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2020

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Giuseppe Mastroianni

5 quick tips to help your students improve their writing

5 quick tips to help your students improve their writing

The global literacy rate is around 85%, yet writing is a problem for a majority of students. If students are unable to write well and communicate in an appropriate fashion, not only will their educational prospects be limited, but their professional and job prospects as well. As educators, it is our responsibility and duty to aid students to write well, and we can always use more tips to help in this ongoing endeavour to empower students as they master the written word.

To that end, here are my top 5 tips to help students with writing.

1. Spend time on the main idea: Whether you are having students write thesis-driving persuasive essays or simple TedTalks or a book review (all templates available on EssayJack), their writing will centre around a main idea. In each context, the more specific and precise that main idea is, the better the writing about that idea will likely to be. Have students do activities with adjectives and word choice to ensure that their “main idea” uses the most precise and specific diction possible. For example, if a student writes about something being “upsetting,” it becomes more precise and specific if we know whether “upset” is used here to denote anger or frustration or sadness or embarrassment. If students spend more time getting their “main idea” as precise as possible, then that does half the work of getting them thinking through the implications of that main idea. 2. Always, always outline: Once your students have worked through their “main idea” to make it as precise and specific as they can, then you should have them come up with a rough outline. How will they support/explain/examine/illustrate their “main idea”? What evidence or sub points will they raise to help bring out the details of that main idea. For example, if they are writing about something being “upsetting” (plus they’ve clarified what kind of upset they mean), then they can begin to make an outline with some points supporting how or why the upset emerges. 3. Find some quotations: Once the student has a clear expression of their “main idea” and an outline, they are more than ready to find some quotations. These quotations could be evidence that helps to support or illustrate their points, or examples to aid showcase their ideas to a broader audience, demonstrating their knowledge of the field. Sometimes, it’s also just helpful to have them integrate the words of someone else into their own writing to juxtapose different writing styles.racism in sports essay For example, we know that “authors quote or paraphrase from books, papers, experts, facts, online text – all sorts of materials to help them make their points,” so why not get them started on this skill early? 4. Share with each other: Often students tend to think that their written work is only for the eyes of the teacher. They forget that communicative acts belong in larger conversations. We write to talk about our ideas and participate in a larger dialogue about the topic at hand. So have students using their “main ideas,” their outlines, and their key quotations take a seat and walk someone else through their plans. This is an easy pair or group activity that can be done in class with each student telling their partner/group what their plan is for their writing. Often we discover the hiccups and errors in our own thinking when we try to say it out loud. As well, this is one part of the feedback process that helps students before they submit their work to you. 5. Practice, Practice, Practice: Of course, the only real way for students (or anyone) to improve their writing is to practice. Not all writing needs to be submitted for summative assessment, as this could be onerous on the instructor. Having students write short answers, or short statements and sharing those with each other can help them to write without you always having to function as the one to provide feedback. Group activities may also be suggestions for getting students to write, but then the outcome may well be a presentation rather than a formal piece of prose for you.

In any case, these are my top 5 tips for helping students to improve their writing. They’re tried and true, easy to implement in the class, and will make a real difference to their writing outcomes, especially if there are standardised tests or AP tests as part of your teaching context.

Good luck…have fun…happy teaching!

P.S. if you found these tips helpful drop me a message on Twitter and let me know what else you’d like me to write about!

Nearly every jurisdiction and every curricula at every grade has some learning outcome related to writing goals. There are various “writing across the curriculum” goals, and it can sometimes be overwhelming. As educators, we know that the best way for students to improve their writing is by practising more and more. Yet, how many of us have time to supply feedback on a daily or weekly basis on student writing? What if we aren’t the English teacher? Do we still have to help with writing outcomes? What other ways can we help students improve their writing, especially if we aren’t the English teacher?

Universities and schools in a variety of contexts – likely yours as well! – are asking teachers and students to ensure that they’re writing in all their classes, not just their English classes.

“Writing Across the Curriculum is a movement that began in the 1970s and is gaining a lot of attention these days. It is designed to boost kid’s critical thinking skills by requiring them to write in all of their classes—from math to social studies to science—and not just in language arts.”

While that aim and objective might make lot of great sense for students and the requirement that contemporary learners be well-versed in writing in a variety of disciplines, it doesn’t help teachers who may not be experts in teaching composition.

But first, why does it matter?

In addition to often finding cross-curricular writing objectives as standards and directives to which you must adhere, you might also want to get your students writing in non-English classes because:

  • Writing helps students retain information.
  • Writing helps students develop critical thinking skills.
  • Writing helps you assess all your students (even the quiet ones).
  • Writing helps you to see if students do or do not understand the crux of the material.

So what are some easy methods to teach and incorporate writing in non-English classes, or even some tricks of the trade for English teachers?

