For as long as I can remember, I have been enamored by the act of writing. I began journaling as soon as I could scribble down a sentence, and now have boxes filled with books whose pages, once blank, are now filled with my thoughts. Writing in a journal helped me work through my emotions, when I wasn’t willing to share what I was feeling with others. It relaxed me and helped me unwind after along or fast-paced day. It developed my voice as a writer, as well as my creativity as a storyteller. There are few things I love more than flipping through an old journal and reliving the little details about a day that I no longer remember much about. Many of the benefits I experienced from journal writing can be translated to the classroom, and throughout the content areas!
As educators, we are aware of the essential role that writing plays in students’ academic careers, as well as their professional and personal lives afterwards. In addition to supporting learning through providing students opportunities for explanation, clarification, and reflection, writing is an excellent assessment tool and can be utilized across the curriculum!
But where to begin? Removing the anxiety that many students might feel about writing through the implementation of “low-stakes” writing assignments is a great place to start. Students can be given short periods of time to focus on a topic, during which they should jot down their thoughts. Whether it be to create a list of questions or reflect on their knowledge, writing down their thoughts before a discussion might be the extra push some students need to feel confident enough to participate and share in a conversation with their peers. “Low-stakes” writing should not be graded and should contain minimal structure, giving students the freedom they need to use pencil and paper (or keyboard) to generate ideas at their own pace and level. If students are asked to write in some capacity during all areas of instruction, they are bound to develop their language arts skills.
Some Best Practices
Having trouble getting your students started with putting their ideas down on paper? Consider providing them with some sentence starters, sentence frames, or mini-journal prompts to jump start their thinking. Planning these scaffolds in advance can help guide your students’ thinking about the topic at hand. Limiting their writing time to less than 10 minutes provides them with a sense of urgency to get started, as well. Incorporating this writing into discussions in which they explain their thinking or reflect on what they’ve learned gives it purpose.
Wondering how you’ll be able to find time in your lessons to include low-stakes writing along with everything else? It’s all in the plan! When constructing your lesson plans, designate specific points during which students can “Stop and Jot” down their thoughts about, or reactions to, the material. Providing opportunities to pause the lesson and allowing students to write-pair-share, gives students some ownership of their own learning.
Considering assigning students a lengthy writing assignment? A best practice for planning writing in any area of instruction is the utilization of a graphic organizer. Students can identify important vocabulary, sequence events, explain causes and their effects, and so much more! Graphic organizers are an excellent pre-writing strategy, but also come in handy when taking notes!
The Frayer Model is an example of a helpful organizer that can be used to develop students’ understanding of challenging academic vocabulary. Students dive deep into the components of new vocabulary words by writing down their definitions, characteristics, examples, and non-examples. A collection of these models can be kept in students’ notebooks for future reference.
Keep Calm and Write On!
While writing might be its own area of study, its use across the curriculum has unlimited benefits! Precise planning of frequent opportunities for students to write in all content areas will significantly develop the skills they will need for future success. In addition to developing their language arts skills, writing is a valuable tool that can help with understanding content in a variety of subjects as well! So, let’s keep calm and write on!
Want to learn more about this topic? Check out our workshop on Writing in the Content Areas.