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Inspiring Student Writing

How many times do you actually give free choice in writing only to hear, “I don’t know what to write about!” One thing that challenges our students is getting started in writing; choosing something to write about that they are actually interested in, and writing form their own unique perspective. 

Tell me if this has happened to you: you model writing a piece about a time you went to the beach with your family. You use some creative details, like descriptions of the sun, sand, and breeze. You share an encounter with a jellyfish! And then you describe the calm peacefulness you felt sitting on the sand.

And then you read your kids’ writing. And almost all of them went to the beach! They described the sun, sand, and breeze, and that time they ran into a jellyfish! And then they felt so calm and peaceful.

Sound familiar?

That’s the way writing often starts. Our kids, when they are still struggling to find their writing voice, use voices that…well…sound a lot like ours. If our writing is the only model of writing students have, we’re really limiting their exposure to different types of writing styles. We have to give them lots of opportunities to read and look at things and search their brains for the memories and thoughts that those experiences trigger.

Inspire with Books & Authors
Some of my favorite books for inspiring student writing are by Cynthia Rylant. It’s no secret – she’s incredible. She makes me feel like a terrible writer. That’s what good writers do, right? Something about the intricate and warm details she includes helps kids reach into their brains for their own details and memories.

This is the response I modeled for the kids in my writer’s notebook after we read Scarecrow:

I wanted to stretch my students’ thinking by freewriting in response to Scarecrow. This helps them think of a variety of ideas for their own future writing, making their writer’s notebooks a real resource for writing.

Another book I love love love for inspiring student writing is The Ghost-Eye Tree. It includes suspense and very strong feelings. Great for getting kids to think about times they were frightened or uneasy.


This book by Jerry Seinfeld always cracked me and my kids up, and it got some of my less excited writers to write about their memories in a funny way.


I love Bat Loves the night by Nicola Davies for those kids who enjoy writing about science. Literary nonfiction titles are a great bridge for those kids!


And this book is excellent for teaching kids to zoom in on a moment.

When our kids read enough books by the same author, they get to know that author. They understand that writers make decisions and have a style. They get to say things like, “I’m going to write this like Patricia Polacco did.” That’s the value of an author study.

I like to put our favorite books into a “Books We Love” basket in our writing area. Kids who need inspiration can go borrow one and get inspired!

Inspire with Pictures
One of the things my kids enjoyed is starting with a picture. One year, my campus had a school-wide picture every month that we all wrote about. It was so interesting to see what direction everyone took the pictures! These are some way I used pictures:
  • Settings: show students pictures about various settings that they may be writing about. Pictures of a certain season or location can help students think about where they’d like their writing to take place.
  • Characters: provide pictures of different kinds of characters. Have students describe them. Do they know someone similar? What would that person say, do, or think? 
  • Tone: show a picture that expresses a certain tone or feeling. Have students write in their notebook what that picture makes them think of.  
    This is a writer’s notebook entry I modeled in response to a picture of a baker!

    Inspire with Words

    A terrific strategy to use to encourage students to grow their expressive vocabularies and to “read like a writer” is “Filling the Room with Beautiful Language.” I honestly don’t know where I learned this, but here’s what you do to fill your room with golden lines.
    1. Read a beautifully written picture book aloud, slowly.
    2. Students listen for their favorite line; the line that was written in such a vivid way that they want to remember it.
    3. They write the line down; I sometimes had them record it on a sentence strip and illustrate it. These later went on a bulletin board full of “beautiful lines,” or “golden lines.”
    4. To share your favorite lines, popcorn it out. One student stands up and reads his/her line. Then he sits down and another student stands up and reads his/her line. Continue until everyone has shared their lines. It fills your room with beautiful language. After you start hunting for this kind of language in the books you read, students will be inspired to try to “write like that,” and they will grow their own language in the most expressive ways!

    Visit this page to read another fun way we inspired our students’ creative writing with interesting words.

    For some fun inspirational writing tools, check out the Writing Inspiration Station on TPT. It’s full of descriptive sentence starters, personal narrative starters and prompts, and fun pictures to write about. 

      These creative story starter dice have a separate story starter on each side. There are creative story starter dice for holidays and seasons!


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