These five timesaving strategies to teach writing are not a big secret. But many of us get so caught up in the minutiae of teaching that we overlook the obvious ways to simplify.
We all know how important it is to be able to write well and write with clarity. As teachers, we know what good writing looks like, and we understand what the expectations are at each grade level. But transforming what we know into teaching strategies that work can be difficult to impossible.
To get started let me mention a few things that teaching writing is not.
- It doesn’t have to be a mysterious process.
- It doesn’t have to take hours to plan a lesson.
- It doesn’t have to take all your nights and weekends to edit and grade student writing.
- It doesn’t have to take over your life.
Perhaps these statements sound too good to be true. But if you implement the following five strategies, they’ll help get you on the road to teaching writing in less time and gaining back your weekends.
Are you ready to teach writing? Let’s get started!
Have you ever looked with amazement at your students’ essays and narratives? Perhaps they repeatedly make the same grammar and structural mistakes, even though you’ve taught and retaught them.
Perhaps you read all the papers and stay up into the early morning hours grading. Every. Last. Word.
Perhaps you wonder if you’ll ever have student writing you’re proud to share with their parents.
I used to experience these things. In fact, I was so frustrated that by November of my first year of teaching, I wanted to give up on teaching writing.
Instead, I turned my frustration into motivation. As a professional writer, I wanted to kindle that love of writing in my students. But before I could do that, I had to find a better way to teach writing. I had to find a way that didn’t require sacrificing my personal life to hours of planning and grading.
I want to share with you five of the most profound strategies I discovered on my journey. These strategies can be incorporated into any teaching curriculum, at any grade level, and without taking any more of your precious time. In fact, they will save you time.
It’s my mission to help you be a happier, more effective writing teacher, with students who excel and enjoy writing.
Set the Writing Scene: Start with a Calm Environment
This may sound simplistic, but some of the most subtle changes can make a huge difference. Before you begin, you first need to remove some mental blocks.
Writing is stressful for students. They may feel embarrassed, scared, or inadequate. Helping them conquer their anxiety is key. This looks different in every classroom, but here are some ideas.
- Read aloud a mentor text. Choose these texts with an eye to exploring the writing concept you want to exemplify for your students. The best writers read widely.
- Play soft music. For some students this helps, but for others it can be a distractor. Allow students to put on noise blocking headphones if they need them.
- Project a calming video. One favorite in my class was an aquarium video. They would immediately quiet down and begin writing when they saw the tropical fish on the whiteboard.
- Turn out some of the overhead lights and allow more natural light to stream in through the windows or doors. This has a positive psychological effect.
- Do whatever works best in your classroom to deliver the quiet concentrated time for writing.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Writing can be stressful for students. Reduce their anxiety by mindfully creating a calm environment.” quote=”Writing can be stressful for students. Reduce their anxiety by mindfully creating a calm environment.” theme=”style3″]
Teaching Strategy 1: Set a Main Focus Strategy or Skill Every Day
Each day should have one main focus in writing. The main focus is different from a topic. A topic is something that is chosen by the student or teacher to produce a piece of writing.
The main focus, instead of being a topic, is a strategy or skill.
This strategy or skill should be integrated and echoed throughout the writing. You might have the same main focus for a week or more. But it is the one main thing the students should focus on in their writing.
Keep the main focus the one thing you scrutinize in their writing. You should teach, reteach, and grade the main focus.
Depending on the grade level you’re teaching, the main focus might be anything from using adjectives to figurative language to rhetorical analysis. Whatever it is, keep the main thing the focus in the writing assignment. Integrate it into everything they write. Hold the students accountable for that one thing, the main focus.
Teaching Strategy 2: Integrate Across the Curriculum
This is where you’ll save the most time with your writing instruction.
Usually, the ELA curriculum skips around from one writing topic to another, mixing the genres and purpose between lessons. Sometimes the writing has only a loose connection to what the students are learning in other subjects.
