Click play below to hear ways to successfully teach writing:
One of my goals this year was to incorporate more writing content into the podcast and available resources in The Stellar Literacy Collective because teaching writing can be challenging for upper elementary teachers and overwhelming for students. However, I want to ditch the negative stigma surrounding writing and provide you with a new mindset. I’m sharing 3 things you can do that will help you successfully teach writing to your students this school year!
While I focus on writing activities for your students to participate in, it is also important to be aware of your own feelings towards writing. That’s why I first ask you to reflect on your own personal feelings because it can affect the actions you take when it comes to writing in your classroom.
When it comes to how you successfully teach writing, I found activities that are simple, easy to implement, save you time during your literacy block, and can be implemented for any content area. The goal is for students to improve in their writing, sentence, and paragraph skills with each activity, which they will achieve with intentional and daily practice.
Improving a student’s writing skills, whether they’re a student who struggles or excels in writing, can be accomplished with these 3 writing activities. And not only will your students improve, but you’ll be ready, confident, motivated, and inspired to successfully teach writing this school year!
Looking to find effective literacy resources and more at your fingertips? With high demand, we’re reopening the doors to The Stellar Literacy Collective from Sunday, August 20th – Wednesday, August 23rd for this school year! Don’t miss this opportunity, so join now!
In this episode on how to successfully teach writing, I share:
- Ways to get students to write a variety of different sentences
- The key difference between a routine and a framework
- How providing paragraph support for struggling students makes writing tasks less overwhelming
- Tips for incorporating writing instruction in all content areas
- How joining The Stellar Literacy Collective helps you successfully teach writing
- Sentence Writing Routine Free Sample
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Free Literacy Block Workshop
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 148, 4 Things to Do If You Don’t Have a Writing Curriculum (or it Doesn’t Meet the Needs of Your Students!)
- Episode 131, The #1 Mistake Upper Elementary Writing Teachers Make
- Episode 125, Providing Students a 5-Step Process for Writing a Constructed Response Paragraph
- Episode 101, A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills
- Sentence Writing Routine: Year-Long Routine to Practice Sentence Structure
- 5 Highly Effective Sentence Writing Activities
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More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey there friend. Welcome back to another episode. I am so happy that you are joining me today.
So today we are going to talk a little bit about writing. And I’ve got three things I’m going to share with you that are going to hopefully help you have a successful year of teaching writing to all of your students.
But before I get into the practical suggestions that I have for you, I want you to take a minute and I want you to think about how do you feel about teaching writing this next year? And if you haven’t actually thought about how you feel about it, maybe take a minute and maybe pause this episode and think about your feelings about teaching writing.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s really important for us to think about our feelings towards teaching something and the impact that that has on the actions that we take. For example, if you’re feeling very overwhelmed, if you’re feeling frustrated, if you’re feeling defeated, you’re going to take a completely different set of actions than if you’re feeling confident and motivated and inspired.
And so one of the things that we can do to help ourselves have a successful year is to really spend time cultivating the feelings that we know are going to lead to the positive actions that we want to take. And so I’m hoping that today, even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or frustrated or confused with teaching writing, after you listen to this entire episode, you feel a little more confident, inspired and motivated.
And hopefully that will help you take some actions that really will make a difference in your classroom. And if you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, that is completely normal. I know for me for many years, anytime I thought about teaching writing, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like that.
I think, especially as upper elementary writing teachers, we have some very big challenges that don’t exist in some of the lower grades. You know, we have students that come to us that can’t write a complete sentence, yet, we have to get them to write, you know, a five paragraph essay by the end of the year. Oftentimes, our school doesn’t give us actual resources to effectively help our students grow as writers.
So again, we’re being told to teach writing and help students catch up but the resources that we’re given, don’t help us do that. And for whatever reason, I feel like PD is often focused on other things besides teaching writing.
But honestly, when we think about it, and you guys know that I love all things related to reading. But sometimes I think writing might be the most important thing that we teach, because it has an impact on every other subject. And it has a huge impact on students success in the real world, even outside of education. So just know that I completely understand that there are some very real challenges that upper elementary writing teachers face.
However, even with those challenges, there are some really simple things that you can do that will help all students, your struggling students, and even your most successful students to grow as writers. And these things you can do regardless if you have a curriculum, regardless of the resources you’ve been given, and regardless of where your students come to you as writers.
