Teaching Language Arts can be difficult simply because it contains many subjects in one! Spelling, vocabulary, grammar, literature, and writing encompass Language Arts. With so many demands on a teacher’s schedule, fitting every subject in and giving adequate time and attention to each one can be challenging. No Time to Teach Writing? Let Us Help.
Over the years, I have learned from my own experience and other teacher friends, writing seems to be a content area that falls by the wayside. Many teachers agree that writing isn’t taught consistently or even adequately.
However, writing is a crucial skill that is used in every grade level. Furthermore, writing is continuously utilized in assessments as well. Elementary and middle school students need a firm writing foundation to excel in Language Arts, but how do we squeeze in this area of study? Here are some concrete ways to fit teaching writing into your busy school schedule.
Incorporate Writing in All Subjects
By incorporating a cross-curricular approach, finding time to teach writing no longer becomes an issue. Cross-curricular teaching purposefully combines multiple subjects into one. This makes learning authentic and even extends engagement in students. By incorporating writing into other subjects, students are learning transferable skills in less time.
Short Informative Essays
For example, third-grade students are learning about different winter animals in science during the month of January. To extend learning, students can research a winter animal of their choice and write a teacher-guided, short, informative essay. Students are still learning science, but by incorporating writing, they are now practicing those important skills, as well.
Another example could be when students are learning about Native Americans in History. Students can write a short, informative essay about a certain Native American group, or they can write a historical fictional story incorporating a Native American main character with facts on how they lived.
Short Paragraph Responses
When teaching literature or reading, short paragraph responses to what a student is reading is a way to practice writing skills. Teachers can ask students a higher-level thinking question and they must answer in a detailed paragraph. Diary entries from the character’s point of view, alternative endings to stories, book reports, and character analysis paragraphs are other ways to incorporate writing. Even answering comprehension questions in complete sentences helps writing skills as well.
- Students can write a research report on a prominent person from Black History during Social Studies.
- Students can write a fictional point of view piece on Sacajawea’s perspective after learning about her life in Social Studies.
- Middle schoolers can write extended fictional diary entries from Anne Frank’s perspective during History. Students can also write their own diary entries about their own lives.
- Students can write an informative brochure on a famous inventor in Science.
- Students can write an explanatory piece on becoming a knight when learning about medieval times.
How Can I Incorporate Writing Into This Activity?
When lesson planning, ask yourself: how can I incorporate writing into this activity? Even in math, students can write word problems. There are so many projects available that incorporate writing in math. While students are learning geometry, they can design a character strictly out of polygons and then write a short story about their polygon man. Students can design a zoo, calculate its area and perimeter, and then write an informative piece all about their creation.
Integrating writing into all subject area can be accomplished. Plus, students win by having more time devoted to practicing writing.
Devote 10-15 Daily Minutes to Focused Writing
By utilizing all the steps of the writing process, one step at a time, in short, daily increments, teachers can have students write every day.
Utilize The Writing Process
As a former Middle School English and upper elementary teacher, I would utilize the writing process to guide writing instruction in short, daily, 15-minute increments.
I always had a writing process poster in the front of my classroom and would reference this chart constantly as we worked through a story. At the beginning of the school year, I would give students one writing prompt. I expanded to choice prompts later in the year after they were used to our writing process routine.
Typically, I assigned a fictional piece at first. I started with our Super Hero Writing Unit every September.
Check out our Superhero Writing Unit here:
Teach Writing One Skill At a Time
In addition, I would take the first 10-15 minutes of class to devote to teaching a writing skill and allowing them time to write.
For instance, on Day 1, we would discuss what Brainstorming means. I would guide them through my own brainstorming process, give them options on how to brainstorm, and let them have ten minutes to brainstorm.
On Day 2, we would discuss some of our ideas, and then I would teach them the skill of outlining a story, which is part of Pre-Writing, the first step of the writing process. Students would spend ten minutes outlining their stories on graphic organizers. If students needed more time, perhaps they would finish for homework or morning work the next day.
On Day 3, students would complete further pre-writing work detailing a protagonist or antagonist, as well as their setting on graphic organizers.
Once we were out of the pre-writing part, we would move on to the drafting step. I am a firm believer in providing templates for students as they’re first learning to write or even if they’re a writer that struggles with ideas and organization.
