Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Importance of an Authentic Audience

If you've done any research about teaching writing, you've probably learned how important it is for students to write for an authentic audience whenever possible. When kids know they are writing for someone other than the teacher, their motivation and quality of writing drastically improves.

"(Our students) have to believe that what they have to say is important 
enough to bother writing. They have to experience writing for real audiences 
 they will know that writing can bring them power."
-- Anne Rodier,  National Writing Project

In our writing workshop, we are working on informational writing. For my students' first published piece, I was their only reader.

The books a few of my students wrote were fresh and interesting, but then the quality of writing from these students usually is.  For the most part, however, a majority of the writing was as dry as a desert in July.

How could I blame them for not showing much excitement for this writing project?

I knew I had to mix things up for our next published piece.  Big time.

I figured a new audience was the way to go.

I spoke to our school librarian and she agreed that my students could display their finished books in our library for other students to read during library class. She said she would even give the books a Dewey decimal number to make them more authentic and would display them on top of the book stacks where published books usually sit.

Our art teacher jumped in to help too. She will have the kids paint and decorate a book cover on cardboard in art class over the next few weeks. We will add their writing inside, making it a real book called a cartonera.  (You can read more about cartoneras and our schoolwide writing celebration, The Cartonera Project, here .)

Finally, I announced to my class that I plan to keep their books (cartoneras) and take them with me to three conferences I am presenting at this summer about our school Cartonera Project. Their books, I told them, would be seen by hundreds of teachers from around the United States.

All of a sudden, eyebrows started perking up. Mouths began dropping open. A rustle went through the room.

With a new audience, came new motivation and interest in our writing project.  I'm pretty sure all of my students will produce their best work yet!

How do your students write for an authentic audience? I'd love if you would leave me a comment and share.


  1. Great example of how careful and collaboration can take a task to higher level - you do something for real life purpose not just for the teacher. It is especially great when you can find audience beyond school walls.

  2. Hats off to you, Jennifer, for thinking and extending outside the box! You are so correct that students need an authentic audience. I'm glad they found it. I'm not a teacher of writing, but it's reading posts like this that makes me wish I was.

  3. Authentic audience is key! I love this description, "All of a sudden, eyebrows started perking up. Mouths began dropping open. A rustle went through the room." YES!!

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  5. Wow. Great way to get your students excited about their writing! Coming up with new, fresh and fun ways to motivate them and feel that they actually have something worth saying is huge! My 5th grade students love to share their writing with each other. They actually want their classmates/friends/family to KNOW what was their proudest moment was or how they really feel about something going on in school or the world. I find that publishing our writing pieces in our Google Classroom forum, allows them to share/read and comment on each other's writing. I love the idea of displaying their work somewhere in the school though, I'll have to work on this one. Thanks!

  6. How wonderful is this! I'm tucking away your ideas, Jennifer, and thinking of those lucky teachers you will be presenting to this summer.

  7. Terrific way to engage, Jennifer. I agree that an authentic audience is so inspiring. My students did offer their books to the library, prepared fiction picture books for the younger classes, and I often had a number of ideas for them to send work to contests and online magazines. It's a wonderful thing to see one's writing enjoyed by others besides the teacher and classmates.

  8. Wonderful, Jennifer. Authentic audience does motivate, and receiving reader response inspires. Is there a way for the audience to share with your young writers--a space or vehicle for comments --that can span into next year since some of their audience will be reading in the summer... ?

  9. I hope you will share some photos of this wonderful project in a future slice (perhaps in March?) Yes, students need an audience beyond the eyes of a teacher.