How to Motivate Students to Copy Writings of the Greats
“My students will not write,” you complain.
Have you observed their scribbles? Have you asked students why they do not write?
First, determine reasons for students’ unwillingness to write, and then generate a strategy to motivate students to write.
If you determine that students lack basic skills in writing, such as not knowing how to construct a sentence, start from the beginning: Teach parts of speech. Help students understand the basic elements of grammar—noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, preposition, adverb, interjection, and conjunction.
Students learning parts of speech will require time to learn because lessons should be spaced-taught and many examples should be illustrated, and students must be able to identify each part of speech.
For student mastery of parts of speech, speak the name of each part during instruction. Always call the term what it is—noun, adjective, conjunction. This strategy will help prolong students’ memory regarding the lesson. Moreover, repeat a myriad of exercises for student-identification of the parts of speech, for the more practice with parts of speech the more opportunity for student learning.
Next, teach sentence structure—sentence versus fragment; compound verses run-ons Also, add phrases, because phrases help to elongate sentences, which also adds to the structure quality of the statement.
To help students remember these lessons, review the lessons until students prove through assessments that they have mastered these skills. Only after students are able to identify the basics of grammar to influence their own writing will they be motivated to begin to write.
As a teacher, your next challenge will be to motivate students to generate ideas for which to write. You might encounter a stall in student-productivity by giving students writing-autonomy initially, yet always do.
If students have no idea what to write about and are not pleased with topics you, as teacher, suggest, students will shut down, for they would rather not complete the writing task, leaving you to figure out reason they do not write, before they scribble something proving they indeed cannot write. Many students will not place themselves in unfavorable conditions in front of others, and especially in front of teachers.
“So, how should I as a teacher motivate students to write?”
Do the unthinkable:
Allow students to “copy” excerpts or passages of classical or good writings. Because students are not required to think of their own topics, they will be motivated to simply copy a piece of writing to gain a sense of accomplishment and to avoid the truth of not knowing how to write.
Actually, copying good writers’ work used to be the norm in schools.
Prior to the twentieth century, schools encouraged students to copy writing styles of excellent writers. Some of the world’s best-known writers have mimicked their forerunners.
If you have studied the writing styles of Mahatma Gandhi, Henry Thoreau, Dr. Martin King, Jr., you may have noticed a similarity in their writing of’ sentence structures, in their writing of rhetoric, and in their writing of tones. The aforementioned writers are some of the best writers in the world, when, in fact, many of them copied writing styles of their predecessors or contemporaries.
By twentieth century, however, schools turned to new thought, encouraging students to think of their own ideas and to pen their own thoughts in their own writing styles; thus, began an onset of poor writers and students not attempting to write at all. Students illustrated that they were not ready to be independent writers nor thinkers, especially not during their former school years.
Looking back, our forebears may have understood that polished writings mimic the greats, and that beginner writers should mimic the greats, too.
The art of copying is a motivating strategy to proceed in learning lessons to be understood and to start with an approach that is easy and beneficial to learn.
“So, how should I as a teacher proceed with the copying idea?”
Well, to enhance instruction—curriculum, too, as a byproduct—generate classic essays from the past—works by Tolstoy, Virginia Wolf, Ralph-Waldo Emerson, Richard Wright, just to name a few, to allow students to copy their essays and articles. As a bonus, teach students about the authors’ lives to inspire them to visualize the writers as human beings same as the students are.
As a first lesson to this strategy, assign a read aloud session for students to volunteer to read a passage they will soon copy. Discuss the passage, and then assign a lesson from the passage for the students to copy.
Encourage students to think about what they are copying as they write, so that they will remember the importance of the passage as well as focus on developing a writing style indicative of their writing growth.
“So, motivate students to copy to learn?”
Yes. Always motivate students to write, and if some students show stubbornness about writing, continue to motivate them to write regardless. Motivate students to revel in their new found understanding and latent capability of writing.
Writing is a beautiful form of expression, and every student deserves the opportunity to learn about language, to copy good writers’ styles, to exercise their minds by viewing and studying quality topics, and, finally, to learn how to write.
“No more complaining from me. Going forward, my students will copy writing styles until they have mastered their own styles of writing.”
Absolutely. Let them copy. It’ s a good method to teach them writing.
Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D.
Below are writing strategies to help motivate your students to begin writing:
- Teach basic instruction of language.
- Space practice student learning of language.
- Select short classics (1 page) for students to copy.
- Read out loud the classic, and discuss its theme.
- Instruct students to copy the classic.
NOTE: A student may need the entire school year to apply this writing strategy, yet with perseverance on the teacher’s part and perseverance on the student’s part, the student can learn how to write, and the teacher can learn how to facilitate and motivate.
Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D.
Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction