No Time to Teach Writing? Let Us Help

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. 

More Ideas:

  • 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. 

Writing Prompts

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:

Grab yours today!

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. 

Brainstorming

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.

Outline

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. 

Pre-Write

On Day 3, students would complete further pre-writing work detailing a protagonist or antagonist, as well as their setting on graphic organizers. 

Drafts

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. 

Templates

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.

Writing Skills

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.

Clip Chart

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. 

Grammatical Editing

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. 

Remain Fluid

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. 

Daily Journal

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.  

Writing Units

Check out our other writing resources that implement the writing process here!

Grab yours today!

Grab yours today!

Grab yours today!

Conclusion:

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!

Author of Blog

Valentine’s Day: Writing Letters and Email Etiquette

Valentine’s Day is a great time to teach what some may say is an outdated practice of writing letters. We are in a generation that values speed and efficiency over patience and care. Letters truly are a practice in diligence as one must hand-write them, patience as you must wait for your letter to arrive, and a practice in care as every word was lovingly chosen. Letter writing is a timeless activity that also can translate well into email etiquette, to make it relevant to the times. This Valentine’s Day: Writing Letters and Email Etiquette will be a must in your classroom.

Valentine’s Day makes me think of handwritten cards with misspelled words and chunky handwriting, cursive swirls, heart stickers, and pink and red pictures with comical puns. I just love Valentine’s Day in the classroom. Many schools have affectionately adopted Friendship Day as a replacement and I love that too. Promoting love, kindness, friendship, and my favorite color: pink, are a win/win in my book! 🙂 

By taking the time to teach letter writing, teachers are in turn educating students on how to write a proper email, as well. This fills two needs with one deed!

Step 1: Parts of a Letter

I love to teach letter writing by simply starting with the parts of a letter. The proper parts of a letter are: 

  • Heading: Address of Recipient/Date
  • Salutation
  • Body
  • Complimentary Closing
  • Signature Line

Step 2: Practice Writing Letters

Next, we practice writing letters to each other in the classroom. Our letters serve a purpose. For instance, we talk ahead of time as to what their letter will be about. Is it a get-to-know-you letter? If so, students will want to offer information about themselves and then ask questions. Is the purpose of this letter to ask them an important question or to ask them to do something for them? Students will need to have an introduction before diving into this all-important question and of course, they’ll need to say thank you in anticipation of an answer to the question. By first deciding the purpose and how to lay out the letter, students are more prepared with what to write. 

Step 3: Manners!

Students should remember their manners in a letter. By offering a greeting first and by saying please and thank you, students are showing that manners aren’t a lost art form, like letter writing. We talk about how sometimes when others read a letter, it’s hard to judge tone or expression as we can’t see facial cues or listen to a voice, so using manners and choosing to be overly kind, allows the reader to not feel defensive and in turn, can respond in a polite manner as well. 

Step 4: Authentic Letters

Practice authentic ways to write letters. Here are some ways to practice letter writing. 

Flat Stanley Activity:

The Flat Stanley books are based on a boy who gets flattened by a falling bulletin board, but this has a perk. Flat Stanley can be mailed in an envelope to experience new places. Students read a Flat Stanley book and color and cut out their own Stanley. Next, students use the template letter to help write their own letters. Students mail their Flat Stanley and letter to friends and family in other parts of the world. Recipients take their Flat Stanley with them and snap pictures of Stanley and themselves doing something fun! These pictures, a letter, and Flat Stanley are then sent back to the student. We completed Flat Stanley when I taught elementary school; it was such a popular activity.  My son completed it in his first-grade classroom and still talks about it today!

Pen-Pal Arrangements:

Arrange a pen pal correspondence with another class. Teachers can find pen-pals for their students through other schools in their districts or even through a college friend who happens to teach in another county or state. 

Family Letter Writing:

Assign your students to write a letter to a family member that may live in a different state or even a different town. When your student receives a letter back, the magic in their eyes is heartwarming and they can then see how important letter writing is. 

Teacher Letters:

Have students write letters to you! Place a mailbox on your desk. I snagged a cute foam one from Target one year. Remind students to write a letter to you with a purpose and with the proper parts so they can practice!

Letters to Emails: 

I believe that if students are trained to write proper letters in elementary school, then they can also write proficient and kind emails once they get older. If you’ve ever received an unkind, curt email from a parent, you definitely know that writing a proficient email is an important skill. 

When I taught middle or high school, I would often receive emails from students that were like a text messages among peers. There was no greeting, no manners, no kindness, and no respect. 

I would receive one-line emails that read: “You graded my essay yet?” Another example I received was, “_________said we had homework. That true?” I’ve even received extremely rude and angry emails from high schoolers over grades!

Oftentimes I wouldn’t reply and would have to address their email in person. That’s when I realized that I needed to teach email etiquette at the beginning of the year. Older students needed to learn how to send a proper email. I had to explain to them that I was their teacher and not their friend that they were texting. 

Email Etiquette

As emailing is a huge part of being an adult, is a requirement in virtually every job, and is a life-long skill. Translating those letter-writing abilities into email etiquette is an easy adjustment if they learned how to first write a proper letter. 

At the beginning of the year, teach your older students to write a proper email. From having a greeting, a kind introduction, a purpose, overabundant manners, and a respectful closing, students can write proficient emails (and perhaps teach those parents how to do that too!). 

Utilize Picture Books to Teach Writing Letter Skills

Here are some wonderful picture books to enforce those letter-writing skills in elementary school: 

How to Send a Hug by Hayley Rocco, Illustrated by Jon Rocco

Grab yours today!

The Love Letter: A Valentine’s Day Book for Kids by Anika Aldamuy Denise, Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Grab yours today!

