- Seven Reforms Needed in Education - January 10, 2017
- Stop Censoring Our Classrooms - March 7, 2016
- Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences - October 16, 2015
- My Experience with TNCore - the Tennessee State Standards - September 15, 2015
- Tips for Choosing a Novel to Study - June 9, 2015
- Choosing the Right High School Reading Intervention Program - April 30, 2015
- Four Things Teachers Should Try Before Removing a Student - April 6, 2015
- Dear 'Bad Students': Prove Us Wrong - March 12, 2015
- Improving Education: Response to Joel Klein - February 26, 2015
- Writing Hacks for Grades 9-12 - February 12, 2015
Teaching writing can be difficult, even for English teachers. Many of us set our focus on whatever test our state mandates, which causes us to neglect writing instruction for fear of “wasting” time. If our state includes a writing assessment, we will ignore cultivating a love for writing in favor of a more clinical approach.
As such, many students abhor writing. But it does not have to be that way. Instead of cutting out writing in order to teach other standards, you can use writing to enhance your curriculum. This includes writing that can be enjoyable. What follows are five quick tips that can help you integrate writing into your curriculum no matter what subject you teach.
1. Let students write personal responses
Although most secondary and higher education writing prompts are more academic and less individual, teachers should still give students a chance to record personal responses. Personal writing prompts make students feel valued, especially those who struggle with writing to begin with. (Personal writing is indeed “easier” for most of us.) But easier does not mean invaluable. You can use personal writing prompts to segue into the topic of study. For example –
- Ask students to imagine how they would respond had they lost a loved one at Pearl Harbor and/or were forced into hiding like Anne Frank. After students respond and share their responses, you could then lead a lesson on World War II.
- Ask students to write about a time medicine saved their lives or the lives of someone they know. This can lead into a lesson on experimentation.
- Students can write about their dreams, whether it be hopes and aspirations or an actual dream they remember. Then, they can compare their dreams to those of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In all of these examples, personal responses can be used as “bellringer” activities that do not require too much time. You can use them every day or at the start of each new unit.
2. Use interesting prompts
Another teacher talked about how she inserts zombies into her math word problems to get students engaged. For example, a word problem would start with, “If it takes a zombie x amount of brains to…” If zombies can make math interesting, then imagine what they could do for other classes, as well? (No offense, my magnificent math colleagues.) Here are some examples you could tweak in your room –
- In science class – speculate how the CDC would handle a zombie outbreak. Then, hold a lesson about CDC procedures.
- In social studies class – debate whether or not zombies would have rights under our constitution. Explain why or why not. Afterwards, you could have a discussion about the constitution, amendments, interpretation of law, etc.
- In English – after reading a story where someone dies, have students imagine that character coming back as a zombie. Using their knowledge of characterization, what would this zombie character do next? How would other characters react to him or her?
Of course, zombies are not the only way to make writing interesting. One of my favorite writing exercises was the RAFT method, where students picture themselves either as a real person (useful in history and some science classes) or as a character from a novel (English, obviously) and write from that perspective. R stands for the role the student is taking, A is the audience that the student is pretending to write for, F is the format of the writing, and T is the topic. You can find more about RAFT by clicking here.
3. Show them good examples
After lessening students’ anxiety about writing, take them to the next level – academic writing. To me, academic writing is informative, analytic, and/or argumentative. You should show students good examples of the type of writing they will be working on before you require them to write. This does not mean that you have to show them responses to the exact same prompt you will use with them, but you have to show them the same mode (i.e. informative, analytic, etc.). You can find good examples from previous students, students in colleague’s classes, online, or from famous writers and speakers, like Elie Wiesel, MLK, Jr., presidents, etc.
Beyond showing them what good writing looks like, hold a discussion about what makes the writing good. Note how it is organized, how it addresses the topic, how the writer supports his or her thesis, the use of transitions, etc. If you are not an English teacher and do not feel confident about writing, then stick to the things you do now. Or ask a colleague for help.
4. Set high expectations for writing
After you have shown students what good writing looks like, set high expectations for them. Let them know that you expect skilled writing from them. However, you must also be realistic. Great writing does not happen overnight, but at the very least, students will improve their writing skills before they leave your class.
5. Allow them to revise for a better grade
For the students’ first major paper, I highly recommend that you allow them the opportunity to revise for a better grade. Revision is an important and useful skill, and being that it is a part of writing, you are not “wasting” time by allowing students a chance to rewrite. How you set up revision is up to you. Don’t have a lot of time yourself? Pick your strongest writers to lead revision groups in your class. (Maybe they can receive bonus points or extra credit or what have you. Let them know how important their roles are.) Another way to go about this is to show students the rubric you will use to grade their writing, and allow them to grade themselves by it first. It would help if you demonstrate how you use the rubric with another sample of writing. If you have time, using a strong example and a weak example would highly benefit your students.
And those are my quick writing hacks! For an article about using the SRSD method to teach writing, click here. For yet another article on grading writing, click here. Feel free to add your own writing hacks in the comments section!