Step-by-Step: Tackling the Writing Process
Teaching the writing process to early writers can be challenging. Students tend to complete an entire composition before your writing block is over, and they are quick to say, “I am DONE!” and promise you that they walked through the ENTIRE process… like what??!
Truth is - early writers simply do not know what to do. Every element you wish for your students to master has to be explicitly discussed, taught, and practiced. These helpful strategies will hold your students accountable when it comes to taking ownership of the writing process with fidelity!
Discussing the Writing Process
Ask your students open-ended and thought-provoking questions about the writing process. It will allow you to quickly assess their understanding of the process and its purpose. You could ask:
“Could you tell me about the writing process?” (gather baseline data)
“How does the writing process work?” (monitor steps in sequence)
“Why would a person/author need to use the writing process?” (Is the purpose understood?)
“Have you used the writing process to publish a composition? Please walk me through the steps you followed as best as you can remember.” (listen closely to appropriate application of key elements)
Their answers will help you to gauge your next steps.
Teaching the Writing Process
Writing elements should be taught thoroughly prior to releasing students to attempt them on their own. Why not just let them write? If I give an inexperienced beginner a bike and tell him to go, chances are that he will
stumble and fall which results in a lack of desire to try again
end up somewhere I did not intend for him to be
wind up lost and fearful resulting in never wanting to go on that journey again
stay idle and not move since he lacks direction and further instruction
This little child will turn into our entire classroom of writers if we do not take the time to teach skills explicitly. The writing process involves steps. There is a series of actions that writers take when developing and expanding on their ideas. This structure is vital to producing a composition.
Practicing the Writing Process
It’s important to model your thinking and write your composition with your students, but planning out your writing in advance has many benefits. I plan my brainstorming topics, I know which words I will repeat when I start writing, which sentences will be out of sequence, where I will leave off punctuation and capitals in my draft... it is thoroughly planned beforehand.
The brainstorming/prewriting stage may be one of the most important decisions for your writers to make! Not only do they need to choose a topic, but they should be able to know and recall important events related to that topic in great detail. On a blank page, you will begin brainstorming topics you would like to write about. You will show your students the various ways that writers can brainstorm and will experiment with a couple of formats like making a web, a list, or pictures. Once you make your list, you will give students a chance to brainstorm on their own. Then, select one idea that you can recall several details about and teach them to narrow that bigger idea into specific moments. You will speak aloud your thoughts and jot them down:
“I remember a time when I lost my first tooth. I was at school when it happened. I also remember a time I literally lost my tooth! I lost it at school and placed it into my backpack - when I got home, it was nowhere to be found! Oh no- what about the tooth fairy?! Another memory I have about losing a tooth is when one of them wouldn’t come out! My mom had to get creative to help get it out! I have so many small moments about losing a tooth but I think I will choose the time I placed the tooth in my backpack and it went missing! I can’t wait to share that story with my audience!”
Next, your students will go back to their list of topics and will select one that they can expand upon. They will write all of the different small moments they have and will circle the small moment of their choice. Now they are ready to move on to drafting!
The drafting stage should not be stressful for students! We want our students to feel success in their ability to write details and express their topic from beginning to end. Helpful reminders to continuously verbalize to your students:
the drafting stage is just a sloppy copy - write freely and do not worry too much about the structure, neatness or illustrations
skip lines - this will be extremely important and helpful for when it is time to revise and edit; it helps keep the paper less cluttered
sequence events by including a clear beginning, middle and end to the topic - write sentences/paragraphs in order
I start on a fresh piece of paper and will think aloud on my topic. I will literally start at the beginning (setting: time and place) and as I recall my story, I pause to write it. I want my students to do the same thing but they have to see it to understand their expectation. I continue this process, in small chunks, until I have a rough copy complete. This step could span over the course of a few days considering the topic and student attention/engagement span.
After my students and I have successfully written our drafts, I will move on to teaching about the importance of revision. Revision includes elements like using strong writing leads to hook their readers as well as adding strong conclusions to their composition. Remember how I planned my entire composition before writing this with my kiddos? Remember how I encouraged students to skip lines? Now I will go to specific pre-planned moments where I can show:
how to remove a sentence (rereading the paragraph showing how the deleted sentence was “off topic” and sounds better without it)
how to add or move around other words or sentences so the flow is more consistent for my reader
places where I used repetitive words - we will then stop and look for better word choices. Whether it’s a common word or a word they found synonyms for, we will flip through our thesaurus to look for a word substitute and replacement
how transition words will help my readers transition from one part of my writing to the next
Revisions are made in the skipped blank lines. It is so easy to clearly see the revisions (and future edits)!
