Thursday, August 26

How do you teach writing?

A friend of mine asked me the other day how do you teach writing to your students?  What materials do you use?  I started to list the curriculum that my school uses and then, stopped.  Because she is a dear friend, I told her my secret. 

I don’t use the curriculum that the school provides.  The official “writing” book is really pretty and kid friendly, but it doesn’t do what I need it to do.  At the beginning of the year, I distribute the book and it sits in their desks until I take it back at the end of the year.  At least there is no wear-and-tear and the books are like new. 

I teach writing all day long and in every subject.  There isn’t a moment during the day that I’m not teaching students something about writing.  I saturate them with writing.  I expect them to write well and throughout the day.  Families know that if they get Mrs. Ehrlich, the students will learn to write.

From the very first day of school, they write.  Regardless of their age or what grade I’m teaching, I start at the beginning with paragraph construction.  I have a no-fail formula that makes writing concrete.  When I have the same class again (looping), the review makes them giggle.  They laugh at the simplicity of the lesson.  I expect students by the end of third grade to construct multi-paragraph essays.  I constantly build their stamina for writing. 

All day long, I model, and model and model.  Every moment is a chance for me to say something about subjects, predicates, complex sentences, linking verbs, helping verbs, and most importantly, paragraph construction.  My students know I love to write and laugh at my enthusiasm.  My goal is to make it contagious. Throwing writing into every lesson is innate and instinctual.  I try to develop “muscle memory” so it become automatic for them.  I make writing a priority and meet with students one-on-one and support, remediate, cajole, encourage, cheer lead, etc.!  Writing conferences are as important to me as reading conferences.

So, when my friend asked me how I teach persuasive, narrative, expository, descriptive, etc., I didn’t have a quick answer for her.  It’s all in my head.  And, I also change the way I teach these based on the needs of the students.  I have to differentiate - I don’t know how to do it any other way.  Then, I create detailed and unique rubrics that match each lesson.

My goal this year is to try to write about how I teach writing.  How do I write down on paper what I do so that I can share it?  Is this the ultimate contradiction? Do other teachers follow a teacher’s guide or create opportunities?  How do you teach writing?  I really want to know.


Sarah said...

I love to write but I HATE teaching writing. The process completely overwhelms me, even when it's broken down in a curriculum. I'm very much looking forward to what else you have to say on the subject -- I need all the help I can get!

Suzanne said...

I use methods and ideas learned over my 25 years of teaching. I have collected all of the great ideas and discarded what I don't like. I am a big fan of TC and Lucy Calkins. My district has supported teachers attending TC workshops. We have also had "Lit Life" training. Ralph Fletcher is a mentor of mine and I have read everything he has written.

Cecilia said...

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for the post! I also love writing and I struggle with how to teach it.
I am an ESOL Teacher in Brazil, at a language institute, so what I am about to say I is based upon my experience, which may be very different from everyone else's. But I feel that (most)students these days are losing the ability to express themselves through writing. And it's not about doing it in a secong language. It's not the language they don't have (I teach mostly more advanced learners), but structure, style, coherence. They don't read much anymore - and I believe reading is such an important habit to become a good and effective writer. They say writing is boring and takes too long. It's very frustrating.
So, what do I do to try to fight this battle?

Well, I force them to read, for one. All of my students (classes are twice a week, 1h15m each) read the same book (like a mandatory book club) every semester. We have meetings and discuss the book. I have created a vocabulary bank, trying to force them to use more appropriate vocabulary. I try sneaking one writing in every lesson, no matter how small it may be - practice makes perfection, right? I analyze writing pieces with them, encouraging them to be critical.

But one of the things I've doing that was probably the most effective one was to show them that writing an essay is not the huge scary boring task they think. I prepare "mini writing" tasks, on the topic being discussed in class. I give them a prompt, a sentence to complete, and ask them to write non-stop for 10 minutes on it. But I prepare the prompts in a way that they are actually the paragraphs of a full essay. After about 2 weeks of doing that I give them back all the little paragraphs and tell them to organize them into an actual essay. If they want all they need to do is rewrite. But most times they do a little editing, they change a couple of things. And they end up with a decent essay and a feeling of "that wasn't too bad...".

Looking forward to reading whatelse people say!

Sherri said...

I'm coming at this post from a different angle, since I'm not a teacher....but I love how you say it's just "in your head", because it obviously comes naturally to you! Both of my kids were heavy readers, all kinds of stories, and now both really enjoy writing for fun (and school). I think the more you read, the more your brain can create sentences and structure.

You sound like an amazing teacher, and your students are lucky you teach them writing skills so early. Our society is losing a lot of that, with texting and shortcuts!

Mrs. Carter said...

I am with ya sister! I started teaching writing through the use of a set curriculum I put together over the summer in a workshop form...and the kids sat there and crickets chirped! I went back to my old fashioned tried and true way of introducing writing...all day every day and about things they are interested in. Each year, it is different and with that information needs to evolve and change to meet their needs! Can't wait to hear how you do it this year!