5 Ideas to Make Writing More Fun to Teach

By Jennifer Serravallo

For years teachers have shared with me that they feel much more comfortable teaching reading than writing. “I read every night,” they say, “But when it comes to writing, I don’t really write myself. Except emails. Do emails count?”

I know in the days when I was in a multi-subject classroom, the thing that was hardest for me to teach was often the thing that I saved for last. I’d hope we’d run out of time, and then when we did, I’d roll my plans over to the following day.**

I am fortunate to be in the role of supporting teachers with their literacy instruction, and I want to try to help make the teaching of writing less scary, more do-able, more rewarding (for teachers and their students.)

One of the first stumbling blocks we need to work to overcome is student dependency on us, the teacher. Instead, we need to make it a point to support student engagement and independence. When your children are more excited about writing, that enthusiasm will spill over to you. From classroom environment, to partnerships, to editing, here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Set up your classroom with independence in mind

Offering students a writing center with materials they’ll need during writing time can help free you up to confer with students instead of handing out supplies. Consider including paper choices; writing implements; reference materials; mentor texts; scissors, tape, and staplers (for rearranging drafts); and copies of classroom charts.

2. Make writing meaningful, and give students choice

It may sound like this suggestion will make it harder, but really it will do quite the opposite. When children have a choice in what they write about, and have meaningful purposes and a real audience for their writing, they will be automatically more invested and engaged. Here’s a possible strategy you can teach to engage children in writing for social justice, inspired by some of the ideas from Katherine and Randy Bomer’s For a Better World:

“Think about something you want to see happen, or that you want to change. That can give you an idea for a topic. Then, think about who has the power to change it. That can help you keep your audience in mind from the beginning. Think about what kind of writing will best get your idea across.”

3. Find and use mentor texts

Every writer benefits from seeing an example of the kind of writing they are trying to write, and looking closely at that example can help a writer improve the quality of their own. Katie Ray in the classic Wondrous Words gives invaluable advice for how to use mentors across the writing process. She and others (Vicki Vinton and Mary Ehrenworth, Jeff Anderson) have written about the idea of using mentors on the sentence level to help with cadence and sentence variety. Here’s a strategy you might share with students:

“Decide the kind of piece you’re trying to write. In addition to genre, think about the sound or tone of the writing. Find a mentor or two who writes just like what and how you want to write. Read their writing once or twice to get the feel and sound of it in your mind. Draft your piece.”

4. Establish partnerships to support each other across the process

In many classrooms, kids pair up and swap papers to do peer editing right before recopying a final version. Nancie Atwell (In the Middle) warns us, though, that sometimes students insert more errors than they fix!

Instead, think about partners as being supports for students across the entire process. They can help each other plan out writing before drafting, rehearse a story or information piece aloud, be a listener to suggest changes that would help make the writing clearer, or prompt the writer to add more details. Here’s one favorite routine I teach to students that works across the writing process:

5. Free yourself from being the class “editor”

You could collect every paper in the classroom, mark up the papers with the changes that need to be made (spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice) and return the papers to be recopied. You’ll get a great-looking piece at the end of it, but it wouldn’t really reflect student learning. Then, during the next piece you’d need to spend hours being editor yet again.

Instead, teach students strategies for reading through their own piece and editing as best they can. Even if you teach just a handful of strategies during each unit, across they year they will have acquired more skills than if you’d simply corrected their paper for them. Here’s a strategy, for example, that can help students consider mid-sentence punctuation:

These five ideas can make a huge difference in the level of engagement and independence in your writing classroom, which in turn will allow you to do more teaching and responding to your student writers.

** Comment below about your hardest-to-teach subject, and guess what mine was. I’ll gift a copy of my newest book to the first person to guess correctly!

_____________

Jennifer Serravallo is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Reading Strategies Book, and other popular Heinemann titles. Her latest is The Writing Strategies Book (2017), where you’ll find literally hundreds of ideas like those she’s shared here. (See our review.)

Jen began her career in education as a teacher in Title I schools in NYC and later joined the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. As an independent consultant, she has spent over a decade helping teachers across the country to create literacy classrooms where students are joyfully engaged and instruction is meaningfully individualized to students’ goals. Visit her blog and follow her on Twitter @jserravallo.

