Teacher Thoughts: Teaching Writing by Being an Active Writer

Teaching writing is arguably one of the toughest part of secondary English education today. In a world where teenagers type their thoughts, feelings, and stories in 140 characters or fewer, writing pages on pages of research essays or narratives seems like a daunting task to teach, not to mention the decreasing knowledge of grammatical conventions that students are carrying into high school. To fight this battle, secondary educators must understand that they cannot effectively teach writing without showing their students that they personally are active writers. When students are given prompts straight from a textbook with a certain word/page requirement, they are writing solely to fulfill that requirement. Creativity has been set aside in writing classes. Donald Murray writes a chapter in Adolescent Literacy (Beers, et. al) explaining that creating a writing curriculum must start with personal writing. Teachers must show students their own work in order for the students to respect their instruction and the concept of writing in general. This proved to be true for me in my own writing classes. Though I had always been a gifted writer, and I never struggled too terribly with grammar, I did not value creative writing, so I dreaded the required Creative Writing class I had to take in college. What changed my attitude was the day my professor gave us personal examples of each type of paper we had to write. These examples meant more to me because she had taken the time to do the same assignments that we had. The same professor shared her own writing experiences, drafts, and completed works. For students like me who are not natural creative writers, these efforts made by my professor made a difference. Her effort, honesty, and transparency made each assignment easier, more important, and more interesting.

Struggling students may need help with different aspects of their writing. For visual learners, emphasize that writing is also visual art. In my creative writing class, we did an activity that involved choosing a picture and writing a poem about that picture. It helped several students find ideas as they searched for words to describe a person, place, or object in the picture. Now that I teach narrative writing to freshmen, I see that they lack elaboration skills. They cannot write descriptively, and need a lot of practice including these details.
Writing also involves making connections and organizing topics, so it is a good idea for students to brainstorm before they write. Making lists, charts, outlines, or comparison tables may help students organize their thoughts before they write. Personally, I HAVE to make an outline before I write anything, even my blog posts! The planning process takes a while, but, once I have a completed outline, I am ready to write. Murray suggests that listening to what you are writing is another helpful tool in the process. This may appeal to struggling students as well. Listening to writing involves hearing the words in your head and reading your writing out loud. This is always helpful, as sometimes mistakes are made, and students do not notice the mistakes until they have read their papers out loud. Listening to a work can also involve determining word choice to create a certain rhythm, tone, or diction. I personally have my students pair up and read their drafts outloud to each other, pausing when they notice something sounds off and taking time to correct it. After practicing these exercises, students of different learning types can find ways to improve their writing.
Students must also understand that “writing is not thinking written down after the thinking is completed. Writing is thinking” (Beers, et. al, p. 181). Education has made students believe that “writing” is the completed work that they turn in. Students need to understand that writing is a process, and it starts with thinking. Also, students must understand that writing is never complete. My high school English teacher made this very clear, as he never gave anyone a 100% for any turned in writing assignment. Students may receive As, but he wanted to make sure everyone understood that writing could never be perfect or complete. It is also a good idea to have students work on the same prompt for a whole semester. In my college writing two class (which I took in high school via dual credit), we worked on a single research paper for three quarters of my senior year. I wrote several note-cards with citations, outlines, possible titles, and drafts. Before that class, I was not an advocate of writing drafts. I liked for my first work to be my final work. Now I understand that my writing can always be improved.
I love writing, and I will always love to teach writing. I strongly wish to help students understand that there is so much more to writing than answering a prompt with a word requirement. It takes time and humility to share with them my own personal writing journey, as well as provide my own drafts, poems, stories, and papers for examples, but I do feel that it is necessary for me to do the assignments along with my students, so I can show them that writing is full of endless possibilities. Writing can be fun, new, and exciting, but students will never learn this unless their own teacher is a passionate, active writer.
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Do you teach writing? Take writing classes? Comment below to share your thoughts as a teacher, student, or writer!


Author: Rachel

Welcome to Learn-Grow-Teach-Go! I’m Rachel. Join me as I explore what it means to be a life-long learner and begin to live out a more full, balanced, and simplistic lifestyle. I am currently a high school English teacher, and I enjoy traveling the world and adventuring in my spare time. Whether you’re looking for advice on living minimally and simplistically, teaching ideas and lessons, or travel tips and trips, you’ve found the right place. Glad to have you here!

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  • Reply
    Hannah Denton
    December 11, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    “I personally have my students pair up and read their drafts outloud to each other, pausing when they notice something sounds off and taking time to correct it”

    Great idea!

  • Reply
    Karla | KarlaTravels
    December 13, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    As a former ESL teacher, I used to teach writing to very young students all the way to adults & government employees.

    I made them write fictional stories, their opinions on many subjects and free writing.

    It allowed them to use all the vocabulary, verb tenses and idiomatic expressions I taught them.

    I still keep some of the best essays and some cards they wrote when I left!

    So proud of them and miss teaching!

  • Reply
    Julie Plagens
    December 23, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Glad to know you struggle with some aspects of writing even though you teach every day. I was an English teacher 25 years ago and I’m rusty!!
    Great blog.

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