Choice in Student Writing


When I was in high school taking a typing class (yes, I really am that old), my friends and I who were very good typists had a lot of free time during class. We started writing stories together. We’d type away madly during each class period and then pass our drafts onto our friends in the next period who would continue writing where we left off. We wrote fiction, things we wished would happen to us, and lots of mysteries. I don’t have any of those stories. I don’t think any of us ever kept any of them. After we all had read the completed draft we tossed it and started something else. Our audience was ourselves.

We usually had more than one story going at a time. Two of us were in the same class; sometimes we worked on the same story (we would both continue where the last person left off, branching off into two different directions) and sometimes one of us started a new story or worked on another one that was already going. We had total control because we weren’t writing for a teacher, for an assignment, or to learn anything. We were writing because we had nothing else to do. We kept doing it because it was fun. Writing stories was simply something to do while the rest of the class finished the assignment. It’s one of the few fond memories I have of high school. I even took the second typing class, even though I had already reached that skill level during the first class, just so I could write stories with my friends! I never thought for one minute about the typing practice I was getting through story writing. That’s what happens when you have fun while you learn!

I don’t remember if we ever wrote a second draft—we may well have because I remember conversations about changes we could or should make. Actually… now… I DO remember—I can see the newsprint paper with pencil marks crossing out lines, and arrows, clouds, and circles! Amazing! (They didn’t teach that stuff in those days but when you’re writing for an audience, even if the audience is just your selves, it’s pretty intuitive.)

That’s the main reason I LOVE writer’s workshop. Even though the students are still accountable to me, it gives them a lot more control over their writing. Even the kids who think my assignments are stupid can choose writing topics, audiences, and publishing venues that make sense to them. And then I get to learn from their choices!

Photo credit:  Writing: Photo by unsplash, via

Originally published on another website on 4/27/2010.


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