First, what is writing across the curriculum?
It’s more than a movement, it’s a philosophy. It’s a way to teach that lets students know that what they’re doing is a real world exercise, a life skill, not simply an assignment to fill time.
Let’s face it. One thing we all know about teaching is there is no way in heaven or another place to teach everything you need to in a day or a week. Integration of content and concepts is key to success and getting it all done. Furthermore, students will produce better work when topics are integrated, because they’ll have a plethora of background knowledge and new learnings to fall back on for their work.
So how do you integrate writing across the curriculum?
Here are my 5 ideas for success in teaching writing across content areas.
1. Curriculum mapping opens opportunities to integrate with essential questions.
Curriculum mapping or even just using a Year-at-a-Glance can reveal things you teach that are connected, but perhaps you didn’t see it before. Essential questions help you make these connections. If you’re teaching how things grow, an essential question might be, “What do all plants need to survive?” This will lead to other questions for investigation, such as, “What would happen if a plant didn’t have enough sunlight?” or “What might happen if a plant received too much water?” All of the questions that come up under the main essential question are opportunities for writing. When the students are writing about things they are learning about, it’s more engaging than if they have a science lesson about plants in the morning, and then in the afternoon they write a fairy tale. Integrating whenever it’s possible helps you to avoid that type of disconnect. I encourage you to use a mind map to find these connections in Day 1 of my free 5 day curriculum mapping course.
2. Look for any connections – science, reading, math, and teaching writing.
Following along with curriculum mapping, let’s see what could happen if you teach the science concept of weather patterns. This can easily be integrated into your math lessons by recording and interpreting data, and predicting future data points. Perhaps they’ll do a STEM project related to weather science. Along the way, your students are learning vocabulary. You can have them use the vocabulary to write about their findings, and then have them write a weather or news report. Students love it if they can record their reports in front of a green screen or perhaps in an app like Flipgrid or Screencastify or whatever you use in your classroom. All of this started with a science lesson. When you use a curriculum map, you can move lessons around so that you’re teaching them concurrently and making the most impact. They’ll be writing every day. Best of all, students won’t be asking you why they need to learn this. They’ll see the real world applications and hopefully enjoy the adventure.
3. Use digital journals or dedicated notebooks to keep the writing assignments together.
I find digital journals dedicated to one theme quite useful. One thing is they keep the students organized, and they’re less likely to misplace work. If it’s a digital journal, they don’t have to take a notebook or journal to and from school. They can work on it anywhere. Keeping things together in a journal, whether it’s digital or paper also helps cut down on your time grading. I also noticed that when things are in a journal by theme, I can find more integrations and connections than if they’re in separate, discreet papers or packets. Finally, you could have students write a reflection on what they’ve learned during a unit of study. This could be part of a final assessment or simply a conclusion at the end of their journal.
4. Collaborate with other teachers.
This is one practice that had a tremendous impact on my students. When teachers plan together, or at least know what the other teachers are doing, it’s easier to facilitate connections for the students. If the English teacher knows what the math and science teachers are working on, they might be able to incorporate some of that into their lessons. Knowing what the art or music teachers are working on creates a treasure trove of writing prompts. Whenever possible, even when you’re teaching multiple subjects, collaboration and talk among teachers can lead to all kinds of serendipitous connections.
5. Integrate writing with video, art, and music.
One of the ways my students loved to round out a writing project was creating videos for the classroom. Some of them simply recorded themselves reading what they wrote, and others did more creative videos using stop motion photography, or creating great backgrounds. They also love to create art related to their writing. When I taught third grade, during October we focused on building suspense in a story. They created spooky art to go along with their stories. They recorded their stories. All of these lessons began with an author study of Chris Van Allsburg, who does a fantastic job of creating that tension and suspense in writing. Plus, he illustrates his own books. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up for integrating reading, figurative language, writing, and visual arts.
Why is writing across the curriculum important?
We’ve spent some time talking about how to integrate writing across the curriculum, so now let’s think about why it’s important.
We all know students don’t learn in a vacuum. Therefore, my best answer to this question of why it’s important is because of the richness of the learning experience and writing instruction when things are integrated. When everything ties together, each piece is like a tile in a mosaic. Once all the pieces are in place, you can see a beautiful picture.
The beautiful picture here is the evidence of substantial, deep, and thought provoking learning that is different for each child. It develops critical thinking skills. Each child will produce a different mosaic, depending on their starting point, their abilities, and their desire. This is the image of differentiated learning and learning that meets each student at their level and challenges them to grow.
Writing across the curriculum can be one of your most valuable assets in your teacher’s toolbox.
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P.P.S. If you’re looking for ways to save time in your daily teaching workday, sign up for my free video series, “Plan Your Year Like a Boss in 5 Days or Less!”