So I really do hope that after you listen to this episode, you’re feeling a little motivated, you’re feeling a little inspired. And I really hope that you can maybe carve out 10 minutes to think about how can you incorporate these three things into your instruction this next year, because as we get ready to start a brand new year, you have an opportunity to do things a little bit different. And hopefully, after you listen, you’re ready to actually take some action.
So let’s go ahead and jump right in. The first thing that you want to make sure that you are doing to help all students succeed as writers is to focus on sentence level writing activities. And this one should come as no surprise to you if you have been a part of the Stellar Teacher community for a while or if you have been listening to the podcast then you have heard me say this before, but of course it is worth repeating.
If we want our students to be confident skilled and successful writers, then they need to be able to fluently write a variety of sentences. They have to be able to write statements, questions, commands, simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, sentences with appositives.
And strong sentence writing skills don’t just accidentally happen. These aren’t things that, you know, if we just have our students write more, they’re going to become better at writing sentences. We have to intentionally teach our students about sentence writing skills, and we have to intentionally give them practice so they can get better in this area.
And Natalie Wexler is one of the authors of The Writing Revolution. And one of the quotes there’s lots of quotes in that book that I like, but one that she says specifically is, “The importance of spending plenty of instructional time working with sentences can’t be stressed enough. Sentence level work is the engine that will propel your students from writing the way they speak, to using the structures of written language. So we need to make sure that we are dedicating enough of our instructional time to working on sentences.”
So as you think about your writing instruction this year, I want you to make sure that you are dedicating some of your time to give your students practice with sentence level writing skills. And a really easy way to do that is by incorporating focused sentence writing practice into your writing block. And a really easy way to do that and to make sure you’re doing that on a daily basis is by using our sentence writing routine.
And I’ve talked about this routine on the podcast before and I know a lot of teachers are using it. But if you are just hearing about this for the first time, you can grab a free sample of our sentence writing routine at stellarteacher.com/sentences.
Now, like I said, I know that I’ve talked about this routine before, so I’m not gonna go necessarily in depth into the specific sentence writing tasks, I’m going to break them down a little bit. But if after hearing me talk about this, you’re like, wait a minute, I want to learn more about all of these things. Go back and listen to episode number 101. And I break down each of the specific tasks.
But within this routine throughout the week, every day, you’re going to focus on a different sentence writing task. And each task is going to help your students develop a sentence writing knowledge and skills that are just overall going to help them become a stronger writer. One of the activities is to find and fix a fragment that’s really going to help students understand the difference between a complete and an incomplete sentence.
One of the sentence activities is to write four types of sentences. So students have to write questions, statements, commands and exclamations. And that helps students develop their sentence writing fluency, so they’re not just only writing statements.
One of the sentence writing tasks is to expand a sentence so students are really understanding how they can add in details and you know, add an adjectives and adverbs and, and prepositional phrases. So their sentence is not just telling us who and what but it’s also telling us when and how and why.
One of the other sentence writing tasks is to combine sentences and so students get practice creating compound sentences, complex sentences, but they also get practice creating simple sentences with compound subjects or compound predicates. And this helps students realize that they when they’re revising their own writing, that sometimes ideas can be combined into a single sentence. And again, it gives them lots of exposure and practice to different sentence structures.
And then the last task in this routine is for students to unscramble a sentence. And that really helps with things like subject verb agreement, making sure that words are in the correct order, helping them make sure that the words they’re writing in a sentence actually make sense.
So all of these tasks help students develop a different part of sentence writing. So it’s not necessarily they’re just writing sentences every day. But with this routine, they’re focusing on different aspects of sentence writing that overall, are going to help them develop their writing skills. And we know that in order for students to become successful writers, they have to be able to write a sentence.
So if we’re thinking about, you know, focusing on sentences, I want to specifically point out how this helps your students who struggle with writing. So if you have students who struggle with writing, we’re actually giving them time to practice sentence writing, which is essential if they’re going to grow as writers. So you know, we’re actually instructing them on how to fix a fragment, we’re actually instructing them on how to combine sentences, so it’s very much foundational work for them.
But focusing on sentence level writing skills is also really helpful for our students who excel with writing, because they get an opportunity to really play and explore with language, they get a chance to think about word choice, and sentence structure and they get to really hone in on their writing skills.
You know, sentences are at the heart of all writing. So even our most advanced writers need practice with it because I bet even if you have students who are good writers, they could become better at combining their sentence, they could be better at expanding their sentences and adding more details. And this routine and these tasks just give them an opportunity to even improve their writing all around.
