A writing pre-assessment is the most important first step in your writing plans. Just like other subjects, the writing pre-assessment will inform your direction for lessons.
Why Use a Writing Pre-Assessment
Teaching writing is a hard subject for most teachers. Often I am asked, “Where do I start?” When we use a pre-assessment for writing, it helps establish a baseline of our students’ skills. The pre-assessment will help provide a starting point for your lessons.
I like to use a pre-assessment before any new writing unit. Doing this helps me see exactly what skills my students have (or don’t have) that are specific to one genre. When we pre-assess, we can also confidently see whether our lessons are having an impact with our students.
What to Use for a Writing Pre-Assessment
To use a pre-assessment you will want to choose a prompt specific to the style of writing you are assessing. For example, for the beginning of the school year I start a narrative writing unit. My narrative writing is split between personal narratives and fictional narratives. Since I personal narratives come first, I give my students a prompt to tell me about an event in their life.
My favorite prompt for this is “tell me about the best day of your life.” Although I usually want pre-assessments to involve no additional teaching or guiding for my students, I like to go around the room and have students share what they will write about. For second graders at the beginning of the year this share technique will help the struggling writers generate ideas.
When I begin teaching a different writing unit, I will do another pre-assessment. Of course it will also be aligned with the style of writing I will be teaching. For opinion writing I would choose a prompt asking students to give their thoughts on a polarizing topic or choose between two things.
Informative writing can be tricky to pre-assess (especially in early primary grades) but choosing a prompt about a topic your students already know about is key. For example, if you just finished studying about weather in science your topic might ask students about different types of weather.
Choosing a Paper Format
For younger students, choosing the proper paper can guide them into remembering what they’ve been previously taught.
If students are given a paper with a box at the top for a picture and lines underneath to write, chances are they will write a story that matches their picture. If you provide a writing paper that has several boxes for text features, it will help guide your students to create a non-fiction writing piece.
Do you vary your paper formats for the style of writing you teach? If not, perhaps you should consider it and then be consistent to match the pre-assessment paper to the publishing paper at the end of a unit.
Grading the Writing Pre-Assessment
Once students have turned in their pre-assessment, you will want to take the time to grade it. For the first sample of the year I often use a rubric to formally grade the writing. This is part of my school’s requirements. If it is not required for you, consider just looking over each student’s writing sample and jot a few notes.
I recommend using a spreadsheet or checklist with their names and a space to write their strengths or what they need to work on. This way as you plan your lessons you can see what the majority of your class needs and what you will be teaching in small groups or 1:1 conferences.