By Teachers, For Teachers
If we want students to succeed in school and professionally, they have to be able to express themselves in writing. But all too often, writing is only taught and practiced in the English/Language Arts setting. Yes, the Language Arts classroom is the primary place for students to learn to write. But if students grow up and never again identify the rhyme scheme in a poem or discuss the symbolism in a Shakespeare play, they still have to be able to write.
Writing is too important to confine it to one-sixth of the average school day. Consider these writing approaches, which can be used in a variety of subject areas:
A quick-write works as a bellringer or class opening activity. Have students respond to a quote from a famous person. Present them with a drawing, photograph, or diagram and ask them to write about what they see. Give them a question or prompt – for example, ask students to write about where they might use a new mathematical concept in their daily lives or have them write instructions to explain to another student how to prepare for a dissection or the correct way to plot points on a graph. You can prepare several of these in advance; even if you only use it once a week, it buys you five minutes to get yourself organized and take attendance, it reminds students that writing is not solely important in English class, and it may provide you with some interesting insight into what students actually understand about your subject.
Another bellringer option, Think Pair Share is also a great activity to use in connection with multimedia presentations or lectures. Give students a question or prompt to respond to, and ask them to think and write down their thoughts. After a few minutes, put them into pairs or small groups and ask them to discuss what they wrote. Then hold a class discussion and invite students to share their thoughts with the whole class. This activity can reinforce the value of writing as a way to clarify one’s thoughts and prepare to speak in public. It also may help quieter students or English Language Learners feel more confident speaking up in class.
Discussion in Writing
For a really memorable use of writing in the classroom, have teacher-sanctioned note-passing. Put students into pairs or groups and give them a topic to discuss, such as “Things I Need to Understand in Order to Pass the Next Test.” Then allow students to “discuss” the topic by passing notes with their partner or group. Reserve the right to read any notes that are passed, to keep students on topic. The students will get a kick out of being encouraged to pass notes, and it may be easier for a student to write “I really don’t get this” to one classmate than to raise a hand and say it in front of the whole class.
Many students don’t realize how they can use writing to help them think about what they are learning. They take notes because they are told to take notes, and that’s it. Consider starting a “learning journal” where students can reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. Set aside journal time at least once a week and ask students to respond in writing to prompts like “The hardest thing for me this week was…” or “As we prepare for the test, I still have a question about…”. This can give you useful information about how your students learn, and you may be providing them with a tool that can help them throughout the rest of their educational career.
Real World Document Creation
What kinds of real documents are used in your field? For example, historical societies and museums publish pamphlets about historical events. Scientists write articles for magazines. Teachers of all subjects create or obtain worksheets and textbooks. Choose a real world document that is related to your field and have students create it. For example, ask math students to create their own textbook pages as a way to review before a big test. They need to explain the mathematical concept in words, create example problems, and make sure they are solved correctly. Have students write up lab reports in science class or create websites about important historical events. These are useful, assessable activities that incorporate writing skills with content knowledge.
However you choose to implement writing across the curriculum, you can provide yourself with some fun new activities and help your students recognize the important of expressing themselves in words. Happy Writing!