Click play below to hear 5 ideas for using writing in any content area:
I don’t know about you, but one of the things that was difficult for me to teach to my students was writing. The act of writing causes many challenges for students, but unfortunately, it’s a skill that’s necessary in academics. And why most people just associate writing during literacy or ELA class, in reality, writing is transferable to all subject areas.
Since we know writing isn’t used when just talking about literacy concepts, having students practice and develop their writing skills needs to be incorporated in other content areas throughout the day. While this might be difficult for some to grasp and put into action, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! In today’s episode, I’m sharing 5 different ideas on how you can incorporate high impact writing in any content area.
Before diving into these writing activities, make sure you take a listen to Episode 101. In this episode, I share my weekly sentence writing routine that gets students developing their writing skills while practicing different types of sentence structures. This whole idea is the basis for these new writing activities where we’re going to extend this practice and design elements towards other subject areas. By doing this, you will accomplish the goals of getting students to feel confident and gain skills as a writer.
With the writing activities presented in this episode, your students will experience how writing is presented and important in other content areas. Incorporating writing into other content areas, you’re able to share how sentence structure, punctuation, and other writing skills look different for different types of writing, which can only be organically explained when used in multiple content areas. In addition, you’re able to assess student knowledge on a topic while giving students practice writing sentences in a variety of ways.
Before wrapping up, I want to present you with two challenges. The first being to pick one of the five ideas shared in this episode and implement it this week with your students. If you are like me, I always had great ideas, but struggled taking action. Therefore, I want you to take action and develop a plan that will help you grow as an educator. The second challenge is to share this episode with a fellow educator. It is so important to embed writing throughout the day, so take time to share with your cohort, team, or department in order to increase student writing in any content area!
In this episode on adding writing in any content area, I share:
- Quick and simple writing activities that can be used in the classroom today
- Why teaching writing as a whole, rather than individual concepts, show that writing is transferable to other subject areas
- Specific examples of how to use these writing activities for any subject area
- The importance of showing various forms of writing and sentence structure to help develop their knowledge of writing
- 2 challenges for implementing the ideas from this episode
- Sentence Writing Routine Resource
- Check out the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 101, A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills
- Episode 87, Breaking Down the Elements of Language Comprehension (and Practical Implementation Ideas!)
- Episode 78, Literacy Routines for an Engaging End of the Year
Connect with me:
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, happy Monday. And welcome back to another episode. I am so excited you are here. And today we are going to talk a little bit about writing. And writing is one of those challenging subjects to teach, I think. I know it was really challenging for me when I first started really trying to focus on being a more effective writing teacher.
And I think part of the challenge is that we often teach writing in silos, which means we teach concepts like grammar rules and sentence structure, and things like capitalization and punctuation rules and all about the parts of speech, we teach these things as individual and separate lessons. So we’ll do very explicit lessons on these concepts. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But I think one of the things that we really need to be intentional about is showing our students how the writing foundation we teach them and how the concepts we teach to them during writing class transfers over into every other form of writing they do throughout the day. Because the reality of it is is that students have to have writing skills and an understanding of syntax, which we’ve talked about before is sentence structure, in order for them to be successful in every other subject, especially by the time students get to be in third, fourth and fifth grade, they are doing a lot more content writing.
And I know that I’ve said this before on the podcast, and I’m gonna say it again, because it deserves repeating. Regardless of the subject you teach, every teacher really needs to consider themselves as a writing teacher. And that’s because no matter what content area you are teaching, whether it is math, science, social studies, reading, writing, or art, music, whatever it is, in order for your students to be able to really express and communicate their understanding of the topics you are teaching, they have to have a strong writing foundation, and you want to support them in you know, developing that foundation.
Now, the good news is, even though writing can feel really challenging to teach, it doesn’t take a ton of effort for you to put just a little more focus on writing, in all other subjects you are teaching. So I know most of the teachers that listen to this podcast, I know most of you guys are literacy teachers as well, and a lot of you are, you know, self contained where you teach all subjects but I know a lot of you are also departmentalized, where you might only be teaching, reading and writing.
So if you are a self contained teacher, then this is going to be a podcast episode that you are going to want to share with your co teachers that teach math, science, and social studies. And if you are a self contained teacher, and you are teaching all of the subjects, today I am going to share with you different ideas on how you can incorporate some really high impact writing activities into any subject you are teaching. So with just a little bit of intention and a little extra time, you are going to be able to you know incorporate writing into science, social studies, math and everything else.
