Improve Student Engagement during Writing Lessons

I’ve seen a lot of teachers ask “How do I make writing more engaging?” 📝 Writing takes a lot of work which makes it a pain point for many students. For teachers, writing instruction is a delicate balance of guidance and feedback. Here are some simple ways to improve student engagement during writing lessons.

My top advice: don’t overthink it. And here’s a couple other tips, too…

Write, Type and then Write some more

Make sure your students write (or type…a balance of both is ideal) every single day. While getting pencil to paper is absolutely crucial, don’t be afraid to include opportunities for typing. Typed assignments can be more motivating for some learners and allow another medium to share writing and provide immediate feedback. 

How will they share their writing with you? Iron out your routines for how you will provide feedback and manage conferences with students to provide 1:1 support. If students write in journals, how often will you review them? If they are using a computer program, how will you hold them accountable? These are all things to consider as you set up your writing procedures.

How will you provide feedback?  Guiding students in setting their own writing goals helps with building confidence. Giving specific, constructive feedback is crucial in helping students improve. Keep it simple and focus on one thing at a time. Resist the urge to get out the red pen and correct every single error. Instead, try to let go of “perfection” and value the small steps of progress. I let a lot of the spelling and conventions go to the wayside while we focus on the content of our writing first.

With these free writing prompts, a space for teacher feedback is included directly on the page making it easy to jot down some notes for each student!
Embedding writing into other subjects is a great informal way to see if students are applying conventions and strategies in different contexts. It also helps students understand that writing is not an isolated subject area. Writing is a form of communication that is required of scientists, mathematicians ect. 
 
Make it a goal to have your students write with pencil and paper daily. That doesn’t necessarily require them handing in a writing piece every day. It can be journal writing, responding to a math writing prompt, working on a nonfiction book, responding to reading ect. Don’t feel bad if they are doing a lot of typing! Typing is a crucial skill that will serve them well to master. 

Provide Authentic Opportunities

Provide authentic opportunities for writing. This means providing an audience beyond your classroom.

  • Pen pals: My eyes swelled up as my students ripped open the envelopes to read their first pen pal letters. It was the ultimate teacher moment! Try asking around in teacher FB groups to connect with someone in a different state to write to. It is SO worth it!
  • Have students record themselves reading their writing to share with another teacher or staff member in your building.
  • Create a class or school newspaper. This would be a great way to collaborate across grade levels.
  • Write a letter or email to an organization.
  • Brainstorm a list of helpful people in your school or community. Write an email or letter thanking people for their hard work.
  • Invite another class to come listen to your students’ published writing pieces!

Keep it short

Keep lessons short. Writing lessons should always be brief and to the point. This was always tough for me until I started supplementing with writing videos from @teachingwithoutfrills (Check out Hillary’s YouTube page).

  • Read your mentor text during another part of your day or record it to be watched beforehand. Refer back to a specific section or page that connects with your lesson.
I use Loom or Screencast-o-Matic to record asynchronous teaching. Here I am reading “The Wonkey Donkey” 😂
  • DO NOT model writing an entire writing piece. Write a sentence, page or small section. Focus in on how you are incorporating the skill.
  • Set a timer for yourself during your mini-lesson to ensure you don’t go over. Less is more!
  • Write 1 sentence for the goal of your mini-lesson. Repeat it in the beginning, middle and end of your lesson to stay on track.

Give them feedback

Provide timely feedback and encourage revisiting previous writing pieces for editing and revision. These monthly digital writing journals on Google Slides has features to support independent writing virtually. I’ve also included a space to provide feedback directly on the page. Whether the feedback is written or verbal, it should be timely and concise.

Each prompt includes a writing checklist and a tool to support getting started such as sentence starters, ideas to brainstorm or a word bank.
Model giving feedback to students and practice how students can give feedback to one another. I love this lesson Hillary from @teachingwithoutfrills did with her kindergarteners.
Grab SIX free Writing Journal prompts (digital & printable) for free, click here or on the picture:
With a consistent plan and quality texts to reference, you can and will experience success with your writing lessons. Whatever you do, don’t avoid teaching writing because it feels intimidating. It’s not going to be perfect. But, kids need opportunities to write no matter what it looks like. You are doing better than you realize!
Need help with setting up a writing center? Check out this blog post!
Stay safe and sassy,
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