While some students are born communicators, few are born writers. Writing is an essential skill to be a successful student and to be a successful adult. Learning to write takes time, so we need to give students the opportunity to practice all steps of the writing process multiple times over the course of the school year. In fact, the Institute of Education Sciences advises that students should work on writing for at least an hour each and every day starting in First Grade. This time does not all have to be dedicated to writing for writing sake, it can be included in your content areas or be a response to a book you read. However, the Institute of Education Sciences also says that students need regular practice in the writing process. Students need to take their writing through all of the steps so that they can internalize the process. Students who have internalized the process will be more successful when it comes time to write college essays and professional papers.
In my classroom, the students work through all of these steps within any two week period. It is important that they work through all of these steps:
Brainstorming – Students need time to think out their ideas before they begin to write. For young students this starts out as simply as a bubble map or a list of ideas. Older students can take it to the next step by adding an additional layer of detail bubbles, or by creating an outline.
Drafting – Writing, sitting and getting the ideas in order is hard. This step takes a lot of time and energy for children. Putting it all down on paper is often the hardest part. Additionally students often think that once they are done writing, they are done and should not have to work on their story anymore. In reality we know that the drafting stage will often be revisited after revising. Realistically,drafting and revising is very circular. It is important to teach students about this circular process before they begin writing. Give them a heads up that they are not done just because they write “The end.”
Revising – Both revising and editing happen after drafting, but it is important that students know the difference between revising and editing. Revising is the restructuring of wording and ideas, not the spelling and grammar. Revising works on story flow, sequencing, word choice and focus. When students have finished revising, they will probably need to go back to drafting. It can be a very circular process, but the ideas and words should be done to satisfaction before students begin editing.
Editing – Editing is the process of fixing spelling and grammatical errors. This is the time to fix sentence structure, capitalization errors, punctuation errors, and spelling mistakes. Editing really should not happen until the revision/drafting cycle is complete. The only exception is in cases where the grammatical errors cause students to be unable to read their own work and are therefore unable to revise their work.
Conferencing – Before students publish any piece of writing, they should conference with peers and/or a teacher. This is a chance for students to get feedback about their work. Students should have already fixed the majority of their errors, but this is a time to help them continue to revise and edit. No matter who students are conferencing with, remarks should be made about both positives and negatives. I usually use the “Two glows and a grow” idea where so that students aren’t overwhelmed with a list of things they need to fix. After conferencing, students should go back to the revising and editing process. In some cases, they may also have to go back to drafting. This is still a working piece and they may conference on it multiple times.
Publishing – I do not believe in having students publish every piece they write. Not everything that we write needs to be put on a blog or typed and hung in the hallway. Sometimes what we write is simply a way to practice skills or to help us remember something we learned. Instead of publishing each piece, I encourage students to learn from the mistakes they make in one piece when they write the next. Then, at the end of each genre of writing, they choose their “Prize Piece” and we do second round of revising and editing on this piece. We talk about the perfecting of the piece, and then they publish.
When teaching the writing process, it is important to teach students that the writing process is not linear, but circular. Some steps will get used multiple times for a single piece of writing. Building this process into our students helps encourage them to do their own revising, their own editing and their own “perfecting”. These skills are important, especially to students who will go on to write papers in high school and college, let alone at a professional level.
The Institute of Education Sciences also recommends that students write for a “variety of reasons”. Students need to know how to write in many different ways. This is why I teach students different genres. Writing a friendly letter is very different than writing an informational report which is very different from writing a poem. Students need to learn the techniques that are important in each specific genre. Just like students need to repeat the writing process multiple times, they also need to write multiple pieces in each genre. It is important for students to be able to take what they learned from writing one piece and use it to improve the next piece that they write in that genre. This is why I developed my genre based writing journals.
Each of my journals has nine possible writing prompts dedicated to one genre. Each prompt walks students through the entire writing process, including some form of reflection for conferencing. For primary students, that is a checklist form of rubric. For intermediate students, that is a category form of rubric. When I use these prompts with my students, not every student works on the same prompt at the same time. Instead, I let students choose the prompts that interest them and work at their own pace. Because each students’ drafting/revising circle may not end at the same time, this is a huge benefit to the children who need more time and the children who finish quickly. If a student completes their work work with quality work, they can move on to the next prompt without waiting around for their classmates. If a student needs more time, they can continue to work at their own pace. Some students will complete all nine prompts, but I always make it clear that you are not expected to. Instead I expect them to complete three to six quality writing pieces per genre. This gives students a good balance of structure and freedom.
If you are interested in using my writing journals in your classroom, you can find both of these year long packets at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Each journal is also sold separately if you need just one genre:
I’d love to hear about how you practice the writing process in your classroom. Feel free to leave me a comment! Happy Teaching!