Teaching writing to middle school students can be a “sticky” process. There a variety of philosophies regarding structure and flow as well as purpose and state testing preparation. Many students have anxiety around writing. Some struggle with coming up with ideas. Some fear being right. Some are perfectionists. Others have trouble with analysis and higher-order thinking processes. Forcing students to remain seated throughout the entire writing process can further strengthen these responses. Getting students moving during the writing instruction and production can help alleviate these barriers.
This activity requires mild preparation and has room for numerous variations. I like to call this activity Blue Wonder.
Prior to class, the teacher places a large strip of blue painter’s tape on each student desk. Each student is provided with a sharpie (or pen). Students may vary how they proceed based on the writing focus for the lesson. For the purpose of explaining the activity, let’s assume the teacher provided students with a claim statement. Working in groups of four, students work on supporting the claim statement. One student may write down a topic sentence for a paragraph. Another student might write a piece of evidence. A third student might compose an analysis statement. The fourth student may work on a commentary statement. The goal is for the group to work together to discuss the composition of a paragraph (or partial paragraph) to support the claim. Once the students are completed, they find an area on the wall and tape their paragraph together. They are reminded throughout the activity that a goal is to make their ideas “stick” (or memorable).
To add more movement to this activity, a body movement can be developed to remind students of the function of the sentences they are writing. These may be teacher created, class created, or group created. For example, for the topic sentence, students might connect arms followed by pointing to their heads to symbolize the importance of connecting the topic sentence of a body paragraph to the claim sentence reminding students to stay on topic while they are writing. These gestures can be depicted in a small sketch included prior to the writing of the topic sentence on the blue tape. During the class discussion of the various paragraphs, group members (and/or class members) can perform the movements as each sentence is read or discussed. The point is to not only add more movement but also to make a mind-body link to the writing process.
Adding movement and small group work to the writing process can help reduce anxiety and can help stimulate the thinking process. This activity can be modified for different writing forms. For example, when writing a narrative, various sentences may represent the importance of dialogue or descriptive language regarding the setting. When writing poetry, the blue strips may represent sensory imagery or figurative language.
Blue tape allows for students to reveal their ideas by unrolling it, or it can help remind them of the “stickiness” needed in their writing. It also can be a space saver; however, sentence strips or other materials can be used.
While this activity has middle schoolers in mind, it can be adapted for any grade level.