It never fails that I start each school year wondering how I’m going to improve the writing skills of the class when they come into second grade so low. The best news is generally the lower the skill level, the more improvement you’ll start to see as you improve writing skills. Let’s dive into how to do this without pulling out all your hair by the end of the year.
How to Improve Writing Skills: The Mini Lesson
When looking for how to improve writing skills, the first step is to look at your mini lessons. Since your mini lessons are at the heart of your writing instruction, they need a lot of attention. I walked through how to plan out your mini lesson in a previous blog post, click here to read it.
Before planning out my mini lesson I like to examine the writing work my class is doing. If it’s back to school I give them a writing prompt for a baseline sample. I’ll sit down with all the samples and do a quick sort of high, medium, and low standards of writing.
Now, I’m judging this quickly and just glancing at their work to see how they’re putting together sentences or if they have trouble just sounding out words. I might even grab a stack of sticky notes and jot down some notes about what I’m noticing. This will give me a good grasp of where I need to start.
Using the Baseline Writing Samples
Now that I’ve separated out my writing samples into piles, I’ll look at my quick notes I’ve jotted. Is there a theme with what I’m noticing? Maybe the majority of the class is writing readable sentences but missing punctuation. Or maybe most of my class is only writing simple sentences or no sentences at all.
Wherever the majority of the class lies, this is my starting point for planning out my mini lessons. I always want to use the mini lessons that are most effective for the whole class. The students that are really struggling on something that is in the minority will receive small group lessons on these skills.
How to Improve Writing Skills: Writing Foundations
Since your writing mini lesson is meant to reach your whole class, small group lessons are the perfect opportunity to target much needed skills that not everyone needs. I like to view writing lessons in a continuum, much as I would math skills.
If you think about the order students learn math, they start with number sense. Once they have a firm grasp of number sense you can build onto their foundation.
Writing is the same.
When it comes to writing I view phonics skills to be similar to number sense. Having a grasp of phonics is crucial to mastering writing in first and second grade. Alongside a good foundation of phonics, I feel students should also understand the writing process as this is what I teach all year throughout my writer’s workshop model. The last key to a strong writing foundation is understanding how author’s craft a story.
Small Group Lessons
When it comes to how to improve writing skills, small group lessons are the second piece of the puzzle. Small group lessons are where you’ll be able to focus on those gaps missing in a student’s writing foundation.
The best piece of advice I can give for small group planning is to start with the most logical step a student needs next. Again, when you are planning lessons (whether whole group or small) think of a writing continuum to help plan your moves. Every class will be different with their baselines but most students will need to take similar steps in the writing process to become a great writer.
These steps form your writing continuum and you’ll move students along this continuum as the year progresses.
How to Improve Writing Skills: Student Practice
Of course, when you are working to improve anything the best thing you can do is practice. I find that when my struggling writers are having trouble putting words onto paper that sometimes it can be because they are not confident in how to form their letters.
Add in Handwriting Practice
Adding some quick handwriting practice into their day can help. I like to do a quick five minute handwriting practice for my whole class. I noticed my class last year had a lot of trouble with handwriting formation and taking a few minutes on a focus letter really helped. The students found it really fun too with DeeDee Wills’ Make It Neat! Handwriting Practice on TpT.
Write Every Day
Authors often write every day to build their skills and improve their craft. In your classroom, students should be writing every day as well. This is the best way I know how to improve writing skills.
If you feel like you can’t fit in everything you need in your allotted writing block, I suggest you read my post Planning Your Writing Workshop Schedule, Even If You Only Have 30 Minutes. In this post I give you a quick rundown of how to fit in writing every day.
Make It Fun
Last, if you want to know how to improve writing skills, you’ll need to change up your instruction. Make it fun.
Students will be more engaged when you change up your lesson format or the independent practice. Students crave variety and making small tweaks can go a long way to keep kids interested. One of my favorite easy ways is to pull out a fun pen to allow students to use for the day. Or give them a piece of gum to chew during writing time.
I hope you’ve found a few great ways to improve your students' writing. Just remember to focus on one small skill at a time and in no time they’ll be exceeding all your expectations.