Teaching kids to write well is no small task. In fact, if you’re like most educators I’ve heard from, it’s not a skill you’re really comfortable with yourself. But you can’t let that stop you from teaching your students to write. Or maybe you feel confident about writing instruction but feel overwhelmed with managing the evaluation part. I'm sharing four things I do to deliver quality writing instruction.
Teach, model, and assign. Writing is a process and students need to understand that writers don’t just whip out a great piece in one sitting. You’d be surprised how many kids think this is how it happens. I always start with a mini lesson because I want to explain the process from start to finish. I keep anchor charts visible as a reminder and refer to the steps as students work through them. I never test on steps of the writing process. I model good writing and regularly share work I've written in all stages. And, I make sure students write something each day. It doesn’t have to be a complete essay, but your kids should be writing daily! I'll share more about how I set up writing opportunities in future posts.
Introduce your students to different genres of literature and the distinguishing elements of each. We have to move away from waiting to expose our students to poetry, short stories, drama, and other types of writing until it’s time to “teach the unit.” I introduce poetry at the beginning of the year. We read a variety of genres each grading period even if it’s just a small excerpt. You can follow your curriculum map and still include other literature to either complement your unit or extend it.
Evaluate and recognize author’s craft. Great readers and writers evaluate author’s craft. This is non-negotiable if you expect your students to become skilled writers. Take a look at any state standardized test and you’ll notice students are required to do more than summarize and answer basic comprehension questions. Students are tasked with analyzing author’s craft to understand the message of the text and make personal and real-world connections.
Give them tools. Not every kid comes to us knowing how to put together complete sentences or generate ideas and organize those into paragraphs. Not every kid is a natural speller or grammar whiz. But every kid can learn to use resources to become a better writer and independent learners. Students have to take responsibility for some of their own learning by using tools and references, and I make sure they have them. I provide writer's notebooks so students can look up definitions and examples of parts of speech, comma rules, capitalization and punctuation tips, words lists, and more. You can preview the notebook here. It’s one tool your students will use all year!
If you'll keep those four aspects of instruction as your focus, your students will become better writers. You might be thinking...this all sounds great, but I hardly have time to grade the work I’m assigning as it is. How can I assign more writing and keep up with all the grading? Where will I find the literature I need for my classroom? My next post addresses those questions and puts it into a manageable format for you. I’ll explain how I was able to have kids write daily without drowning in a sea of papers. I’m not saying you won’t grade entire essays during the year, but I promise you won’t be spending your entire weekend on them, either. What is your biggest challenge in teaching kids to write?