S.O.S. Writing with a Purpose

Motivating writing in a K-2 classroom


Writers need authentic reasons for writing. Esteemed writing educator, Regie Routman, documents the “absolute necessity of writing for a purpose and audience" (Routman, 2000). When writers have a real purpose and a real audience, the motivation to write well is built-in. Routman goes on to say that "our writing forms and audiences are determined by our needs, purposes, and interests. Our student's writing should and can reflect the same authenticity, even with the bounds of required curriculum and standards“ (Routman, 2000).
Here is one way to bring some authenticity to your classroom writing assignments. The 5 Sentence Challenge is a biweekly creative writing challenge for young children. Every two weeks there is a new theme and students are encouraged to write creatively about it. Teachers, parents, and students from around the world read the posts and offer constructive criticism. Writing for the public, receiving feedback, and using technology really motivate students to do their best writing. If you also allow your students to write feedback, you have another assignment with an authentic purpose and audience.


  • Share the 5 Sentence Challenge website with your students. First, look at the last topic and the showcase posts from young students all over the world. This one has a picture of a busy train station. Students are asked to describe it using lots of interesting words.
  • Read feedback about the posts and discuss whether they agree or disagree with the comments made about each student's writing.
  • Have students work with a partner to practice giving good feedback to the writer. Good feedback usually includes a compliment and something for the writer to work on. What would they say if they made a comment? Have some students share out good feedback.
  • Now look at the current topic. Have students brainstorm ideas with their partner, sharing a few with the whole class. What do they notice about the picture? What are some interesting words they might use?
  • Send students off to work quietly on their own ideas for the topic. Post guidelines: Write 5 sentences. Use really great words. Check for good spelling and punctuation.
  • Have students find a partner when they finish. They should each read their writing to the partner and give good feedback. Students should then edit their work to make it even better.
  • Have students type their stories in the comments of your class blog for this assignment. You can cut and paste from there.
  • Link each post's URL to the 5 Sentence Challenge website. Check in for feedback later in the week.
  • Alternatively, make a post for each student's work on your class blog and have students write feedback to each other. (You can choose a setting on your blog so that you get to approve all comments before they are posted.)


For older students or more advanced writers

I'm focusing on the early elementary years, but there is another challenge for older students or more advanced writers - the 100 Word Challenge.


  • Sign up to be part of the 5 Sentence Challenge. Post the current 5 sentence challenge on your class blog or website.
  • Have each student write a piece to enter into the challenge.
  • Enjoy receiving feedback.
  • Decide how often to use the 5 Sentence Challenge with the whole class or whether it's best as an optional part of the assignment.


100 Word Challenge - Creative writing for young people. (n.d.). 100 Word Challenge. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from http://100wc.net/

Discovery Education, . Close up of Girl Writing with Pen on Paper. [Image]. Available from http://www.discoveryeducation.com/

Discovery Education, . Close up of Someone Writing with Marker. [Image]. Available from http://www.discoveryeducation.com/

Five Sentence Challenge. (n.d.). Five Sentence Challenge. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from http://fivesc.net/

Hughes, D. (n.d.). Quick tutorial: how to enter blog posts into 100 word challenge. YouTube. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from http://youtu.be/bE2Gson4Zl8

Routman, R. (2000). Conversations. Portsmouth: Heinemann.