MiddleWeb

MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

77 Responses

  1. Elisa Waingort says:

    Hahaha, Jen! I love your ideas. I have both of your books and find the strategies in each book helpful to readers and writers at different stages of their development. But, back to your question…I feel like this is a trick question, but I’m going to be brave and guess anyway. I’m going to say it’s probably writing because of the topic of this blog. I also find writing the hardest to teach…when you are expected to follow a particular program. Writing is really easy to teach when you can follow the kids’ leads and when you decide that you are a writer, as well.

  2. Amy Mullins says:

    Your Reading Strategies books has given me so many options when conferencing w/ my 2nd graders. I had to get the Writing Strategies book and couldn’t wait! All my teacher friends keep borrowing it!!!❤

  3. A Vogt says:

    I love your ideas..I have embraced the mentor text idea! I am currently using “mentor poems” while I am teaching poetry. For a guess about your least favorite subject…if you are like the rest of us and you left it until the end of the day I would say…science???

  4. Katie says:

    Thank you for the tips. My hardest subject right now is reading intervention. I find it difficult to see progress with the kids when I see them twice a week for 35 minutes. My regular ELA classes are much easier to plan for. I will guess Math since no one has guessed it yet.

  5. Krista Shandro says:

    I’m goi to guess your hardest to teach subject was writing, in particular the independent classroom. For me it has been self editing for the students. They are always so proud the have difficulty finding their own mistakes.

  6. Sarah says:

    I think reading is the hardest. I think yours was too!

  7. Camilla Chamberlain says:

    I teach first grade and writing is by far the hardest subject for me to teach! I literally laughed out loud when you said you hoped you ran out of time every day. That’s what I do all the time! I’m going to guess writing was your least favorite subject to teach, too.

  8. Lisa says:

    I do not like teaching social studies! The topics I am stuck with (thanks to the curriculum) are not personal favourites. I think you dislike teaching science.

    I’m really grateful to you for The Reading Strategies book!

  9. Taylor K says:

    Thanks for the great ideas, Jen! I’m going to guess Science–I’m not a science teacher myself but if I was I think that would be my own “rollover” subject! The hardest subject for me right now is Social Studies. We don’t have a workshop structure for that subject so trying to transfer skills and strategies has definitely been the most difficult.

  10. Kelsey says:

    Hi Jen! I am in love with your books. Your reading strategies book of mine is being loaned to all of my coworkers! Writing is my hardest subject to teach because I find I am always the “class editor” and it’s hard for me to hold genuine writing conferences. I need to foster that independence. If I had to guess, I would guess reading was your hardest subject to teach. Thinking ironically :)

  11. Jennifer Williams says:

    Thank you! Writing was my most difficult subject to teach. It didn’t used to be. I used to have fun with writing, then we were mandated to teach writing for tests in a way I found to be very boring and meaningless. My guess is that science was difficult for you.

  12. Michelle says:

    Mine: reading
    Yours: reading
    Your suggestions are realistic and purposeful!

  13. Cara Foley says:

    Jen – these ideas are perfect for my teachers. I like that they are short and sweet and easy to do. Great article to give them for a little PLC.
    A lot of what you said resonated with me. When I was a third grade teacher, writing was the subject I put off until the end (I am guessing it might also have been yours??). I didn’t have the support from a coach and my district wasn’t supporting the workshop model. We didn’t have anything to guide us and I was afraid to let the kids lead the way. Now that I am a reading consultant and know so much more about the workshop model and have filled my toolbox of tricks, I love going into classrooms and teaching writing and then planning next steps with he teacher.
    I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book! We just bought a copy of the Reading Strategies Book for all our LA and sped teachers but the budget was frozen before we can buy them the writing books.

  14. Gayle says:

    Science! I love that I can correlate/integrate with informational text – but I just can’t deal with the hands on part!! I was going to guess science or math for the subject you dislike to teach more than others.

  15. Lisa Wybo says:

    Hi Jen! I have worked as a Title 1 paraprofessional for 8 years in both reading and math. I have just recently completed my teaching degree (well the class work) and have just my student teaching left to complete:) I purchased your writing strategies book, because I definitely felt like I am not as strong at teaching writing as I am reading. I am guessing that maybe writing was also your hardest to teach;) I am so thrilled by the writing book, that I have put your reading strategies book on my list to purchase! Love how you have everything laid out and provide examples! THANK YOU!

  16. Jamie says:

    I find writing the hardest to teach. One of the reasons is because like you said it’s hard to teach independence. I guess yours is math :)

  17. Erin Reisberg says:

    The thing that was hardest for Jenn to teach was often the thing that she saved for last…. in hope they’d run out of time! She’s roll it to the next day if that was the case :) this could be any subject but I’d have to say this was focused on writing. Mine is math. It was reading, but has been made much easier due to your book. I can’t wait to see the writing one!

