tone in the classroom. Last year, my students’ favorite thing was for me to post a calming video with natural sounds or music on the whiteboard. As they wrote, they might see a live cam of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or a looping nature scene with soft music. It became almost like white noise in the background.
I marveled at how quiet the students became whenever I put on one of the videos.
One important tip about this type of cognitive trigger, according to cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Sahar Yousef, PhD., is to choose a playlist that doesn’t have words your brain can understand, nor sounds that might cue a person to draw attention away from what they’re doing. This ambient video has sounds of water, so the students found it very calming and helped them focus.
You can quickly find playlists on Youtube by searching “Write With Me.” This one has a beach scene with the sounds of waves. The susurration and repetitive sound helps create a focused mental state for writing. My students particularly liked the ocean scenes.
The Reward for the Habit
In this case, the reward to the teacher is twofold. First, you have between five and fifteen minutes to conference with students on an individual basis. Second, you’ll develop better writers.
The reward for the students is that they get to meet with their teacher on a regular basis in a low-stakes situation. They usually are excited to show you what they’ve written.
To mark the close of the habit, reward them with a couple of minutes to socialize with a classmate, or do a quick brain break after writing. This final reward solidifies the habit in their minds. It also creates a short break to transition into the next activity.
In the end, your goal is to make writing fun, relaxing, and engaging. My goal is to make your job easier by giving you tools for a simple system for teaching writing. This daily writing habit is the foundation of that system.
I’ve created digital daily writing journals based on a calendar of National Days and International Days celebrations. As a BONUS to you for reading this far, you can download a FREE sample of the Writing Every Day with a National Days. It’s my way of saying thank you!
If you enjoy the digital interactive writing notebook, you can find the full version in my TeacherspayTeachers store.
Do you use digital or printable interactive writing notebooks with your students? You can get more than 52 journal entry starters in this blog post, Want To Unlock More Creativity? Try These 52 Journal Entry Starters.
If you have a favorite prompt that’s not mentioned in the 52 journal entry list, please share it in the comments!
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P.S. If you know any teachers who would like to learn time-saving tips and strategies for teaching writing, please share this post with them!