When I heard the news that my school district was taking away writing time next year with the expectation teachers would have to integrate writing in content areas, I was saddened. I’m sure this is not the first district or classroom that this has happened to even though primary students need direct writing instruction. How can you still integrate writing when you have no designated writing time?
Why It’s Important to Integrate Writing
First let’s discuss why we should integrate writing. As I mentioned, there are often times when schools don’t allow for a designated writing time within the literacy block. However, I feel strongly that kindergarten, first, second, and even third grade students really need explicit writing instruction. These are the years we are introducing them to different writing genres and teaching foundational writing skills.
By learning how to integrate writing, you can still provide writing instruction to your students. Admittedly, it might look differently than a traditional writer’s workshop format but it can still provide your students with practical writing skills. Much of the writing your students will be doing in the coming years in school can be taught in these early primary years.
Benefits to Integrating Writing Across Subjects
Improved Critical Thinking - When students write to reflect on their understanding in math, science, or reading they are analyzing information and making connections between concepts.
Better Communication Skills - Students begin to learn how to organize their thoughts, express their thoughts clearly, and present their side of an argument. A great example of this is to have students choose a character or event from a story and explain why it’s a great example of (insert literary device here). For younger students it might simply be a short paragraph on their favorite part of the story and why.
Increased Engagement - If students are excited about a writing assignment that takes a real-world approach or is a personal experience, they become more invested in the assignment.
Transference of Skills - When students write for a variety of roles and audiences across content areas, they learn writing is necessary throughout the school day. Students learn to adapt their writing for the type of audience which is an excellent skill they will need throughout their life.
How to Integrate Writing
Since the news of losing a specific writing time in the upcoming school year, I have been bouncing ideas around my head about the best way to integrate writing. Within the K-2 classrooms, I feel there should still be specific writing lessons. If you are asking students to write up the steps from their science experiment, they will still need to know what letters need a capital and where to put ending punctuation.
Start by planning the specific writing skills your students need to know in your grade level. What do the writing standards want them to accomplish? Which skills are needed to be successful in the standards?
Next, look at the anchor standards for your core subjects. Again we are wanting to know what students should know by the end of the year. What skills do they need to be successful? We are also going to look at any themes. If we look at reading, is there a specific genre they are learning in your grade level? Maybe poetry or folktales?
Now we will try to marry the writing skills with the core subjects themes. Can we put these together? Can students learn about folktales and have to learn not only the components that make a folktale but maybe write one for a culminating project? Wherever the content of the writing can work with a core standard, you will want to integrate writing.
Don’t be afraid to find small pockets of time to teach specific writing or grammar skills. These are still incredibly necessary to teach. I would recommend teaching them in a quick 5-10 minute warm up before moving into your main lesson. Maybe even look at pre-assessing your students and teaching some of these skills during small groups or center rotations.
If you think about your teaching day, there are many opportunities for students to write. By being intentional with your planning, you can integrate writing more thoughtfully to teach students to write in a variety of genres. Also keep in mind that a writing assignment (or an assignment that requires writing) does not have to last for a large chunk of time. Writing assignments such as the folktale writing could be broken apart into different sections and taught across several days.
While being told to integrate writing rather than having a true writing block can be a challenge, there are ways to still have your students be amazing writers. All it takes is careful and thoughtful planning mixed with a healthy dose of creative problem solving.