Engaging reluctant writers in high school - postcard writing

Writing essays and creative writing can feel like a chore for some students. When extended writing is difficult (for whatever reason) then a blank, lined page can seem intimidating.  Here is just one way I tackle this challenge in my classroom.

A while ago I joked to a colleague that my year 11s knowledge of Animal Farm was just about enough to fill a stamp. Whilst I hope my hyperbolic tendencies are proven unfounded, this conversation also reminded me of a good friend from my university days.  Pete was (and is) an artist.  He delighted in being quirky and gauche, his best expression of this was the teeny-tiny notes left under my door, which needed a magnifying glass to be read.

This one is about the size of a post-it note!

This writing activity was inspired by Pete and his tiny writing ways.

The Postcard Essay

The idea is simple.  Instead of writing an essay in their books, students write it on a postcard.
Well - if I am honest - this activity started as a blatant gimmick to persuade exam-prep-exhausted students to write just one more paragraph on a Friday Lesson 5.  It's only a postcard, I encouraged them gleaming with positivity, it won't take you 5 mins to fill it with a lovely, lovely essay on Of Mice and Men.  My students were sick of writing essay paragraphs, PEEL paragraphs, PEZZ paragraphs - so for this one lesson I said - "Today you are going to write a postcard and nothing more".

Just the activity of writing on something small was different enough to engage my weary students.

Then we started to play around with the postcards.
  • Student A would send Student B a postcard essay, which they would improve and send back.  
  • I created a postcard postbox in my classroom.  
  • With multiple exam classes, across different ability groups, Class A can send Class B postcard essays, commenting, improving, celebrating and then sending them back.
  • Student A would write a postcard paragraph with blatant errors in it - Student B would correct and send back.

At first, the competition was to see how little they could write (number of words) and it still pass inspection with me.  Then because my boys are pretty competitive it became about how many words you could write to fit on a postcard. How small can you make your writing and it still be legible. How long can your paragraph be and still fit on a card. How many things can you include.

I was practically dancing on the chairs!

But then a genius idea struck. How about I just divide card-stock into 4 or 6 and have students write their essay paragraph on one side and draw an image related to the text on the other. I'll dig out some pictures of those to add here soon.

Any postcard template will do and at first - I just download ones and printed them. Try here for a start. 

If you are interested in more ways to engage reluctant writers - try this post on writing on the desks. See it here.

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