Coaching Your Students to Writing Success!
Well, it’s almost September and time for back to school with a whole new bunch of young learners that will teach us as much as we teach them. If you’re like me, one of the toughest challenges we face each year is to find new ways to help our students improve their writing. It can be a daunting task, but like with anything, if we give our students the right tools for the job, then the path to success is made easier.
What? I can’t just give them a pencil and some writing topics and tell them to write everyday? Okay, Okay, I know you wouldn’t do that anyway, but I do have some tools and tips to share with you that I think will help as you coach young writers.
- Plan- Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, good writing starts with a good plan. The author needs to know where they are going with their writing. What is their purpose? Who is their audience? And what is the mood of their writing? Each of these could be a quick focus lesson.
Once these decisions are made, it’s time to put a plan on paper. It took me a long time (years, in fact) to come up with a story planner and a non-fiction planner that I really like. My kiddos find them easy to follow and fill out. Because of this, they actually follow them as they are writing and that makes a huge difference to the creative process. These planners keep them focused. Yay! ( Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a free copy of these planners with this link and a link at the bottom of the post. Just click here to get it now.
2. Content – All good writing starts with a good idea. Teach your students to ask questions about their character or subject. What would they want to know about him/her/it as the reader? What about personality? Quirks? Habits? etc. Rich details make readers identify with the character and/or subject matter and add to the reading experience. Be careful, though, young authors must be taught to ‘sneak’ the details in context rather than just list them. Otherwise we end up with the dreaded ‘info dump.’ Not good. Modelling is the best teacher here. Show your kiddos how to put in the details without explicitly listing them. Use great examples from authors you love. Kenneth Oppel and Rick Riordan are masters of this.
3. Organization – Kids need to be explicitly taught organization. It doesn’t come naturally to most. Brainstorm ideas about a topic and write them down, then cut them apart and organize them into topics. You can set this up in centers and have students do the same. ‘Sticking to the topic’ is an essential skill in both fiction and non-fiction writing. It’s more obvious in non-fiction, but have you ever read a story that rambled with no clear focus? Teach your students to keep coming back to the plot line /problem so that every detail, every action and every event have something to do with that plot line/problem. If it has nothing to do with the plot, leave it out. Teach them to keep the beginning, middle and end related to the central problem.
4. Sentencing- Ooh this is a big one, grammar is tricky, but start simple by teaching them big ideas concepts like: Good authors never begin two sentences the same way in a paragraph. Then have them use colored crayons to underline their beginnings and read them back. Soon they will be able to spot repetitions and problem beginnings.
5. Word choice – Teach your kiddos that a thesaurus is a writers best friend! Show them how to use it, model using it as you write, and let the kids make a journal/lists of interesting words they’d like to use in their writing during their word work time. Because it’s words they want to use, they will be motivated to find and use those words. Choice is a powerful motivator!
6. Editing – Students need to have a useful rubric for self evaluating and self-editing their work. I always tell my students that ‘They mark it first’ and ‘I mark it second’. I created this rubric that helps them go through the process. I photocopy several and they take them as they finish up their stories and go through, mark, and fix their story before handing it in. It’s also wonderfully handy when addressing the next two goals.
7. Set goals to improve your skills- A student can’t focus on everything at once,but needs guidance to focus on just one area that s/he can improve their writing. During conferencing, I use the boxes in the above rubric/marking guide to set a goal each student. We only focus on one boxed skill area for improvement and set a goal to address that with their next writing project. This keeps students from being overwhelmed and helps them see their progress!
8. Feedback, feedback, feedback. I can’t stress enough how much students need consistent feedback about their writing. They need you to care, to listen, to appreciate what they tried to do, and finally, to model how they can improve it. Give them examples of more interesting ways they could ‘say the same thing.’
Writing is a love of mine, so you can see that I get excited about teaching young people to communicate their ideas more clearly with the written word. I hope these ideas help you in that endeavour, also. Now for your freebie as promised click on the word below: