At the beginning of the school year, most students can easily write a couple of paragraphs about their summer vacation, a previous accomplishment, or what they hope to accomplish this school year. This is a piece of cake for the students! Then the real writing assignments begins. Many teachers ask themselves, "Where do I start?"
Scaffolding and modeling is the answer when you teach writing. It's crucial to take baby steps. It’s overwhelming for students to see a rubric that has the end of the year expectations given to them at the beginning of the year. It's essential to pick up where they left off last school year and slowly incorporate the new grade level's requirements. It's also important not to expect your students to do everything in a writing assignment all at once. If you hand back a writing assignment all marked up, it can stifle creativity.
First, have your students fill out a graphic organizer to organize their thoughts. As the year progresses, some students may not need a graphic organizer; you can let them do the strategy that works best for them. Nevertheless, be sure to be consistent with your expectations in your classroom.
Don’t pile everything on them all at once. You should be adding one or two additional requirements each time a new essay is introduced. Once you introduce a concept, students should be held accountable for the concepts you taught. If it appears that the majority of the class does not understand the concept, do not hold them accountable and then reteach the concept. When you present a new requirement for the essay, choose interesting and relatable topics for your students. Then there are times you may need to take a step back and choose a topic that may not be as interesting. Make sure you do not introduce new requirements during that essay. This prepares the students to write about topics that they are not interested in. Students must learn how to do that.
Increase the length of the essays little by little. Don't expect your students to write a five paragraph essay at the beginning of the school year. By shortening the length of the essay, it will allow students to focus on the quality of their writing. I've used the phrase "quality over quantity" throughout my writing workshops. This will be beneficial to your students' writing skills later on in the school year.
You will see that some students will need to start at a different level because they didn't meet last year's writing requirements. These students may need a different rubric than the majority of your students. Differentiation is needed in all subjects to meet the needs of your students.
When you introduce the topic, it's important to brainstorm together. Many students find it difficult to come up with ideas. For informational writing, you should give your students research time to gather the facts. For argumentative, opinion, and persuasive writing, you may not need the research time and can go right into brainstorming. This should be an ongoing strategy when introducing a new writing topic until a few writing prompts before the end of year assessment (if your state requires one).
As I grade the essays in the beginning, I try not to focus too much on conventions. I use those as extra points that the students can earn to give incentive for using proper punctuation and grammar. I have found that if you focus too much on spelling or capitalization, this also stifles students' creativity. My focus is what my students are writing.
It's important for students to fill out a self-assessment/evaluation. Students need to be taught how to fill out a self assessment correctly. Self-assessments are to let students know what is expected of them and it gives them the opportunity to reflect on their work.
Lastly, always make sure you conference with your student! I know it's hard to fit in the time, but it pays off down the road. Most students do not look at their graded papers when they get them back. It's important that you take the time to review with each student what they need to improve on and at least one thing that you liked about their paper.
Writing Tips Recap:
1. Choose interesting and relatable topics when introducing new requirements.
2. Always brainstorm together.
3. Give your students a graphic organizer to organize their thoughts.
4. Scaffold and model the requirements to your students.
5. Increase the length of the essay slowly.
6. Have the students fill out a self assessment.
7. Focus on what they are writing, rather than conventions.
8. Conference with your students on each paper.
It’s easy to differentiate for each student with my Common Core aligned rubrics. There are Opinion, Persuasive, Argumentative, 3-5 Informational, and 6-12 Informational rubrics that grow with students as they progress in their writing skills.
Click here for writing rubrics with student self-assessments created for the progressing writer. Excellent for mixed or leveled classes to give students individualized instruction.
For more ideas to try on in October, visit some of these great Teacher Talk bloggers!