As a high school principal for over twelve years, I continually promoted the virtues of writing. Additionally, I constantly encouraged teachers to engage their students purposefully in writing during class on a daily basis. Only, I didn’t have to grade all those writing assignments! I can vividly picture the English teachers I worked with leaving the building with bundles of essays they were taking home to spend their entire weekend grading. With six classes, it was not unlikely that these teachers had upwards of 150 essays to wade through. I almost felt guilty. Moreover, how was I to get the art teacher and the social studies teacher let alone members of the math department to get their kids to write in class? I made it my mission to explain at every opportunity why writing is so important for the development of our students. In the link below, Marquette University’s Writing Center gives specific reasons why learning to write really matters.
One of the most essential skills children learn in school is writing. As reading is the basis for learning in all other subjects, writing is the basis for critical thinking in all other subjects. Critical thinking is an imperative skill that allows us to understand logical connections between ideas, construct coherent arguments, and use reasoning to develop intelligent positions on a variety of topics. Critical thinking transformed to the written form provides a forum to communicate to one reader or thousands simultaneously. For an explanation on the importance and benefits of critical thinking skills, check out the link below.
In order to write, and to write well, individuals must operate at the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which requires them to apply knowledge, analyze information, synthesize ideas, evaluate positions and create solutions. These higher-order thinking skills are the basis for concept development, creating meaning, and critical thinking. Writing develops complex communication skills as students must master the ability to prepare information in a logical fashion that can be easily interpreted by the reader while at the same time follow the conventions of spelling, grammar, and syntax. Click on the link below for a more in-depth conversation about the value of higher order thinking.
Now that I have made my case for the importance of writing every day in every class, I have some practical steps that any teacher in any class can use. Teachers should feel free to select which of these writing activities fits their students’ needs and their individual teaching style. The writing assignments presented can be used regardless of the amount of time a teacher has available to actually grade the assignment and are practical enough to use on a daily basis. As you examine the list, imagine how much writing students would do on a given day if ALL teachers were requiring them to do so.
Every activity should begin with a prompt to stimulate writing on a topic that is open-ended and encourages the kind of thinking skills discussed earlier in this article. In order to provide a little help and inspiration, I have included 180 prompts for you to consider using. Please also feel free to develop your own!
Here is my list of writing activities. They are listed in order of increasing teacher responsibility in the process. Again, select only those that you are able to incorporate into your daily lessons and get those kids writing!
- Students Write, Teacher Walks Around Room: Students record the prompt at the top of the page as they will do with all of these activities. Additionally, students are given a specific time limit to complete the writing. Time limits will be necessary for all activities on the list. As the students write, the teacher walks around the room and uses proximity to motivate students to stay on task. It is critical in this activity and the others that follow that teachers are on their feet walking through the rows during the writing phase. After five minutes, have the students put their work in their folders but do not collect it. It is wise to let students know you may collect it at a later time, however. Papers are not graded.
- Students Write, Teacher Walks Around Room, Collects Papers: After the prompt is recorded, the students begin to write and the teacher circulates throughout the room making sure students are on task. At the end of the time limit this time, all papers are collected. Papers are not graded or returned.
- Students Write, Teacher Walks Around the Room, Collects/Checkmark/Returns Papers: The same process is followed except the next day the papers are returned with a checkmark to indicate completion of the assignment. The papers are not graded, only checked to see if the assignment was completed.
- Students Write, Teacher Walks Around Room, Collects/Visual Scan for Spelling/Grammar/Returns Papers: Again, the same process is followed. Papers are collected at the end of the time limit. This is the first “grading” that takes place. The teacher simply scans for spelling and/or grammar issues and marks those mistakes with an underline or circle. A checkmark is given for completion, and the papers are returned the next day.
- Students Write, Teacher Walks Around Room, Collects/General Content/Checkmark/Return Papers: This time after collecting the papers, the teacher does a visual scan for content about the prompt. The teacher may underline, circle, or mark in another way one to two key points the student is making. Give a checkmark for completeness and return the next day.
- Students Write, Teacher Walks Around Room/General Content/Spelling/Grammar/Checkmark/Returns Papers: The same procedure as in activity 5 is followed except the teacher is marking general content positions the student made as well as their spelling and grammar. The paper is returned the next day with a checkmark.
With all of the activities identified so far, the teacher has done only cursory grading, but if done correctly, has held the students accountable for writing. Based on teacher preferences and the makeup of the class, the teacher may wish to keep a record of the checkmarks awarded. The main point is to get kids writing and to apply the appropriate degree of motivation to make the activity meaningful.
- Extended Essay Using State Rubric for Writing: This one WILL require some grading. In this situation, the students are given a prompt and must follow the state rubric for writing. Obviously, the students will need to be exposed to the expectations of this writing rubric prior to the activity. When the time limit is over, the papers are collected, graded, and returned. It is up to the teacher whether these grades make up part of the final mark in the class. Here are two examples of state writing rubrics:
So, now you have a number of ideas you can use to get kids to write every day even if you don’t have time!