Teaching Writing

By and large, my favorite thing to teach is writing. I enjoy writing and I know from experience that my attitude towards this particular academic task can be infectious. (This isn’t just true of writing–I take personal responsibility for a number of young fans of Long Division.) Like anything, of course, it only works if you really mean it. And I do. Writing, for me, is the penultimate form of self-expression. I won’t be getting up on stage and performing to an audience. Nor will I be painting glorious canvases to inspire generations to come. Writing is my medium and I intend to take full advantage.

In the classroom, I teach writing as a process and I include steps. This is a delicate balance since I have a wide age range and some of my students are capable of a greater number of steps than others. In general, I limit myself to three steps:

  1. A combined brainstorming/organizing activity
  2. A rough draft (sometimes more than one)
  3. A final draft

There are actually four steps, if you include the lesson. I give a “How to Write a Paragraph” lesson several times a year and review even more often. Sometimes the lesson is geared towards a specific style of writing: Persuasive, Compare and Contrast, Expository, Descriptive, or Narrative. All students always sit in on one of the lessons. Younger students or students overwhelmed by a greater number of steps may skip Step 1 or they may narrate and my assistant or I will write the information down for them. Sometimes they’ll skip the rough draft and go straight from the brainstorming/organizing to the final draft. I usually play this decision by ear. As always, observation of the students will tell me what to do.

For older students, the brainstorming and organizing step may be divided into two parts. For example, I’ll show them how to create a Venn Diagram (that’s Lesson One) and invite them to do their own. Another day, we’ll discuss outlining (Lesson Two)–taking the information they’ve gathered and splitting it into three subtopics. I might even do this physically–write each thought on a strip of paper so the organizing of thoughts is tangible. We discuss how subtopics can become three distinct paragraphs and–voila!–an outline is born. This, of course, makes fewer revisions necessary.

It helps students to know that, while writing can be as formulaic as any math equation, there’s no “wrong” way to write. This is just the tip of the writing iceberg, though. Just wait till we get below sea level!

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