So, if you haven’t thought about how you want to explicitly focus on sentence writing skills this year, let me encourage you make a plan before the year begins. Because this is probably one of the most important things that you want to help your students develop. And like I said, if you want to grab a sample of our sentence writing routine, we would love to share it with you, you can go to stellarteacher.com/sentences to check it out.
Okay, the second thing I want you to do this year that is going to help all of your students be successful writers is to explicitly teach students a routine, and a framework for paragraph writing. And let me explain the difference because a routine and a framework are two different things. But we want our students to have both.
So a routine is a repeatable set of steps that they know what to do when they go to write a paragraph. So we want our students to follow the same steps. We don’t want them just to start writing. But we want them to brainstorm their ideas. We want them to outline their ideas, we want them to write a topic sentence or a lead sentence. We want them to draft the details of their body sentences, we want them to write the concluding sentence, we want them to revise and edit and publish.
And we want them to follow those steps every single time they sit down to write a paragraph. So whether it is a single paragraph to summarize a story, or it is a paragraph as part of a five paragraph essay, they know that the first thing they do is brainstorm. Then they outline, then they write their topic, sentence, and so on, and so on, and so on. So it’s important that students have a routine. So they have a process for when they go to write a paragraph.
But it’s also important that students have a framework for how to write a paragraph. And a framework is, in essence, a template that they can follow so they don’t have to wonder what types of sentences or how many sentences they need to include. And a framework is something that is going to be very helpful for students when they first get started writing paragraphs or even multi paragraph essays. And it might be something that they always rely on. And it might be something that over time, they realize that they can adjust and modify the framework because their writing skills have advanced enough.
But especially when students are first getting started having a framework is very important. And so we want to give students a framework for how to write a paragraph. This means they understand that their paragraph is going to begin with a topic sentence, it’s going to be followed by three to four detail sentences, maybe five, and it’s going to end with a concluding sentence. So this helps them understand the number of sentences and also the types of sentences they are including in their paragraph, or at least the role or the function of the sentences.
But then we also want to give them frameworks for the sentences they include. So for example, when they’re writing a topic sentence, we want to let them know that you know, one of the things that you could do to write an effective topic sentence is to write one of the four sentence types. So maybe you’re going to start with a statement or a question or an exclamation.
Or we can let them know that a topic sentence might be something that you want to start with a subordinating conjunction to give some extra information about the subject. So we give students different sentence structures and different sentence frameworks for them to write their topic sentence, their body sentences and their concluding sentences.
And when students have both a framework for writing paragraphs and sentences, we are really giving them a tool that sets them up to be successful, because they no longer have to wonder, you know, how do I write this sentence? How do I need to begin this paragraph? What should I begin it with? We are giving them tools that are going to help them clearly communicate their ideas.
So we want to teach both a framework and a routine for how to write a paragraph. And sometimes teachers will say, Well, I’m teaching my students the writing process, you know, there’s five steps to the writing process. Isn’t that enough? Do I really need to go in depth and teach them a specific routine, and a framework for paragraph writing? And my answer to that is yes.
So even though we have the writing process, sometimes the writing process doesn’t go in depth enough to give students the confidence or the tools to craft a really well written paragraph. And if you think about it, you know, the writing process is brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, and publish. I think that’s the writing process. Maybe I’m missing one in there.
But with that students still don’t know. Okay, what’s the first sentence I need to write down for my paragraph? But when we teach them a framework and a routine, they know that their very first sentence should be a topic sentence. And with the writing process, when students are just brainstorming, they still don’t know how to take those ideas and turn them into a paragraph. But when we teach them to outline they do.
So we have the writing process and the writing process works well for students who are already strong writers. But in upper elementary, we know we have lots of students who need a little extra support. And so we want to really break down that process and give them specific steps to take when they’re writing a paragraph and give them a specific framework. So they know the types of sentences to include.
I think similarly too, you know, the importance of focusing on sentences, paragraphs are also a really important part of being able to successfully write an essay, or even to be able to successfully write an email. And so we want our students to be really cofident in their ability to write a paragraph.
So as you think about your writing instruction this next year and the pacing of what you want to teach, make sure you have a plan to really ensure that students have both a routine and a framework for paragraph writing.
And this isn’t something that I would say focus on for a week, and then forget about it, I would think about how can you focus on a paragraph writing routine and framework for the entire year, because it really is so important to students writing growth.
And if you’re thinking cool, that sounds great, I really am not sure what this looks like, though. If this is something that you want more help with, then we would love to have you join us inside the Stellar Literacy Collective. And you’re actually in luck, because this specific week if you’re listening to this podcast live, Monday through August 20, through Wednesday, August 22, we are reopening the doors to the Stellar Literacy Collective.