Three tips to incorporate writing in your classes

Here are three easy methods to get students writing in your classes. Each step takes the student’s writing and exploration a step deeper into the subject-matter that you teach.

1. Identify the problem in your own words

Having students in almost any class write out the main issue in a class in their own words can be a powerful way to get them writing, but also owning the course content that you want them to master. For example, if students are memorising a formula in a Physics class to determine the velocity of something, have them write a few short sentences saying why it matters. It not only gets them writing, but also gets them internalising the “why” of the course materials in your class. Asking “why” questions and eliciting answers works in nearly every subject matter:

  • Why does it matter that we learn what temperature various oils boil at compared to water?
  • Why should we compare and contrast the relative ages of men and women in media representations of the same occupation?
  • Why do we look at conditions leading up to the outbreak of World War 2?
  • Why should we know where our country is relative to our largest trading partners?
  • Why does it matter to learn about our GDP?
  • Why should we learn about human health and nutrition?
  • Why would we want to cross multiply and divide to solve for x?

In some classes, a written answer to one of these “why” problem questions might be enough. But in others, you might want to expand the restatement of the fundamental problem (or “why”) into a longer answer. If so, move on to Step 2:

2. Expand the problem statement with some analysis

Once they’ve identified the “why” of the main problem that you are studying, regardless of the discipline, you are able to ask them to think of some real-world examples where solving or addressing the problem or the “why” matters. How can they apply the knowledge?

A first step in this is to get them to think about applications for the information that you are teaching from their particular lives. Can they think of reasons, examples, or illustrations of how the information can be helpful? Have them write those out as examples.

In some classes, you might stop here. You’ve gotten them to think about why the problem you’re studying matters and to think about some real-world examples of that particular information. And you’ve had them write something that either you are able to mark and provide feedback on, or you can have them share with a partner in a “think-pair-share” activity that gets them writing and also using their classmates.

However, you can even go further, should you want. If so, move on to Step 3:

3.Engage in some independent research

Once students have written about the problem that they’re studying in your class and provided some examples that they were able to think about on their own, you are able to extend the assignment further and now have them engage in some research beyond their particular thinking.

Depending on the grade or level and depending on the subject matter, you might choose to have them research the topic further. What is the scholarship on the field? How are the findings applied elsewhere? What are some other examples of research like that which you are doing? What have other scientists or historians said about the topic? Are there blog posts that take opposing views or pose different questions related to your field?

Giving students the opportunity to research beyond your classroom can help them to see not only the applicability of what they are studying in their own lives, but also how the discipline or the subject matter as a whole applies more broadly. As well, by doing a bit of extra research, you’re building additional critical thinking and research skills over and above whatever curricular component was the main focus of your lesson.

With these three easy steps – stating the problem in their own words, thinking up examples, and doing a bit of research – any teacher in almost any subject can participate in “writing across the curriculum” initiatives. Whether you have your students compile the materials from these three steps into a more formal, summative assignment, or whether you simply have them do some of these steps as part of their formative work along the way, the more writing you receive your students to do, the better it is for everyone!

Most high school curricula require students to develop critical thinking skills that they demonstrate by being able to both peer- and self-edit written work. Developing the ability to look closely and critically at one’s own work is difficult. Helping students to see the component parts of a piece of writing and analyse each bit at a time can help.

Ultimately, what we’re dealing with here is scaffolding the self-editing process. How can we provide support for students in a way that helps them to see the component parts of good writing, analyse each part, and slowly, but surely develop the skills and confidence to self-edit and critique their own writing?

Academic writing, especially expository and analytical writing, could be evaluated holistically. a holistic analysis does not pick apart whether the syntax is clunky or the ideation rudimentary, but rather a holistic analysis looks at the essay or piece of writing as a whole and evaluates its success.

Holistic analysis of middle- and secondary-school writing is very hard for students to be able to do. It requires a degree of technical mastery over writing and emotional maturity to step back and analyse a piece of writing in its entirety. Heck, it is often hard for professional writers and editors to be able to look at a completed whole and provide meaningful feedback or critique.

However, what students at this level can master, is the ability to look at the component parts of a piece of writing and begin to work through a check-list of items in each category to gauge success.

The component parts of a piece of writing are commonly considered: Content, Style, Organisation/Structure, and Mechanics ( Spelling & Grammar).

If students can begin to see what each of these components looks like, then they can begin to edit their particular work consequently.

Below is an example of a helpful checklist. If you’d like to download it and share it with your students you are able to do so via this link.

Students can then use the blank space to add any reviews that they might need to clarify where they were strong or weak in almost any area.

Peer- and self-editing skills ultimately help students to become stronger and better writers. As well, by becoming better editors, students begin to see the formative nature of writing as a process of continuous revision and improvement.



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