  18. Kristine Quintero says:

    I love the ideas regarding writing partners! I’ve been focusing a lot on partners working together throughout the writing process this year and can’t wait to share the PQP strategy.

    I find Social Studies the most difficult subject to teach. Teachers teach in teams, one teacher devoted to ELA, one to Math/science, while both teachers teach social studies to their own homerooms. However, this takes place only four 38-minute periods every forty eight periods! I find it very challenging. I’m guessing Science for Jen’s hardest to teach subject.

  19. Morgan W. says:

    Writing is my most difficult subject to teach. I struggle finding the balance of guiding the students and giving them independence. Jennifer, I think your hardest-to-teach subject was Math!

  20. Amber Hern says:

    My hardest subject to get a handle on was writing! I am going to guess your toughest subject was social studies!?

  21. Jill Bless says:

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I’m going to guess science. I struggle the most with writing and really look forward to reading your latest book. I’ve found your Reading Strategies book so helpful with specific strategy lessons. My admin just purchased a copy for each grade level, and we are excited to get strategy lessons going to help students reach their reading goals.

  22. Stephanie Burdett says:

    My hardest to teach is social studies. Sometimes it can be a challenge to keep fresh and interesting. I am going to guess science for you!

  23. Karyn Tomkinson says:

    The most difficult subject I ever taught was science. Jen, I am going to guess that your most difficult subject to teach was writing.

  24. Sarah Bayer says:

    Praise – Question – Polish – I love it! I’m definitely using this with my students!

  25. Heather says:

    I struggle with the best way to incorporate the grammar or word work.
    I also think writing which why you make your awesome resources. Since that guess is already taken,I will go with math.

  26. Fran says:

    I say reading since Elisa chose writing. Mine was writing. Different things worked different years and I didn’t know enough about how to balance it all out.

  27. Great post! I think your hang up might have been “Free yourself from being the class “editor””. I knows many teachers who struggle with this. Especially when parent expectations are borderline perfection.

  28. Kelly Duwve says:

    My hardest to teach subject is reading even though I have a reading endorsement and I’m reading recovery trained. I bet reading was hardest for you, too!

  29. yadsia says:

    Science! That’s my guess for the least liked subject. Not that it’s hard, but it is so time consuming to plan and teach everyday. My favorite is writing!

  30. Brenna D. says:

    Your advice is so powerful. Numbers three and five were such great learning experiences for me as I began reflecting years ago on what kind of writing messages I was sending to students and what kind of writers I wanted to foster in my classroom. Keep being the amazing literacy leader and mentor you are!

  31. Lisa Zylstra says:

    I love the idea of PQP for my students! Thanks for focusing on writing, the often forgotten literacy element. I have a feeling science was your least favorite! (Oh, wait, that is mine!) ;)

  32. Georgena Ellison says:

    Keep the ideas coming! I can’t wait to create my own writing center stocked with quality mentor texts.

  33. Stacie says:

    My guess is math! Love your ideas and your books:)

  34. Leslie says:

    Thank you for this post. My most difficult subject is writing instruction. It can be really intimidating for both students and teachers. I am always looking for strategies to keep my students and myself motivated. I love the PQP idea and plan to share with my co-teacher on a choice persuasive project our 7th graders are working on. We usually swap work at the end, but I love the idea and sharing for feedback along the way. I feel it will be a great way keep ideas fresh. On a different note I am thinking the hardest subject for you to teach is math, because you did write a book on writing.😜If I am wrong can I have a book anyway? Thank you for your tweets and blog. Keep fighting the good fight!-Leslie From Columbia Falls,MT

  35. Nancy Redican says:

    My hardest subject to teach is math. I was terrible at learning it, so I have very few strategies to help them learn it. I love teaching everything else though! I am going to guess math is your hardest, since someone else has already guessed writing!!!

  36. Tasha Carr says:

    Thanks for the great ideas! I find writing hard to teach when time is limited and class sizes are big. I love giving my students ways to be independent and not rely on me for everything. I would guess math?

  37. Julie Young says:

    Love the tips and the picture gave me some great ideas on some supply organization. I agree with Elisa. Writing would be my guess for your most difficult subject to teach. Writing is such a personal skill and it is much more enjoyable when you can teach it in a personal way rather than from a “recipe.”

