Finding the right writing strategies to use for your students can be tricky. Writing is an essential skill all students can benefit from but many students often struggle with writing. There are several ways you can help your struggling students by trying some of the strategies listed here.
The first of the writing strategies for students is to teach students how to brainstorm. Brainstorming is how we generate ideas in the prewriting stage. Many students struggle with writing and may act out during your writing block because they are stuck not knowing what to write.
Even though I am not a fan of having my students write pieces in different stages of the writing process at the same time, I am a fan of teaching them the stages. I feel all students should understand the process a writer takes to craft a finished piece of writing. In fact, I teach this in my writing units as I cycle through the stages for each piece we produce. The first step in my units is to create a plan which is where brainstorming comes into play.
When we teach how to brainstorm, we are showing students how to begin organizing not only their thoughts but their writing. Even our beginning writers can brainstorm through drawing pictures or making lists. My favorite ways to plan, or brainstorm, are to create a circle map and a tree map.
These types of planning are easy for students to use on their own as I learned through Thinking Maps training several years ago. Thinking Maps are a series of 8 graphic organizers that are used a specific way so all grade levels are on the same page for how to use the organizers.
Our second writing strategy for students is to teach organization. If you teach primary students, you should teach organization of writing pieces and also supply organization. Struggling students could also be struggling during writing time because they don’t know how to organize their work. They might also be disorganized with their supplies and spending all their time searching for their latest writing piece or a pencil.
Teachwriting.org suggests providing students with a writing toolkit such as lists of words to use. For primary students a writing toolkit could be an actual kit that is passed out during writing time. My second year of teaching first grade I created writing tool boxes using actual tool boxes found at the dollar store. Inside were blue and red pens for editing and revising along with black pens for writing. I soon phased these boxes out as unnecessary (although a cute and adorable idea if I do say so myself) but I kept the idea of having a writing station where all the writing folders and supplies were kept.
Primary students (especially first and second graders) can be quite messy if not shown how to keep things orderly. I learned quite quickly that if I didn’t want folders bunched up in the back of desks, ripped and torn, or even lost then it was best if I passed them out and collected them as needed. I still do this today.
Alongside physical organization you will want to teach organization of a writing piece. When I sat down to create my second grade writing units, I wrote them according to what I wanted in the final writing pieces. I also looked at what the Common Core standards was requiring for each type of writing genre. For example, opinion writing pieces need to have the organization of an introduction, reasons, and a conclusion. By teaching and practicing this structure of an opinion piece multiple times, students can be successful in crafting their own piece independently.
3. Editing and Revising
Another crucial tool in writing strategies for students is the process of editing and revising their writing. I covered several tips on how to teach editing and revising in a previous post or you can listen to it on episode 45 of the Shared Teaching Podcast.
When we teach students to edit we are teaching them to check their work for any spelling and punctuation errors. Revising teaches students to look at their work for word choice and sentence structure. Does it sound right? Does my writing make sense?
Both editing and revising help to improve the quality of a student’s writing. Because writing is difficult for many students, I recommend using writing partners when teaching this process. Pairing a strong and an average student or a low and an average student can help students better identify what they need to change. For example, the stronger writer and reader in a partnership may know how to spell more words correctly than their partner.
Taking a day before revising and editing can also help look at writing with a fresh perspective. Many times with younger students they may even forget what they have written if they wait. This can help teach them the very important lesson that writing is meant to share with others. If we can’t read our own writing, it’s difficult to share our creativity with the world.
4. Varying Sentence Structure
The fourth writing strategy to help our struggling writers is to teach them to vary their sentence structure. Varying sentence structure makes the writing more interesting and engaging to read. It involves using different sentence types, such as simple, compound, and complex sentences.
Students should aim to use a mix of sentence types in their writing. They should also use transitions to connect sentences and create flow. Varying sentence structure also helps to convey the message more clearly and emphasize important points.
To teach students how to vary their sentences, choose a few good mentor texts and ask students to listen to how each sentence starts.
You may even wish to write a piece that begins the same way each time (like many of our students when they are beginning writers). For example, you may write something similar to this:
I like to play. I like to go to the park. I like the slide. I like the swings. I like the monkey bars.
After students discuss what they notice about these sentences they can help you think of ways to improve it. If students do not suggest changing up the sentence format, refer back to a mentor text and think out loud as you notice the sentence structure.
5. Word Choice
Using vivid verbs and strong adjectives is another strategy that students can use to improve their writing. Vivid verbs and adjectives create vivid images and help to convey emotions. For example, instead of using "walk," a student can use "stroll" or "saunter" to create a more detailed image.
Students should aim to use vivid verbs and adjectives in their writing. They should also avoid using weak or overused words, such as "very," "nice," and "good." Using vivid verbs and strong adjectives makes the writing more engaging and memorable. Again, this is a great time to look at a mentor text for how the author has chosen their verbs and adjectives. You might even wish to create an anchor chart collecting exciting words as you read through each text.
Perhaps the most effective writing strategy for students is to model the writing process and your expectations. Each day I teach a writing lesson, I am modeling what I want students to do when it is their independent time. This helps students to be not only independent so I can work with my more struggling writers, but have a clear understanding of the assignment.
You can model a part of the writing process or use a read-aloud for modeling examples of good writing. When modeling you are providing a clear understanding of what good writing looks like and how to achieve it. By watching you model, students can learn how to structure their writing, use descriptive language, and revise their work to make it more effective.
The most important thing to remember when modeling is you are thinking aloud to explain your thought process to students. It might seem silly if you’ve never tried this strategy before but it’s one of my favorite ways to teach. I encourage you to give it a few times and it will seem more natural every time you do it.