Category Archives: publishing student writing

To encourage student writing, publish it

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote an article about how a piece of paper goes from being part of a tree to being a page in a newspaper.  I turned it in.  My teacher returned it with a good grade.  I was satisfied.

Days later, I was asked if I could return the article.  The eighth graders were publishing a school newspaper and wanted to use my article.  They wanted to print my article.  Oh my gosh, I thought to myself.  I’m a writer.

If you know a student whose writing you wish to encourage, publish it.  How?

  • Type it up, print it and make it look good. Or ask the student to.  When I show students versions of their work printed on white paper with no erasures, no cross-outs, and no mistakes,  they are speechless.  When writing looks professional, students think it is professional, and by extension, they think of themselves as writers.


  • Turn the writing into booklets. Type the words in small sections about three inches wide.  Carefully cut the sections apart and paste them at the bottoms of folded white paper.  (8 ½ by 11 computer paper is fine.)  Ask the child to illustrate the top of the page in crayon or colored pencils.  Or cut out illustrations from magazines or clip art online.  Add a cover page which includes a title and the student author’s name.  Add an “about the author” page at the end with the student author’s autobiography and photo.  Staple the pages together along the fold.


  • If you are computer savvy, do all that online and download it or email it to special people—grandparents, former teachers, friends.


  • Start a family blog and include your student’s writing with family news and pictures. Make it possible for your child to show her friends her online writing via an app.


  • Encourage your child’s school to create a “Writers’ Wall” where the good writing of students is displayed for classmates to see.


  • At home begin a three-ring binder of student writing and display it on your coffee table for guests to browse. At school do the same thing for classroom writers with tabs to section off each student’s work or the work of each grade.


  • Make a video of your child reading his work aloud. Email it.  Add it to a family blog.  If appropriate, let it serve as your family’s  holiday greeting.

It’s not the publishing, but what that publishing means in the mind of students.  Their self-perception changes from the fifth kid in the third row to published writer.

If we want to encourage anything, we need to celebrate it.

I want my kids to write more this summer. Any ideas?

Yes.  First, I would let the children know that they will be writing every day this summer.  Give them time to get used to this idea.  And tell them you will be writing too.  Every assignment they do, you will do too.  Your commitment shows them how important you think writing is.


Set up a schedule for writing time and stick to it.  Some kids think summer should be a completely unscheduled time.  Dispel this myth.  Let them know that at a certain hour every day they and you will write.

If the children have a computer or tablet available, let them use it.  This will make the idea of writing daily more palatable.  (But check to be sure they are writing and not surfing or gaming.)  Research shows writers write better when they use electronic equipment, perhaps because of the ease of erasing, moving around phrases and looking up synonyms and spelling.  If you have only one such device, stagger the writing times.

Since finding a topic to write about day after day will be a problem for your children, you decide on topics ahead of time.  You know your children’s interests and experiences.  You know what they have studied in school, what hobbies they enjoy, what trips they have taken.  These are excellent topics for writing.

Insist the children create some kind of prewriting organizer for each writing assignment.  Insist too that it be detailed.  Let the children know you want to see the organizers before they begin their first drafts, and that you will show them yours.  Monday’s writing assignment could be to develop such an organizer.  Together discuss the problems and benefits of creating an organizer.

Tuesday’s assignment could be writing the first draft.  Since knowing how to begin is often a problem, help your children.  Make suggestions to one another.  Let them help you too.  Let them see you as a learner in the writing process.  Prod the child to begin, even if the beginning isn’t great.  It can be improved later.  Allow errors and mediocrity at this point.  It’s better for the writer to get into a “flow” state of mind and to continue than to stop and start to fix errors.

Wednesday’s assignment could be to write a conclusion and to begin to revise.  If the child has trouble writing a conclusion, suggest possibilities.  Then, read aloud your draft and self-correct as you go along letting the child hear how it is done.  Ask each child to read aloud his or her draft, and let him fix the errors he hears.  Suggest places that are skimpy or confusing.  Insist that the children add more details, such as proper nouns, numbers, dates, sensory information, and for examples.

