Do you hate teaching students to write because you secretly just don’t know how to do it? Maybe you weren’t ever trained properly. It’s totally understandable. Teaching to write is hard when you never received the right training.
Teaching to Write - Finding Some Motivation
First things first.
If you hate teaching writing then you need to find some motivation to power through and do it anyway. (I’m dishing out a little tough love today).
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that only 28% of students in fourth grade are proficient in writing. It gets worse. According to an article in the New York Times, forty percent of high school students taking the ACT writing exam do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to be successful in an entry level college English class.
We are in a great position to make real changes to these statistics.
Whether we love teaching to write or not, writing is a vital life skill that needs to be taught to our students. Look, I get it. Teaching to write is scary, difficult, frustrating, and stressful. Especially when our student levels are all over the place.
Teaching to Write - Start With Baby Steps
When it comes to teaching to write and you never received any training, start with baby steps. Do you have a writing block that your school has formatted for you? By this I mean have they given you how many minutes you need to have and what will occur in those minutes? If they haven’t then you have some flexibility.
Decide if you want to teach using the writer’s workshop model, a modified version (which is what I do), or if you have a set curriculum. I highly recommend using my framework to teach writer’s workshop where all students are at the same point in the writing process at the same time. This makes the class much easier to manage.
My post, What is Writer’s Workshop?, provides an overview of the sections necessary in writer’s workshop.
Once you figure out how you want to lay out your writing time the next step is deciding what to teach.
Don’t Try to Fit Everything In
When it comes to teaching to write, there are a ton of things you could teach about. Resist the urge to do all the things as it will only confuse your students. Instead, start small and pick just one thing to teach each day.
Maybe you noticed that your students are struggling with what to write.
Teach a lesson about how to brainstorm ideas. I find modeling how to do this in front of the class using think aloud strategies really helps young writers to understand. Also, it is perfectly normal for reluctant writers to just copy exactly what you write. While frustrating, they will eventually write their own ideas when they’ve gained enough confidence.
Repeat Writing Lessons as Needed
Repeating this lesson multiple times may be necessary to see real growth from your students. As my writing lessons progress in the year the student process of brainstorming an idea becomes more automatic. If some students are still struggling but not the majority of the class, provide additional lessons in a small group format.
I also do not try to teach grammar during my writing block. Instead, I teach a quick 5 minute grammar lesson during my reading time. Students can work on a grammar activity to show their understanding and to practice the lesson concepts during independent time. This frees up more time for my writing lessons and student writing time.
Teaching to Write Can Be Taught
Learning how to teach writing is a skill that can be taught to teachers like yourself. Unfortunately many school districts and college teacher preparation programs are not teaching how to teach writing yet we have extensive training on teaching reading.
I’ve always loved writing stories. As a young girl I even asked for a typewriter one Christmas and could even be found typing stories while my family was watching TV together. There was just something about the craft of storytelling that hooked me early on.
I credit my mom’s love of reading and our daily summer trips to the local library for helping me to love writing. When you are a good reader and you read a lot like I used to, you start noticing things.
You start making connections between the different stories you read.
You start learning about plot and making characters come alive.
You start figuring out pretty early into a book which authors you want to continue reading.
Before you realize, you are noticing the craft of writing. This is how I began teaching myself how to write. I noticed what was happening in the books I was devouring. I now teach this skill to my students using bite-size chunks.
Use Reading Strategies to Teach Writing
Do you like to use read alouds in your day? Using picture books is a great way to not only teach reading strategies but to teach writing.
Ideas by Jivey has a great and informative video on using mentor texts in reading which you can click here to find on her website.
When we teach what authors do while using a mentor text, we are teaching students about the craft of writing at the same time. Noticing what is happening with word choice to describe characters can then be applied through the lens of teaching to write.
By incorporating similar lessons in reading as in your writing block, students will be more successful and start noticing what you are showing in the mentor texts. I often teach my writing units using several key mentor texts to help anchor students’ learning.
If we are using picture books to teach reading concepts like characterization and tone, why not use the same picture books to teach writing about developing characters?
Fake Loving to Teach Writing
Last, teaching to write when you hate it is a lot like how I feel about eating vegetables. I know they have tremendous benefits, but I just don’t like them. I’ve been told (and I’m still working on this) that the more I eat them the more I will like them.
I view teaching writing in the same way.
The more we do it and the more we find our groove, the easier it becomes. When we see our students having success and we start celebrating their growth, our writing block becomes enjoyable. We stop dreading writing time.
Remember to start off with small steps. Smile through the teaching and enjoy your students’ growth. Before you know it you will be confident in teaching writing and you may even be looking forward to it each day.