Simplify Writing Instruction

What do you think of when you hear the words simplify writing instruction? Do you think of writing components such as voice and style?  Is it activities such as editing or revising for clarity? Or do you think of Hemingway-esque short sentences? 

This post about simplifying your writing instruction is all about teaching systems. You know Classroom Management 101 says every action in your classroom should have a system and procedure. The same principle applies to your teaching. Once you have teaching systems in place, everything runs more smoothly. 

Updated May 5, 2023.

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I’m not one to set New Year’s resolutions. However, I do choose a word for my intentions each year. Last year my word was “Focus.” 🙂 The reason is because I have a severe case of shiny object syndrome. I’m one of those people that loves shiny objects, distractions, new shiny ideas, you get my drift. How about you? Do you or your students have shiny object syndrome? With a teaching system to simplify writing instruction, it’s easier to ignore the shiny distractions.

I bought a bracelet in January last year with the word focus on it. A good friend of mine who’s an artist made it for me. Every time I wore the bracelet, it really did help me focus.  

This year the word I chose is simplify. I want to simplify parts of my life to free up space for new things. (Not shiny objects!) This year I’m using the word simplify to guide what I do in blogging and creating educational materials for you. I’ve always found that simple systems are the best at helping raise student achievement in any area.

Simplify Writing

I have a simple four-step system for teaching writing that I’d like to share with you today. It uses the standard algorithm of simplify, eliminate, automate, and delegate.

Simplify-Writing-instruction with four steps
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  • SIMPLIFY – Plan your writing instruction far in advance.
  • ELIMINATE – Choose one format and graphic organizer for each genre of writing. Eliminate the rest. (No shiny objects!) Once you have a plan, this is easier to do.
  • AUTOMATE – Help students keep all their writing in one place with writing notebooks. They automatically know where things are.
  • DELEGATE – Have the students self-edit and peer-edit. It will strengthen their skills. It will save you time.

Plan Your Writing in Advance

simplify-writing-instruction by planningIt’s a good idea to have the entire year of writing topics mapped out before you even begin school in the fall. We all know how plans can change due to needing to reteach, differentiate, and make allowances for unexpected events. Therefore, you certainly don’t have to plan in minute detail. But you definitely need to know what you’re going to be assigning to the students ahead of time.

This gives you time to gather materials, investigate options for differentiation and accommodation. But you should have the entire year mapped out in advance. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t stress. My free course, Plan Your Year in 5 Days or Less will help you plan your entire year in less than a week. It will help save you valuable time during the school year.

You can enroll in this class and learn how to get things mapped out before the school year begins. Even if you’ve already started your school year, you can dive in and use this curriculum mapping system to plan the rest of your year. Did I mention it’s free? 

You’ll also get on the Teacherwriter A-List and receive weekly tips and ideas for teaching writing.

Graphic Organizers for Writing

Okay, this is where shiny object syndrome can happen. Have you ever had to teach with a textbook that had a different graphic organizer for every different writing assignment? (Can you see me raising my hand?) 

We once had a writing program that had literally pages and pages of graphic organizers. Half of them were so unique that it took two of us to figure out how to use them.

How many different note taking systems did you use in college? One? Two? If you’re like most people, you probably had a favorite system that you used all the time. Why is that?

It’s because when you have a graphic organizer or note taking system that works, you don’t have to think about it. You just take your notes, get your ideas onto the page, and then you can move on to the next thing.

Teaching Dos and Donts

  • Don’t waste your time and your students time teaching how to use a new graphic organizer every week.
  • Do simplify writing instruction by choosing one for each writing genre and eliminating the rest. Show them how to use it at the beginning of that unit. Then use the SAME ONE for the rest of the unit.
  • Don’t change things in the middle of the year. Your students won’t have to waste brainpower figuring out what goes in which box on each new graphic organizer. They can devote all that precious brainpower to WRITING.

If you’re doing expository writing use one type of graphic organizer, whichever one works best for you. If you’re teaching narrative fiction a different type of graphic organizer is necessary, but you still only need one. When you’re teaching opinion writing you’re going to want another type of graphic organizer, but you only need one. As you dive into a particular genre to teach for four, five, or six weeks use the same graphic organizer every single time. Students should be able to look at the graphic organizer and know what to do.

It’s a win-win for everyone. 

Writing Notebooks

simplify-writing-instruction with a writing journalAnother way you can simplify writing instruction is by keeping everything in one place. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or physical. When we were in class and in person, I had my students keep all of their writing in a blue laminated two pocket folder with prongs. Students put their papers in there so every piece of writing went in that blue binder. 

When I wanted to look at a student’s writing I could just say, “Bring me your blue binder.” It was also perfect for small group instruction. When we switched to remote learning, I carried the same idea into digital notebooks.  Everything can be kept in one digital notebook for each genre of writing. It helps to assign a new notebook about every six weeks so students can stay organized.

Now in my digital notebook for non-fiction writing I include several different types of graphic organizers. It may seem as though I’m breaking my own rule here. But I’m not. I did that because as the teacher, you know how you like to teach. You’re going to choose the one graphic organizer that best meets your style and the needs of your class.  Take the other graphic organizers out of the digital notebook before you assign it to the students. This is one case in which, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” rings true.

Teach Students to Self-Edit Their Writing

It’s really true that students as young as third grade can self-edit their writing and they can peer-edit their friends’ writing. I include a tool for teaching self-editing skills in my monthly digital notebooks. You can read my blog post about how to use that tool.

Students should always do their own editing and revising, not you. You just need to teach them how to do it and then be the “guide on the side.” You’re there to help them if they need it.

How often do you give bellringers or morning work or spiral review that includes an editing component? For example, having the students correct a sentence like this: 

hour dog runned out the door.”

You can simplify writing instruction when you teach them to self-edit or peer-edit. In essence, you’re giving them a spiral review every time they write. It’s so simple to fold this into your writing instruction. Then you have less to grade, and they build stronger writing skills.

I always try to keep in mind something the great Harry Wong mentioned years ago in his book, The First Days of School. He wrote that if you’re working harder than your students, then you’re doing it wrong. I even typed that up on a card and kept it on my desk for a time.

Four Steps to Simplify Writing Instruction

  1. Simplify – Plan your teaching far in advance, preferably in a year-long plan. (Learn how in my free curriculum mapping course.) It’s easier than you think. Download 5 Best Strategies for Teaching Writing from the Member’s Vault.
  2. Eliminate – Choose ONE graphic organizer per genre, and stick to it.
  3. Automate – Keep everything organized in one notebook.
  4. Delegate – Teach students to self-edit and peer-edit their writing. You can do this with mentor texts, mentor sentences, and a free editing system checklist you can also find in the Member’s Vault.

Of course, this works best when you have a regular habit of writing every day at the same time. Cue the habit with whatever works for your class, music, nature videos, softer lighting, or anything that serves as a habit cue to get them started. If you haven’t used habit circles in your class before, I recommend giving them a try. You can read my blog post about habit cues and rewards and then create your own habit circles.

I hope these ideas have helped you. Perhaps you have other ideas for how to simplify teaching writing. I’d love to read about them, so please share them in the comments or DM me on Instagram at @teacherwriterco. If you’re interested in learning how to save hours of planning during the year by creating a simple system to plan your entire year in advance, you can get my free video series,

Plan Your Year Like a Boss in 5 Days or Less!

Sign up with the link below and you’ll get the free video course in your email, or you can choose to join the course online.

My hope is that by using my ideas, you’ll have precious time to spend on the things you love the most.