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings

Grab yours today!

Dear Teacher: A Funny Back to School Book For Kids About First Day Jitters by Amy Husband

Grab yours today!

The Jolly Postman, by Allan Ahlberg, Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg

Grab yours today!

This nostalgic classic includes real letters for your students to hold and read. A definite must-have in the classroom.

Resources: 

If you want your students to practice emails, why not use Valentine’s Day as an excuse? With our Valentine’s Day Writing Paper writing resource, they can do so!

Grab yours today!

We created a FUN, Design-It-Yourself Digital Valentine’s Card (completed solely on Google Slides.) Students or teachers can choose between a Variety of Colors, Digital Stickers, and the cutest Gnome Puns Stickers to create unique Valentine’s Day Cards to send to their Digital Friends.

Grab yours today!

We also incorporated Student Directions for writing Haikus to turn this exciting project into a Language Arts Lesson as well. The project includes Complete Instructions and Example for your students to follow to create a Valentine Haiku on their card.

Grab yours today!

Use Valentine’s Day to practice letter writing with our Valentine’s Writing Papers. Students can send their mom an excellent letter telling them how and why they love her so much, or they can send a family member an appreciation letter as well. 

Conclusion:

Letter writing may seem like an antiquated practice, but it is a timeless skill that should be practiced more and more. A pro is that proper letter writing transitions nicely into email etiquette, a skill students definitely need as they get older. Utilize Valentine’s Day to help students learn letter writing and email etiquette. Letter and email writing will be a fun activity that they’ll fall in love with! 

Author of Blog

5 Tasks Your Future Self will Love You For! 

Many teachers go on their holiday break this week and some blessed souls were released last week! If you’re still in school, we know how crazy this time of year can be and how hyper those kids are! We’ve been there! We ARE there! Plus, we ARE here for you with our 5 tasks your future self will love you for!

The last thing you want to do is work any longer or harder or any extra than you have to this week, but may we suggest something? We have five tips that your future January self will thank you for when it’s time to go back into your classroom after holiday break. I know that we don’t want to think about that right now, but we all know that holiday break flies by quicker than a kid tearing open a present. By completing these five tasks before you leave for holiday break, you’ll thank yourself later once you arrive back at school in the new year. 

Task 1: Take Down All Christmas/Holiday Décor.

Take down all Christmas/holiday decor. I absolutely love that fresh and clean feeling once I take down all the holiday decorations in my home and classroom. My house and classroom looks less cluttered and it feels like we can breathe again. The bright stimulation is gone. Just like winter ushers in clean, white snow, you can usher in clean, empty spaces. Before you leave, have the kids help you take down those decorations, or if that’s too sad for them, sneakily take it down while they watch a movie. Take fifteen minutes after school and put it all away. Take some Lysol wipes and clean your surfaces. Tidy up your desk. When you arrive back in January, the simplistic look of your classroom will ease any new year burdens you face.

Task 2: Prepare for the New Year Physically.

Prepare for the new year physically. Switch your calendar to January. Put out some simple snowflake or snowmen decor. If you have extra time, go ahead and get started on a cozy winter bulletin board that can stay up well into March! 

Take a look at our winter bulletin boards we have available!

Display your winter picture books in your classroom library. Even when I taught middle school, I would put out winter poetry books and place snowflake clings on the windows. (Older kids love an ambiance too!) 

Task 3: Lesson Plan for the First Week of School in January.

Lesson plan for the first week of school in January. The last thing you want to do is take home your books over break. Even though it may feel like torture and you’re exhausted, take thirty minutes everyday this week to get your first week planned for January. Make your copies. Get it all organized and put away. Lay out your books you’ll need for any new units. Anticipate your needs by getting everything ready for that very first week. Additionally, make sure your first week back is simple. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t complete any extensive and complicated lessons. Even the kids need to ease back in. Doing some more routine or less complicated activities is the best approach for you and your students. 

Tip 4: Take an Inventory of All the Things

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Take an inventory of all the things that you may overlook normally because you’re ready to get out of that school building. Put your lunch choice board back to normal. Sharpen the pencils and refill the student supply area. Get your new novels out of the closet. Print out the new spelling choice menus. Make sure you have responded to all the emails. Get your first week back newsletter ready. Enter all your grades in as well. Write your thank you notes and give them to your students before the last day of school. Check to see if you need to bring in more K-cups and creamer for your coffee station. Even though it’s cliche, don’t put off what you can do today, even if you must complete the task tiredly!

One Christmas break, I forgot to check to see if the students had plugged in their Chromebooks. Over half of the laptops were dead on our first day back. My first activity was an online one too, and you can imagine my mood already at the beginning of the day. Ugh! Take some time to do a final look at the details of your classroom and make sure you’re ready for January. 

Task 5: LEAVE! And leave the books and laptop at school!

LEAVE! And leave the books and laptop at school! If you’ve done the above four tasks, you’re going to have a burden-free holiday break, knowing that you are prepared for January. Leave that school building and leave your worries behind. The worrisome parent, that situation with that student, that tension with that coworker…just leave it behind. Your body and mind need this break. Leave knowing that you’ve done all you can and go into the holiday season with anticipation of restoration. 

Conclusion

Teachers who have finished December are like Olympic gold medalists. They have survived the chaos and the mayhem. Their mental fortitude is like the strength of an athlete and just like an Olympian must recuperate before building more muscle, a teacher must rest before the new year. Resting without worries by preparing yourself and your classroom for January is the best way to bring your best self into the new year. Once you walk back into school in January and you see your neat, tidy, clean classroom, your lesson plans complete, copies ready, and all the details of your classroom prepared, you’ll kiss your December self for all that hard work that was well worth it!