How many of us can remember the comfort of having a journal (or diary, as I called it) as a child? The safe space of putting pen to paper to write about your day –the wins, the losses, the hurts, and the joys– was the beginning of learning how important writing would be to me, and is reflective of something that numerous studies have looked for and found to be true over and over again: writing is an incredible tool that allows us to take time to process, learn, and respond.
Expressive writing is a specific technique that focuses on writing about thoughts and feelings to process and cope with life events. While some of us may be familiar with the benefits of different types of writing, such as expressive, what may be unfamiliar is how they can play a role in helping students process current events, both in the classroom and at home.
The Benefits of Writing
Countless studies have focused on the different benefits one can experience while writing. Writing has been linked to processing and organizing thoughts in a way that makes people both happier and healthier. For example, studies have found that writing about negative experiences can lead to a reduction in anxiety and depression, improve physical health, and improve cognitive performance.
An article titled “The Power of the Pen” by Adam Grant details different findings on how writing increases happiness as well as productivity. Grant specifically refers to one research study, which evaluated a recently fired group of engineers. The engineers who wrote frequently during their time of unemployment found reemployment more quickly than those who did not.
Not only does writing help us with our productivity and happiness, but research by Central Washington University asserts that writing improves the development of critical thinking skills. Writing provides an opportunity to consider all sides, make one’s ideas explicit and clear, and restructure arguments to be the most effective and persuasive. These skills improve higher-order thinking and the ability to “respond to complex problems,” which can all be linked to strengthening critical thinking skills.
With these as only some of the examples of studies on the benefits of writing, they serve as a reminder that writing should have a home in our learning spaces, particularly when discussing or studying complex and complicated topics, like current events.
The Power of Writing by Hand
When assigning or planning writing prompts, something to consider is encouraging writing by hand. A study in 2012 found that more regions of the brain are activated when writing letters compared to typing letters. Not only does writing by hand engage the mind, but it helps us process and remember better.
Huffington Post published an article explaining how when we write by hand, we make circles and round movements as we write and form letters, whereas typing consists of straight and direct movement. Through the loops and circles made while handwriting, our brain organizes and processes what we’re thinking about, engaging both sides of the brain. This not only allows for our brain to sort through information more thoroughly, but it helps information stick in our memory.
Writing to Engage with Current Events
With the many benefits of writing, is it possible to bridge them with learning and processing current events? We believe so. Writing about current events can give students time to process individually and privately, allowing them to reflect and organize their thoughts on different topics and issues in ways that may not happen through short conversations or quizzes.
Below are some ideas for how you can incorporate writing about current events into your classroom and home:
Writing a Response to The Juice’s Daily Newsletter
As mentioned earlier, expressive writing is a commonly used technique that focuses on process and active learning through quick and low-stakes writing situations. Expressive writing activities are usually graded solely based on participation and completion, taking away students’ focus on “doing it right,” and allowing them to write without fear of getting graded based on their response.
Expressive writing can be used in countless scenarios, but one way to incorporate it with studying current events is to pair reading our daily Juice stories with an expressive writing activity.
Read our five daily current events stories in The Juice as a class. Afterward, give students 10-15 minutes to expressively write about one of the stories they read. They can write about how a story made them feel, something they learned from a story, a topic they are familiar with, or something they are confused about. Encourage students to write by hand without stopping longer than a few seconds, and to not worry about spelling, grammar, or getting graded.
After students have completed their expressive writing, ask students about their writing time. Did they have any new thoughts or ideas as they wrote? Did they end their writing in a different place from where they began? How did writing aid their thinking?
Write a Letter to Someone in the News
After reading a current events story, instruct students to write a letter to someone involved in a story or event they learned about. Try to find a story that involves multiple people or figures so students have different options of who to write to. Instruct students to write a letter that details how students perceive the current event and figures involved. If it’s someone who they believe did good, what can students say to thank and encourage them? If students are disappointed with someone’s actions or decisions, why are they disappointed, and how should the person improve the situation?
Following the letter-writing time, have a discussion about what students wrote. See if there are patterns or people that multiple students “wrote” to. Did students have different perceptions of the situation or event? Discuss students’ different outlooks and key points and if writing about the event changed how they felt or thought about it.
Write a Solution to a Problem
Most of our current events are centered on a current issue or problem that hasn’t been resolved or is even still being debated. For this activity, assign students a writing prompt where they come up with a solution to the problem after reading about a current ongoing problem in the world. This activity can be done in groups or individually. Consider a think, pair, share activity: have students make some notes individually about the problem and proposed solution. Next, group students into pairs where they will share ideas and write a 3-step solution plan for the issue discussed with details of how and why they came up with their solution. Finally, each pair will share their solutions with the class.
The Juice’s Current Events
The Juice publishes four current events stories every day with the goal of helping students build critical thinking skills through standards-based writing. If you are looking for a way to incorporate current events into your classroom or home education, The Juice is a reliable and consistent way to expose students to the news in a practical and helpful way.
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