So today is going to be one of those episodes that is going to be filled with a lot of really quick and easy ideas that you can start using with your students today. I always try to make these podcast episodes super practical and actionable for you. And today is literally one of those if you are like driving on your way to work, you’re going to be able to take something from this episode and start using it today. Or if you are listening to this in the afternoon when you get home as you’re walking your dog, you can take some of these ideas and start using them tomorrow.
Now, if you have not already listened to if you are one of the new listeners, first of all welcome I always love having new listeners in our podcast audience. But a couple episodes ago it was episode number 101 I did an episode that talked all about our brand new sentence writing routine and that episode is titled A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills, and we will link to that in the shownotes. So if you have not already listened to that episode, that would be a great episode for you to listen to, either before you finish this episode, or you can finish this episode and go back to listen to it.
In that episode, I walked through this really quick, simple sentence writing routine that is going to help your students grow as writers. And those sentence writing activities that are part of that routine, are sort of the basis for these writing activities that you can use to incorporate into every other part of your day.
So if you’re already using that routine, then this is great, because basically, what I’m going to share with you are ideas on how you can extend and take the elements of that routine and make them a part of the other content areas that you are teaching. And, you know, the whole goal of that routine, the sentence writing routine that we created, is for students to develop confidence, and skills as a writer so that they can apply both their you know, self confidence and their skills to writing in other content areas. And that routine is really just a tool to help your students get there.
So if you haven’t started using that routine yet, you might want to go back listen to that episode. Again, if you have not used that routine, if you did not listen to that episode, we also have a free sample of that routine that you can grab at stellarteacher.com/sentences. And we will put a link to that in the show notes as well. But if you’re in our membership and have been using this routine, or if you grabbed this routine off, Teachers Pay Teachers, I am going to share basically five ideas on how you can use those same writing activities, but intentionally incorporate them into other content areas and other parts of your instructional day. So super excited to kind of jump into this with you.
So in that routine, the very first sentence writing task on Monday students are building a sentence. And in the routine, students are looking at an image. And then they are answering some it’s usually three to four of the five W or H questions about this image. And they answer the questions using words or phrases. And then they combine those words and phrases to build and expand a really detailed sentence.
So you can take this same idea, but you’re going to apply it to your specific content area. So this works really well if you’re teaching science or social studies, you know, so rather than just using the image in the routine, which might be relevant to like a specific topic that you’re teaching, you’re going to be really specific.
And you might show your students for example, like a diagram, or even like a time lapse video of a life cycle. Maybe you’d show them a picture of an ecosystem, maybe you’d show them a map or images of you know, a specific landform. Maybe you show them a picture of a government building or you know, parts of a community. Maybe you show them pictures of celebrations from around the world.
I know we’re getting ready to move into a lot of holidays. As we kind of get into this holiday seasons, you can even show them different pictures of holiday related images. And students are still going to use the five W plus H question stems to answer the basic questions about the image or video. And when they’re answering these questions, they’re just going to answer them in either single words or short phrases.
And then they’re going to combine them into a sentence. So they’re going to answer you know, who is doing what, when, where, why, how, and they might not answer all of those questions, they might like I said only do three to four. And then they’re going to combine them into a sentence. And students start to see how you know specific words and phrases can be combined to form a very detailed sentence.
So a very specific example might be you know, let’s say you and your students are studying the lifecycle of animals, and maybe you just learned all about the lifecycle of a chicken. So this is a very specific way that you can focus on sentence writing, but also developing an understanding of the content you’re teaching in, you know, science class.
So if students are looking either at that diagram or an image of you know, a chicken laying an egg or if you’ve just talked about it, an example might be, you know, students are answering the question who it would be a hen is doing what, sitting on eggs, when, for 21 days where in a nest, why to keep the eggs warm. And then they would combine these words and phrases to create their final sentence. To keep her eggs warm comma, a hen will sit on the eggs and her nest for 21 days. And so your students are working on creating a sentence while also communicating to you that they have an understanding of this topic that you just taught them.
And then if you really want to take this sentence writing activity to the next level, you could then have your students go back and revise the words and phrases that they use to answer the question seems to add more specific details either about the specific image that they’re looking at or about the topic you’re teaching. So if they go back and revise it, you know, the who they might say, a brown hen, you know what is sitting on her 12 eggs, you know, when for 21 days were in a quiet and cozy nest, why to keep the eggs at the optimal temperature while they incubate. You could even give them specific vocabulary words in there.
You know, if we’re having one of these students to make sure that they understand you know what the word incubate means, let them know that they have to have that in one of their answers. So then their final sentence would be a little bit more robust. And if they combined their revised answers, it would come up with a final sentence. To keep the eggs at the optimal temperature while they incubate, comma, the brown hen will sit on the 12 eggs in her quiet and cozy nest for 21 days.
