The global literacy rate is around 85%, yet writing is a problem for a majority of students. If students are unable to write well and communicate in an appropriate fashion, not only will their educational prospects be limited, but their professional and job prospects as well. As educators, it is our responsibility and duty to help students to write well, and we can always use more tips to help in this ongoing endeavour to empower students as they master the written word.
To that end, here are my top 5 tips to help students with writing.
1. Spend time on the main idea: Whether you are having students write thesis-driving persuasive essays or simple TedTalks or a book review (all templates available on EssayJack), their writing will centre around a main idea. In each context, the more specific and precise that main idea is, the better the writing about that idea will be. Have students do activities with adjectives and word choice to ensure that their “main idea” uses the most precise and specific diction possible. For instance, if a student writes about something being “upsetting,” it becomes more precise and specific if we know whether “upset” is used here to denote anger or frustration or sadness or embarrassment. If students spend more time getting their “main idea” as precise as possible, then that does half the work of getting them thinking through the implications of that main idea.
2. Always, always outline: Once your students have worked through their “main idea” to make it as precise and specific as they can, then you should have them come up with a rough outline. How will they support/explain/examine/illustrate their “main idea”? What evidence or sub points will they raise to help bring out the details of that main idea. For instance, if they are writing about something being “upsetting” (and they’ve clarified what kind of upset they mean), then they can begin to make an outline with some points supporting how or why the upset emerges.
3. Find some quotations: Once the student has a clear expression of their “main idea” and an outline, they are more than ready to find some quotations. These quotations may be evidence that helps to support or illustrate their points, or examples to help showcase their ideas to a broader audience, demonstrating their knowledge of the field. Sometimes, it’s also just helpful to have them integrate the words of someone else into their own writing to juxtapose different writing styles. For example, we know that “authors quote or paraphrase from books, papers, experts, facts, online text – all sorts of materials to help them make their points,” so why not get them started on this skill early?
4. Share with each other: Often students tend to think that their written work is only for the eyes of the teacher. They forget that communicative acts belong in larger conversations. We write to share our ideas and participate in a larger dialogue about the topic at hand. So have students with their “main ideas,” their outlines, and their key quotations sit down and walk someone else through their plans. This is an easy pair or group activity that can be done in class with each student telling their partner/group what their plan is for their writing. Often we discover the hiccups and errors in our own thinking when we try to say it out loud. As well, this is one step in the feedback process that helps students before they submit their work to you.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice: Of course, the only real way for students (or anyone) to improve their writing is to practice. Not all writing needs to be submitted for summative assessment, as this can be onerous on the instructor. Having students write short answers, or short statements and sharing those with each other can help them to write without you always having to be the one to provide feedback. Group activities can also be suggestions for getting students to write, but then the outcome may well be a presentation rather than a formal piece of prose for you.In any case, these are my top 5 tips for helping students to improve their writing. They are tried and true, easy to implement in the class, and can make a real difference to their writing outcomes, especially if there are standardised tests or AP tests as part of your teaching context.
Good luck…have fun…happy teaching!
P.S. if you found these tips helpful drop me a message on Twitter and let me know what else you’d like me to write about!
Useful samples and examples: