In a previous blog post, we covered the first two of four recommendations for making writing not just a required instructional activity, but a lifelong and fulfilling skill. These recommendations were outlined in The Institute of Education Sciences’ Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers practice guide (Graham et al., 2012, p. 1):
- Provide daily time for students to write.
- Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes.
- Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing.
- Create an engaged community of writers.
We will continue to dive deeper into this topic with a close look at the final two recommendations.
Teach Students to Become Fluent With Handwriting, Spelling, Sentence Construction, Typing, and Word Processing
Just as we have to provide time for students to write, we have to help students develop fluency in writing. Students who struggle with handwriting, spelling, grammar, and typing have a difficult time getting their ideas down on paper. They spend too much effort on executing the mechanics of writing. Think about a time when you were writing and struggling to come up with the spelling for a word. You likely ended up using a shorter, more well-known word. Such an experience may have interrupted your writing process. Students who spend too much time on mechanics will not achieve as much productive writing as their more fluent peers. Therefore, it is important to teach and have students practice skills such as handwriting and word processing.
Just as students need to have strong handwriting skills, they also need instruction and practice developing the mechanics of sentence construction. Teaching students how to incorporate strong sentences into their writing is one approach teachers can use to help students strengthen their writing, especially struggling writers. Teachers can use sentence framing, expanding, and combining activities (see below for document with definitions and examples of these activities) to demonstrate how students can develop strong sentences throughout their writing (p. 31). This also makes grammar instruction more authentic by directly tying the instruction to students’ own sentences. This helps to prevent students from seeing grammar lessons as a separate activity that is never applied to actual writing.
Create an Engaged Community of Writers
As students develop the skills for writing, they need to have a classroom environment that motivates them to write. Creating a community of writers within the classroom allows teachers and students to take risks because feedback is not just providing a final grade, but an avenue for improving personal writing abilities. The successful establishment of such a community could depend on the students seeing the teacher as a fellow writer rather than merely a final evaluator of students’ work. Teachers can model techniques as they develop writing skills alongside their students. For example, during students’ writing time, the teacher can take time to write with the students and model ways of adding more details or finding evidence to support claims. This collaborative process allows students to see what good writers do on a daily basis.
Another way to engage students with writing is to let them choose their own topics. There is no doubt that it is necessary for students to develop skills for writing to a prompt, but this does not need to be the goal for every writing assignment. Students who are given some opportunities to choose topics tend to be more motivated writers. They begin to look for opportunities to share what they are learning through writing. For example, Henry, a kindergartener, loves snakes. He reads about them all the time at home and decided he wanted to share what he knew about snakes with his peers. He wrote his own field guide about local snakes and shared it at school. This is one example of a motivated and engaged student that ended up reading and synthesizing information into writing that his young friends could read and enjoy.
Moving students toward a goal of being lifelong writers instead of only writing for assignments takes a great deal of planning and thought by teachers. Taking these recommendations into consideration when establishing a writing classroom will provide a safe environment where students feel comfortable exploring their own writing abilities and sharing ideas. Students writing in this type of environment will have every opportunity to find success in writing.
Supplemental Materials for Teachers
Teacher Methods of Supporting Students' Writing: A document with definitions and examples of sentence framing, sentence expanding, and sentence combining instructional methods.
Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012- 4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/writing_pg_062612.pdf