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Candra McKenzie

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Writing Strategies for Students

When devising writing strategies for students, teachers often find themselves at a loss for how to accommodate their class. How can you make writing engaging while also helping your students improve?

In this piece, we’re going to go over various writing strategies for students, including writing strategy examples and writing strategies for teachers. This is more than just a writing strategies list or a writing strategies for students pdf—we’re going to show numerous writing strategies to help you engage your students and teach effective writing.

Strategies In Teaching Writing

Though your specific strategies in teaching writing and teaching writing activities will depend on your kids’ grade level, there’s a few things that can be adapted to any grade level. Here are 5 writing strategies that fit that criteria!

Use Mentor Texts

There’s a reason they say you need to read to write. When students are young and can absorb information, the best way they can learn to write is to read. In addition to encouraging students to read, mentor texts allow you to facilitate learning. 

Read these books as a class, talk about them as a class (pay special attention to structure and tone), then list what makes this book different. This could relate to how a novel is structured or how educational books feature a lot of diagrams.

Use a Rubric

No matter how thorough your teaching, it always helps to let students see what they’re striving towards. This helps them get practice using the right techniques instead of guessing at what they don’t know. Moreover, it helps them internalize the criteria and memorize it better.

Write Collaboratively

Writing has famously been described as an art for introverts, but that doesn’t need to be true! As the teacher, act as a scribe while your students collaborate on the piece. Alternatively, you can break the students into small groups and have each group write a story. Start with a prompt or a character, then have your students discuss what should happen next.

This will help students practice writing while also learning new genres, help you create a high-quality model for independent writing, and help connect writing to oral language.

Writing Strategies for Elementary Students

When formulating writing strategies for elementary students, you’ll need to keep in mind the best practices for teaching writing in elementary school. It’s important you provide daily time for students to write, teach students to use writing for a variety of purposes, and teach basic grammar and handwriting.

With that in mind, let’s look at some strategies to improve writing skills in elementary school.

Use a Paragraph Hamburger

A classic graphic organizer, this cute visual aid helps students build paragraphs with a basic structure. The buns represent the topic and concluding sentences, and the fillings represent examples and supporting details.

Use Sentence Starts

For young kids, not knowing where to start can be a huge roadblock. Using sentence starters can alleviate this stress. Simply give them a list of ways to start a sentence to convey certain information. For example, you might have categories like “To Share an Opinion” or “To Make a Comparison.”

Writing Strategies for Middle School Students

When creating writing strategies for middle school students, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, middle schoolers will have the capacity for entertaining complex thoughts and ideas. They may not, however, have a refined ability for expressing those ideas.

Kill Clichés

Middle schoolers are familiar with clichés, and often use them in their writing. This isn’t due to a lack of creativity, but a mistaken belief that clichés improve their writing. Create a “Cliché Graveyard” or similar board to encourage hunting clichés.

Encourage students to avoid clichés and come up with their own descriptors. You might be surprised with the creative descriptions they come up with.

Kill Assumptions

Another common mistake middle schoolers make is leaving off because they assume the reader will understand where they’re going with it. That, or they haven’t thought deeper about what they’re saying.

Make sure you emphasize that they cannot assume their reader knows what they mean. Have them explain all their thoughts. Don’t worry too much about them overexplaining; it’s always easier to cut unneeded writing than add more.

Writing Strategies for High School Students

When your students reach high school, they should be ready to begin writing highly-researched papers with more nuance. Keep that in mind when developing writing strategies for high school students. To get you started, here are some examples to get you started.

Teach Credible Sources

The internet is a wonderful resource, but it's rife with misinformation and pseudoscience. To make sure your students are citing credible information for their researched essays, you should teach them how to identify credible, relevant, and objective sources.

Teach them what makes a source reputable, and how to identify bias in a source. 

