In my first year as a teacher, I was boring. I was the boring teacher who stuck too close to the script and was too afraid to go off the lesson plan.
Now, a lot of my students talk about me saying they have a lot of fun in my class. A lot of my students say I’m one of their fun teachers and they look forward to coming to my class. Parents tell me their kids talk about my class all the time.
What engaging my students has taught me is engaging my audience as a writer has many of the same principles as engaging my audience as a teacher. Many of the same techniques work for engaging students.
For example, breaking my articles into small chunks in paragraphs and formatting helps my readers process my articles better. In the classroom, chunking my assignments with only small readings at a time before stopping and graphic organizers helps my students stay more engaged in readings.
As a special educator, I am much better than I was last year. I have, for the first time, been rated effective and highly effective as a teacher engaging his students. As a writer, I have been able to hook readers in introductions and build almost 10,000 followers on this platform.
I ask a lot of provocative questions, but not too provocative. We aren’t afraid in class to talk about very controversial and political issues like policing and corruption. I recall one time, my student said he didn’t like to read because he associated reading as a “white person thing.”
We then got into a detailed discussion of whether important activities like reading and wearing a helmet when riding a bike are really only for white people, which was the most animated I’d ever seen my kids. I also ask them to make critical, divisive evaluations of characters in books — like asking “is Walter a good person or does he just make bad decisions?”
Asking provocative questions and starting thought-provoking discussions are just one way I engage my students. As a writer, it’s important to toe that line — tackle controversial and provocative issues, but be strategic of how you do so.
That is only one way I’ve engaged my students more. Here is how engaging my students as a teacher also applies to engaging my audience as a writer.
Build Relationships With Your Audience
What helps to get students more engaged is building relationships with your students. I frequently host an afterschool club and talk to students about material other than the content.
As such, as a writer, it’s important to know your loyal fans and your audience. Steve Klubertanz is someone who has supported me since day one, and I am Facebook friends with Steve. I know he’s from Wisconsin and he’s a runner who works a corporate job. Adam, Diabetic Cyborg is a loyal fan, and I know he uses his income from Medium to pay his medical bills.
Building connections with your audience doesn’t just apply to readers. It also applies to other writers who help and support you and vice versa. I network with a great portion of the writing community where we give each other feedback and help on headlines and subtitles. Those connections help significantly to understand how platforms work and improve as a writer.
Quality Matters More Than Quantity
When we’re reading through a book, it’s better to read through small portions of text rather than a whole chapter. While the whole chapter is a large quantity, the small portion of text is meant to be deep read with significantly better quality.
My students are given time to process information on their own. At the beginning of the lesson, I start out doing most of the cognitive work. However, at the end of the lesson, you want students to do most of the talking and thinking.
As a writer, you also want readers to do most of the thinking at the end of the day. Each piece shouldn’t focus on length or fluff, but provoking thought and eliciting emotion. Like a teacher tries to empower a student, a writer should empower the reader.
Obviously, this is easier said than done, but you want a reader to feel they’re not alone feeling the way they do, or they learned something they never knew before. A reader should feel like they got something out of your writing, just like a student should feel like they really learned something from your lesson.
As a special education teacher, I have a lot of students with ADHD. They have short attention spans and I will lose those students quickly if they’re bored, especially during virtual learning.
That is why it’s important not to overwhelm students with information. It’s important to give frequent breaks and break readings and questions up into manageable chunks. Each question should be a stepping stone and ladder to a higher level, instead of expecting a sudden leap in magical progress.
As a writer, I have expressed a lot of derision in one-sentence paragraphs. However, keeping writing in manageable chunks means not only keeping short paragraphs in the mobile, low attention span world but having formatting that breaks up the reading experience for the reader.
Including a summary at the end of pieces and strong introductions to hook readers is also important for readers with short attention spans. I’m a reader with a short attention span, and I skim a lot. Differentiation in the classroom means giving students a lot of options — they can read, draw, and have different worksheets and assignments. They have alternative ways to express their learning.
Giving readers different options is important too. While we don’t want people to skim our pieces, we should give readers the option. We should also give readers the option to listen to an audio recording of our writing like an audiobook or podcast, as well. The more options given to readers, the better.
In summary, lessons I’ve learned from teaching that apply to engaging an audience in writing are as follows:
- Building relationships with my audience
- Focusing on quality rather than quantity
Teaching and writing have a lot more in common than you would think. Treat your readers like you would your students, your job is to engage and make their experience fun, informational, and interactive. It is difficult to make a reading experience interactive, but it is possible in a lot more ways than one.
Originally published on Better Marketing on April 23, 2021.