Easy Steps to Teaching Writing
“I just don’t know how to teach writing; teaching writing is difficult.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that over the course of my years in education, I’d be a wealthy woman. I’ve always been baffled by this statement. Writing shouldn’t be a tortuous activity or a necessary evil. It should be a celebrated form of communication. Here are a few strategies to help take the sting out of teaching writing.
Students need to be given the opportunity just to write - not to be concerned about grammar, usage and mechanics (GUM) - just get the thoughts on the paper. Brainstorming sessions and outlines need to be abandoned and thoughts just need to flow across the paper/screen. There will be time to allow for corrections later in the process. The idea is not to interrupt the flow of writing. Teach students that if a word doesn’t look correct to them to simply circle it and move on - don’t break the stream of thought. If they are completely unsure of a word, phonetically sound it out, circle it and move on. If writing on a device, ignore the squiggly lines - you’ll have time to edit later.
Practice makes perfect. Give students random topics, prompts or pictures to write to; leave the perimeters open to allow them the freedom to write. This is not the time for research papers and time may not allow for both sides of an argument to be explored - and that’s ok. Quick writes are not to be graded for GUM. The grammar, usage and mechanics are not as important as the author’s thoughts. Quick writes should be given a twenty minute maximum time frame. In fact, quick writes should simply be a complete/incomplete marking in the gradebook as the philosophy behind quick writes is to encourage writers.
The difference between a free write and a quick write is that the free write is the process and the quick write is the structure.
Edit Out Loud
As silly as it may sound, have the students read their writings out loud to edit. If they pause while reading, that will be their clue to insert a comma. If they stop, they add a period. If words are missing, they insert them. Students should be given the opportunity for this quick and simple editing process before submission of any kind.
Sleep on It
Even after doing an edit out loud, students should allowed the opportunity to let a day or pass before repeating the editing process. Not only does this afford them “fresh eyes” on the project, but gives the concepts time to marinate with them.
Lose the Red Pen
If writing is something you want your students to enjoy and look forward to then lose the red pen. Nothing is more discouraging than getting a writing assignment back that you have put a lot of time and energy into and it comes back a sea of red. Try offering feedback via Post-its or comments in Google or Word. If you are going to make corrections on an assignment try purple or green ink instead. These techniques are far less threatening and discouraging than the dreaded red pen.
Writing isn’t something that should be feared. The best writers actually write the why they speak. In a world of text messages, social media, emails, etc. writing is a key component of daily living. Be a cheerleader for writing and soon your students will be following suit.