Yes, I love teaching writing. Helping young writers build confidence is one of my teaching passions. However, it’s not because I am an amazing writer. In fact, it is quite the opposite: writing is one of my biggest challenges.
Hi, my name is Whitney, I’m an elementary school teacher, and I am a struggling writer.
All through elementary school, junior high, high school, and even college, I struggled with crafting thoughtful and organized writing pieces. It wasn’t until my teaching credential that I figured out how to put my thoughts together in an organized fashion.
I realized it wasn’t that I couldn’t write, I had never really learned how to write. I can’t believe I went so far in my life without any formal writing support (yikes). Looking back, I wish I had learned at a young age how to purposefully structure my writing.
The challenges writing posed to me as a student ultimately helped shape my philosophy as a writing educator. My goal: to help young writers develop the skills necessary to be successful and confident writers of the future. Unlike my early writing experience, I want to prepare my students for any writing challenge. No matter what they are asked to write, and no matter the audience or purpose, I strive to equip them for writing success.
I developed 5 main strategies (and one bonus tip) that I use to improve student confidence in writing.
When I first went into education, I was nervous about teaching writing to my students. I thought to myself, “if I can’t write, how can I possibly teach my students to write?”
Enter: The Writing Process.
I noticed following specific steps helped even the most reluctant writers find success. That’s when I knew that the process of writing is just as important as the writing itself. Whether writing a narrative story, an informative essay, or even a short reading response, students use the writing process to tackle writing challenge thoughtfully.
With practice, young writers get in the habit of practicing the phases of the writing process. Using this skill throughout genres and writing types, students gain confidence in their ability to tackle writing challenges. Using the writing process is one of the most important strategies to build confidence in young writers.
2. Build Writing Fluency and Endurance
Writing is a muscle: if it doesn’t get used, it gets weaker and weaker. We need to exercise our writing muscles by practicing writing every day. Yep. Every day. Additionally, just like we need to build up muscle strength, we need to develop writing fluency and writing endurance. Both of these writing skills take practice and need regular exercise.
Building writing fluency can be fun and it is a skill we can start developing right away. This is a challenge for many students. Some want to write a draft perfectly from the start. They stop frequently because they can’t spell a word, or try to edit their writing while drafting. I call this “Perfectionist Paralysis.” We need to break these bad habits and get kids writing fluently without stopping.
One of my favorite ways to improve writing fluency is FreeWriting. During FreeWriting time, students are encouraged to write about whatever they want. The restrictions are they must write without stopping and let their minds wander. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation do not matter. They just write for a certain period of time (I start with 1 to 2 minutes at the beginning of the year and work up to 5-6 minutes toward the end). No erasing. Just writing. At first, it is difficult for many students. They are not used to the sensation of writing and writing quickly. Eventually, they start to love it and FreeWriting becomes many students’ favorite writing warm-up activity.
Check out my Free Download, Building Writing Fluency & Endurance for a free mini-lesson on Freewriting.
Young writers need to learn to write quickly, but they also need to be able to write for an extended period of time without stopping. That is why we need to build writing endurance. This skill is practiced during FreeWriting. As I mentioned before, FreeWriting is writing without stopping (on a topic of student’s choice) and letting their minds wander. As the year progresses and FreeWriting Time increases, and this allows students to build up their endurance.
To build endurance, students must continue writing without stopping for a longer period of time. By gradually increasing the Freewriting time, students learn to slowly build more writing endurance. By the end of the year, students often surprise themselves by finding they fill up an entire page during a FreeWriting session.
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3. Deliver Mini Lessons that Build Writing Skills
I try to move away from placing so much emphasis on spelling and grammar (through isolated worksheets), and instead, use mini writing lessons to focus on a specific writing skill.
Some examples of mini-lessons for writing skills might include: adding transitions, building strong sentences, writing engaging leads, using powerful verbs, and eliminating dead words. Each of these lessons can be embedded in a writing unit and put into action authentically.
When students learn skills during mini-writing lessons and then apply them to their own writing, I find students begin to use them organically. Young writers often notice that their writing is improving and sounds more “professional.”. These small skills have a lasting impact on writing outcomes.
When I first started teaching writing, I have to admit, I would sometimes ask the students to write a paragraph or even an essay on a subject and then just let them go free.
