How do you get kids excited to write to a prompted topic that they know little about or care little about? For many writers, it’s the lack of motivation to dive in and attack a prompt that is holding them back. Without the care-about-it factor, writings tend to lack length and voice. The students get in “git-r-done” mode and just slap some ideas on the paper to be done.

Put on some excitement!

At a workshop in Ft. Wayne recently, Indian Springs Middle School teacher Courtney Gordon shared an outstanding idea to get students writing to a prompted topic. She and her colleagues create a scenario that each student should think of a particular boy/girl they like. They then tell the students to imagine they are hanging out at recess, or lunch, or after school, or at a ball game with this individual. The scenario continues . . . This certain person you like brings up the topic of (insert assigned prompt topic here). This is a topic you know little about (and frankly, care little about)… but you like this person, and you want to keep hanging out and talking longer. So, you fake it. You pretend to be interested. You ask questions and engage in conversation, just to prolong the time with this person. Explain to them that when they are writing to a prompt, it requires the same “fake it, till you make it” attitude.

Introduce the Test LadyTM.

A second strategy to help students dive into your state’s standardized writing prompt is to give them a sense of audience. I call her the Test Lady–the old woman who reads and scores all the students’ writing prompts. I want to give students a sense of a human on the other side of their writings. Without it, they assume they are writing to a machine . . . BORING!

To help your writers envision this real live audience for their writing, consider having students draw portraits of the Test Lady on 11×17 paper. Hang the individual portraits your students create within the classroom as a constant reminder that a human being is on the other end of what they will write for the state prompt.

Check out how some teachers have introduced the Test LadyTM in their classrooms in previous years.

Test Lady Reading for Details

READING FOR DETAILS. Jan Ballard’s third grade class at Lincoln Elementary thought this image best represented the Test Lady.

Test Lady Sense of Audience

SENSE OF AUDIENCE. John Stoffel’s third graders thought the Test Lady was older–like a grandma.

Test Lady Wanted Sign

WANTED. Woodburn Elementary fifth graders in Staci Salzbrenner’s class not only drew portraits of the ISTEP Lady but also identified what they needed to do on the test.

Test Lady Portraits

ILLUSTRATION. Third graders in Mary Kiningham’s class at Cedarville Elementary voted on their favorite ISTEP Lady portraits. Then, they hung all of the images throughout the building for parent open house.

Test Lady GlassesTest Lady Glasses

TEST LADY GLASSES. Instead of having her students draw portraits of the Test Lady, Upland Elementary teacher Colleen Yordy (left) introduced her through the different glasses she wears. She has her Punctuation glasses that include “diamond periods” on the frames. She wears large, round glasses when she’s looking for WOW words. Colleen continues on with glasses for spacing, capital letters, and sticking to the prompt topic. Each of the frames is within a pocket chart. And when students are “done” writing in her classroom, they move to the corner and put on the different glasses to check over their work, just as the Test Lady would. What a great way to integrate the idea of Test Lady with your students’ writing process. So creative! (Pictured with Colleen are Upland teachers Terri Brooks and Debbie Small.)

Lost and Found Test Lady

LOST & FOUND. Bluffton-Harrison fourth grade teacher Julie Meitzler challenged students to draw their own images of the ISTEP Lady in response to news that she had “gone missing.” Julie created a terrific mock newspaper article that explained the details. Thanks for sharing, Julie!

Test Lady Snappy Dresser

SNAPPY DRESSER. The Test Lady is viewed as having serious fashion sense by Dr. Maureen Scane’s class at Sunman Elementary. The fourth graders selected this portrait as one of the class winners.

Test Lady Kid-Loving Scorer

KID-LOVIN’ SCORER. A fourth grader in Mary Catherine Palmer’s class at Meadowbrook Elementary thought the Test Lady was someone who loved kids. What an unintimidating audience to write to!

Test Lady Tall & Skinny

TALL & SKINNY. One submission from Anne Fagan’s fourth grade class at Sweetser Elementary included pencil-thin “Sally Sue Pencil, age 59.”

Test Lady All-American Girl

ALL AMERICAN GIRL. This is one of the winning portraits from Linda Bernhart’s third grade class at Cedarville Elementary.

LOOK FAMILIAR? The Test Lady in Melissa Beitler’s South Adams Middle School classroom has stirred a lot of conversation from her students. “I had her watching over my (sixth grade) students during the first month of school. They all insist that she looks like me, but I certainly do not admit this to be true.” And you were wondering what you were going to do with all those old yearbook photos you’d been saving over the years. Hilarious!

Test Lady image

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