Many students are not comfortable when it comes to writing, but it is an essential skill that I feel is getting worse. As teachers, we need to turn that around and help our students build a stronger foundation to writing, which will improve their overall literacy.
My approach to writing applies what I’ve learned over the years about writing and turns it into a less intimidating step-by-step process. I have not recreated the wheel, nor developed a revolutionary new way to write, just took the information that’s been out there and repackaged it for my students. Normally I present this in a workshop to small groups of students. If you research the writing process, you will find a lot of variation, but essentially, you will have the five steps that I teach to students: Brainstorm, Outline, Purpose, Draft, and Revision. After seeing students struggle with starting their paper, focusing their topic, and supporting their main points, I put together these five steps with bullet points in a graphic organizer style diagram. I also compiled other supporting resources to assist them with the steps. For visual learners, this is a great way to help them understand and for the pragmatic, step-by-step thinkers, it turns a seemingly overwhelming task of writing into a more logical process.
While much of what I utilize I created in Word’s Smart Art feature, there are also some great graphic organizers out there that I like to incorporate. Brainstorm Webs and Constructing Support diagrams can be very helpful in the first three steps of the writing process. For the introduction and conclusion paragraphs, I like to use a graphic that I put together to help students. I describe the introduction as an inverted pyramid with broad information in the beginning (top) and a narrow or specific thesis statement at the end (bottom). I demonstrate the conclusion paragraph as four to five boxes that lead from one to the next. Each is a separate component that comes together for the conclusion paragraph, one of which is a rephrased thesis. After introducing this, I spend some time discussing the importance of focus and organization and how they can actually apply these steps.
This approach is easily adaptable to students at various writing levels; from students working on GED essay practice to students putting together a paper for their college course. While I vary my workshop to best meet the student’s needs, I always utilize a modeling approach and engage the students in the process. In a one hour workshop, the students go through the first three steps in writing a sample paper as a group with me – no passive learning here. Overall, I believe the students respond well to this because it gives them a roadmap to follow in their writing process.
Aside from my graphic organizer approach to writing, I also share with students some great online resources. One is PHCCWritingCenter.org. This website has been developed by Pasco-Hernando Community College faculty to provide their students an easy resource to help write papers. It includes tips on the writing process, grammar, punctuation and MLA or APA style formatting. Another site I have found is writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb.html, particularly for the comprehensive list of transition words and phrases to help students in their writing.
Writing can be such an essential tool for our students, not only in the classroom, but when they leave our classrooms and need effective communication skills in the workforce. As literacy teachers we need to make sure that writing skills are as big a part of our lessons as reading skills.