Teach Strategies for Coping With Writer’s Block

Due to the expectation for increased independence and more complex subject matter, it’s important to teach your students methods of coping with writer’s block. For example, you could teach the following exercises:

  • Try a structured method. Believe it or not, a structured writing method with certain guardrails like the Six In Schools literary activity can help break through students’ writer’s block.
  • Freewriting. Freewriting helps unclog the creative juices by helping the process of writing get started. Students free themselves from the need for correct spelling, good punctuation, or even quality. They just write every thought that passes through their brain.
  • Start in the Middle. A lot of times we experience writer’s block because we don’t know how to start. Starting in the middle allows us to bypass this struggle.
  • Talk it Out. Sometimes the problem with writer’s block is that students struggle to put their words on paper. Interestingly, this problem doesn’t always extend to speaking. Encourage your students to talk things out. 

Writing Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

There’s many learning disabilities that can affect a student’s writing ability. You’re probably familiar with dyslexia, but you might not have realized that neurodivergent students can struggle with writing, too. Let’s take a look at writing strategies for students with learning disabilities.

Writing Strategies for Students with Dyslexia

Dyslexia is an extremely common disability; experts estimate 5-10% of the population has it. Students with dyslexia will likely have a hard time reading speed, reading comprehension, spelling, and writing. Many of the strategies you employ for your other students won’t be as effective with your dyslexic students. Here are some writing strategies to help! 

Use Visual Aids

The most common and one of the most effective writing strategies is using visual aids. For example, you can use mind maps to help them visualize their ideas and essay structures. For creative writing, you can create infographics for common story structures, having them fill in their own plot lines before writing.

Use Participation Grades for First Drafts

Encourage your students to focus on content for their first draft, as opposed to spelling and grammar. Tell them the first draft is just for getting their ideas down, and editing is for making it “good” and grammatically correct. This will remove some of the stress of writing. 

Writing Strategies for Students with ADHD

While ADHD doesn’t directly impair writing ability, it can make it difficult to focus on or engage with writing. Here are some writing strategies to help students with ADHD.

Use Short & Specific Writing Prompts

While you might enjoy giving your students room for creative interpretation, this can be hard on students with ADHD. That being said, you don’t want to create long, rambling prompts for them either. Instead of asking them to write about pets, for example, say “Do you prefer dogs, cats, or another type of pet? Explain your reasoning.” 

Instead of giving them a long paragraph and asking them to finish the story, come up with a short prompt like “Write about a child who makes a mess while their parents are napping. Consider how they made the mess, what they do (if anything) to clean it up, and how their parents react.”

Create Small, Diverse Milestones

Students with ADHD tend to have a hard time focusing on long tasks, and they have a tendency to procrastinate. By breaking the writing process down into short, diverse pieces, you can mitigate the issues that come from a short attention span and habit of procrastination.

Create assignments for outlining, research, writing a thesis, writing an introduction paragraph, writing a closing paragraph, and et cetera. In the end, all your student needs to do is put it all together.

Writing Strategies for Students with Autism

Like ADHD, autism doesn’t inherently impair writing ability. If your autistic students are having trouble engaging with writing assignments, here are some strategies to help.

Allow Students to Choose Their Subject Matter

Autistic students are known to take extreme interest in specific topics (the autistic community refers to these as “special interests” and “hyperfixations”). Allowing students to choose topics related to their hyperfixations can increase engagement and focus.

Help Them Organize Their Thoughts

Another common issue for autistic students is difficulty putting their ideas down on paper. While they may be able to talk your ear off about their essay topic or draw a character for a short story, they may have a harder time writing it out.

Ask them questions about their topics and write down their responses. You can either do this out loud or have them fill out a worksheet. You can use visuals—like mind maps or color coordination—to further help. 

Conclusion

Strategies for teaching writing are often daunting, but they’re not impossible. With this writing strategies list, you can empower your students to learn writing.

