How To Teach Writing: What Educators Need To Know

Here, we’ll go over the basics of how to teach writing and how to light the imagination in a way that lends itself to stellar student writing.

As a teacher, you want to inspire your students and help them grasp the writing process. Writing assignments can be subjective, and it can be tough to teach students to harness their creativity in a way that allows their writing skills to shine.

As a language arts teacher, you know there’s no right or wrong answer when completing a piece of writing, and you want your students to take risks and be bold–all while creating good writing with top-notch vocabulary and excellent sentence structure. Whether you’re an elementary school writing teacher, someone who works with children with learning disabilities, a high school English teacher, or a college professor working on teaching the process of writing to your students, you’re teaching your kids or young adults a skill that will serve them well throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Here, we’ll take a look at the steps required to develop an effective writing lesson, how to gauge whether your students are moving forward in becoming better writers, and digital tools that you can use to help your students grow their writing practice.

Before you begin:

Teaching writing skills to students can be tricky; before you begin, plan ahead by creating a lesson plan. You can use our how-to guide below to plan your next lesson for teaching writing and learn how to teach this tricky subject easily. Include each step in your lesson plan and the list of activities you will assign your students; make sure to cover each topic in a different lesson, so you don’t overwhelm your students. 

How to Teach Writing to Students

Step 1. Talk To Your Students

Whether you’re working with elementary-age students or college-level young adults, many in your classroom likely have already had experiences shaping how they feel about the writing process. If your students have had negative experiences with writing in the past, it can be tough to get them to open up and be willing to try something new. Asking your students open-ended questions can help you to get a feel about where they are in their writing confidence. You may choose to ask questions out loud in a classroom setting, or you may choose to talk with your students one on one if time permits.

Step 2. Learn About Your Students’ Writing Skills

Some questions you may want to ask students to help you gauge how they feel about their writing skills include:

  • What do you know about the writing process? Tell me everything!
  • Last time you wrote a story, what was it about?
  • What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to writing?
  • If you’re going to write a story, how would you get started?

By asking these questions, you won’t just know more about your students’ confidence–you’ll also get an idea of what they’ve already been taught about the writing process and whether there are any gaps you’ll need to fill in as you teach them to become writers.

Step 3. Boost Class Confidence

You may also want to let students know that they can come to talk to you with any questions or concerns they have about writing. Sometimes, students with learning disabilities or other issues that affect their writing ability may feel uncomfortable discussing these issues in front of their classmates. If necessary, you may want to work with a special education teacher who can address any unique learning needs in your classroom.

Step 4. Start Small

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You may want to provide them with a short writing assignment to help you get a better idea of where they’re at with writing

After you talk to your students about the writing process, you may want to provide them with a short writing assignment to help you get a better idea of where they’re at with writing. It’s up to you to decide how much guidance you’d like to give them. Some sample assignment ideas to help you get a good idea of where your students are at when it comes to writing include:

  • Write a one-page story about something interesting that happened to you over the summer.
  • Write about when you got into an argument with a family member and how the issue was resolved.
  • Imagine it’s ten years from now. Where are you? What are you doing? Who is around you? Provide as much detail as possible.

In addition to giving insight into your student’s writing ability, asking these questions can also show how comfortable your students are with the writing process. You’ll notice that some students excitedly get to work while others give short or vague answers.

Step 5. Pay Attention To Skill Level

Take note of how your students do with this initial assignment so that you can praise their progress as they move forward with your writing lessons. Of course, progress will differ for each student; for some, learning to write in complete sentences may be a big accomplishment. For others, mastering a five-paragraph essay may be the goal.

Step 6. Teach The Process

After you understand how your students feel about the writing process and where they’re at in their journey to become better writers, it’s time to begin teaching the writing process. The exact process that you’ll teach your students will largely depend on their age and skill level, and you may find that you need to adjust your process as you continually get a better idea of your student’s skill levels. The framework provided here is at an elementary to middle school level.

Brainstorm

The first step in the writing process is developing topic ideas. Then, during the brainstorming process, encourage students to write down anything that comes to mind without censoring themselves—allowing students to keep their brainstorming processes to themselves (rather than requiring them to share out loud or hand in their paper) can help them think freely and write what’s on their mind without a barrier of self-judgment.

After your students complete their first brainstorm, encourage them to return to their lists and cross out any ideas that don’t seem like they could be a good fit. Narrowing down their ideas to three options can be a helpful first step in getting started. Following the initial brainstorming process, ask students to take a few moments to flesh out their three ideas. Often, students find that they can tie two of their brainstorming ideas together, making it easier for them to share more of what they’re passionate about.

During this second stage of the brainstorming process, ask students to add details to the topics they’re debating, helping them see which option has the best chance of developing a compelling story.

Draft

After your students complete the brainstorming process and decide on a topic, it’s time to move forward with developing the first draft. Again, it would be best to let your students know that their first draft is a draft. There’s no need for the first draft of their story to be perfect.

Before actually beginning the draft writing process, you may decide to encourage your students to create an outline to guide their writing. For example, they may choose to list all of the points they’d like to make if they’re writing a persuasive piece or may want to list the events they want to describe if they’re writing a personal narrative. For students who have anxiety around writing, it can be especially helpful to get some of their ideas onto paper to act as a guide before they begin writing their first draft.

