Supporting Writers At All Levels

Teaching writing can be overwhelming to the max!  The variety of writing skills (not just six traits) students need to master and the multifaceted competencies our students exhibit can make your head spin! I'm not a fan of labeling students but over the course of ten years teaching writing, there are some common characteristics I've come to find among students in my classes every year. Below is a list of these groups of students and strategies for supporting them.

The Early Finishers

These students could use a mini lesson or two on the phrase “when I’m done I’ve just begun.” Many students who say they are done just need a break away from their piece for a bit. You can choose to give them opportunities to take a break and just read or draw a picture of a story idea. You can also use a chart that allows students to choose from a list of activities to do when they think they are done. Here's a nice poster chart to help you with that...

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IEP Students

These students need opportunities to feel confident and competent! Praise, praise and praise some more. Many IEP students are resistant to even start writing.

One strategy is to write in highlighter as they tell you their ideas. Then, when you have written a whole page or half a page, depending on the student, have them go back, read and trace the highlighted words. I realize this takes a lot of one-on-one time that is hard to manage with a class of 25-30 students. You could ask an aide, parent volunteer or the special ed. teacher for support in this as well.

Special Ed students greatly benefit from sentence stems too. Before a mini lesson think of what sentence stems you will provide them with. For example if one of your sped students is writing an informational book on birds, quickly jot the following stems for them to use during writing:
Birds are… Birds live…Birds eat…I love birds because…My favorite bird is…

If you have many special needs children in your class you could assign them specific tasks that are easy to manage during writing. Tell one student to draw you a picture of something involving their topic and write one or two words about the picture. Have another student go around with your clipboard putting stars next to names of students who are focused on writing and those that are distracted. Make sure to show the student examples of people who are focused and examples of people who are not. Students will love doing this and it will give them so much confidence! Have another in charge of listening to peer conferences and making sure students are actually talking about writing. Then, you can work with two or three students who talk aloud as you write their ideas. You can rotate these students through the different roles. Another great tool is Google Voice Typing and giving students opportunities to type their work. What third grade student isn't motivated when they get to use technology?!?

The Sloppy Writer

These students need to be praised for all that they have written! They also need a mini lesson on slowing down. Have them reread what they wrote to you and ask them what they notice (hopefully they notice they can’t read their own writing very well). Explain that most of being a writer is rereading what you wrote and if the writing is so sloppy you can’t make out what it says you won’t be able to do this. Have this student practice writing slower and constantly check up on them to see how they are doing with this individual goal. Praise them for how nice their writing is looking lately. You could also skip all the above advice and just let them type!

The Unmotivated Writer

Closely observe these students, what do they like to do at recess, what books do they choose at the library, what do they talk about with other classmates. Ask them questions about what they did over the weekend, at recess or last summer. Let them know you’ve noticed they are interested in____________.  Ask them to tell you about these topics and listen with undivided attention. Exclaim that they should publish a book about this topic/experience! You may even write some sentence starters in their journal based on what they said.

Using Google Voice Typing, laptop or computer to work on their story will also be a sure way to get the unmotivated moving. Sometimes students who are unmotivated give lots of excuses about not having any ideas to write about. Here is a chart that might help:


The Overachiever

Some students will surpass others in their writing work and you will wish they would just slow down because you aren’t ready, you’ll think, “I haven’t gotten to that lesson yet!” My advice is just go for it, briefly tell the student the next step. Usually a quick mini lesson with these students will get them off and running. Also, the work these students produce could be the work sample you need for the upcoming mini lesson.

Okay...What's Most Important Here?

This is a lot of information to take in. There are simple strategies to take away from this article but what is really most important? Praise. Students need you to praise them not constantly look for fault in what they are doing. Remember always that your students are kids and writing is hard! I highly recommend you go back and reread something you wrote when you were a kid. You'll probably notice some shocking things! I'll leave you with some of my writing pieces from when I was in 3rd-6th grade:) 

Okay, obviously I don't know how to spell a lot, write with detail or know the difference between women and woman. AND this is writing I did in 6th grade!

Okay, obviously I don't know how to spell a lot, write with detail or know the difference between women and woman. AND this is writing I did in 6th grade!

In 4th grade I didn't know the difference between your and you're or how to spell trying, lol:)

In 4th grade I didn't know the difference between your and you're or how to spell trying, lol:)

And yet...I still made student of the mouth, hehe month (and it was spelled right there for me too!)

And yet...I still made student of the mouth, hehe month (and it was spelled right there for me too!)

About the Author

Amanda Werner is a full time English and History sixth grade teacher in the Bay Area. She has been teaching for ten years and still feels like a novice. Every year is a unique and exciting challenge to inspire a new group of students in becoming avid readers and writers. Amanda reads educational literature voraciously and writes about the teaching of writing on her website She also writes curriculum for Teach Box, a monthly subscription service for creative English teachers. Amanda received her B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Humanities at Western Washington University. She has both an elementary and secondary teaching license and a mathematics credential. In her free time, Amanda loves being outdoors with her humorous husband and sweet and spunky two and a half year old daughter.