Laurie Halse Anderson, author of young adult novels including Speak and Wintergirls, launched a writing challenge on her blog this month: Write Fifteen Minutes a Day, or WFMAD. Anderson invites readers to spend 15 minutes writing every day during the month. She provides writing prompts, advice, and encouragement. All readers have to do is set aside 15 uninterrupted minutes and write.
Where's the community in that project? Look in the comments to the blog entries, and you'll see people, wait, strike that. You'll see WRITERS talking about their work. They describe triumphs and challenges. They talk about where they were when they wrote—in an office, a comfy chair, or a coffee shop. Some reflect on what they have written about. Others talk about how family and friends (and a few pets) supported their work. In just 15 minutes a day, Laurie Halse Anderson has built a great community of writers.
In the classroom, this kind of project can forge great connections among students. Just follow Anderson's example, and provide a prompt, advice, and encouragement. Anderson even says that the prompts can be reproduced for classroom use!
Of course, you can easily adapt the project for any students and class. Scale the time up or down as appropriate for the class. Fifteen minutes is probably plenty for high school and college students, but you might use a shorter period for younger students. Don't have 15 minutes a class session? Choose a shorter period of time, or scale things back so that students write every other day or once a week. The project could also be done for simple homework assignment.
There are a few things that I wouldn't change about the activity though:
- Be sure that the writing prompt you choose require a personal response. You might ask students to talk about something that happened, a dream for the future, or a favorite object. Tap students' personal experience.
- Choose a general topic that gives students plenty of choice. Remember that writers have more authority when they can choose a topic that they are comfortable with.
- Welcome any and all kinds of composition—freewriting, polished paragraphs, story boards, and so forth. Invite students to do whatever kind of writing they want to. The important thing is to write. Exactly how they write is less important.
Once students do their writing, it's time to use their texts to build community. Invite students to talk about their experience with the project. Anderson has some suggestions for conversation in her blog post. For instance, she asks writers to add comments that tell her "what it felt like when the 15 minutes were up." Look through the comments on other WFMAD posts on Anderson's blog for additional topics you might discuss after writing. Of course, you can also ask students to talk about the content of their 15-minute writings.
Using Anderson's project as a model, you can jump start community building in the classroom this fall. The first days of school can be very scary. As teachers, we need to make students feel comfortable with each other as quickly as possible. Writing is the answer. Welcome students as writers, give them advice and encouragement, and watch discussions about writing blossom as students build connections and encourage one another to write. And you can do it all in about 15 minutes a day!