So again, we’re still focusing on students communicating that they understand the content, which is the lifecycle of a chicken. But we’re being really intentional about incorporating a sentence writing activity. So students can also at the same time, improve their sentence writing skills, forming complete sentences, adding in enough detail, combining words and phrases to communicate an idea. So that is one idea that you can incorporate into other content areas.
Now, the next one is having students write a variety of sentences. And in the sentence writing routine, students look at an image and then they’re gonna write four different types of sentences based on the image, they’re gonna write a statement, a question, a command and an exclamation. And you can take this same sentence writing task, and you can apply it to any other subject, math, science, social studies, you name it, it could even be a check in reflection at the end of the day. So one of the ways that you could use this is you could use this task as an exit ticket at the end of a lesson.
So what you could do is, after you’ve taught a lesson, you could ask students to write two to four different types of sentences based off of what they learned. You know, and it can be helpful to show your students that first if they ask a question, and then they’re going to use the statement and command to basically answer the question that they asked.
You can also challenge them by giving them a specific vocabulary term that you want them to use in each sentence. And this is going to be helpful for you because then if they use that vocabulary term, you know that they understand it, but you’re also checking to see can they you know, construct sentences with a variety of sentence structures, you know, are we using punctuation correctly.
So a very specific example, let’s say that you just taught a math lesson on finding perimeter, you can have your students write a variety of sentences as part of your end of lesson reflection or exit tickets. So you might tell them, I want you to write a question about this lesson, and then answer it with a statement and a command. So students might ask the question, how do you find the perimeter of a rectangle, and then they’re going to follow it up with a statement, the perimeter is the distance around a two dimensional shape.
So they’re defining what a perimeter is. And then they’re gonna give a command, add the length of each side to find the perimeter of a rectangle. So students are showing you that they have an understanding of what perimeter is, they’re using that term correctly, but they’re also getting practice writing a variety of sentences. And you can use this prompt write a variety of sentences to show what you learned about this lesson, for any subject, any content, any topic that you are teaching.
Another very specific example that this type of writing task works well for is the scientific method. So if you are teaching science, and your students are going through the scientific method, and they’re practicing, you know, doing experiments, highlight the different types of sentences that are required for them to go through the scientific method. The scientific method really is the perfect tool to connect to sentence writing.
So in the scientific method, students have to make an observation, which is writing a statement, they follow that up by asking a question, then they have to form a hypothesis, which again, is writing another statement. And then they have to create an experiment to test the hypothesis.
And this experiment is basically a series of steps that can be written as commands, you know, these commands are telling what they’re going to do the steps and the experiment. And then they have to form a conclusion, which often can be written as an exclamation, based off the results and the experiment.
So if you are teaching science, or you’re going through that process, just notice the learning opportunities for you to highlight the different types of sentences and even just talking about, you know, why are we writing different sentence types?
What is the punctuation look like, the different roles that these types of sentences play within the scientific method. It is the perfect opportunity outside of writing class for students to get some really practical application of writing different types of sentences. So that’s another way that you can bring in writing, specifically sentence level writing into other content areas.
Okay, the next idea is to have students it’s in the routine, it’s called find and fix a fragment. So in this sentence writing routine that we have our students do is students are given a fragment, it could either be a noun phrase, a verb phrase or a dependent clause. And then students have to use the details in the image to fix the fragment and turn it into a complete sentence. And you can use this same idea of providing students with a fragment and having them complete it to turn it into a correct sentence. This can be used in any other subject area science, math, social studies are you name it.
So what you can do is you can use fragments as response stems for other subject areas. And this could be used as a tool at the start of your lesson to really assess or even build background knowledge. Or it could be used as an exit ticket, or as part of an assessment at the end of your lesson or at the end of your unit. And you can even you know, give students a fragment, and see how many different complete sentences they can use with that specific fragment. And that would really give you an understanding of how much knowledge and information do my students know about this topic that we’ve been studying.
So a specific example, let’s say you’ve been teaching your students about the different branches of government. And you’re gonna give your students the noun phrase, which is a fragment, the judicial branch, that’s all you’re gonna give your students. And you’re going to ask them to write four sentences or as many sentences as they can, using that phrase.
And so if they’re given the phrase, the judicial branch, they might come up with some of the following sentences. The judicial branch is one of the three branches of the US government. The judicial branch is in charge of deciding the meaning of the laws.
There are different levels of courts within the judicial branch. The Supreme Court, the highest court in the US is part of the judicial branch.
