Whether you’re a new teacher just getting comfortable with teaching writing or a veteran looking for some ways to invigorate your instruction, this list has some tried and true ideas that you can put in place right away!
Use Mentor Texts
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. Read these books (or parts of them) to your students. Talk as a class about the special features you notice and make a list (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.
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.
Here’s an example of a schedule that I like to follow for teaching personal narratives. Notice how demonstration is part of my instruction almost everyday.
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
- looking for places to add more interesting vocabulary
- making a final copy that incorporates editing and revisions
Balance Prompt Writing and Free Choice Writing
It’s important to have students practice writing to answer a prompt as well as writing on free choice topics. Much of the writing that adults do would be similar to prompt writing like writing instructions for how to use computer software at work, answering questions on a job application, writing a report about something, etc. To help students build a maintain a love of writing, they also need the opportunity to write about free choice topics. In one school where I worked, it was expected that 80% of a student’s writing time would be spent on prompt writing and 20% on free choice topics. I carried this out by focusing my daily instruction on prompt writing but also having writing as a choice when students were finished early with other work. I allowed time for students to share their free choice writing and was amazed with the creativity they displayed. Some students wanted a chance to go back and revisit genres we had already learned about so I kept old planning pages available.
(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. For example, in opinion writing, the opinion statement could be red, the first reason could be green, the second reason could be yellow, and the ending could be blue.
- Mark whatever planning graphic organizer you’re using with these colors.
- When you demonstrate drafting, and when students are doing their own drafting, underline the sentences for each section with the appropriate color. This makes it easy for students to look at your example writing and remember how it is organized. It also helps you quickly check your students’ writing as you rove the room to make sure nothing is left out and that everything is in the right order.
I especially love color coding when I’m using a guided approach to writing instruction. I demonstrate writing my opinion statement and then underlining it in red. Then I have my students write their own opinion statements. Then we all move on to our green sentences. If you want to differentiate, some students could add an extra detail in the green yellow sections. Or maybe some students only write the green sentence and not the yellow.
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
Research shows that when students have criteria against which to judge their writing and other writing samples, they begin to internalize that criteria and use it when they write new pieces. I like to use critique lessons where I share a few short pieces of writing with different strengths and weaknesses and evaluate them with students using a rubric. We talk about what made a piece successful and what could be better about it. I invite them 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 writing is very motivating to students. One way to build in sharing is to look for good examples while you’re roving the classroom. At the mid-point or the end of the lesson, stop and have these 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: