We've all had those students who are given a writing assignment and within five minutes tell you they're done. As you call them over to check their work, you notice errors in spelling, missing periods, and sloppy handwriting. You're lucky if they even wrote about the topic you assigned! After seeing the
one incredibly long run-on thought three to five sentences they have produced, you send them back to their seats to, "Do a better job. Write more. Add details." Not surprisingly, at the end of the class it appears that the student has done nothing but stare at the paper for the entire forty-five minutes. This situation can be frustrating and it happens all too often in upper elementary classrooms. So what can be done to resolve this problem?
If you click on the picture below, you can get my "Tips for Writing" poster for FREE!
This poster outlines some tips that will help your writers reflect and improve upon what they have written. The first tip allows students to gauge the complexity of the sentences they have written. Fifth graders, for example, should not be composing a paragraph completely of five-word sentences. The second tip is often overlooked but easily accessible resource: a thesaurus. Students in the upper grades ADORE finding new words to use in their writing. Caution: At first, you may need to review the synonyms they have chosen to use. Some do not flow or make sense in the context of what the student is writing. Tip number three can be done quietly and with little disruption to the class. Usually, after one minute of chatting with me, my students are ready to write and rarely come back for additional pointers. Finally, students need to learn that feedback in writing is a good thing. Authentic writers join with other writers to share and receive feedback. Most of the time, fellow students are a tougher audience than I am!
Sometimes, you will have a few students who have completed their writing assignment and who have done an excellent job. You don't want them sitting around waiting for the rest of the students to finish, so what do you do? I usually assign a creative twist to the assignment that will take students the remainder of our time together to complete. Just recently, I had some students finish writing about the thirteen colonies in social studies. Quickly, I told them to compile their writing into a creative brochure. The students got to work creating a cover and used their notes to divide their writing into sections/topics. Some of them actually asked to work on their brochures for homework. Of course, I said, "YES!" Here is an example of what they did:
Our school recently purchased a series of guides for the classroom that have been a tremendous help for writing. As many of you know, I am a fan of Lucy Calkins and these units of study are AMAZING! I explain to my fifth graders who Lucy Calkins is and how she is going to speak to us through her writing. As I read to the students in the mini-lesson, they are in awe. Usually, you can hear a pin drop in my classroom because it is so silent. As the exemplars are shown, they ask to move forward to view them a little more closely on the ELMO screen. They are then able to return to their seats and write with a clear vision of where they are headed with their writing piece. Here is a picture of the Units of Study for the upper grades.
This resource, coupled with helpful posters/checklists and a chance to discuss writing with classmates equals a productive writing experience for students. I hope you can use some of these ideas to help your students with writing. No longer will you have them coming up to you after five minutes! They may ask you for more time instead! Happy Writing!