So you gave your students this one phrase, it’s a fragment the judicial branch, and you’re telling them, okay, you have to turn this fragment into complete sentences. And by them writing out, you know, four to five sentences, you can get an idea of what not only what do they know about the judicial branch, but what do they know about taking a fragment and turning it into a complete sentence.
So it’s really a way to assess your students knowledge on a topic will also give them practice writing at the sentence level. And even this, you know, sometimes we ask students to whether it’s right, a paragraph or an essay, and sometimes those tasks can be really overwhelming. But here, you know, you’re helping them get started. But if students are writing four or five sentences about a topic, you’re gonna get a lot of information about what they know, or what key concepts they might not have fully, you know, understood yet from your lessons.
So you can even use this specific example, the finding and fixing a fragment, you could set this up as like a Jeopardy type review game, you know, in jeopardy, oftentimes, we either ask questions, and you know, students have to answer them in the real jeopardy contestants are giving the answer and they have to come up with a question. But you could come up with fragments, you know, based off of if you’re doing like a review before a science test, you could come up with different fragments for the topics.
And depending on the category, students have to be able to finish the fragment. And that could be an entire review game for a test. You could also use this as a way for students to take notes during a lesson. So you could give them a key phrase, you know, that they’re going to learn throughout the lesson or the unit and then have them use that phrase and turn it into complete sentences as they are listening to you read or as they’re reading an article. So you could even use it as a way to help prompt students to take notes.
But you’re giving them like I said, you’re giving them a fragment, you’re highlighting the fact that this phrase is an incomplete sentence. But we can add details to it, to turn it into a complete sentence. And then we’re also getting an idea for what do our students actually know about this topic. So that’s another idea that you can use that one might be one of my favorite ideas to bring in writing and to other content areas.
But another one is having students practice combining sentences. And in our sentence writing routine, students are given two to three simple sentences, and they have to combine these sentences to form a single sentence. And they might combine them to form a complex sentence, they might combine them to form a compound sentence, or they might combine them to form a simple sentence with either a compound predicate or a compound subject. And you can do this same task and other content areas or in other parts of your day.
You could use this combining sentence idea as a reflection tool at the end of the day. And this could be something you do every day, you just have your students write down two simple sentences, stating what you learned that day or you know, what are two things that you learned today, or two things that you did today, and then ask them to combine the sentences.
So it could be as simple as a student might say, today we had art. I painted a self portrait so then can they take those two sentences and combine them to form a single sentence, so they might combine them and their sentence might be, today I painted a self portrait during Art. Those are very basic examples. Obviously, they could become more complex and you can challenge them, you know, form a complex sentence or a compound sentence using whatever conjunction but that’s just an example of what it could look like as a reflection tool.
But you could also use this as an exit ticket at the end of a lesson, you know, or students have just read an article, you know, have them write down two pieces of information that they learned either during the lesson or from their reading, and then they’re going to combine those two sentences in a specific way. And this is going to help you understand, you know, what were their takeaways from the lesson? What did they actually learn? But then do they understand how to combine ideas?
Specifically, you know, if students have to use a conjunction? are they understanding cause and effect relationships? are they understanding if something’s being compared and contrast are they understanding if something’s a sequence, you know, that’s going to also help you understand their understanding of the topic, but also taking a look at their writing foundation in general.
So an example of this might be if your students are learning about animals or endangered species or ecosystems are impacted human activity, whatever it is, an example could be tri colored bats are an endangered species. If they read an article about bats, they might discover that, and then they also might have learned to tri colored bats are impacted by a deadly disease called White Nose Syndrome.
And now if they can combine these two sentences, they might get the sentence because of a deadly disease called White Nose Syndrome, comma tri colored bats are an endangered species. So hopefully students then can understand the cause and effect relationship between this disease and the animals becoming endangered. And then they can communicate that through combining their sentences.
And then the final idea is scrambled sentences. And in the sentence writing routine, students are given a sentence that is all mixed up. So the words are in a different order. And students have to unscramble the words usually, it’s you know, anywhere from seven to 11 words, and they have to reorder them to form a correct sentence. And you can use this same idea in again, any subject area. A really simple way to do this is again, this works great as an assessment idea or a quick check, or even building background knowledge at the start of a lesson. But if you give every student or students can even work in groups, give them a sentence strip.
So you know, a large sentence strips that students can write a sentence on, and you’re going to want to model to them, because this is going to require students to use really nice handwriting and the words need to have enough spacing, so they are able to cut them. So students would write a sentence based on new learning or the specific topic that they are reading about. And then students are going to cut up their specific sentence that they wrote. And then they’re going to find a classmate and they’re going to switch sentences. So now they’re giving a student you know, their stack their sentence that they wrote on a sentence strip, and it’s been cut up. And that student then has to unscramble that sentence and put it in correct order.
