what to do when students have nothing to write

We hear it all too often, usually from the same students, and almost always said with all caps.


As writing teachers, we know the importance of choice, so we don’t want to tell them what to write, but on some days we don’t know what else to do.

I’ve come to realize that the young writers who lament I have nothing to write about really don’t need a strategy to figure out a topic. They don’t need one more list or another notebook entry or a magical graphic organizer.

They need validation.

Writing takes guts and perhaps the bravest decision is topic choice. More than anything else, students need us to validate their topics. This helps build confidence in young writers.

Many writers (kids and adults) put a lot of pressure on themselves to find the perfect topic. It is a myth to believe that if we just find a grand topic, we will produce grand writing. It doesn’t work this way. In fact the most mundane topics often lead to mighty writing.

When students can learn that small and ordinary is worthy, then there’s less pressure to determine the perfect topic. Our students need to know that a trip to Walmart is just as worthy a topic for a narrative as a trip to Greece. They need to know that a story from a secret hideout is just as valid as a story from Disney World. Students need to know that an opinion about kindness in the lunchroom is as important as a call to action about fighting homelessness.

As teachers, we can help students understand this truth by affirming their topic choices.

I think the best way to do this is to find ordinary topics ourselves, as teachers who write. When we use ordinary topics to model in writing workshop, we send the message that small is worthy.

In order to help you find ordinary topics, in a variety of types of writing (narrative, informational, opinion, and poetry), I’ve created Finding Topics: A Guide for Teachers. It will take you through questions to discover topics that are small, but mighty. You can get the free guide by signing up below. I also share a few video minilessons that use ordinary topics as mentors for students. https://forms.convertkit.com/141609?v=6

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  1. I appreciate this post. I always struggled with choosing a worthy topic. Now I better understand why I'm moved by some writing about everyday topics. Even the mundane validates.