No graphic organizers.
Basically, I was throwing many of my students into a writing ocean where they were sure to drown. Yikes! I was setting my students up for the same writing failure that I endured. Quickly, I learned that students need support (in the form of graphic organizers), and modeled instruction when it comes to writing.
Scaffolded Writing Instruction
I quickly realized that if I wanted my students to engage in the prewriting phase of the writing process, I needed to set them up for success. I began developing graphic organizers related to our writing topics. These tools not only helped students to organize their thoughts and writing, but it also allowed them to visually see the structure of the overall writing piece.
Suddenly, I noticed a huge improvement in writing organization. They were actually prewriting and planning their writing and boy did it totally change the quality! Additionally, students feel less overwhelmed by the task when it is broken up into manageable chunks. Even my struggling writers put information together in a more organized fashion.
Modeled Writing Instruction
However, it is not enough to throw graphic organizers at students and tell them to go for it. They need to observe modeled instruction. First, I choose a part of the graphic organizer to fill-in. Next, I model what the process looks like.
This step-by-step modeling requires a lot of think-aloud, asking for student help, and actually going through the whole motion of writing it down. I then give students time to work on their own graphic organizers independently. I leave up my sample as a reference. Initially, I let students who require extra support copy down what I have written. Students who are more capable can use my example as a reference and adapt it for their own writing.
With more practice, their ability to use the organizer improves, and soon they fill in the graphic organizers independently.
5. Analyze Exemplar Samples and Mentor Texts
Students need quality writing examples. Have you ever noticed that some of your strongest readers are also some of your strongest writers? This is because they tend to read more and get exposure to a variety of quality writing. The more students read, the more they understand when a piece of writing sounds right or when it sounds “off.” Students should take the time to analyze mentor texts and exemplary writing samples. This allows them to understand teacher expectations.
I use Mentor Texts before starting a new writing type. For instance, before beginning an informative writing piece, my students look in a science or social studies textbook (or an article online). We use the text to analyze the features as a class. We discuss features that are specific to this style of writing. For non-fiction, we look at headings, subheadings, facts, formal language, introduction to a topic, main ideas, supporting details, sentence structure, and images with captions. Students must take the time to discover what makes a piece of writing unique. This helps them understand the structure of the writing style for them to emulate.
Exemplary Writing Samples
In addition to analyzing a mentor text, I also like analyzing writing exemplars related to the writing task. This could either be writing by a student or a teacher-created model. Providing students with specific examples of what they will write helps them form ideas and reduces writing anxiety. Increasing understanding and decreasing uncertainty lead to more confidence.
Okay, I wanted to stop at five, but I have one more bonus strategy. Use peer collaboration to help build writing confidence. Peers have a huge impact on student behaviors. We can use this to our advantage by allowing them to have a significant impact on student writing. Peers offer ideas, motivation, and support when it comes to writing.
Before beginning a writing activity, I like to have kids partner share ideas they have about the topic. This is a huge part of the prewriting phase. It allows students to verbally construct thoughts as well as spark ideas in other young writers. This helps all students to feel successful as they begin brainstorming and outlining.
When student writing is shared with peers, motivation to try harder increases. Thus, an audience of peers encourages students to put more effort into assignments.
I think support is an important aspect of using peer collaboration in writing. Peers help to support each other in a couple ways. First of all, when students read each other’s writing, it exposes them to a variety of sample texts. Struggling writers get to see exemplar writing models and strong writers get to support struggling writers with revising and improving their work. Because of this, I love peer editing and revision. When taught how to revise another student’s work effectively, peer revision and collaboration can play a significant role in student writing growth and confidence.
I find that by incorporating these writing strategies into my writing program, my students feel encouraged to take more ownership of their writing, have a clear picture of teacher expectations, and exude more confidence with writing challenges.
Some of my best testimonials are from past students. I love when students come back to tell me that writing is now easy for them. Yes, I have had students use the exact phrase, “writing is now easy!!” When a student tells me that she likes writing or writing is easy, my heart flutters. That is music to my ears! When young writers feel confident in their abilities, I have reached one of my greatest goals as a teacher! Success!
Let me know if you use any of these strategies or if you have any other strategies that you use to increase confidence in your young writers.
The Primary Professor