The Importance of Modelling Topic Selection To Inexperienced Writers


I occasionally find myself talking to a teacher at pains to tell me how their students are struggling to think of suitable topics for their writing. ‘They never seem to come up with much, so that’s why I have to give them sentence starters and topics.’
 ‘Why can’t they think of  writing ideas?’ they ask.

I always find myself wondering if those teachers have ever reflected on this same question?


Demonstrating and modelling how we connect to the world around us is a vital consideration for our students. As teachers, we need to demonstrate how we harvest ideas, how we excavate memories and how we ruminate and wonder.

Listing, brainstorming, discussing, questioning, wondering, sketching, mapping, musing, note making all form part of that critical pre-writing part of the process young writers need to see.

If we teach in a manner that fails to account for such things,  writing ideas will continue to struggle for recognition with our student writers.

Nothing influences a child’s attitude to writing more than the choice of topic. If the child self selects a writing topic and the teacher shows genuine interest in the writer’s selection, there’s often no limit to the effort the child will make. Young writers who are given this power become confident in choosing topics for themselves.

I compare this approach with that of my fifth grade teacher, who owned the topics and merely threw them in our direction during our weekly writing time. No sense of ownership there. No confidence building in that approach. Very little thinking required. No opportunities for the inexperienced writer to rehearse.

 It did, no doubt influence the attitude of many of those students in the opposite direction to writing. Most of them probably backed away from writing with a sense of relief. When teachers own the writing; when they control it so completely, it becomes merely an assignment set by an adult. Difficult to get passionate and committed about writing under those conditions

Teacher modelling is critical to students making improved topic choices. Student writers need to see a proficient writer in action! They need to see writers narrow down the focus of their writing. -How they unpack ideas and solve writing problems. 

Learning how to monitor the world is an essential part of becoming better at topic choice. Alerting young writers to the potential that lies in valuing everyday events is an important aspect to becoming effective as a writing teacher.

Anne Lindbergh said it all with her words, -"Writing is more then living, it is being conscious of living." A five year old,  once gave me further confidence that learning to monitor the world is the way to go when she quietly informed me, "I'm five now and I can see everything!"

In setting our expectations for writers, we need to examine our own practice and provide active support  enabling confidence in topic choice to grow and begin to flourish. Rather than lamenting what students can’t do, our energies should be directed towards setting an example for students to follow.

When students stop saying,’ I can’t think of anything to write about’, you know you have created confident, self directed thinkers. That’s a great place to be.

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