For many students, writing as freely as possible–including spelling and grammar mistakes–helps them develop the framework necessary to move forward with their writing piece. Remind students that they’ll be able to come back to their work later to clean it up and that there’s no need to get everything right on the first try.

Revise

After completing the first draft, give your students some time away from their writing before they begin to revise. Taking a few hours or a few days can give students the time to process what they’ve written and look at their work in a new light. For many students, a two- or three-stage revision process can be helpful.

During the first revision, students read the work themselves. Your students may find it helpful to read all or parts of their work out loud while working through their revision. Hearing their words out loud can help them find sections of text that are awkward or incorrectly phrased and can help them find areas that could be condensed or need to be better explained.

Following the first revision of their work, peer revision can be helpful. During the peer revision, students trade their writing with one another to get constructive criticism on their work. Be warned: this part of the writing process can be difficult for some students, especially if they’re not confident in their writing skills or have chosen to write about a personal topic. Before beginning the peer revision process, set ground rules with your class on how to give the author feedback that’s helpful and drives the writing process forward.

Edit

After completing the revision process, it’s time for your students to begin the editing process, where they’ll take the feedback they received during revisions and put it to good use. Editing can take time, and it’s smart to give your students leeway to move back and forth between the revision and editing processes. It’s key to let students know that the writing process isn’t always linear, and sometimes it’s essential to take a step back and reconsider how they’re developing their work.

As an educator, you may want to review your student’s work with them during the editing process before they move on to the publishing phase. Depending on the amount of correction needed and the types of writing your students are working on, you may want to ask them to go back and create a new draft before they enter the final phase of the process. While there’s no need to re-do the pre-writing activities associated with the beginning of the writing process, exploring the draft, revision, and editing phases can make for a smoother final copy.

Publish

The publishing process will look different from classroom to classroom, and it’s up to you and your students to decide how they’d like to publish their writing. Some educators put student work into a binder of stories to distribute at the end of the year. Sometimes, simply printing a final edit of their work for them to take home to their parents can be enough to help them feel like a writer. Talk to your students about how they’d like their work to be shared. Creating a classroom website or blog can also be fun for students to share their work with others.

Step 7. Provide Feedback

As a teacher, providing feedback to young children and adults on their writing can be tough, especially when you know it’s something they’ve been working to improve. However, providing direct, kind, constructive feedback can go a long way in helping students to become better writers.

When possible, try complimenting students’ writing skills while providing constructive feedback. This helps students see many positive points in their work and can help them feel motivated to continue working on their writing in the future. You may also want to create a system in your classroom that allows students to provide anonymous feedback to one another. This can allow students to read the work of others without bias and can help students feel less nervous about their peers reading their work.

Digital Tools for Teaching Writing

Technology makes it easier than ever to teach writing, as long as you know how to use the tools you have at your disposal. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most effective tools you can use to help your students boost their writing skills inside and outside the classroom.

1. Grammarly

We know–correcting the tiny grammatical mistakes that your students make day in and day out can take a toll on you as an educator. Grammarly makes it simple for students to correct spelling and grammar mistakes and explains why certain words, phrases, and structures should be changed.

The free version of Grammarly works perfectly and provides your students with everything they need to grow as writers. In addition, when your students use a Grammarly account, their work is cloud-based and can be accessed from both school and home, making it simple for them to keep working on their writing no matter where they are.

2. Google Docs

Like Grammarly, Google Docs makes it simple for students to keep working on their writing at school and at home. Google Docs allows multiple people to edit a document, allowing you and your students to work together to create a top-notch piece of writing. With Google Docs, you’ll also be able to make comments to your students about their writing, ask questions, and create a dialouge that allows you to understand their goals

3. Purdue OWL

Older students will benefit from using the Purdue Online Writing Lab, or OWL, to give them the information they need to make their writing meet currently acceptable journalistic and academic standards. In addition to providing basic information on grammar, the Purdue OWL also offers citation instructions for both APA and MLA formats and can help students figure out how to create technically correct writing. Students must check against the OWL regularly, as APA and MLA requirements change from time to time.

4. Hemingway Editor

Hemingway’s short, concise sentences and to-the-point descriptions made his writing clear and bold. Readers love Hemingway because he broke down cumbersome topics in a way that made them accessible, and many readers today strive to emulate the timeless author’s style of writing.

Another tool best suited for high school and college students, the Hemingway Editor, helps students find grammar errors and uses of passive voice, which many agree are best avoided in academic and professional writing. A word of caution: Hemingway Editor does not save work, so it’s key that students copy and paste their edited material into a Google Doc or other platform where their work will be saved.

5. Vocabulary.com

Professional authors and students alike find themselves struggling with using the same words over and over again. Using a site like Vocabulary.com helps writers learn new words in ways that stick, making it easy to spice up writing without getting repetitive. The site is also helpful for looking up the meaning of a single word but has capabilities that go far beyond offering standard dictionary definitions. Cool bonus: the site is free!

Looking for more? Check out our guide on how to teach paraphrasing to students!

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  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.