Real Classroom Success

“I’ve used Six-Word Memoirs in my class for many years and the limitation of six words forces students to break big ideas down to smaller bites, think deeper about their stories, and unlock personal expression. In my classroom, I’ve seen kids work through writer's block; in just thirty minutes they feel like they have accomplished something.”

TERRY ASHKINOS, 7TH & 8TH GRADE TEAM LEAD
CHILDREN'S DAY SCHOOL
SAN FRANCISCO, CA

“The six-word approach was a way for my students to express themselves without writing a long narrative, one that may not speak to the reader as strongly as their Six-Word Memoir. Above all, they thought hard about their word choice, punctuation, and how they could illustrate the emotion/tone they wanted to express.”

Ginger Giessler, M.Ed & teacher
New Tech Academy
Fort Wayne, IN 

"I’ve long been enamored with the Six-Word Memoir project. I’ve read all the books, written a pile of my own Six-Word Memoirs, and sometimes do my best reflecting in six-word increments. Six-Word Memoirs are a masterful way to tell a story and was the perfect way to have our students be part of an all-school writing project. As a staff, we believed a single writing project was a wonderful way to capture the voices, stories, and reflections of all our students. When we compiled all the student writing, we had 700 student stories told — in just 4,200 words — and every child could quickly and easily read the stories of their friends and peers. I'm not sure how we could have accomplished such an admirable feat without the gift of Six-Word Memoirs."

Jennifer Schwanke
AUTHOR OF "YOU'RE THE PRINCIPAL! NOW WHAT?"
Deputy Superintendent, Dublin City Schools

The day I used Six-Word Memoirs was the day my students came alive. Finally, being free to not only write long narratives helped them to discover the essence of themselves and the heart of their writing.”

CANDRA McKenzie, HallPassBreak PODCAST Host & HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER
NEW YORK CITY, NY

Six-Word Memoirs bring out the best in my students. They are able to showcase their creativity and personal experience in a humorous, fun-loving way, but may also choose to display deeper, more complex emotions if they so choose.”

Sarah Nguyen, 6th grade English teacher
High Point Academy
Pasadena, Ca

“We often think of creativity as being open, free of rules with room to explore. But one thing that struck me when writing Six-Word Memoirs is that having strict parameters can sometimes lead to even more creative thinking!”

Paul Ackers, English teacher
Year 3 Brookes Moscow International School
Moscow, Russia

“Six-Word Memoirs is the perfect site to be ‘published’ while being creative.”

Hannia Dergongan Marohombsar, Year 8 and Year 10 First Language English teacher
National High Jakarta School of Piaget Academy
Jakarta, Indonesia

"The Six-Word Memoir is the perfect instrument for students to exercise their self-awareness in meaningful ways. Having this type of personal success on the first assignment of the school year sets the tone of the year on a positive and productive path."

Elizabeth Kennedy, 7th grade Academic Enrichment instructor
Riverwatch Middle School
Suwanee, GA

They feel liberated by having to only produce six words in a concise, poetic format. This is especially important to dyslexic students as they have experienced angst and ridicule surrounding written expression and quantity has been an encumbrance.”

Kat DeWees, teacher
Rawson Saunders School for Dyslexic Students
Austin, TX

“Six-Word Memoirs has just taught me that if you sit long enough with a kid and you ask the right questions and you challenge them in the right ways, you will hear a story that you probably never would have imagined."

Tabitha Cooper, Senior English teacher
Metamora High School
Metamora, IL

“Many students in our class shared deeply personal experiences in their Six-Word Memoirs, and sharing them helped to bring our class closer together and build a team spirit.”

Leah Ruediger, teacher
NYC’s P.S. 86
The Bronx, NY

“Six-Word Memoirs taught us a lot about our students and also taught the kids that efficiency of language can be a powerful way to make a point or share something poignant about themselves.”

JENNY PLATOW, TEACHER
ESSEX STREET ACADEMY
NEW YORK CITY, NY