Inside: Teaching writing DOESN’T have to be complicated! With these simple strategies, you can improve students’ writing without having to work so hard.
I turned around to an outstretched notebook in a kid’s hands.
“I don’t know what to do next,” said the student.
I leaned closer to decipher the 2nd-grade handwriting. Then with my most positive I’ll-guide-you-on-the-right-path tone, I gave the student an idea to run with.
I straightened up, ready to move about the class, peering over shoulders, offering feedback as needed.
My bubble was abruptly burst.
Standing behind me was a whole line of kids that didn’t know what to do next!
Have you been there, too? What you need are writing strategies for students that break down a complicated process into pieces they can tackle.
What follows are some of the best methods for teaching writing that I discovered over the years:
Teaching Writing Strategies for Students
Use Mentor Texts
If you wanted to learn how to decorate your mantle, you might look for great examples on Pinterest and then try to make yours look like that.
Similarly, kids can look at the work of published authors to see how a pro writes.
Mentor texts are published pieces that serve as a good example of the type of writing you’re helping your students to produce.
If you’re teaching how-to writing, find books about making crafts, cooking, or other DIY topics. If you’re teaching report writing, look at nonfiction books.
- Read these books (or parts of them) to your students.
- Talk as a class about the special features you notice.
- Make a list of these features (how-to books have numbered steps, pictures to match, sequence, etc.)
Mentor texts serve as a blueprint for your students as they begin to write their own pieces.
Cooking shows are popular because it’s easy to watch how a good cook puts together a recipe and then do the same yourself. Writing demonstrations are similar.
Write in front of your students and think aloud as you’re doing it. Thinking aloud is a research-based teaching strategy. You are the proficient writer in the room and you want your students to begin modeling their thinking processes after yours.
Some writing skills you might demonstrate are:
- brainstorming topics to write about
- creating a plan for writing
- orally rehearsing sentences and then writing them down
- stretching out sounds in words for spelling
- rereading and editing writing
- looking for places to add more interesting vocabulary
- making a final copy that incorporates editing and revisions
Use Sentence Starters
Staring at a blank page can be so intimidating!
Help kids get started with a list of possible sentence starters. Here’s an example list of sentence starters that work well for opinion writing.
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(you can find the pictured graphic organizer HERE)
Use color-coding to make writing organization obvious and to connect a student’s plan to their draft.
- Assign a different color to each element of a piece.
- Mark whatever planning graphic organizer you’re using with these colors.
- During drafting, underline the sentences for each section with the appropriate color.
This technique helps students make sure nothing is left out and that everything is in the right order
One of the things we know about teaching vocabulary is that it’s not enough to talk about a word once. It needs to be seen, heard, and used several times before it is mastered.
Writing is the perfect place to incorporate some vocabulary instruction.
Choose two or three words that might be useful to students for the topic they are writing about. Teach these words, give example sentences, and share sentences where students were able to work them in.
You can either teach the words before students write their rough draft or teach them before students revise. You may want students to keep a record of these words in a notebook.
Use a Rubric
There’s no point in making kids guess what they’re aiming for with their writing.
Research shows that when students have criteria against which to judge their writing, they begin to internalize that criteria and use it when they write new pieces.
Try teaching critique lessons where you share a few short pieces of writing with different strengths and weaknesses and evaluate them with students using a rubric.
Talk about what made a piece successful and what could be better about it. Invite students to use the successful techniques in their own writing. Click on the picture to get a free copy of a personal narrative rubric that I like to use.
Many students find working with a partner to be very motivating.
It’s important to carefully structure peer writing conferencing because it can get out of hand easily.
Set a specific goal such as helping each other check for capital letters at the beginning of every sentence, rereading to make sure each sentence makes sense, or looking for words that could be traded out for something more interesting.
Another way to structure peer conferencing is to use the “Love and a Wish” system. Students read each other’s writing. Then they share one thing they loved about it and one thing they wished. For example, maybe they loved how their partner described the taste of their birthday cake and they wished there was more about the games that were played at the party.
Create an Incentive
Taking a piece of writing from the planning process all the way to a final draft is a lot of work. Find a way to celebrate that work to keep students motivated.
A chance to share their work is motivating to students. You can build in sharing while you’re roving the classroom. At the mid-point or the end of the lesson, have a few students share how they revised a sentence to add an interesting word or the great hook that they chose.
You can give students time to share their work with a neighbor. This way everyone gets to share in a short amount of time.
Allow students to share writing in those 5-minute blocks of time you find every now and then when you finished something else early.
A favorite writing incentive in my classroom was the “publishing party.” After a 5 week writing unit, each student chose their best piece and we all sat in a circle and listened to each other’s work.
At the end, we toasted to our hard work with a small cup of apple juice. Parents would share with me that this simple celebration really motivated their child to work hard in writing so they would have something great to read to the class.
If you’re looking for resources to help you teach writing, check out the classroom-tested products HERE: