125: How to Start a Writing Makerspace

Don’t you love the concept of a makerspace? I like to picture a sunlit loft, filled with art supplies, pieces of wood, workbenches and computers, cozy overstuffed armchairs and live edge counters with high yellow stools. Maybe some George Winston playing through a speaker, a 3D printer humming in the background (do they hum? I’ve never actually seen one), and a box of rainbow-sprinkled donuts over by the fountain. 

Yes, in my dream makerspace, there’s a fountain. 

Now maybe you’re thinking, OK, Betsy, but remember how this is an ELA blog? With ideas for English teachers? 

Don’t worry, I remember! STEAM and ELA don’t have to be divided on this one. A makerspace is just as wonderful for crafting characters, building antagonists, constructing opinions, storyboarding arguments, and doodling moods as it is for building trash-compacting robots and electric engines. 

If you’ve been hanging out for long, you probably already know how much I love the concept of the writing makerspace. And hopefully you’ve already heard the podcast episode, The Power of the Writing Makerspace, when I got to interview Angela Stockman, writing makerspace inventor and pioneer.

But today I wanted to really break it down to feel doable. 


Because it is. 

And help you feel like you can start with it right away. 


Because you can!  

You can listen in to this episode below, or on Apple podcasts, Google Air Play, Spotify or Stitcher, or read on for the written highlights. 

But first, have you signed up for this summer’s Camp Creative yet? We’ll be diving into all things hexagonal thinking in this fun five-day challenge, delivered straight to your inbox. Join thousands of others who have already registered to master hexagonal thinking together in just five minutes a day! 

 

Click here to sign up. 

And now, on to the show! 

The Basic Components

What do you need to make a makerspace? Well, that’s really up to you. You could get started with a big stack of post-its you got at a rummage sale and some empty wall space. You could get started by painting that old table no one’s using in the back of the storage room with chalkboard paint and pushing it into the corner of your classroom. Your makerspace can look like a Pinterest-worthy Reggio-inspired mini-studio in your classroom, or like a plastic bin full of stuff. The point is just to start, do a project with your students, see what is working, then go from there. 

Here’s a list of things you could put in your makerspace, but don’t NEED. 

  • Chalk. Chalkboard paint. Surfaces you can chalk on. 
  • Whiteboard markers. Whiteboard paint. Surfaces you can Expo on. 
  • Bulletin board(s). Pushpins. Paper. 
  • Blank paper. Notebooks. Sketchbooks. Post-Its. Scraps of craft paper. Contact paper. 
  • Scotch tape. Washi tape. Masking tape. Duct tape. Glue sticks. Glue. Glitter glue. 
  • Loose parts: beads, blocks, pretty glass, legos, screws, bolts, wood, cardboard. 
  • Mark makers: pens, pencils, markers, crayons, watercolors, paint jars, highlighters.
  • Natural parts: rocks, shells, sticks, driftwood. 
  • Clay. Playdoh. Slime. 
One thing that will really help is to have some organizational plan as you build your collection. Maybe that’s a bookshelf you pick up from the front of someone’s house, a rolling cart you got on Facebook marketplace, or just a big bin with lots of shoe boxes you can pull out. Smaller baskets and labels of some kind will be your friend! 
Helping students keep your materials and their work sorted is going to be one of your most important priorities at first. Think about how much to make available on any given day, and how you want students to return them as class comes to a close. Will they keep their made items? Snap a photo and return the parts? Hang them up on a bulletin board or clothesline clip to return to the next day? 

How to Build up your Materials

Many of these things would be easy and fun to search for at garage sales and thrift stores. I’d also send a query to friends who are moving (I could probably fill half a makerspace right now as I sift through our playroom and box up our things for our upcoming move to Slovakia) and/or classroom parents. The Target dollar spot, Dollar Store, and similar places are also a good place to keep your eyes peeled. You don’t need to spend much money to create a makerspace.
If you’d like to reach out to parents or friends of the school to donate items, you can use the letter below. Print it straight from Google drive here.  

Starter Assignments

You can use your new makerspace with any type of writing you have on your agenda. 
Are students writing short stories? Have them craft a character or build an antagonist. 
Are they working on dialogue? Invite them to make puppets and then initiate conversations between their puppets in partners. 
Time for an opinion piece? Let them fill a paper with post-it ideas to support their opinion, then move the post-its around into a logical sequence. 

Online Alternative: The Digital Makerspace

If your students are still online, or you just want to get your feet wet with making writing without diving into materials organization, you could always try some online making. I’ve been setting up a digital makerspace this spring, and it’s actually so much fun. Your students are probably far more adept at manipulating online tools after this year than they used to be, making it easier to explore this (free, neat) option. 

To set up my digital makerspace, I created a makerspace classroom image using Canva, then dropped it into Google Slides. From there I linked to the types of tools I wanted students to be able to use, like a whiteboard, chalkboard, bulletin board, etc. Like my own little digital Google Garage. I set up the links so when they clicked on any item in the room, it forced a new copy of the resource so they’d have their own version to work with. You can take a look at my version below. It starts by showing the main “room” and instructions, then shows the different “materials” and examples that clicking each area links out to.

 

 

So Let’s Review

Getting started with your writing makerspace is easy! Gather a few tools and start experimenting. You don’t need to break the bank to help students start making and prototyping. 

And don’t worry, there’s more to come. Coming soon, we’ll chat about five specific ways you can use your writing makerspace, once you get it set up! 

BONUS

The amazing Angela Stockman, inventor of the writing makerspace, has recently created a beautiful starter kit for anyone interested in diving into this method. You can sign up for this (FREE) kit right here!

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I'm Betsy

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