Reading and writing are complementary skills; you read text that’s written, and you create text to be read. Both skills need to be explicitly taught and rigorously practiced since the human brain isn’t hard-wired for either one [see our blog post here]. We’ve talked on this blog about many different approaches to reading instruction. Now, we’re turning our attention for the moment to how best to teach writing.
Education Week offered up several possibilities for such instruction, drawing from teachers with experience at all levels and with students of diverse backgrounds. Here are two effective strategies to help students at all levels.
Shared writing is a collaboration between a group of students and the teacher. The teacher serves as the scribe, posing questions to and prompting responses from the students while recording the agreed-upon material.
The students discuss potential answers to the teacher’s questions with the teacher and their peers, deciding as a group what they should include in the text. The teacher serves as a model for the structure and function of different writing types, while also including instruction on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Shared writing is a great activity to include when introducing a new genre, exposing the students to the purpose of the genre. The teacher models the writing process from start to finish, taking the students from brainstorming ideas to planning what should be included to putting down a first draft to revising the draft to publishing the finished product. It’s important the teacher ensures the draft is error-free, as it should as a high-quality model for students to refer back to as they learn to write independently.
Shared writing also connects the writing process with oral language. The students orally express their ideas while answering the teacher’s questions, and they listen to their classmates’ ideas, debating the merits of each one. This allows them the opportunity to rehearse what they want to say before it’s written down on paper. And shared writing provides the teacher with many opportunities to encourage quieter or more reluctant students to engage in the whole-class discussion by tailoring questions to their level and needs.
Writing involves many complex processes that students must master before they produce a final product. They need to determine what to write about, organize their thoughts into a logical and coherent sequence, perform the actual writing, edit what they’ve written, and revise mistakes; the same is true whether they write on a computer or by hand.
Four Square is an instructional strategy developed in 1999 by Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould. It’s essentially a graphic organizer that students can make themselves with a blank sheet of paper. It’s a strategy that can be used by any student at any grade level (even special education students) for any writing assignment.
First, they fold the paper into four squares, then draw a box in the middle of the page. Finally, they fill in the middle box with the topic or topic sentence and the squares with the details that support it. Here are some examples.
- Writing sentences: Students write the topic for the sentence in the middle box and draw pictures of the details they want to include in that sentence in the four squares.
- Writing paragraphs: Students write the topic sentence in the middle box, write a sentence with a supporting detail in three of the squares, and write a concluding sentence in the fourth square.
- Writing short essays: Students write the information for the topic paragraph in the middle box, then list details for the supporting paragraphs in the four squares.
Once all the information is down on the page, students can easily transfer it to a paper draft or a document in Word.
Teachers: What strategies do you find most helpful for writing instruction? Which do you find are easiest for teachers to implement and students to learn? Please leave your comments in the section below.
 Ferlazzo, Larry. (June 19, 2021). “Four Strategies for Effective Writing Instruction.” Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-four-strategies-for-effective-writing-instruction/2021/06.