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Can projects take the place of writing?

by | Dec 18, 2017 | Reluctant or Struggling Writers, Writing Across the Curriculum

Who says writing must always mean a report or an essay?

While it’s important that our kids know these skills, let’s face it: not everyone loves to write.

A More Painless Approach

Ben wasn’t so keen on writing when he was a kid. Even as a young teen, writing gave him no end of grief. Imagine his joy when I would give him a choice between a history report and some sort of project. The project always won.

One year, he made an amazing tri-fold display of the Renaissance and Reformation. He loved searching through old National Geographics (bought for a dime apiece at our library bookstore) for the perfect photos. Then he spent hours arranging them just so for a beautiful display. Writing a short report on the Renaissance didn’t seem so painful when it accompanied the project.

And what young boy doesn’t love all things soldier-ish and warlike? So it came as no surprise that Ben opted to make a Greek Hoplite helmet and shield as his 6th-grade Ancient Greece project. The little article that accompanied it, on the subject of Hoplite soldiers, was actually fun for him to write because he’d had such a great time learning about their armor, weapons, and ways of war.

Projects as Writing Alternatives

Special projects allow students to explore a subject in more depth without having to prove their knowledge the “traditional” way—via a long, dreary report.

Projects make great hands-on ways to study topics of special interest. Sure, some might end up as reports, but often a project will incorporate writing while allowing the student’s skills, talents, and passions to shine through. A project can:

  • Appeal to different interests and learning styles.
  • Immerse your student in a subject he’s crazy about.
  • Call upon his unique skills and talents to create the project.
  • Incorporate writing without the need for the writing to dominate.

One of Ben’s favorite projects was the construction of a sand pyramid and Sphinx. Living just an hour from the beach afforded us the freedom to head south for the day so Ben could make his project. He carefully carved and sculpted a fabulous Great Pyramid with a really cool replica of the Sphinx.

We preserved his efforts on camera, and for his actual project, he made a flip book detailing the steps of the process in photos and words. The waves long ago washed away his sculptures, but they remain forever captured in his imaginative flip book.

Disguising the Broccoli

Writing across the curriculum gives students a chance to dovetail writing with other subjects you’re studying. Combining writing with history, art, music, or literature gives a child greater reasons for writing than “because I told you.” And just as hiding broccoli under cheese sauce makes it easier for veggie-phobes to eat their greens, combining a writing activity with a fun project makes the writing part easier to swallow too.

So as you begin to plan your lessons for summer or fall, why not provide your struggling or less-than-enthusiastic writer with an opportunity to gain some success through a project?

Projects shouldn’t completely take the place of other writing. After all, your kids still need to know how to write stories, essays, reports, and letters. But a project that includes writing will expand your student’s knowledge, vocabulary, and writing skills as he builds, draws, sculpts, paints, cooks, compares, or composes.

I’ve got so many great ideas for projects that appeal to all sorts of learners. Check out these ideas to spark writing in a brand-new way!

WriteShop I and WriteShop II

And if you’re a WriteShop I or II user, you’ll be excited to know there’s a Writing Across the Curriculum section in Appendix B to help you tie each WriteShop assignment into other subjects you’re studying. No projects here, but at least you can direct the lesson toward history or science and kill two birds with one stone!


Special projects allow students to explore a subject in more depth without having to prove their knowledge the “traditional” way—via a long, dreary report.