  38. Kathy Thomas says:

    Love your books, Jennifer, and I find you to be a great reading and writing instructor, so my guess is… math!

  39. Elizabeth OBrien says:

    Hello!

    I have your reading strategies book and it is great. Very easy to use for planning. I can’t wait to see the Writing Strategies book.

  40. Kelly Kerchner says:

    My hardest to teach subject I’d indeed writing to my first grade kiddos! My guess is reading and/or writing for you! That’s why you are trying to help us now!!

  41. Brynlee P says:

    This is my first year teaching, and oh man, is writing difficult for me to teach. There is so much to consider! I’m going to guess that writing was hardest for you as well.

  42. Briana says:

    My hardest subject to teach is grammar, at least until I read The Power of Grammar. 😝

    I’m guessing yours was math???

  43. Candice K says:

    Our district has used the Being a Writer program for the past three years. There are many components that I really find effective. One thing that this curriculum and your Reading Strategies book has taught me is to relinquish the learning, control, and responsibility to my students. I always tell my students that practice makes progress and it’s about the process and growth. By putting the learning back in their hands, we are all growing!

    As for your hardest-to-teach subject, I’m going to go with math! Just a feeling! :)

  44. Catie says:

    Love these ideas. Using mentor text has been a great addition to my writing. These ideas are easy to implement and can help support struggling writers. I can’t wait to try them.

  45. Andrea Scheiwe says:

    I love your practical ideas for making writing more fun to teach! If I were to guess the subject you find hardest to teach I would say math! I’m always able to find great resources for teaching reading and writing but struggle with math! Thanks again for sharing!

  46. Maria says:

    Hi Jen love your books I have them both & I few others. They have helped me become more confident in reading and writing.
    From this blog I’m going to guess writing

  47. Kathy Wells says:

    I think that the subject that is hardest for me to teach is the ELA subject of Grammar. I think it is hardest to teach because I don’t see its exclusion as necessary. My guess is that the thing that was hardest for you was Science. It is one that takes some specialized learning to do it well. I think that Writing becomes easier the more you teach it.

  48. Denyse Boyd says:

    I would guess your hardest to teach subject is writing and that is why you wrote this book. My hardest to teach subject is art because I have zero artistic talent.

  49. Betsy says:

    Writing is by far the hardest subject for me to teach. I’m betting writing was hard for you, too. I know I’ll find using your writing strategy book as helpful as your incredible reading strategies book has been for me. Thank you!

  50. Gina Rodriguez says:

    Writing?

  51. Alex Talmadge says:

    Hi Jen, these five strategies will definitely help me enjoy teaching writing again! Writing has sort of fallen to the wayside this year for me with implementing a new math curriculum and teaching reading workshop.
    I’m going to guess science was your hardest subject to teach.

  52. Callie lauer says:

    My hardest subject to teach is writing because of lack of time to teach my mini lesson, provide writing time, and conferring with students, while allowing time to share!!!Love your resources and I use them daily!!! I am going to guess your hardest to teach subject was Math????

  53. Sandi Mueller says:

    My hardest is Science and I would guess yours was Reading…..which is tied with writing for my favorite!

  54. Tracy Geiser says:

    My hardest is Social Studies!!! It’s supposed to easily integrate, but sometimes it just doesn’t. My guess is yours was writing. :)

  55. Merle Quave says:

    I love this post! I think you may have had trouble writing in school.

  56. Merle Quave says:

    Oops! I forgot to tell you that teaching reading is what I find most difficult – I mean actually teaching “how” to read. Teaching metacognition and comprehension is easier.

  57. Starlene Shoemaker says:

    This is a great post. I can’t wait to get my hands on this new book. I feel as if I struggle teaching struggling readers the most, until I read your reading strategies book. I think uoumay have struggled with writing instruction just for the irony of it. Keep doing the amazing work you do. It is appreciated by so many of us.

  58. JennyW says:

    The more I read your books, the stronger I feel as a teacher! Oddly, I find teaching reading more difficult than writing–it’s probably my hardest-to-teach subject. I am going to guess that the subject you found most difficult to teach was …Math!

  59. Sommer says:

    Mine is Science! And I’m guessing yours could be math?

  60. Sandi Mueller says:

    I do love the Reading Strategies Book!! Haven’t purchased the Writing Strategies yet. Science was always my hardest subject to teach with Reading and Writing both tied for favorites/easiest. I will take a guess and say that Reading was your hardest, since you have so many great ideas, you must have done a lot of research to make it a strength.

