Research and my own experience tell me that students must practice writing in short, daily exercises to develop the fluency needed to grow as writers. Because reading and writing are connected and because books are ideal mentors and models of what authors do, I recommend that whatever you and your students are reading, they should be writing. If you’re reading poetry, write poetry; if you’re reading about animals, write about animals; if you’re reading biography, write biographies.
Consider organizing the school day so that you schedule a protected time for students to write EVERY DAY. When teachers do this, we are saying to our students that writing is really important and takes practice. Remember the mantra: If you value it, you will make time for it. Consider adopting a “writing into the day” ritual or adopting a science (or social studies or math) notebook that students will use daily. Writing is thinking made visible. Writing makes content knowledge meaningful because it provides a way to probe what a student doesn’t yet know or fully understand. Once students revisit their learning experiences, they reflect on the significance of those experiences, perform higher-order thinking, and extend their knowledge. The marbleized cardboard covered composition books work nicely as a writer’s notebook or lab notebook; they’re also affordable.
Starting a writing workshop will mean giving students time each day to write and sharing a writing mini-lesson, such as how to eliminate unnecessary words in their writing. Students often write a lot by repeating themselves or by adding unnecessary details. Teach students to reread their writing, to take out what isn't necessary, and to use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Nouns act as the engines in a sentence and action verbs are the fuel that propel the sentence forward. On this subject, I especially like Mark Twain’s words: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Although you may not be inclined to share that quote with your students, you can share this one from Twain: “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
If you encourage students to explore strong models of writing, they will often imitate what they see. Consequently, the texts you select for your classroom library become critical teachers—your companions and partners in education! In them, authors will model writing for a variety of genuine purposes: inform and explain, evaluate and judge, analyze and interpret, or take a stand. Thinking Zone offers a list of books which lend themselves to the teaching of various writing strategies and language use modeled by real authors and reproducible by all writers.
By Dr. Donna L. Miller