Use these strategies to make writing a cornerstone of your classes without sending your workload through the roof.
Building better writers involves providing students with a continuous loop of modeling, practice, and feedback. Yet, according to the most recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, roughly a third of American middle school and high school students top out at 15 minutes of writing practice per day.
For many teachers, this figure will come as no surprise. Writing is a time-consuming activity, and it often feels like adding writing practice to the agenda means either short-changing other instruction or surrendering hours upon hours to grading papers. Fortunately, this is a false dilemma. Below, we’ll explore several strategies for increasing the amount of meaningful writing your students complete without ballooning your own workload.
1. Embrace the power of group work
Treating your students as “co-teachers-in-training” is a great way to ramp up writing practice. Preparing students to help each other requires an initial investment of time—you need to populate groups strategically, establish clear expectations, and clarify logistics—but doing so can pay off in spades.
For example, group writing activities enable students to find inspiration in their classmates’ ideas. They also make writing less intimidating by distributing ownership of a piece among several students. To give you an idea of what group writing looks like in practice, here are the broad strokes of one of our favorite roundtable activities:
- Divide your class into groups of three to five students.
- Provide a prompt, set a time limit (10 minutes or so), and ask each student to write an introduction.
- Once time has expired, ask students to pass their introductions to their right. Reset the clock, then ask each student to write a middle section that builds on the introduction they received.
- Once time has expired again, ask students to pass their pieces to their right. Reset the clock a final time, then ask each student to write a conclusion that wraps up the piece they received.
- Instruct your students to pass their completed pieces back to the introduction writers, then have them take turns reading the pieces to their groups.
Further along in the writing process, peer reviews are an effective way to increase the amount of feedback each student receives. Peer reviews encourage students to adopt an “editor’s mindset,” incentivizing them to think critically about what makes for good writing so they’re able to provide their classmates with insightful feedback. Whether they realize it or not, this mindset will creep into their own approaches to composition and self review, making them stronger writers in the process.
2. Lead collaborative writing activities
Maximizing student engagement is critical to ensuring students get the most value out of the writing activities you assign. Positioning yourself as an active, enthusiastic participant in your students’ learning journeys is an excellent way to foster buy-in, even among your most reluctant writers.
Doing so can involve any number of collaborative writing activities in which you handle the pen (or keyboard) but your class shapes what’s written. Simply choose a prompt (check out our library of Quick Writes for ideas) and solicit input from your students on both what should be said in each successive sentence and how it should be said. By operating as the scribe, you alleviate student anxiety about spelling mistakes and misplaced punctuation while creating an opportunity for multiple students to contribute to a piece at once.
Collaborative writing activities may not increase the overall volume of writing completed in your classroom, but they help students feel comfortable engaging with the challenging work of improving their writing. In many cases, this is preferable to having students go through the motions of generic, higher-volume writing activities.
3. Leverage digital technologies
The use of digital technologies boosts both the quantity and quality of student writing. These technologies expand the knowledge base at each student’s fingertips, facilitate collaboration (both in person and remotely), and simplify the revision process. In fact, according to The Hechinger Report, “In 83 percent of 30 studies on the use of word processing software, students’ writing quality improved when they wrote their papers on a computer instead of writing by hand.”
What’s more, digital technologies enable you to streamline lesson planning, differentiate instruction, and evaluate writing quickly. From the process efficiencies introduced by an online grade book to the comprehensive writing curriculum provided by a program like NoRedInk, digital technologies make many parts of your job a lot less time-consuming. This creates space for you to run small group activities, give feedback on essays, and deliver targeted support to individual students.
Positivity: The key to writing education
Writing is a daunting endeavor. It’s also a highly personal one. As such, creating a positive, supportive learning environment is of the utmost importance—be sure to front-load positive feedback instead of leading off with constructive criticism, for instance.
Are some students going to get frustrated along the way? Almost certainly. But practice makes (more) perfect. By implementing the strategies outlined above, any teacher can find time to help their students grow into the kind of strong writers who find success not only in school, but in their lives beyond the classroom.