And then they’re gonna do that for the sentence that they got. And then you can continue just have students switch sentences, this can be great, especially if you’re using different colored pieces of paper, it’s gonna be really easy to know, like which words go with which sentence.
But this is great, because this is going to help your students if we’re unscrambling a sentence, they have to have some understanding of the topic that it’s about. So that way they can get the you know, the correct idea communicated. But also, this helps students really understand sentence structure and the fact that when we’re communicating ideas, they need to be written in an order that makes sense, we can’t just put a bunch of random words on paper. And you know have it makes sense to the reader.
So it really helps with their understanding of sentence structure. And you could even use the scrambled sentences that your students do, you could put them together in a sentence activity, you know, you could either laminate them or put each individual sentence in a ziploc bag and then students can practice unscrambling them as part of a center activity. Or you could also even use them as warm ups for future lessons.
So you could take one of the sentence strips that your students wrote, and it’s cut apart, you could take the pieces to the whiteboard, so they’re all mixed up. And then as an entire class, have them figure out how to unscramble it. So that’s just a really super simple way to have students. Again, we’re getting practice writing at the sentence level, but they’re also connecting it to what they’re learning in other subject areas.
Okay, I hope these ideas were helpful for you. And I hope you’re excited to incorporate them into other content areas and parts of your instructional day I told you that they were going to be really easy. Most of these require zero prep work on your part, just an idea of how you can incorporate them into other subject areas and maybe a little bit of planning and prep in terms of communicating the ideas.
But before we wrap up this episode, I do want to give you two specific challenges. And the first one is pick one of the five ideas that I shared with you today and let me just quickly review in case you have forgotten. So the five ideas on how you can incorporate writing into other content areas is first of all, having students use some sort of media an image of a video to build a sentence by answering the five W plus H questions with words or phrases, and then they combine their answers to form a sentence to build an expanded sentence.
The second idea was to have students write a variety of sentences about the specific topic or content you are teaching. The third idea was to give your students a fragment related to your specific subject or content you were teaching and have them finish that fragment. The fourth idea was to have students write two simple sentences and then practice combining them into a single sentence. And then the fifth idea was to have students write a sentence, cut them up, scramble it up, and then have another classmate on mix it.
And so I want you to pick one of those ideas and start using it this specific week. I don’t know about you, but I know when I am listening, first of all, I love listening to podcasts and audiobooks and reading, I just I love learning and getting ideas. But sometimes I get so many ideas that I forget to actually take action on what it is that I learned.
And I want to make sure that you are taking action to grow as an educator and help your students grow as writers. So right now, wherever you are, whether it is in your car or on your walk, or if you happen to be in your classroom, we’ve got a post it note that you can jot something down on, take a minute and make a mental note of which of these ideas are you going to incorporate?
What subject are you going to use it with? How are you going to use it and make a plan to actually get started with it. Because you know, if you can just pick one strategy to use this week, then that’s a strategy or an idea that you can continue to use all throughout the year because your students are going to be familiar with it. And then, you know, if you use one today, then maybe pick another one to use the next day or another one to use next week. But I do want you to commit to using at least one of these ideas this specific week. And then the second challenge that I have for you is share this episode with a fellow educator.
Like I said, I know many of you are self contained teachers, which means you’re going to be teaching all subjects. But I also know a lot of you are departmentalized. And you are only teaching literacy, which means you have a co worker who is covering math and science and social studies. And the ideas in this episode are going to be applicable, no matter what subject you teach.
And, you know, we want all teachers to start to view themselves as writing teachers and the ideas that I shared today are a great way to encourage your teammates to start viewing themselves as writing teachers. So send them the link to this episode. You know, tell your teammates about it at your next team meeting, post about this on social media, share this episode with a fellow educator though. So those are my two challenges. Pick one idea and start using it this week. And then share this episode with a fellow teacher friend.
And don’t forget, if you want a free sample of the sentence routine that these ideas are sort of based on, you can go to stellarteacher.com/sentences and grab a free example of that routine. It’s quick, easy, focused way to provide just like more support with sentence writing activities.
But as you learned in this specific episode, these activities and writing tasks can be incorporated into pretty much every part of your instructional day. So while that routine is great and a wonderful thing to incorporate into your literacy block, or some part of your instructional day, we definitely want to be able to take those ideas and build upon them and continue to show students how the foundation that we build during writing class can extend and help us communicate our ideas in every other part of our instructional day.