  61. Kellie Hale says:

    Jennifer – Thank you for your guidance and encouragement. Each time I listen to one of your podcasts or read one of your blogs, I feel as though another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place for me.

    It’s crazy that the subject I love to teach the most, writing, is the one that is the biggest struggle for me. Perhaps that’s because the writers in your room greatly dictated what you as the teacher will need to do that day. Just as every student is different so are their writing needs.

    Just when I think I have it all figured out, I discover a new struggle. Fortunately, we have professionals like you who are willing to help us all be better teachers.

  62. Amy Marturano says:

    I have the hardest time teaching formula writing… i.e. 5 paragraph essays… I HATE that formulaic writing but the grades above us still want the kids to come to them writing that way. I JUST CAN’T teach that type of writing. But yet I do… It is so plastic.
    I would guess that teaching science was the hardest for you…

  63. Casie says:

    My hardest to teach subject is writing! I started using the WUOS my first year, but I felt completely lost with the writing workshop model. This year we started the RUOS. I feel like the work we’ve done to understand all the components of reading workshop has really helped improved my writing workshop and strengthen my instruction. I’m guessing your hardest to teach subject was reading! I know you’re an expert in the field now, but I’m wondering if your struggles led you to dig deeper into the subject which helped you uncover your love for the subject! ?

  64. Anna says:

    These are great tips! I definitely feel writing is harder to teach than reading. So much of it seems to either come naturally to students, or not…. haha! I would love to get my hands on your new book, since I use the reading strategies all the time, but I have no idea what might have been your least favorite to teach. I’m inclined to say writing too, but since that was already guessed, I’m going to throw out social studies?

  65. Alyssa says:

    I love love love your books, Jen! The hardest subject for me to teach is probably math. I will guess that your hardest subject is math too?

  66. Irene says:

    For me, it is a toss up between math and writing. I am going to say math is the hardest subject for you teach.

  67. Kim Oldenburgh says:

    I love both of your books-they help me be a better literacy teacher each day! I’m guessing spelling may have been your hardest-to-teach subject. I know it is for me. Partly due to we never seem to have enough time and I do exactly what you say…roll it over into the next day!

  68. Jennifer Nagle says:

    I’d say writing, too. My fifth graders are writing right now, and I struggle with correcting everything they do before they do their final draft. (I’m really grading myself! 😧) Both of your books are in my Amazon cart waiting to be purchased. I’m also hoping to get into a conference you’re doing in Michigan this summer. Looking forward to learning from you.

  69. Jennifer says:

    Literacy specifically writing! I feel like getting kids to be passionate and excited about writing canbe so difficult. It has been easier for me to to grow them as readers than to help them see themselves as writers.

    Thank you for these tips!

  70. Nancy says:

    I would also guess writing but I am going to guess reading. I can’t imagine that you would have trouble with any subject though. I saw you speak in December and you were an inspiration . I haven’t bought your writing book yet so I really hope I win it. I love your reading book.

  71. Heather says:

    Jennifer’s Reading and Wrting Strategies books are so easy to use with students at all levels. I can’t wait to start using the Writing Strategies Book. I love the Reading Strategies Book so much that I have two copies, one for school and one for home!

  72. deserie Bradvica says:

    Many of us start off teaching completely inadequate at teaching writing. Thankfully, there are so many valuable resources out there now – as well as institutes and learning opportunities to come together and strengthen our writing instruction. Thank you Jennifer for your valuable and practical work!

  73. ChrisH. says:

    Love your reading strategies book! I feel so much more comfortable teaching reading strategies now. Can’t wait to get the Writing strategies book. My hardest subject to teach is Math. I’m guessing yours was Writing…

  74. Jennifer Haylett says:

    I love teaching writing to my young kindergarten writers. It is my favorite part of the day! Creating independence is key!

  75. Katie says:

    Your books enrich my teaching daily! Can’t wait to get this newest one!

  76. Great tips, Jennifer, and expressed so simply. As a parent (rather than a teacher), I wish I’d used your 5th tip with my eldest son!

    You might be interested in these 5 tips for using more compelling language. (They focus on speaking techniques, because that’s my field, but 3 of the tips apply to writing too.)

  77. Vita Pipes says:

    My hardest subject is writing! I’m going to take a wild guess on this and say yours was writing also. I’m going to take your tips and use them in my class with hopes that this will encourage my students to write more and I would become more enthused about teaching it.
    Thank You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *