Civically-Engaged Teacher Inquiry Teaching Writing Try This

Step One: Getting Started Writing about Topics that Matter

Let’s start at the beginning! The writing exercises in this section – “What Do I Do?,” “Kernel Essay,” “Search History Writing” –  will help you identify the issues that are important to you, as well as those where you can use your resources to make a meaningful contribution.  Home in on a topic and start to explore the words and ideas that move you.

What Do I Do?

Activity: This is a simple activity that leads to complicated ideas. Each circle asks you a question to help you focus your interests and skills toward writing action. What do you love? What needs to be done? What are your gifts? What should you do? Write, draw, sketch, and doodle to find out.

Supplies: A copy of this document. Markers, crayons, colored pencils are welcome extras.

Time Needed: Up to you.


  • What brings you joy? (What gets you up in the morning?)
  • What is the work that needs doing? (Schools, health care, park services, food scarcity…)
  • What are your gifts? (Your mojo, special skills, resources.)
  • What should you do? The intersections of what you love, your gifts, and what needs to be done will organize your writing toward focus and clarity.

Kernel Essay

Activity: This exercise is taken from The Story of My Thinking by Gretchen Bernabei, Dorothy N Hall. Kernel Essays are popular with adult and young learners, and help us all feel like “good writers!” This exercise also shifts easily to a group exercise, with each writer responsible for one box. See if you can complete Kernel Essays around the topic you discovered in the previous exercise. For example, if you discovered that issues of censorship are where you will focus your writing, you could begin with “I will never ban a book.”

Supplies: A copy of this document. Markers, crayons, colored pencils are welcome extras.

Time Needed: Up to you.

Search History Writing

Activity: This writing exercise will help you dig even deeper into the issues you care about (or, at least, the issues you’ve recently searched). This silly exercise reminds us that writing can be fun, playful, and random, but also revealing and deeply embedded in our daily habits and practices. History Writing is easily adaptable for students and a wonderful way to mix low stakes writing, silliness, and student interests into the classroom.

Here’s how it works: Search your browser history and collect the names of 10-15 sites you’ve visited. Write an explanation behind why you were searching these sites; Write a story using available information from sites you visited.

Supplies: A computer you use regularly and a Google doc. See the Search History Writing example on the final page of this document.

Time Needed: Up to you.

This post is part of the Teachers Writing for Civic Engagement collection.