13 thoughts on “Writing: Best Practices

  1. I guess it depends on what kind of writing is being taught. when I think of the NY State Regents exams, students need to know how to actively read the directions,and know what the task is asking. They need to learn how to organize their information logically. For my students that involves some sort of graphic organizer. Most students stare at a blank page never bothering to brainstorm first. I often wonder how stressful that must be to look at a blank piece of paper. I would say the writing process as far as pre-writing, rough draft, revising/editing and publishing is also important in teaching writing.

  2. Prior to teaching any writing, I think 3 elements are very important

    1. Modeling (inc. discussion of why they're good writing- both published pieces and students' pieces)

    2. Peer Conferences- Completing them correctly, completely and well. Asking specific questions on the peer review sheet to enhance the targeted writing skill(s) for the piece. (It helped (me) in the beginning to make a "good" completion of a peer review/edit sheet part of the editor's score.. as opposed to the author's)

    3. Knowing that no piece is ever (really) in final draft, that all (well, maybe not all, but 95%) pieces could be enhanced in (yet) another draft

    SL

  3. PS

    The best writing teacher that I ever had, always remarked

    "Three before me."

    That meant

    1. the writer (graphic organizer, draft one)

    2. the peer editor (draft two)

    3. the second peer editor (draft three)

    4. the teacher (draft four)

    5. final draft

    SL

  4. I haven't tried teaching it full-time, but I write for a living.

    I'll share the quick advice for writers that I got as a teenager from my uncle. The late David Thomas Lauderdale Jr. taught English at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta for 25 years.

    He said something to this effect: "Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. Like the Ten Commandments."

    My advice is to always use an informal outline. It helps you decide what to leave out. It helps you focus. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Use a dictionary.

  5. Sorry.. one more comment, or I won't be able to sleep …. In a previous comment, I wrote this:

    "the best writing teacher that (sic)"

    I should have written this:

    "the best writing teacher who …."

    I am mortified. And, I thought only my spelling was declining w/ age!

    SL

  6. Research. The key to good writing is knowing something. The key to knowing things is research. It may be visiting a place with a notebook, or talking to people, or even googling things, but knowledge of the world goes a long ways toward making a writer interesting. Far too much emphasis is put on such things as "voice" and "authenticity" these days. According to me.

    Honesty. Getting at the truth of what you think and feel is the real game. It's harder than it sounds, and young writers can't hear too much about it.

  7. Some of my best practices for teaching writing are to use writing often– get the students used to writing anything before you even think about giving a formal assignment.

    Also, stressing the importance of prewriting without directly stressing it is important. Students seem to think that prewriting is making them do more work when in actuality, it is making them do less later on in the game.

    Of course, these 'best practices' will be unique to my students only, as I don't know what can work for every student ever. So.

  8. What do you mean by "learning to write," Dana? The advice we get from David and Mike is great for people who are writing reports; reports require knowledgeable information and clarity. Carol's advice is on target when writing for exams; tests value organization and technical proficiency. Syb's suggestions are useful for helping students develop a process for approaching school writing assignments–most useful when they get to college. And Jen's suggestions are valuable for helping students become comfortable with writing–a wonderful starting place.

    All give good advice but each is a best practice for only a limited part of writing. What good advice do we have for: having students weave humor into their pieces; for having them fashion clarifying metaphors; for proper use of their life experiences to illustrate their academic points; for helping them find the precise word or image that brings a point to life; for bringing in cultural references that allow them to say a lot in a few words; for these and for all the other things that distinguish good writing from word compilation?

    I think the first thing you have to ask yourself, Dana, is, what do I value in a piece of non-fiction writing: big human questions, clarity, eloquence, evidence/facts/information,

    fresh perspective/different point of view, fresh voice, getting to an emotional truth, revealing something real, great stories, honesty, humanity, humor, leaving the reader thinking, making connections, relevance, self-revelation/introspection, terseness, tight organization, grammatical precision, moral values, etc.? Set your priorities then set your assignments and your lessons accordingly. It’s okay if we don’t value the same things, so long as each of us helps the students understand why the things we value in writing are important.

    Best practices?–Knowing what you want the students to learn about writing and forming lessons and assignments that will help them develop those writing muscles.

    Joe

  9. Joe, let me clarify. I am not seeking advice for teaching writing. What I want to know is what other teachers think is good to include when teaching writing, and I want to know for a specific reason. That specific reason is not that I feel I need help or am doing something wrong. It's a matter of obtaining the perspective of other teachers.

  10. Wow! What a great (both thought-provoking and large) question you've posed. I agree with most of the voices here – modeling, conferencing, setting goals/criteria and designing lessons based on those standards (backwards design)- but I would also like to add self-reflection to the list of best practices. Students learn the steps of the writing process, the goals of a particular assignment, how to make sure there are commas before coordinating conjunctions, then throw out those skills once the grade has been handed down. Yes, I exaggerate a bit. But students are very used to being told how they are doing with their writing without ever really taking ownership of their writing.

    I have my students begin each semester by establishing goals and assessing their progress on those goals following each writing assignment. Students identify strengths and areas for improvement following each writing assignment, establish goals for the next writing assignment, and then reflect on what they did to meet those goals throughout the current writing assignment. The more students reflect on their own writing and process, the more they own that process. I feel reflection is the key for change.

  11. Thank you for the clarification, Dana. So, here are some of my classroom writing practices (mine in the sense that I use them, not that I invented them). Personal thesaurus–we look for words and phrases in our writing that seem to say something but really don't communicate such as "nice" or "boring" and we open them up (like geodes) to reveal the beautiful variety and specificity that hide within them. The words, prhases, even sentences that we find, we add to our thesaurus.

    Free writes–five to ten minute bursts of writing without stop, followed by a sharing of as little as one word and as much as the whole thing.

    Loop writing–playing with the topic of interest in different ways until we find what we REALLY want to write about.

    Process Writing–Writing about our writing process. I try to have them find something they like in what they have written and tell about how they got to it and why they like it. So much about learning to write has to do with confidence. It is vital to build students' confidence in their abilities if we want them to be good writers.

    Exploring different opening and closing paragraphs–we collect good openings and closings from our own writing and from our readings. We look closely at one a week.

    Adopt a word–we each adopt a word for a week (there's more to this than I can explain here). We make sure we use the word at least 20 times during its week as our adopted word.

    Have fun, have fun, have fun.

    Joe

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  13. Regarding relative pronouns:

    "Who, whom" for humans

    "Which" for non humans

    "That" for humans or nonhumans

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