How to Support Your Students with Writing
Writing can be one of the most difficult skills for students to master.
Especially students who struggle with reading such as students with dyslexia or other language-based learning disabilities like dysgraphia.
And it makes sense, just think of how much we are asking our students to do. From thinking about the prompt to organizing their thoughts, to constructing a sentence, to organizing the sentences into a paragraph or more, and then finally editing. This is a tall order to ask even if you don't have a learning disability, but for our students, this is particularly difficult and needs to be broken down into small manageable parts.
With our writing prompts, we chunk this very large task into bite-size pieces.
First we must recognize that -
Writing Skills Develop in a Hierarchy
We must start with skills from the bottom up. The first step, and one that is often left out is developing solid handwriting skills that allow us to write with ease and fluency. Because of all of the increasing demands placed on primary grade teachers, this is a skill that often gets left to practicing at home. We are big fans of using
1. Systematic Handwriting Instruction
Programs like Handwriting without Tears are awesome ways to help support handwriting in young students (and even older students) who need practice with print, cursive, and keyboarding. It’s so critical to have appropriate pencil grasp and letter formation as it will allow students to focus on the content of their writing as opposed to the physical process of writing.
If we’re lucky to enough to have young students - we like to align our handwriting instruction to our target letter or letter pattern. There’s two ways to look at handwriting instruction 1. Teach handwriting from a motor perspective based on what’s easiest and most consistent from a fine motor skills standpoint. or 2. Teach handwriting from a phonetic strategy aligning to the letter groups you’re teaching. We love BOTH and choose which approach to take depending on the individual needs of our students!
2. Systematic Spelling Instruction
It’s so important that students feel confident with their spelling. So often we see students who get stuck in the writing process because they don’t know how to spell words and get caught up in that as opposed to focusing, again, on the content. By using a systematic approach to spelling you can help students move past the word level writing and into the sentence level and beyond. While we know that spell check can be an amazing resource, we need to make sure that the computer can actually tell what we are trying to write in order to help us out - which means, we need to have basic spelling principles intact. We are all about incorporating systematic spelling into your systematic reading program. You can check out our differentiated spelling lists with our order of instruction here!
3. Sentence Level Writing
After mastering basic spelling patterns we need to transition into basic sentence structure. We always start by teaching the WHO or WHAT, DID WHAT, WHY or WHEN or HOW framework for building sentences. From there we can transition to higher level sentence order but this framework is INCREDIBLY helpful for struggling students especially because it can also build reading fluency when they realize that sentences can chunk into meaningful parts in both reading and writing.
4. Paragraph Level Writing
After students are able to build solid sentences, we begin transitioning into specific paragraph level writing strategies. We need to make sure that paragraphs can follow the same step by step framework. We start by identifying what the purpose of the paragraph is - is it a main idea and key detail? Is it a narrative? A compare and contrast? A sequence? Opinion? Once we know the type of writing we can choose an appropriate graphic organizer to help organize sentences. This is a GAME CHANGER for students when they can begin to master these frameworks.
5. Essay Level Writing
As you can imagine by the time we move to essay level writing - we have to realize it can be difficult for students to break up this monstrous task. As with all previous writing steps, our goal is to support students by providing them a script or process that they can apply over and over as much as possible.
We also want to teach our students that the same processes they have learned at the paragraph level apply to the essay level. If we can make this a clear repeatable process, students can focus more on the content of their ideas and the organization can just fall into place.
By following this step-by-step process our students can begin to have an essay format that works across all the subject areas and they can feel confident in following the steps to get a solid essay every time. Let's break it down: Brainstorm your key details. Determine whether the key details have enough "meat" to be viable within the essay structure. Identify the key detail and outline three sentences to describe each detail. Then, we create a topic sentence that outlines the key detail. Next, we develop a brief summary using text evidence or information to support inclusion of the key detail. We finish with a concluding sentence that helps a reader understand why the key detail matters - this is the "who cares" sentence. We repeat the process of Step 3 for our second key detail. Then We repeat the process of Step 3 and 4 for our final key detail. We create an introduction paragraph. We create a conclusion paragraph. We review and check for COPS focusing on Capitals, Organization, Punctuation, and Spelling.
6. Edit for Style
After we’ve gotten through essay level writing and just getting basic content out onto paper we begin to look at editing. We break editing into two processes. 1. Editing for Style and Word Choice and 2. Editing for Mechanics. After our students work so hard on the content they often struggle with editing and word choice. One of the biggest challenges as we move into essay level writing is that there is a lot of repetition in the process and some of our students want to use the same transition word over, and over, and over again. Others haven't built up a mental word-bank of transition words yet and simply don't know what word to use. We pulled together a Transition Word Ring to support this phase of the editing process.
As students learn new transition words, they get to add them to their ring. This resource is multi-level. Our youngest writers will receive words like "first", "also" and "in conclusion," while our older writers should be using words like "above all else" and "sequentially."
7. Edit for Mechanics
One of the skills that is the MOST difficult for our struggling writers is editing for mechanics. And it makes sense - they’ve already done ALL THIS CONTENT PLANNING and editing for style, then we are asking them to go back through with a fine-tooth comb and somethings they aren’t entirely clearl on what they’re looking for. We use the COPS acronym to help support the writing process. Giving our student a brief acronym such as COPS could make all the difference. We like students to "send out the COPS on their work" in order to check for:
Do we have them where they belong? Do we have them anywhere they don't belong? Many of our students are equally guilty of throwing capitals into the middle of a word especially when it is a strategy that they developed to help overcome B & D reversals.
Do we have appropriate spaces and good overall appearance? Or for older students, we may be more focused on the organization of the sentence structure.
Do we have any punctuation? Many of our students are guilty of omitting these formalities altogether. Do we have the appropriate punctuation? For more advanced students do we have appropriate commas and other non-ending punctuation?
Often our students with dyslexia really struggle here. What we like to know is not necessarily if they can correct all spelling errors, they may not have the ability to do that independently. But - can they identify where a spelling error may have occurred? Can they underline or find words they think may have an issue? To us, that is a huge step in self-monitoring for writing since we have a number of technologies that can actually help us with spelling itself.
So there you have it…our 7-Step Writing Process.
We’d love to hear if this aligns with your view on writing and if you have any tips and tricks for your students! And…if you are looking for more writing activities, head on over to our TPT store! To learn more about how you can work with us directly, >>click here!<<