I propose that teachers should integrate whatever they are teaching in other subjects into the current writing assignments. When the students are learning about states of matter, they’re writing about matter and how it changes. If they’re learning about customs in other countries, that’s what they’re writing about.
You’re the professional. You know best what students should be doing. Don’t simply assign a writing topic because that’s the next one in your curriculum or textbook. You choose the topic that integrates with your current teaching.
Don’t mix genres. Focus on one genre for each six-week period. This gives students time to explore the genre and master the skills to write well in that genre. In other words, if you begin with expository text, stick with it for at least six weeks before you move on to another genre.
Meanwhile, keep Strategy #1 at the forefront of each writing assignment.
Teaching Strategy 3: Teach Self Editing and Peer Editing
When students master how to edit their own writing, you may feel as if you’ve reached teaching nirvana!
Of course, it benefits the students to be able to self-edit, but for you, it will save you hours of work.
Once they’ve learned self-editing, it only requires you to take a quick glance at it during your weekly meeting and make suggestions.
I teach a simple method of self and peer editing for grammar and usage with a simple checklist. You can get this checklist for free from my Member’s Vault. Editing for theme and continuity still requires a teacher’s eye. You can plan to have weekly meetings with students to go over more difficult concepts.
Another strategy I use is read-aloud editing. The students sit with their team members or partners and read their writing aloud. This helps them to hear any mistakes they may have overlooked during first edits. When we read silently, our minds fill in the blanks. When we read out loud, our ears hear the blanks, and we can correct our mistakes.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”When you teach self editing and peer editing to your students, you’ll see their writing improve. Checklists can help.” quote=”When you teach self editing and peer editing to your students, you’ll see their writing improve. Checklists can help.” theme=”style3″]
Teaching Strategy 4: Have Specific Writing Conference Times
Same time, same day, every week.
Strategy #4 is where you’ll make a big impact in a short amount of time. Divide your class into small groups. Meet with each group for twenty minutes on a specific day of every week. The students become accustomed to this routine and know they will need to have completed a certain amount of writing to bring to the group. Consistency is the key.
Each group is its own writing team. They will work together for brainstorming, prewriting, editing, revising, and publishing.
Try making homogeneous groups. This may sound counterintuitive, but in writing groups, it helps you to focus on one particular skill for that group. Why should someone who is ready to tackle similes and metaphors in writing have to sit in a session where another student is learning what an adjective is?
Have a specific goal for each group. This short weekly meeting is when you can review their writing, teach a new skill, and do some team building. These teams will help each other produce stellar writing.
Teaching Strategy 5: Only Grade the Main Focus
Remember that Strategy #1 is to set a writing focus every day? This is where you’ll save hours of grading.
When I was a first-year teacher, I had a conversation with a more experienced teacher. I was bemoaning the towering stacks of writing I had to grade. She looked at me carefully and asked me a question that changed my outlook forever.
“What’s your main focus? That’s all you need to grade.”
I wondered how that could possibly be true. How could that work? But I decided to give it a try, and I’m forever grateful to her for those words of wisdom.
Having a main focus lets your students know exactly what you’re going to home in on with their writing. You’ll know if they mastered the concept at once. You can skim the rest of the writing, you can grade a portion, but don’t spend hours upon hours grading every word.
Highlight the main focus in the students’ writing, and grade that. It can be done each week during your group meeting, or even during a quick private meeting.
Bam! Done! You’ve just gotten hours of your weekends back!
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Don’t grade everything in a student essay. With your students, identify one main focus and only grade that. #timesaversforteachers” quote=”Don’t grade everything in a student essay. With your students, identify one main focus and only grade that. #timesaversforteachers” theme=”style3″]
Getting Started with the Teaching Strategies
Once I began by implementing these five strategies for teaching writing, they made a world of difference in my class. After a few weeks, the students were engaged, eager to write, and some asked for extra writing assignments!
You can start with just one at a time. You can also dive in the deep end and introduce all five strategies. My hope for you is that whether you implement one or all of these you’ll see improved writing and have more free time to do the things you enjoy.