By now your students are probably feeling tired and had no idea all of these steps were needed to successfully complete a composition! Say, “Writers must do these important steps to ensure that their writing is at its best for their audience. It is HARD work!”
As I model this next step on my draft, it will be very important for me to focus and look at capitalization, punctuation, correct spelling (high frequency words, vowel pairs and other spelling patterns), and subject-verb agreement (think: Is this written in past or present tense? Do the nouns agree with the verbs?).
Tell your students, “Please do not rush! Take your time to be thorough and accurate”. Repeat as needed.
Have students use classroom resources to assist them in the editing process. Examples include colored pens, “editing glasses” (glasses with the lenses pushed out - these “editing glasses” have “special rims” that help our eyes to focus only on edits), using checklists, etc.
Remember to hold writing conferences with students. This time is so important so you can ensure students are practicing effectively.
During the editing process, involve peers and/or parents to assist and provide an “extra set of eyes” when a student says that the editing process is complete.
Please note: although students are editing now, they may come across a revision they need to make. Encourage them to make the change but continue to stay on track with editing.
Yayyyyy!! It’s a celebration!!! Almost. There are a few more to-do items before publishing the final copy! Your students went through all of this hard work and now made it to the end! Available for my students are checklists of reminders and tips for publishing. Students should:
practice reading the draft (with all revisions and edits) aloud to make sure it sounds its best
write very neat and clean as this is the final copy (typing is always an option)
add neat and detailed illustrations (if needed)
After the Final Copy is written...
Students can read their writing aloud to 2-3 buddies. These buddies can be classmates, or you can partner up with another classroom. This is a time for students to read their writing and understand that they wrote it for a specific purpose and audience.
*Optional* It’s Party Time!!
Have you heard of a Publishing Party? Your students have been SO dedicated over the course of the last week or two. During the Publishing Party, we highlight and recognize our accomplishment and we celebrate each students’ writing composition! We celebrate with snacks and sticky notes!! Each student receives 5 sticky notes and are invited to read up to 5 other pieces of writing and leave positive feedback to the author. We discuss what positive feedback looks like and what it is not. For example, leaving the feedback: “You could have used better colors on your illustrations. I don’t like how you drew your pictures.” is not positive, but saying, “I like that you added illustrations to help me see what was happening in your story.” is positive. After feedback is given, I open up the floor to “Share the Chair”. This is when a student may sit in the teacher chair and share his/her written composition with the class! I allow 3-4 students to share on this particular day (variety of ability levels) and other students will share in the days to follow. This is a powerful process!
So... What’s Next?
Consider these helpful Tips:
Write DAILY (more writing practice = more writing process opportunities)
Model appropriate pacing and planning of steps (__step should take __day(s); the goal will be to complete __)
Set limits (__ sentences are expected to be on your paper; we will actively write for __minutes)
DAILY conferences (rotate and check in with students daily; allow other students to “stop, look and listen” if they are overhearing your conference nearby)
Stay present (focus on the writing task of that day)
Introduce different writing strategies (what works for one may not for another - be mindful of students who need a challenge, different method, etc.)
Provide resources of assistance (provide charts and checklists to all students - eventually they will not need to use them anymore; making resources accessible helps with independence and accountability)
You may be interested in reading:
I find that these writing offices hold so much information while also staying compact! They can also serve as a privacy folder so students can focus better. I love that they can be “mix-and-matched” to design the perfect office for your students. Help your students find success when tackling the writing process and exploring other elements to writing. These anchor charts are right at your students’ fingertips and can be used all year long! Check them out using the link below!
About the Author:
Megan Polk is an elementary teacher, servicing students kindergarten to fifth grade. She is the literacy specialist on her elementary school campus and teaching has always been her passion. Megan is a Teacher-Author who creates several resources for reading and writing. She loves seeing her resources impact the lives of teachers and students all over the world! Megan also coaches teachers in reading/writing instruction while also providing specialized services to students with dyslexia. Literacy is embedded into all subjects and areas of life, and it's her goal to make reading/writing engaging, interactive and enjoyable! In her free time, you will find her journaling, creating curriculum, or traveling to another state or country!