We’ve had so many teachers ask us, if we’ll be able to open up the doors again before the school year begins. And so they’re going to be open for a short time this week. And one of our brand new resources that we are giving our members every single month is a brand new paragraph writing routine that includes lessons and resources. So that way, you can easily teach your students both a routine and a framework for Paragraph Writing.
So if that is something that you’re interested in, you can learn more or join our community at stellarteacher.com/join. But even if now is not the right time for you to join the membership, you still this year can focus on teaching a paragraph writing routine and framework to your students.
And I want you to think about how would this benefit all students in your class because I think again, it’s important for us to realize the impact of this. So if you have students who struggle with writing, then giving them a very specific process and framework for writing is going to make writing tasks less overwhelming.
You know, rather than saying you have to write an entire paragraph, we’re saying Okay, step one is just to brainstorm. Step two is just to outline. Step three is just to write a topic sentence, how easy is that all you’re doing is writing a single topic sentence. So it takes this idea that might be a little bit overwhelming of writing a paragraph, and it is breaking it down into bite sized digestible steps that students can take and actually experience with success.
So teaching your students a Paragraph Writing Framework, and routine is going to help your students who struggle. But also it is going to help your students who already excel at writing. And again, similarly to how sentence writing benefits students who excel, when you give students more time to focus on paragraph writing your students who are already strong writers, they have more time to be creative, they have more time to play with words, they have more time to refine their craft as a writer.
And I think so often, our strong students don’t ever really get pushed to their limits, because what they produce on demand is good enough. You know, if you tell your students write me a five paragraph essay, you’re gonna have some students who can do that, without any support from you. And what they give you is probably going to be pretty good.
But when we slow down our instruction, and we really give students time to focus and refine a paragraph, our students who are already good writers, they might actually have a chance to be great writers and come up with something amazing. Because students realize, okay, I wrote a first draft and my first draft was good, but it might take a fourth or fifth attempt before I get the right sentence put in place before I get the right word choice.
And when we slow down our instruction, and give students more time to focus on a smaller piece of writing, our strong writers really have an opportunity to become great and excellent writers. So slowing down, focusing on Paragraph Writing, giving a process and a framework for Paragraph Writing is also going to help your students who excel at writing.
Okay, the third thing I want you to do this year to help all students succeed as writers is to not limit your writing instruction to just your writing block. And I think it’s important to remind yourself that strong writing skills are necessary for students to be successful in every other content area, which means that we don’t need to limit our writing instruction to just during our writing block.
And if you are a departmentalized teacher, then you can encourage your co teachers that they should dedicate some of their time to focus on writing as well because it’s going to help their students be successful in their content areas.
You know, writing happens all throughout the day. And if we really want students to transfer what we teach them during our writing lessons, then we need to be really intentional to model and show them how we need to constantly think about what we’re writing. We don’t just want to think about writing In incomplete sentences during writing time, we don’t just want to think about word choice during our writing lessons, we don’t just want to think about, you know, brainstorming and outlining our ideas during writing.
So other opportunities you have throughout the day, if students are writing an exit ticket, if they’re doing an explanation for a math word problem, if they’re writing a report, or answering a question for science or social studies, if they’re completing a reading response, or if they’re summarizing a text, those are opportunities that you can focus on writing. And you can focus on things like brainstorming, outlining word choice transition words, sentence structure, sentence type grammar rules, the list could go on.
I like to think that anytime students have their pencil to the paper, you have an opportunity to help them improve their writing. And this is going to benefit all students because when we focus on improving writing outside of the literacy block, it helps all students improve, all students start to realize that writing is more than just a subject in school. It is how we communicate and we all want to be proficient at it.
Okay, so I hope you’re feeling a little more inspired and motivated, because these three things really will make an impact on your writing instruction this next year, and they’re not too difficult, and they’re things that you can do whether you have a good curriculum or not.
So let’s recap the three things that you can do this year to help all your students succeed as writers. And they are to focus on sentence level writing activities, give students a routine and framework for Paragraph Writing, and then finally, don’t limit your writing instruction to just your writing block.
And don’t forget, you can grab a sample of our sentence writing routine at stellarteacher.com/sentences. And then you can learn more and enroll for the next couple of days in the Stellar Literacy Collective by going to stellarteacher.com/join. And I really hope that these three steps help you feel more excited and confident to tackle writing this next year. So have a stellar week, and I will see you back here next Monday.