When you provide writing supports to students, you not only reduce their stress but you also reduce your workload. Writing can be challenging for many students. When it comes time to introduce a writing project, I often feel like the teacher in the movie A Christmas Story.
“Now, Class. We are going to write… a THEME!” (The class moans!)
Well, I may have introduced writing this way when I first started teaching, but now I know better.
Build anticipation to motivate writing in the classroom
I’ve learned to “sneak” writing in by building anticipation (as well as background knowledge). I may read a picture book or two with the topic in mind. We may watch a video or read a letter to the editor. I may hook them with some crazy topic that we’ll include in our writing. Recently, we researched edible bugs. Students searched the web for an entire period checking out pictures and reading the text. They were hooked before I even uttered the words Argumentative Essay. Increasing excitement for a topic helps increase motivation and reduces student stress often associated with expository writing assignments.
Provide writing supports for struggling writers
The most useful tool I’ve found to increase productivity and decrease writing anxiety is the use of writing frames. When I teach expository writing, I always provide a writing frame for organization. I find the basic frame, which includes shapes for topic and concluding sentences as well as shapes for supporting sentences, to be the most effective. The task of writing makes more sense when using a writing frame because students seek the visual organization for their ideas. For more specific details about teaching paragraph writing, read this blog post.
Paragraph frames provide structured writing supports
I teach the use of this basic organizational frame early in the year. Of course, I always review the skills of writing topic and concluding sentences. The basic frame looks something like this
This particular writing frame is from my unit on literary analysis writing found on Teachers Pay Teachers. There are specific shapes for the topic sentence, the concluding sentence (or transition sentence), and for the detail sentences. When students sees this writing frame, they can tell that they will write 5 sentences, one for each shape.
Reluctant writers find comfort in structure, and students receive this structure when they are taught how to use paragraph writing frames. The organization of ideas makes more sense to students when they are given this visual support. As they become more proficient, students may opt to not use a frame, but I know my sixth graders prefer using them throughout the year.
Writing frames are great when writing about reading
To a reluctant writer, a blank page can be overwhelming. Writing frames reduce the anxiety that a blank page can create. This is one of the best reasons to provide writing frames to students.
When students are writing about reading, I find text evidence proof writing frames especially useful. One of my favorites was developed while sitting in a workshop one summer afternoon (What?? I was listening to the speaker as I worked!!!) I don’t know why it came to me, but I had to get it down.
The shapes along the left side correspond to the type of sentence being written and show where the sentence fits in a paragraph. I love the inclusion of content-specific vocabulary from the text. You can see that the focus for reading (or a teacher prompt) is at the top of the page. Since I teach social studies as well as language arts, I find many uses for the text evidence proof frame. It’s become a staple in my classroom, and our science teacher uses it as well. You can find this writing frame as part of my Text Evidence Unit on TPT.
So, if you’re looking for ways to simplify expository writing in any subject area, writing frames are a great place to start. Students can even draw the frames themselves when they feel like they need more structure. I’d love to hear some of your ideas for using writing supports in the classroom.