If you’re not a writer, how can you teach writing to your students?
This is an important question. Writing is a form of communication. It’s also a way to clarify thinking, organize the sequence of points to make, and it can be a sheer joy to turn up the perfect descriptive phrase.
Unless you’re a teacher who doesn’t want or like to write.
In which case teaching writing could become a chore.
Perhaps you’ve never been enthusiastic about writing. Perhaps the writing prompts you find are boring or inconsequential. It’s difficult to inspire your students to write if you don’t feel that inspiration yourself.
If that’s the case, keep your writing instruction simple.
Teaching writing and the writing process are presented as a complex subject with so many steps. Keeping all the parts organized when you have 32 or more students who all seem to be at different places in their own writing process can turn into a juggling act.
However, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. There are ways to simplify and organize your writing curriculum and your writing lessons so that everyone benefits and learns to enjoy it. I wrote about it on this blog post, Simplify Writing Instruction, if you’d like to read some writing tips.
The bottom line is that writing instruction begins best with teachers who write.
Tips to Become a Teacher Writer
Claim the Time to Write
Whether you have an hour a day to write or only five minutes a day to write, start with what you have. Perhaps you’re so busy you don’t think you even have five minutes. You can dictate your writing into a notes app on your phone. Later, when you’re at your computer, you can export it into a document or digital writing journal.
Begin With Writing Basics
Don’t think that you have to be on a level with Ernest Hemingway or Maya Angelou to write. One thing you can do to start writing is keep a diary. You could simply write about things that happened in class. If that seems intimidating, begin with a journal that has prompts. Write or dictate for whatever time you have available each day. Consistency is key for writers, so block the time on your calendar for this.
Do Your Writing Prompts Inspire You?
If you think about it, this is what you need and what your students need. When you decide on topics to write about, choose the things that light you up. If you love inspirational quotes, go to a website and find a list of quotes that speak to you. Then get started writing about topics you care about.
Never Choose Boring Writing Prompts
Again, this applies to your students as well as to you. There’s nothing more groan-worthy in a classroom than if a teacher gives this writing prompt: “What I did during—(insert your own words here; summer vacation, the weekend, the holiday, you get the idea.) Unless it was some magical vacation, like a trip to Italy or Disneyland, no one wants to write about it. When choosing a prompt always ask this question:
Would I Want to Write About This?
If the answer is no, toss the prompt. Literally. If it’s on paper, wad it up and toss into the trash like a basketball swoosh.
A Teacher Writer Makes a Better Writing Teacher
So now we come to the meat of this blog post. To answer the question posed in the title, “Can you teach writing if you’re not a writer?” the answer is yes. Absolutely. You’re a professional, you’ve done plenty of writing throughout your academic career, and you know how to convey basic writing skills to your students.
But if you’re also in the process of writing, you’ll be a better writing teacher. Here are several reasons why:
- You’re grappling with the same issues as your students, just on a higher level.
- You understand the search for the perfect word or expression to best convey your ideas.
- Creating an engaging hook may take several passes.
- Finding imagery and figurative language without cliché is difficult, but even more so for students.
- Through your own writing, you create a zoom lens into the writing process of your own students.
- You deeply understand how it feels to write on demand, write long form prose. If you’re doing your own daily writing in a journal, you’re writing on demand, right?
- If you write short articles for your students to use in class, you’ll gain practice at writing with clarity and focus.
- With all of your own writing practice, you’ll gain some empathy for your students and their work. You’ll have concrete suggestions for them to guide them along their own writing paths.
- You’ll see your own growth as a writer, especially if you keep a reflective journal for teachers.
Use Mentor Texts and Mentor Sentences
If you still think writing isn’t your thing, then you can borrow from the masters. That’s where mentor texts come in. They can be found anywhere and everywhere, as you can see in this blog post. Once you’ve found the mentor texts you want to use, you can develop a mentor sentences routine in your class that can practically run itself. This blog post will show you how to set up your mentor sentences routine.
So once again, the answer is no, you don’t have to be a teacher writer to teach writing. But if you are, the way you teach writing will be much more enriching, engaging, and inspiring to your students.
Do you know of teachers who would enjoy this post? Please share it with them!