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Joy Write

Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing

Instead of teacher-driven assignments, Joy Write shares the whys and the how of giving students time and autonomy for the playful, low-stakes writing that leads to surprising, high-level growth.

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Ralph Fletcher is bringing joy back to writing

Nothing helps writers grow like practice. But not just any kind of practice will do. You’ve got to bring the joy! In Joy Write, beloved writer and teacher Ralph Fletcher shows you how.

How do writers really grow?

“A writer needs wide latitude so she can bring all her intelligence to the task,” Ralph observes. “Assigning a particular format—a hamburger essay, for instance—would curtail this play, if not eliminate it entirely.” That’s why, instead of teacher-driven assignments, Joy Write shares the whys and the how of giving students time and autonomy for the playful, low-stakes writing that leads to surprising, high-level growth.

Five ideas for authentic, choice-driven writing

First Ralph makes the case for carving out classroom time for low-stakes writing, despite pressure to focus on persuasive essays and test prep. Then he shares five big ideas for choice-driven, authentic, informal writing—deeply engaging work that kids want to do. He also provides numerous suggestions for helping students build and flex their writing muscles, increase their stamina, and develop passion for expressing themselves with the written word.

“We don’t teach students to write,” Ralph Fletcher advises, “so much as create a safe space where they can teach themselves by doing.” Trust Ralph and find out how to bring the joy to your writers.


Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


Introduction: A Personal Note

The Big Chill

Chapter 1: My Beautiful Balloon
Chapter 2: Trouble in Writing Paradise
Chapter 3: Faulty Assumptions
Chapter 4: The Play Imperative

A Writing Greenbelt

Chapter 5: Greenbelt Writing
Chapter 6: The Slice of Life Challenge
Chapter 7: A Classroom Notebook
Chapter 8: Feral Writing
Chapter 9: I'm-Trying-to-Figure-This-Out-Writing
Chapter 10: The Reluctant Writer
Chapter 11: The Big Picture
Chapter 12: Ralph on Ralph: A Self-Interview


In Depth

Some professional books aim to explain and instruct. Others challenge orthodoxies and hope to prompt readers to revise their thinking. In this book I hope to do both. In Part One, I stir the pot, create discomfort with established writing dogma, and suggest better alternatives. In Part Two, I introduce a new concept: greenbelt writing. We’ll explore writing that is low-stakes, informal, student-centered. We’ll see that it is an ideal place for students to:

• find their stride as writers

• experience the joy, pleasure, and passion of writing

• define/identify themselves as writers.

In the second half of the book, we’ll look at various kinds of greenbelt writing, some sparked and structured by teachers, others student-generated. I call this latter category feral writing, and I believe we have undervalued its importance in growing student writers.

Low-stakes writing is important because it builds muscles that strengthen other kinds of writing. But such writing is often tentative and represents a kind of thinking- on-paper. If we want to encourage it, we need to respond to it differently than we would to the traditional writing assignments.

What kind of writers do we hope to see in our classrooms? Will they flourish or languish, be engaged or bored? Can we provide the necessary conditions so they can develop a genuine love of the craft? Having them go through the motions as we check off the various genres—is that really good enough? No, it’s not. We can do better than that. I want to create the kind of writing classrooms where they can look down at the sentences they have written, and cherish every last word.

— From the Introduction


Supporting Materials

Listen to Ralph talk about Joy Write and the importance of choice on The Heinemann Podcast.


“I just love this book. The big ideas of it, the tiny details and helpful, practical advice tucked inside. It is a much needed antidote to some of the program-driven, choice-barren writing classrooms that have begun to dominate the scene. The world needs this pro-writer, pro-teacher, pro-joy manifesto now more than ever.”
—Jennifer Serravallo, author of The Writing Strategies Book and The Reading Strategies Book

“The most important words I've read in a book about teaching writing in a long time: ‘Instead of giving reluctant writers more structure, let's give them more freedom.’ Every child should be lucky enough to have a teacher who has read Ralph Fletcher's Joy Write. It's a throw-back book in the best possible way, reminding us of the foundational principles upon which writing workshops were built—namely, the importance of student choice. With Ralph's sage guidance, teachers will be inspired to create ‘writing green belts’ in their classrooms, filled with writing ‘in the wild’ of the very best kind: self-initiated projects that help students craft clear, strong identities as writers.”
—Katie Wood Ray, author of Study Driven

“In Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher will show you how to give your students what they need right now, in addition to providing them with the tools they need to be successful writers in the years to come. If your writing workshop feels weighed down by the demands of the CCSS and test preparation, Joy Write will help you regain the ‘sparkle and sizzle’ of your writing workshop so your students will feel energized and joyful about writing again.”
—Stacey Shubitz, co-founder of Two Writing Teachers; author of Craft Moves

“For years now, Ralph Fletcher has been one of the finest writers and wisest advocates for authenticity in teaching writing. In his new book, Joy Write, his words once again brilliantly and compellingly guide us towards teaching writing that’s playful, personal, and meaning-based. If you want to nurture writers that don’t just fill in the blanks but instead cherish the process, Joy Write is an essential read.”
—Georgia Heard, author of Heart Maps and Awakening the Heart

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Email if you would like to contact Ralph Fletcher directly about professional development support.