Step 1 - Examine a Piece of Poor WritingFirst, use the overhead projector to show your class an example of typical (i.e. boring) grade level writing. Either use writing samples from previous years of teaching or ask another teacher for examples. It is not recommended to use samples from current students.
After reading the piece together, ask the students to describe what they noticed about this piece of writing. The will likely tear it to shreds with valid criticisms! Then, ask the students to raise their hands if they think they sometimes tend to write like this. Most often, every single child raises his or her hand. Now they know what not to do.
Step 2 - Show an Example of Strong WritingNext, show them an example of exemplary grade level writing, emphasizing that this student was the same age as them and that they could write like this, too. The kids can then point out all of the amazing techniques this student employed to make his/her writing pack a powerful punch! Show the students how to notice "magic words" that help paint a vivid picture in a reader's mind.
Explain to your students that the point of writing is to make your reader see the same exact picture that you had in your head when you wrote the words. So, if you just mention a "dog," how are they going to know the color, size, and personality of the dog you envisioned if you don't tell them specifically?
Use this anticipatory set to build your students' confidence and convince them that they too can, and will, write like this soon.
Use Visualization to Make a PointThis next step seems so simple and works so effectively. First, choose a topic for this lesson's creative writing assignment. In my classroom, I use a jungle, but you can use anything that is familiar and interesting to the children.
Ask the kids to close their eyes and visualize themselves standing in a particular landscape. Have them look around and notice what's above them, at their feet, behind them, on all sides. What's moving? What is in the background? What colors do they see? What small things and large things do they see? What do they hear, smell, feel, taste? What mood are they in? The more details you solicit, the better this visualization will work.
After the details of the visualization are solidified in their minds, ask them to open their eyes and describe what they saw. Write their responses on a blank overhead or on the board. Coach the students to add "magic words" to their descriptions. Eliminate boring words such as "good," "bad," and "went." Help them mold their sentences into active, energetic works of art. After the first sentence or two, the kids should start doing this more on their own.
As an example, this is what my kids came up with when I did this exercise with them: In the Wild Jungle
Afterwards, read the descriptions back to the class. It is often stunning how powerful their writing can become in less than an hour! Then go back and analyze what makes this writing awesome and circle the magic words that they had chosen all on their own.
To solidify the impact of this lesson, heap on the praise, saying how you knew they always had this kind of powerful writing in them and how you can't wait to put this up on the classroom web site for their families to see. Tell them that, now, they have no excuse but to produce more powerful and magical writing - writing that's just as exemplary as the outstanding writer's piece we had marveled at earlier.
After you teach this lesson a few times, your students' writing, as a whole, will skyrocket to new heights. Each time, before they write, lead them in visualizing the scene of the story which helps them add details to their sentences. The students will strive to increase their vocabulary so that they can use more and more magical words in their work.
Consider banning certain words (good, bad, said, went) and brainstorm magic words to replace these boring old standbys. Hang the new words around the room for the kids to pull from as they write.
Set aside a place in the room where they can share "sparkling sentences" from the books they read during silent reading time. Even the most hesitant writers can't wait to share their writing with the class so that they can hear the class's sincere "oohs" and "aahs" as the audience visualizes the unique worlds they create on paper.