3 Ways to Get the Most out of High School Writing Assignments

High school student working on a writing assignment on a laptop

These simple strategies help high school English teachers increase the impact of the writing activities they assign.

From teaching students to express themselves clearly to preparing students for high-stakes testing to ensuring students are on track to graduate, high school English teachers have to juggle countless priorities. With so much on your plate, it can be easy for certain activities to drift toward the back burner—especially time-intensive activities like writing instruction and practice.

While there’s no doubt that developing high school-level writing skills takes time, there are a variety of ways to make high school writing practice both highly efficient and highly effective. Here are several strategies for helping students get the most out of their high school writing assignments:

1. Pre-teach high school writing skills

Pre-teaching leads to improved student motivation, confidence, and performance, making it well worth the modest upfront investment of time it requires. Providing students with clear focus points and multiple examples of what “good” looks like creates signposts that prevent students from getting lost during the writing process.

Many educators incorporate pre-teaching into their routines by leveraging NoRedInk lessons, tutorials, and Practice exercises within an “I Do, We Do, You Do” model (also commonly referred to as a gradual release of responsibility model). They project instructional content on a board or screen, model a skill by thinking aloud as they answer a couple questions, ask students to walk them through a couple questions, then release students for independent work. Straightforward as it may seem, breaking down writing skills into manageable chunks before asking students to complete activities on their own goes a long way toward setting students up for success.

2. Build from short, simple writing to longer, more complex writing

Writing can be intimidating, even for students who’ve been doing it in some form for a decade. As such, especially early in the year, consider structuring your activities in a way that eases students into writing. Starting with short, low-stakes assignments gives students time to gradually absorb your direct instruction, apply it, and build their self-confidence. As student proficiency increases, you can transition into longer, more complex assignments that layer new, more sophisticated skills on top of the foundation established early on.

With NoRedInk, teachers have access to thousands of ideas for high school writing assignments spanning every step of the learning process. Unscaffolded Quick Writes create opportunities for students to apply the skills they’ve learned from Practice exercises, engage in metacognitive reflection, and write about everything from fun hypothetical scenarios to their fondest personal memories.

Scaffolded Guided Drafts deliver genre-specific, step-by-step support to students as they craft long-form essays. Because every student automatically receives guidance on common points of confusion, you’ll have plenty of time to focus on providing individualized support to the students who need it most. If, as the year progresses, you want to get a sense of how each student is developing as a writer, you can assign an unscaffolded prompt that asks students to reflect on, analyze, or construct an argument about a text.

3. Assign more writing than you can review

For students, writing frequently is essential to developing writing stamina and fluency—as with any other learned skill, practice makes progress. And yet, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress data, only 31% of high school students write for the recommended 30 minutes per day and 34% of high school students write for fewer than 15 minutes per day.

This is due in large part to the massive amount of time it takes to provide feedback on student writing. Understandably, high school teachers feel overwhelmed by the prospect of grading dozens of pieces of writing (or more) each week, so they stick to assigning only as much writing as they’ll have time to review.

While a robust cycle of teacher feedback is invaluable for burgeoning writers, the truth is that having students write more than you’re able to review can be a great idea. As long as you clearly communicate what kind of feedback (if any) students can expect on specific assignments, adding “writing reps” is almost always productive. Any extra writing practice high school students get will ultimately benefit them on higher-stakes writing assignments down the line.

NoRedInk Writing Portfolios facilitate strategically streamlined feedback loops. Writing Portfolios enable students to feature pieces of writing they’re particularly proud of, giving you a strong signal about which pieces to provide feedback on. Naturally, there are certain types of writing you should always review—unit-capping essays, for example—but don’t be afraid to experiment with a “sampling-based” approach to feedback for weekly writing.

Access thousands of free high school writing prompts

To help each and every student grow into a strong writer, teachers need a consistent stream of great ideas for high school writing assignments. With pre-teaching resources, skills exercises, scaffolded and unscaffolded writing activities, and more, NoRedInk offers teachers a complete toolkit for high school writing.

Want an easy way to assign impactful high school writing practice? Sign up for free today!

Thomas collaborates with colleagues from across NoRedInk to craft stories that illustrate how NoRedInk ​​builds stronger writers. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from Occidental College.