Thursday’s assignment could be to continue revising.  Identify verbs and strengthen them.  Identify sentence beginnings and vary them.  Identify lengths of sentences and vary them.  Older children could identify types of sentences used and vary them.   Final drafts should be completed and printed by the end of Thursday’s writing time, or if revision takes a long time, have the children prepare their final drafts at the beginning of Friday’s writing time.

Friday’s assignment could be to evaluate each piece of writing.  Use two columns marked “Did well” and “Needs improvement.”  Start with the “Did well” column, listing things the child did well, like sticking to one idea, organizing, adding humor, writing dialog, writing clearly, using capital letters—anything which will give the child confidence.  In the “Needs improvement” column, ask the child what he or she thinks needs improvement.  Maybe limit comments to the two areas the child thinks he needs to improve the most, such as run-on sentences, using direct quotes, spelling it’s and its or remembering to use periods.

On Friday also you could agree on Monday’s topic.  If the kids need to think about it or do research, they can do that over the weekend.  Let the children suggest topics.  The more they control the process, the more willing they will be  to participate.

Lastly, hang up the finished final printed drafts on the refrigerator or someplace where they can be admired.

(If you need information on any of these parts of the process, scroll back through these blogs.  Any blog might make a good mini-lesson.)

Who can publish a book? How about a a second grader?

When my daughter was in third grade she decided to write her own book about penguins.  She scoured our National Geographic magazines for pictures and facts about penguins. She wrote the text and compiled it into several pages of information.  I helped her sew together blank pages to form a booklet. She pasted her photos and text on many pages and assembled a cardboard cover which she covered with left-over wall paper.

She wanted her book to be a “real” picture book. So she included a title page, a dedication page (to the National Geographic who had helped her with so many assignments) and an “about the author” page at the end  with her school photo and facts about her eight-year-old self. Her teacher asked if the book could become part of the school library. It did, and her classmates were able to check it out.

I told this story to a second grade student of mine recently, and she decided to write her own book. She entitled her book “Where is Daddy?” because her father travels frequently for work. She drew pictures of her house, such as the kitchen, the deck, and the toy box. Under each picture she wrote text. The last page shows a door, which can be opened, and behind it is a drawing of her father coming home with his suitcase.  You can read the book yourself by clicking the cover below.

Click on the photo for a full size version of this second grader’s book.

Perhaps it is hard to believe, but this student can be a reluctant writer who balks when I ask her to write. Yet for this book project, she took the lead, coming up with ideas and illustrating it herself. She was a writer on a mission to create a wonderful welcome home gift for her father.

From my daughter and my students I have learned how important publishing for a real audience is to children. Certainly it takes work on the part of an adult to help to create a book, a blog, a birthday card or whatever form of publishing a child desires. But unlike most school assignments, their published writing will be savored for years, and may inspire other children to write.

Publishing student essays is essential

Most writing that a student does is seen by two people only—himself and his teacher. Sometimes the writing goes home and parents see it. But rarely do fellow students or friends see student writing. Rarely is there a real world audience.

Professional writers write for an audience. It may be tightly focused—a blog for race car enthusiasts—or it might be more widespread—Reader’s Digest readers. For students to do their best—for them to want to produce the best writing possible—publishing is essential.

EPSON MFP imageWhat is considered publishing for a student?

  • Hanging a finished essay on the refrigerator at home.
  • Photocopying the finished essay and mailing it to Grandma.
  • Scanning the finished essay into the computer and emailing it to aunts and uncles or former teachers.
  • Using the finished essay as Mom’s screen saver.
  • Putting a finished copy in a three-ring binder in a classroom or tutoring center for other students and parents to read.
  • Putting the finished essay online in a student blog or teacher’s blog of student writing.
  • Putting it online in a “great essays” section of a teacher’s classroom work.
  • Entering it in writing in contests.

Publishing matters. Professional writers don’t write for a grade. They write to be read. Too few students have this opportunity. But when they do, it motivates them to write better. At a tutoring center where I teach writing, students crowd around the binder bursting with finished student work. They mention what they have read to each other, or sometimes they try their own hand at the same kind of writing as their friend has written. I point this out to the students whose work has inspired other students, and they grin ear to ear.

Parents, too, read the writing of students. They look for students in the same grade as their child to see what other children of that age are writing. They read with pride their child’s work among other children’s work. They also read for the sheer pleasure of reading good writing.