How do you teach writing?

How do you teach writing?

Do you have any idea how many people ask me this question every week? I think they ask so often because writing is so darn hard to teach. Am I right? 🙌🏻

Everyone is hoping that I have some magic fairy dust that I can sprinkle on their students' notebooks that will magically create complete sentences, paragraphs and well thought out responses. 

I have some bad news...

There is no magic fairy writing dust. #sosorry

But I do have some good news...

I have screwed up teaching writing for so long, that I have learned a few things that actually improved my students' writing! Good news for me, right?! Would you like for me to share? #ofcourse

So here is my version of the magic fairy dust...

Teach writing in units of study. #seriously

Huh? What are you talking about, Jamie?

Let me explain... 

Some teachers spend a few days working on an informational report for science. Then they have their kids spend a couple days writing a letter to the local fire department. Next, they spend a week on an opinion project that they found on TpT. They go back and forth from one genre of writing to the next.

Does this sound like you?

Well stop it!!!

You don't get good at something by doing it for a few days and then moving on to a new skill. That is just teasing. 

Students need to practice a writing genre for an extended time so that they can master the skill before moving on. Every type of writing has different skills that are needed. For example: narrative writing requires dialogue, opinion writing requires evidence, informational writing requires research. Some skills remain a constant, like writing a lead, but others change based on the style.

They need lessons specific to that type of writing. They need to see modeling. They need guided practice and they need independent practice. 

If you teach it thoroughly, they are so much more likely to remember how to do it when that nasty test comes along.

Here is the order of the units that I taught in third grade in a Common Core(ish) state:

1. Personal Narrative

I would start with this because everyone already knows a story about themselves. It does not require any research. It is also a great way to get to know my new students.

2. Informational

I move on to informational because I need students to master this one early. We will do informational writing, reading and research all year in science and social studies.

3. Opinion or Persuasive

This is actually my very favorite type of writing. Kids love to write about their opinion! I do this after the informational unit because fantastic opinion pieces require research and I teach that in the informational unit.

4. Fiction Narrative

I end my year with fiction stories. I do this because they are super fun and the perfect way to end the year after all of that dreaded testing. 

Don't tell kids what they have to write about!

If you want to see your students' writing improve dramatically, stop telling them what they have to write about! Seriously, no one likes to be told what they HAVE to do. Give them choice. 

Story time...

I hate snakes. I live in the desert, but I can proudly boast that I have NEVER seen a snake in the wild.  (Knock on wood.) I hate snakes so much that I refuse to go in the reptile exhibit at the zoo. I would send my kids in alone. No Mom of the Year award for me!

If you told me that I had to write an informational report about snakes, I would pee my pants. I'm NOT looking up facts about snakes! There will be pictures! I will have nightmares! 

Trust's going to be one sad and pathetic report. 

I love my Golden Retriever. Cash is the most handsome dog ever. I know that you think your dog is handsome, but he's not as handsome as my dog. For real.

He's so intelligent and I love the way that he protects his family. I would totally geek out on a report about Golden Retrievers. I would want to read books about them and look at every website I could find. I bet my report would rock. 

Your students are just like me.

Well not JUST like me.... #thankgoodness

Your students have interests. When you let them write about something that excites them, they will produce their best work. 

My only rule about writing topics is that the topic must fit in the unit of study that we are currently working on. So the Golden Retriever report would have to wait until we got to the informational report unit.

Share and Celebrate Writing ALL THE TIME!

Give your students a reason to want their writing to improve! 

First, writers need to share their work. Otherwise, why write? I know that lots of teachers do an author share chair where one kid comes up and reads their story. I'm sorry to burst your bubble---but that's kinda boring for everyone else. #truthbomb

Plus, only one person is sharing. The others have to wait a couple of weeks before they get to share. That is NOT motivating.

Let your authors share every day. They don't need complete published pieces to be able to share. At the end of your writing time, have kiddos turn to a partner and share something that they added to their piece. It can be a sentence that they are proud of or even something they are struggling with.

Lots (not all) of students will be more motivated to write if they know that they will need/get to share their writing with someone.

Besides sharing, make sure that you are actually celebrating your writers. 

At the end of a unit, have a writing celebration.

Maybe students can be stars for the day! Have them come dressed up. Roll out the red carpet. Students walk the carpet while you take pictures. They will take their place at the mic and share their published piece. The crowd will go wild! (Holding an applause sign will ensure this.)

Maybe you can invite families for an open house where writing is displayed for everyone. Or even invite a buddy class and share writing with each other.

Have you ever thrown a writing pajama party? Everyone loves a bedtime story! Lay out some pillows and blankets, dim the lights and let your authors be the readers. 

The point is....have fun! If it is fun, students will naturally want to improve. 

They will be excited for the next celebration! You can count down the days on the board and keep the specifics a secret until that day. Build it up!

The Secret Sauce

Although I cannot magically turn your students into award winning authors, I can make it just a tad bit easier to teach writing in your classroom!

I have writing units that include EVERYTHING you need to teach fun and meaningful units of study. 
  • lesson plans
  • anchor charts
  • student printables
  • mentor text passages
  • task cards
  • videos
  • rubrics
  • celebration ideas
and MORE!

All you have to add is the excitement and the sharpened pencils. No fairy dust necessary!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!