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How to Avoid Drowning in a Sea of Student Papers

So you want to give your students more writing opportunities, but you’re just not sure how to do that and keep up with all the grading? I hear you loud and clear. How can we be expected to assign daily writing and keep from drowning in a sea of papers? Keep reading, friend.

Teach Students the Purpose of Writing

Don’t pass on teaching the importance of writing early on. This is where you need buy-in from your students. Help them understand the vital role writing plays in our lives. I always begin with this lesson and give real-world examples, brainstorming together instances where good writing and communication is necessary. When students better understand the importance of writing, they are more likely to produce better writing. In my last post, I shared the benefits providing writing tools to your students. You can read that post here.

Set up a Writing Schedule

Many teachers like to designate writing opportunities for each day of the week. A scheduled plan is the easiest way to organize it in your lesson plans if you prefer a routine. You can share a different type of writing or focus each day. Students then choose their best work from the week and submit it for evaluation. If you’re like me, you might prefer to assign writing as it relates to your novel or literature study. That’s an entirely different post (coming soon!), and I’ll take you through how I had students connect with literature through writing.

Picture Prompts

One writing assignment my kids looked forward to was Picture Prompt day. You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Why not use images to engage students and provide fun and interesting writing prompts. Here’s how it works:

Create a Google Form that includes an image, several questions about the image to help students brainstorm, and the prompt. Be sure to include a mini lesson or explanation and example of the mode of writing. You’ll be providing reluctant writers with a bit of help to get started. If you want students to include a sentence that mimics the mentor sentence, remember to add that to your instructions as well. To get you started, I’m sharing a free picture prompt with you. Try it out with your students. If they are anything like mine, I know they are going to love it. Get a free Picture Prompt HERE.


Friday writing in my classroom was always reserved for freewrites. Traditionally freewriting is a process where students write continuously for a certain amount of time. I changed things up a bit and named it Free Form Friday. Students were allowed to write on any topic in any form. I know this freedom of choice empowered kids to express themselves in a writing mode they enjoyed most. I always provided suggestions in the form of anchor charts and encouraged them to experiment with different types. Some of their favorites were poems, letters, diary entries, plays, and comics.

Words of Wisdom

Take a look at your standardized tests, and you’ll see students are being asked to analyze and respond to quotes and excerpts of writing. One way they can practice is through writing assignments. A great source of ideas is Brainy Quote. The site is organized into topics like popular, authors, and news. You’ll be able to find relevant quotes students will find interesting. Try creating a choice board of quotes so students are free to choose the ones they want to respond to.

But What About the Grading?

All this sounds great, right? Let’s get to the grading part. You’re not going to evaluate entire writing samples every time. What? You read that correctly. The purpose of assessing student writing is to monitor learning and progress. You should expect students to have mastered the skills and standards you taught by the end of the term. This is the appropriate time to assess a written piece in its entirety. Everything before that should be assessed through focused feedback in a progressive way to reflect what you have taught. Don’t shy away from assigning writing opportunities because you don’t have the time to grade it all.

Focused feedback

Before you ask for student work, be sure to give them the expectations in the form of a rubric or at the very least a list of the skills or learning standards you want evidence of in their writing. Some examples are subject/verb agreement, sensory language, advanced vocabulary, sentence structure, or figurative language. You get the idea. Follow your curriculum map but keep the number of skills to no more than three. It wasn’t unusual for me to grade for one skill especially if it was something my kids struggled with.

Students will highlight the focus skill(s) in their work which makes it easy for you to identify and check for accuracy and effectiveness. I know your inner editor will be screaming at first, but after you see how quickly the grading goes, I think you’ll appreciate the ability to pass over other errors for now. Identify the assignment by skill/standard in your grade book for easy reference. Look for more on rubrics in the next blog post. Shhh...there might be a free rubric included!

The more students practice writing with guided and purposeful instruction, the better they will become. Your kids will eventually regard the process as a natural part of the class, not a one-time or occasional dreaded event.

What else would you like to know about teaching kids to write?


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