Gambling and writing seem to go together like a pen to paper (see my previous post about Dr. Seuss). Here’s another example of a gamble.

Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story containing a beginning, middle, and end using only six words. He won.

Hemingway had other daily rituals with the potential to inform our teaching practices, but I’ve focused on three essentials.

Short Sentences

An essay, even a paragraph, is daunting for struggling student writers. On the other hand, a student’s writing can be overly enthusiastic with adjectives. Regardless of a student’s interest or abilities, mastery comes from practicing the basics. Challenge them to craft grammatically correct, short sentences. Particularly in the elementary grades, stick to a basic [subject] + [verb(s)] structure.

Here are a couple of practical resources to get you started:

  • 6 Word Memoirs (sixwordmemoirs.com): WARNING – preview it before using with students. Some of the memoirs are very humorous; others are mature in content and tone. Visitors can also receive more background about Hemingway’s six-word story.
  • Pic Lits (piclits.com): Give your students some visual inspiration to write. This site also throws in a drag-n-drop word bank to get their sentences started.

Write First

Hemingway, along with many of his successful peers, preferred to write early in the morning while his mind was clear and the environment was free of distractions. We can’t always guarantee this in the classroom, but we can try to Write First, as in, before starting the lesson of the day and before starting or continuing a class reading.

  • Free Writes: Students come to class with life distractions. If we want them to focus on learning, let’s provide an outlet the thoughts in their head. Start class with an open-ended free write. If a student needs more structure, take another cue from Hemingway; instruct them to “…write one true sentence.” The “truest sentence” they know! You might consider asking them to write more than one sentence.
  • Story Starters: Again, if students have trouble getting started, TheStoryStarter.com provides starter sentences. They just have to compose every sentence after it. Alternatively, a student could volunteer to provide their original story starter, and all students would be asked to respond to it.
  • HO.T.S. Questions: Use a writing prompt at the beginning of your class to get students focused and engaged with the topic of the day. If you have trouble creating a writing prompt, consider building off the Higher Order Thinking Skills (or H.O.T.S.) template available here (via the Teaching Channel).

Track Progress

At the end of the day, Hemingway always reviewed his writing. He not only read through the work but kept a record of the number of words written.

  • Student Portfolios: Gather and track this easily with Evernote.
  • Student Samples: Gather and track this easily with, yep, Evernote.
  • NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org): NaNoWriMo provides some structure and support for you to lead students to write their first novel. The challenge is completing this task within a month!

More Advice from Writers

Read the essays attached to the article 10 of the Greatest Essays on Writing Ever Written by Emily Temple.