With a few simple teaching tips you can simplify writing instruction in your classroom at any grade level. We all know the acronym KISS. Although many people have different words for KISS, I like to say, “Keep it super simple!” That’s what this post is all about.
Updated May 5, 2023.
Teaching Trick #1 Essentialism
What is the core standard you’re trying to teach with this lesson? That’s what unpacking the standard is all about. You break down a standard or lesson into its many components. Then decide what’s the most essential for your students to learn right now, at this moment.
Let’s look at a quick example from the Common Core Standards for 4th grade informative writing.
These are what your students will be expected to know, understand, and be able to use by the end of the year in CCSS.ELA.W.4.2.A .
Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aid comprehension.
Obviously, you’re not going to expect your students to do all those things in one document at the beginning of the year, or even at the middle of the year.
Choose a writing topic for your students. Choose one thing from the standard to focus on in relation to that topic. Is it September? You’ll probably choose grouping related information in paragraphs. Later, maybe in October, you could add headings or graphic illustrations. Even later, in the year, you could add multimedia by having them do a slide presentation.
What’s essential right now, at this moment? What is the one thing your students need to know to move on to the next part of the standard? Teach that one essential thing.
I dive deeper into this idea with this related blog post, Simplify Writing Instruction.
Teacher Trick #2 Consistency
Consistency is greatly underrated, especially when it comes to writing. When you want your students to become better readers, what do you do? You assign them reading time every day. Read with them every day. Make time to read to them, such as with a class novel study. Maybe you let them read together. The key here is doing it every day.
You do the same thing in math, or any other subject you teach. The same goes for writing. Do it every day. It’s so easy to let writing go when you’re busy with so many other things, but if you want to see your students improve, they need to practice every day.
Again, if it’s September and school just started, most students won’t be able to write for more than a few minutes. Five minutes a day is plenty for the first week or two of writing. Then you can increase the time a little each day. Before you and your students know it, they’re writing for 20 or 30 minutes at a time.
Teacher Trick #3 Kaizen
Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that translates to improving every day. Again, we see the words, “every day.” Each day, you can give your students one small item to improve in their writing.
One way you can easily implement kaizen in your classroom is with a Two-Color Writing system. This is simply a list of grammar and writing concepts that move from super simple to more complex. I’ve described it in other blog posts, such as No Time to Teach Writing.
Start with the first item on the list, which is punctuation at the end of each sentence. Give a quick mini-lesson or mini-review. During writing time, lean over each students’ shoulder and check to see if they’re using punctuation.
Once most of the students have mastered it, give them the next goal. However, in the philosophy of kaizen, they will still need to continue using proper punctuation.
In one presentation I gave, a teacher asked, “What do we do if the students forget what they’ve learned and make mistakes again?” The answer? You simply do a quick review and make it their goal for that day’s writing session again.
You can download the Two-Color Writing list from the Member Vault. You’ll see improvement in writing mechanics as soon as you start using it with your students.
Teacher Trick #4 Set a Timer
Set a timer, but don’t display it for your students. At first, especially if you’re only writing for a few minutes at a time, students will be surprised when the timer goes off.
Maybe they’ll have a few words on their paper. It’s possible they won’t have any. If they like to write, maybe they’ll have a paragraph or two. However much they’ve written isn’t the point of the time.
The point is a psychological one. Students will get to know that there is a start time and an end time to writing practice. They’ll know to get started right away and continue working until the end. Just knowing there’s an end to the practice gets them motivated because they know it won’t be stretched out forever.
When you work out, isn’t it nice to know when the workout will end? You know how much longer you need to exert yourself to get to the end.
This little psychological tip goes hand in hand with the cue for writing. I blogged about cues and rewards for developing a writing habit in this post. You can also learn about habits, cues, and systems in this free ebook.
Teaching Trick #5 Have Faith
Always let your students know you have faith in them and in their abilities to write. Even if they don’t have confidence yet, you have confidence they can do it. It’s all part of the growth mindset mentality we want to teach our students whenever they come up against a tough job.
In summary, the five teaching tricks are:
- Essentialism – teach one essential skill at a time.
- Consistency – teach writing every day even for just a few minutes.
- Kaizen – expect your students to continuously improve.
- Set a timer – knowing there is a beginning and an end to a practice allows students to give it more focus and energy.
- Have faith – believe in your students. Believe in yourself.
I hope these five simple tips helped you. If you want to get new ideas about how to teach writing and how to keep it simple, download my free ebook, Building Strong Writers With Simple Systems. You’ll also get notifications of new blog posts and additional writing tips a couple of times each month.
My friend Sarah, at Sarah’s Writing Spot has a terrific post, 8 Sharp Tips for Teaching How to Write in Elementary School. It has some super tips for mindset and success. I think you might enjoy reading it.
Thanks for reading this far! I appreciate you!