Open Mic End-of-Year Writing Celebration

 

I am a big fan of blogging, Tweeting, online discussions, and collaborative wikis. However, in the end, nothing feels more special, more like a community of writing, than having students read their work in class. Out loud. No tech required.

The type of oral publication I’m endorsing is not a formal process. I don’t think it would work if I assigned grades. There is no “have to” beyond two suggestions: 1) Choose something short, and 2) Choose something you like.

However, the process does depend on how the classroom environment is nurtured throughout the year. Students need to feel safe. They need to have something to say. They need a bit of pride.

How to Host an End-of-Year Open Mic Celebration

* Warn students a couple of weeks in advance and keep on reminding them daily. Say something like, “Remember, you need to choose a short piece for oral publication. This may be a poem, part of a short story, the introduction to an article, a reflection from your writer’s notebook, etc.”

  1. Take students through a discussion of why writers publish and how they publish (see the slide deck above). Point out that today is a publishing opportunity, much like an “open mic” night at coffee shops.
  2. Students share in small groups. Of course, students need practice and support with what “listening in groups” looks like. I train my students early on to face the person speaking, to nod and look supportive, and to not engage in side conversations. Also, for this sharing session, I ask students to simply say, “thank you” after each person reads. If they aren’t used to this, I read a sample of my own writing before they start and I ask the class to say thank you to me. Then, I circulate and remind students to follow through with this part. This routine gives students a simple way to acknowledge each other’s work without judgment.
  3. After everyone has shared in small groups, it’s time for the open mic but there is no need for an actual microphone. Put a “writer’s chair” in the front of the room and ask for volunteers. Students may also nominate someone from their small groups. No one has to read. The hope is that many will want to.  I usually go first because it breaks the anxiety a bit and it shows that I am part of the writing community and I’m willing to put myself out there too.
  4. Instead of clapping, we use what I call beatnick applause. This means we snap our fingers. Why? It’s fun. Also, certain seventh graders get a little out of control with regular clapping. It’s a thing.
  5. Tips for Success:
    • Wait Time: If you ask for volunteers and no one does, wait and then wait some more. There are some young writers out there who really want to share. They just need a little time to get their courage up.
    • Regular Practice with “Think Write Pair Share”: Part of building a community of writers is forming a routine where everyone writes and everyone reads what they wrote. Often. Then it just becomes part of the work of the class.
    • The Writer Reads His / Her Own Work: Often a friend offers to read for a writer who is feeling shy. I don’t allow it because I want to hear the writer’s own voice. There is a certain magic to hearing directly from the writer.  Also, writers know what they are trying to communicate and stand a better chance of reading their own messy penmanship. I tell the students, “Be proud of your ideas.”
    • Just Read the _____________. Directly from the South Coast Writing Project, train students to skip the so-called ritual apology. In other words, no saying, “I wrote this really fast and it’s not good.” No, “This sucks, but…” Just read it.

Closing Thoughts

Even with all this preparation, the process will not work for every class every time. But when it does, you are left with a special day that every student will remember. It is worth the risk of failure. It is worth risking that no one will share. This year, two of my classes participated in the exact steps I describe here. Every student brought something to share. Every student read in small groups. From what I was able to observe, most read with feeling and the listeners smiled and looked like they were enjoying each other’s work.

The open mic part varied between the two class periods: One class is very full (36 students!) and only five or six students chose to share. I blame this on two things: First, the yearbooks were about to be passed out. Not the best time for reflective contemplation. Second, because there are so many students, reading aloud is a bigger risk for a nervous writer.

The other class is a special group with only 25 students. Almost every one of them chose to come up to the writer’s chair to read. A couple students took major risks in the type of writing they chose to share. It was clear to me and to them that we were doing the work of real writers.

I’m still working on the details, but I truly believe I’m onto something here. I want my students to see that writing is not a chore to be completed for a teacher to assign a grade. OK, well sometimes it is, but not all the time. Writing is creative. Writing is  entertaining. Writing communicates. This type of low-stakes publishing opportunity is one way to help students believe in those things too.

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