You Can Teach Writing

Is teaching writing well your goal?

If you are going to teach teens or adults to write competently and live to tell about it, you have to start by employing instructional strategies that support your efforts.

You don't want to end up with more topics to teach, more strategies and scaffolds to memorize, more rubrics to use. This is not a professional development day, folks.

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If you and I are going to do a halfway decent job of teaching expository writing, part of that stuff — probably a big part — has to be moved off the "must teach" pile.

Just between you, me, and the faculty room wall, how much of that stuff from professional development days do students really need to know? (You don't have to answer out loud in the presence of your supervisor. I already know the answer.)

The most efficient way of using the material is to begin by reading all 12 snack boxes on this page to get the big picture. Then work through them one at a time, clicking the links to the page that goes into detail so you'll see how the instructional strategies fit together.

We'll hold off looking at the eight writing strategies students must learn until you're familiar with what you have to do.

Learn what not to teach.

The first thing instructional strategies do for us is help us determine what we can safely leave out. The first seven of the 12 instructional strategies you'll learn at this website support you through the process of figuring out what you shouldn't attempt to teach along with teaching writing.

Deciding what not to teach takes time, but it's essential: You can't give students enough writing practice to bring all of them to writing competence unless you ditch some stuff that you're teaching now.

After you've sorted through those tons of recommended teaching stuff and tossed out what's not essential, you can look at the actual strategies for teaching the essentials. If you're an experienced classroom teacher, as most of my site visitors are, many of the strategies will be familiar to you.

Then learn how to teach strategically.

From setting goals to estimating how long it will be before students produce competent expository writing, the instructional strategies you need know are capsulized on this page. Each snack box describes one instructional strategy.

By the time you've finished all one dozen strategies, you'll have a pretty good idea of how the strategies:

  • restrict the amount of material you must teach
  • enable the writing process to become motivating for students
  • enable you to use students' writing to help you teach non-writing course content.

12 instructional strategies

The most efficient way of using the material is to begin by reading all 12 snack boxes on this page to get the big picture. Then work through the snack boxes again one at a time, clicking the links to a page that goes into detail about that strategy.


1. Teach required writing.

Teach writing everyone must do: expository nonfiction not presented as a story. The Common Core calls such writing informative or explanatory texts and arguments.  Students easily learn to write narratives as evidence in arguments or I/E texts. Learn more about instructional strategy 1.

long lines of people

2. Aim for competence.

Determine you'll have each student in your course writing competently before it ends. Describe in a sentence or two what competent writing — "C-level writing" — is in your course context.  Don't even think about what A-level work looks like until at least 75% of your students are at C-level. Learn more about instructional strategy 2.

target with very big center circle

3. Align objectives to your goal.

Prepare a writing objective for your course that includes the standards and "final test"  conditions you'll use when you evaluate whether or not you met your goal. If you don't already have both goals and objectives for your other non-writing curriculum content, you'll need to write them as well. Learn more about instructional strategy 3.

aim objectives at your goal

4. Plan a three-quarter point finish.

Plan to teach so roughly three-quarters of your students will achieve writing competence three-quarters of the way through your course. Finishing teaching well before the course is over allows every student time learn to write competently and lets many go on to B- and A-level writing.  Learn more about instructional strategy 4.

circle with a 1/4-size slice removed

5. Teach just one writing pattern.

Teach students only the basic thesis and support pattern until at least 75% of them are competent Attempting to teach more than one pattern at a time confuses students and retards writing progress.  Learn more about instructional strategy 5.

snowflake icon represents a writing  pattern

6. Teach just one writing process.

Teach students just one basic expository writing process suited to the thesis-and-support pattern. Then give option-limited formal writing prompts similar to workplace writing tasks. Let students jump straight into using strategies to plan and write their responses. Learn more about instructional strategy 6.

set of connecting gears suggest a process

7. Individualize remediation.

Efficient writing teachers don't teach grammar as part of writing: They teach students how and when to edit their work. They also help students create individual mastery plans so each works to rid their writing of small number of habitual, serious mechanical errors. Learn more about instructional strategy 7.  

human figure wearing a big target

8. Give students daily writing practice.

To maximize your time, use informal writing as a teaching tool. Build some writing practice into every day's class activities. Vary the amount and type of writing. Require short responses to informal prompts most days. Have students respond less often to formal prompts. Learn more about instructional strategy 8.

daily writing calendar

9. Give fast feedback often.

Giving feedback is how you teach writing. Some feedback occurs naturally in the writing process, but students will need more feedback than the process provides. Train yourself to give on-the-spot oral feedback frequently. Track your feedback. Grades are not feedback.  Learn more about instructional strategy 9.

two people exchanging ideas

10. Require complete documents.

You can teach a specific writing strategy as a stand-alone lesson; students, however, can learn a writing strategy only as they write complete documents. I recommend students write one document every week in response to a formal writing prompt you create. Learn more about instructional strategy 10.

a complete document

11. Assess writing for competence.

Avoid assigning grades to student writing until students have some success as writers. Assess formal writing prompt responses when grading writing. To avoid disappointment, look for competence, not brilliance. Learn more about instructional strategy 11.

teacher and student see same grading criteria
Instructional strategy 12: wait patiently for students to achieve competence.

12. Wait patiently as students practice.

It doesn't matter how well you teach or the maturity and motivation of your students, learning to write competently will take time. Learn how long to expect so you don't panic and jump ship before students are competent writers. Learn more about instructional strategy 12.

Keep moving forward.

If you got this far, you've made a start toward mastering instructional strategies for teaching expository writing; keep going by clicking the links in the snack boxes above.

If you have questions about any of the instructional strategies as you read the material, send me a note via the contact form.

Some content on this page was originally posted at you-can-teach-writing.com 2008-02-06 by Linda Aragoni. She posted this version to yctwriting.com on 2018-01-01. 


Icon marks teacher-only info:

Instructional strategies are path to goal of  teaching writing well.

The human figure starting up the path to a destination appears in the headers of pages about instructional strategies. The icon indicates the pages are background information to help you understand and teach the students' writing strategies efficiently.  It is not necessary or even desirable to teach content marked with this icon.

Ms. Know-It-All figure marks pithy comment by Linda about eaching writing.

Create no-bore classrooms

Good teaching occurs about midway between being an entertainer and being a wet blanket.

Examine the most boring parts of your curriculum for opportunities to introduce something unexpected. Just because you cannot make learning to write fun doesn't mean you're required to make it boring.

Linda signed this comment about teaching writing.