Tools to Increase Engagement during Writing Lessons

I’ve seen a lot of teachers ask “How do I teach writing virtually?” 📝 Translating any instruction to online is a challenge but writing seems especially difficult. But with a consistent plan and quality texts to reference, you can and will experience success with your writing lessons. 

My advice: don’t overthink it. Best practices for writing are still applicable.

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? Students will need to be trained to take a quality picture and upload it to the learning platform you are using. Our school uses Seesaw so there is a camera within assignment uploading tools. But, the photos aren’t always of the quality to be able to read and provide feedback. This will take patience and practice. Model the best way to take a picture and encourage students to find a spot in their house where the lighting allows for a clear view. 

How will you provide feedback?  Being able to write notes on or around their photo is ideal. If you don’t use Seesaw, you could upload the photo to Google Slides and add text around it. Or, you can provide feedback during virtual conferencing (more or that later). 

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 for writing. This means providing an audience beyond your classroom. 

  • A 3rd grade teacher at my school is having her hybrid students be pen pals since they won’t see each other in person (@misshegmaninthird this idea is brilliant!) If you are 100% virtual, you could have your students write to someone else in their grade level. 
  • 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 virtually. 
  • 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 (i.e. the tech department or people handing out food during school closures)
  • Invite another class to your virtual meeting to share your writing. We held a 2nd grade sharing Zoom in the spring. I invited the other 2nd grade teachers and some specialists to help out. There were about 40 kids and we went into break out rooms to share writing in small groups. 

Keep lessons short. Whether you are teaching writing synchronously (live) or asynchronously (recorded), 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. Again, write a sentence, page or small section. Focus in on how you are incorporating the skill.
  • Allow students (if possible), to tune off of your virtual lesson during independent practice and come back for the sharing part. Maybe they don’t leave the meeting but just turn off their camera and mute their computer. Set a visual timer so students know how much longer they have left. There are a TON of timers on YouTube
  • If possible, put students into their own breakout room and take the time to visit with each one to conference. 

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. 
If you’d like to try out Digital Writing Journals for Google Slides for free, click here or on the picture:
Whatever you do, don’t avoid teaching writing because it feels intimidating. It’s not going to be perfect as nothing is ideal right now. But, kids need to keep writing no matter what it looks like. You are doing better than you realize! Keep going 🙂 You got this!
Stay safe and sassy,
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