Like me, you will struggle with how to help students be better writers. I'm constantly asking myself what to teach. The best advice I can offer is ... write.
What do I teach?
Donald Graves said that students would NOT become better writers if they ONLY wrote more. On the other hand, if they’re only told how to write, they will not get better either. Writers need both: time to write and writing lessons.
As a writing teacher, I struggle with selecting what to teach. I don’t think I’m alone. So for those of you wondering what will help your writers, I offer some tips.
- By writing, even a few minutes each week, you’ll discover what to teach. You'll join your students in the work of finding a topic, figuring out what to say, feeling nervous about sharing, and deciding whether to revise or abandon what you’ve written. Each writing challenge I face in my personal writing time is a topic for discussion with my fellow writers. For example, I might start class with a question like, how do you know what to write about? Then I share how I decided. Others join in. Soon, we have a list of strategies for students to try.
- Watch your children to see what they do well intuitively. Ask writers to teach minilessons. They love that! Notice what troubles other authors. Create lessons that address their challenges and your curriculum.
- Name a problem: stories not in sequence, for example. Throw the problem out to the class in its most general form. Ask, do writers plan? Should writers plan? Then, show your solution: outlining, for example. Explain how planning improved your writing. Invite students to experiment: try your idea, perfect a strategy they've been using, or create a new one. Study other strategies: sketching, talking, outlining, timelines, freewriting, etc. Revisit this big idea throughout the year for different genres and functions.
- My favorites are by Carol Avery (K-1), Katie Wood Ray (Preschool - 8), Ralph Fletcher (2nd-8), and Harvey Daniels (4th-12).
- Take workshops, read, join study groups on your campus or with your friends, consult websites like Read, Write, Think.org, and join your local National Writing Project site.
Use minilesson pages!
- The ideas on the next four pages might jumpstart your thinking as you address the needs of your students. The topics are surprisingly similar no matter what the grade. My goal is to get procedures in place and build a writing community before I tackle teaching harder writing units.
NEXT: Am I a writer?