A template is a way for students to see how to organize their ideas. A typical template would provide detailed information on what should be included in the introduction paragraph, in the 2nd-4th paragraphs, and then, in the conclusion. As students improve their writing skills, they could feel free to do away with the templates. Students also always have flexibility with their stories. They didn’t have to follow the template, but it was a guide when needed.
An example of the template would include information on what to put in each paragraph. The template would show students that they needed to introduce their main character, describe them physically, and introduce the setting in the first paragraph. The template can be used as a conductor, guiding the student to learn how to properly organize and provide adequate details in a story.
Once we were in the drafting step of the writing process, I would utilize about 5-8 minutes at the beginning of class to teach a skill such as wonderful first lines and how to organize an introduction paragraph and then have students spend the next 10 minutes writing their introduction paragraph.
Sometimes, depending on the class, students would need longer for me to teach a skill. If that were the case, I would use 15 minutes to teach the skill one day, and then the next day, students would spend 15 minutes writing the introduction paragraph.
Build Writing Stamina
Students have to build stamina to write for a concentrated amount of time, just like independent reading. By utilizing mini-lessons, and a short amount of time to write every day, students can build their stamina in a non-overwhelming way. By writing daily even if for a short amount of time, students are continually building on their writing skills.
As students get into the writing process and are drafting their story, allow as much time as needed. Some students will write their rough draft pretty quickly whereas others may need more time. I utilized a clip chart to detail where everyone was in the process. A simple list written on the board can also suffice. Maybe five students are still on their rough draft, but six students are in the editing process.
Peer Editing and Revision
Once one student has finished their rough draft, I would explain to the entire class the next step, which is peer editing and revising, and then teach them how to do this with a detailed checklist. Sometimes, I was the peer editor for a student if only one was finished. Students would exchange their writing with a peer, and work through a checklist and suggestion sheet while revising the other’s story. Fifteen minutes would be devoted to this as well.
Once a student was through the peer revision process, they would meet with me one-on-one for grammatical editing. A question I get often is: What do the other students do if they’re waiting to meet with me one-on-one?
What to Do in the Mean Time?
I would have them work independently on another assignment. This could include homework such as a vocabulary workshop, spelling words, or even read silently. They could even go back to revise their story based on their peer’s suggestions or wait to meet with me and then combine both their peer’s input and my suggestions at once when writing their final drafts.
The important part of utilizing this approach is to remain fluid and realize it will take some time to get every student’s story written. I typically would spend a whole month on one story this way. At the end of the month, students had created well-written, detailed stories, that utilized each step of the writing process.
One Week a Month Devote Everything to Writing: Easier Than You Think
Some months, I would complete this particular approach. Instead of devoting fifteen minutes a day to writing, we would take one week a month to work through the writing process. Our entire language arts lessons that week would be devoted to writing.
Each day would be a step in the writing process. Then, the other weeks in the month, I would use the cross-curricular avenue to emphasize daily writing. This worked well depending on our needs as a class. If we had just finished a novel, this was a great way to take a breather from reading before diving into another book.
One of the downfalls to this approach is some students need more time than one week. With this, their story would need to be finished independently into the next week. With the fifteen-minute daily way, the teacher can expand into the next month if needed and then set a concrete due date. Then, some students may have to finish on their own.
When teaching elementary school, students would complete a daily journal entry for morning work. This should take about 15 minutes a day. Oftentimes, this included them answering a question in a paragraph. The same daily 15-minute writing approach can work for daily journals as well.
Spend some time teaching the skill and have students spend the rest of the time on their writing piece. Students would simply work through the writing process on a story during morning work. I would walk around and meet with each student about their writing one-on-one as they finished. Students that had completed their daily journals would work on centers or independent work until I could discuss their work.
Check out our other writing resources that implement the writing process here!
Squeezing in writing is totally doable on a busy daily schedule! By utilizing cross-curricular teaching, writing can be taught in a comprehensive, rigorous, and albeit, fun way! Additionally, teachers can use the writing process in short, 15-minute daily writing times. Or they can devote one week of language arts lessons a month to focused writing. Daily journal entries during morning work can also be a quick way to incorporate writing. The important concept to remember is that the more a student writes, the better they become at writing. Writing at some point every day, even if it’s not during Language Arts, creates skilled writers. Squeezing in writing is just as easy and achievable as squeezing in our morning coffee time. You may find yourself looking forward to it just as much!