3 Strategies for Teaching Writing

by Jackie from ROOM 213

I'm sure you've felt the frustration of reading a piece of student writing that is missing several of the components you are assessing - and you know that you taught the lessons and made your expectations clear. I felt that frustration many times early in my career. However, then I was spending too much time rushing to get things "covered" rather than teaching them well. Luckily, I decided to take a different approach and came up with 3 strategies for teaching writing.

Each of these strategies is based around the idea that students need to be familiar with the language of writing and revision, and they need to build a regular habit of thinking about their writing.

There are skills that our writers need to hone whether they are writing descriptions, narratives, persuasive, literary, or research essays, emails, reports, etc. And if you scaffold those skills in a natural way, as often as you can, your students will soon be able to write effectively in any situation.

In this post you will learn how to do that by:

  1. Building the writing (and revising) process into daily activities
  2. Using targeted mini-lessons with mentor texts
  3. Engaging students with short skill-building activities

My Big Four Writing Areas

There are skills students need to write effectively in any genre and, for me, these were the Big Four, the ones we worked on all the time. Students knew that these were the building blocks for effective writing and they became very familiar with the language and writing strategies for each area.

  • Effective word choice (including sentence fluency)
  • Focus and organization
  • Idea development
  • Intros and conclusions

The Big Four had a BIG place in my classroom as we focused on each when we read texts, when we wrote texts - and when students did speaking assignments. More importantly, we worked on each of these every day, not just when students had a writing assignment.

1. Build the writing process into daily activities

By the time students left my class, they were well versed with the writing process because I put a lot of focus on it, no matter what we were doing. I taught them to "read like writers and write like readers." When they read, I wanted them to think about the choices the writer made that helped them understand the text.  And when they wrote, I wanted them to consider the ways they were making meaning for their readers.

Reading and writing were blended in a way that allowed the students to be constantly working on skills that were familiar to them using language they heard every day. Even when we did short writing activities, I had the students take time to consider short revisions. For example, when they did a quick write, a writing prompt or reading response, I would follow it with comments like this:

Read over what you wrote and:

✓ cross out any points that don't relate to the prompt/task (focus)

✓ underline your best point...now add another example to explain it. (idea development)

✓ circle two words that could be stronger OR underline an idea that needs more explanation...change the word...add another detail. (word choice)

✓ underline a point that could benefit from some research - a stat, a quote, etc. (idea development)

✓ think of a sentence that could be a better hook ...or a great conclusion (intros & conclusions)

Sometimes, I gave them time to actually do the revision; sometimes, I didn't. That's because even just underlining or highlighting a word or a sentence that could be stronger requires students to do the critical thinking that is essential for the revision process. The main thing is that we were constantly working on the habit of revision one that soon becomes a natural thing for them to do each time they wrote (You can read more detail about how I do this in my classroom here).

Teaching students to write

You can grab this free activity that you can use to help your students build the habit of revision and if you want more of these, check out this resource: Writing Prompts for Building Skills and Stamina. It has over forty prompts that you can use as bell ringers, for skill building activities, or for writing workshop.

I did this process with responses to reading as well. Students would be given a prompt that related to an element of fiction in the books they were reading and then, after they wrote, we would take a few minutes for them to add another detail or use a stronger word. It's something that only takes a few minutes, but it builds a very important habit.

You can grab a free sample of my reading prompts or the whole resource here.

writing strategies

Use class discussion to build these skills too

We constantly worked on idea development in small and large group discussions too. When students answered a question or made a point, I would often ask

"Can anyone add to that?"

"Does anyone have a differing viewpoint?"

"Clarissa, how does Jason's point connect with yours?"

By constantly pushing students to develop an idea during discussion, they got in the habit of thinking about the details and examples they could use to support a point, something that carried over into their writing.

2. Use targeted mini-lessons with lots of sample texts

Students need mini-lessons &  skill building activities that help them become better writers. I started this process early in the term with descriptive and narrative writing, once again, by blending reading and writing:

  • I'd give a mini-lesson on word choice (or organization, or idea development, etc) using short mentor texts
  • Students would read for ten minutes and note how their author used words for effect (or organized the chapter or supported an idea)
  • We would do a follow-up activity that reinforced the lesson, usually a collaborative or independent writing activity

The image below shows parts of the slideshow I used to give a mini-lesson on focus and organization. I pointed out that knowing your task before you begin is super important and it informs how you will choose a focus and then organize your ideas.

We did some short exercises together, then students were given this as a guiding question before they read: Find one paragraph or section where your author is focused on developing one idea. Be ready to share with a partner when finished. Students shared their paragraphs and then they read them again to see if everything in the paragraph was actually focused on the idea or if the writer went off topic. If they did...why?mini-lessons and writing strategies

We continued the process with other forms of writing too. And because I was using the same language and was constantly using it in our daily activities, students were able to quickly transfer those skills to new and different formats. (read about the process we followed for persuasive writing here and here).

Check out my lessons for the Big Four here:

Each of these bundles comes with samples for narrative, expository, and opinion writing.

3. Use short, engaging activities to build skills

In my experience, students learn a lot from short, targeted assignments. And when you add in some collaboration and competition, the engagement (and learning) soars. This learning is then applied to the longer assessments that the students do later.

Right from the beginning of the school year, my students started to learn about the ways that writers use language to create meaning. We started slowly with a number of short activities that focused on word choice; that way they had a solid foundation to build their analysis and writing skills on all term. You can read about (and grab) one quick and engaging activity I used early in the term here.

This Group Perspective activity is another one I used early in the year when we were working on not only word choice, but also  understanding how setting and point of view affect a story. During the activity, students worked on three of my Big Four - focus & organization, idea development and word choice.

These activities were always used as a follow up to the mini-lesson of the day. So, for example, the one above followed a lesson on the ways that setting and point of view affect a story. Students would note these things as they read their novels during that class (and the whole week) and the follow-up activity gave them more practice.

The students were learning about literary elements but they were also continuing to work on some of my Big Four skills: idea development and word choice. A new concept had been introduced, but they were still honing the other skills as they learned it. The habit starts and the skills improve.

Other short  - and engaging - activities that build BIG Four skills:

Writing Activities Bundle

✅ Using Specific Examples to Support Ideas

✅ The Word Choice Challenge

✅ Figurative Language Challenge

✅ The Persuasive Challenge

✅ The Argumentative Challenge

These 3 strategies for teaching writing made a big difference in my classroom. I encourage you to think about your Big Four (or three, or six, or...whatever), target your lessons, and find ways to weave them into your daily activities. You'll soon find that you'll be feeling a lot less frustration when you're reading your students' work!

My friends here at the coffee shop have some writing resources for you too!

The Classroom Sparrow- Short story writing - interactive notebook

The Daring English Teacher - Writing about Quotes

Nouvelle ELA - Journal writing pompts

Presto Plans- Showing, not telling

Mrs Orman - Argument writing

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