Stoking the Student’s Desire to Write

An interesting case that I come across often when teaching introductory French courses is the student who has so far not been enthusiastic about mastering French grammar rules but becomes animated all of a sudden when I give the class a writing assignment such as “Describe the person of your dreams.”  Giggles and more would ensue, from so many students.  Stoking the student’s desire to express himself/herself is an important element in the process of helping students to improve their writing.  Writing becomes something that they want to work on instead of something that they might see as a burden.  Feeling an emotional connection to a writing assignment can drive the student not only to write but to want to improve their writing—the student becomes more open to reviewing a few grammar rules.  The student wants me to be able to picture that dreamy person.  This would be a one-paragraph long in-class writing assignment, and students would be free to benefit from peer review before submitting their work to me.  I tell my students that I am not expecting them to produce masterpieces, but one goal is still to have as few grammatical errors as possible, and so asking a neighbor to look over a few sentences might be helpful.  In this way, students would also feel less isolated in their journey to producing better writing.  That the students get no more than twenty or so minutes to finish their work is an important factor.  Sometimes I imagine a Hephaestus-like creature who must hammer out a few sentences immediately.  This kind of an assignment can help students be less prone to procrastination when it comes time for them to work on a longer writing assignment.  Overthinking what we want to write, endlessly rewriting sentences, and other procrastination-related elements can easily lead to asking for an extension, which is not so bad in the grand scheme of things, unless that leads to the viciousness of never feeling ready to submit any work at all.