As adult writers, we have a clear idea of how we each personally attack a piece of writing. For me, I know that I tend to spend a lot of time collecting information, using sticky notes on texts, and taking notes in a notebook (prewriting). Then, I take a short amount of time mostly drafting just from my brain. After I have the bare bones and organization down, I fill in my draft with more specific facts and text evidence. Next, I spend a lot of time re-reading, revising and editing. After that, I have someone else check and edit my work. Finally, my piece of writing is “published”.
For growing writers, they need tons of experience with the writing process in order to come up with how this process works for them as individuals. They need multiple tools (graphic organizers, sticky notes, notetaking strategies, checklists, etc.) so they can learn what tools work best for their own unique writing styles.
There is not one exact writing process to teach. Some teachers may have students create one draft, and then edit and revise one time. Others have students to go back and draft, revise, and edit multiple times. Some teachers include a conference as a 5th step, and some include it at any point after the draft.
Generally, the steps of the writing process are: 1. Prewriting 2. Drafting 3. Editing 4. Revising 5. Publishing
Below are research-based tips for teaching each step of the writing process with elementary students:
Prewriting is EVERYTHING a writer does before beginning a draft. While prewriting can sometimes be rushed or overlooked, research shows that prewriting should actually take up 75%-90% of the entire time going through the writing process (Murray, 2004).
This part of the writing process can vary widely in how it is implemented from writer to writer. Providing students with multiple graphic organizers and teaching different notetaking strategies can give students ownership of how they like to collect information, brainstorm, and plan their writing.
It is important to model how to go through different prewriting strategies with students. Some ideas for prewriting strategies include:
Generating Ideas: Before even choosing a topic, students can use a heart map or make a list to generate ideas. One way to do this is have students pick topics for their “heart map” for future writing pieces.
Mind Mapping: These are webs that can be used from collecting information or just organizing their own thoughts and prior knowledge.
Brain Dumps: With brain dumps, students write freely anything that comes to mind. This can include single words, fragments, and phrases that only make sense to them.
Research: Especially with nonfiction writing, students need access to sources for gathering their information.
Note taking: Students can jot down notes in a notebook, on sticky notes, or in a graphic organizer.
Genre Organizers: Depending on the type of writing (opinion, narrative, friendly letter, etc.), students can use a graphic organizer to place details where they belong in a specific format of writing.
When students have collected enough information, as well as developed a voice and point of view on the topic, they are ready to write their draft. Often, inexperienced writers will start writing their draft too soon. It is important that students truly take the time to have everything they need to make writing flow as seamlessly as possible (Murray, 2004).
This should be the quickest part of the writing process. Students should not feel like they need to produce quality writing free of mistakes. You can even let them know that first drafts are most likely going to be pretty bad, and that’s totally OK! They are simply getting their thoughts onto the page and experimenting with them. When students feel like they need to produce perfect work from the start, it can hold them back and cause writer’s block.
Using a Word Processor is so beneficial for drafting. When writing by hand, it can feel daunting to know you will have to re-write out the entire draft by hand. With a Word Processor, students can feel uninhibited in their writing. It makes it easy to add in details, remove entire paragraphs, or even start over. I am not saying to never have students write by hand, but to keep in mind that for larger pieces of writing a Word Processor can really make this process much easier for students to master.
Students need direct instruction and practice with the revising step of the writing process. Teachers need to model this step with their own pieces of writing, or as a class with anonymous student work.
According to Donald Murray (2004), there are 2 things that students need to read in order to best be able to revise their own drafts. First, they need to read drafts of teachers and peers. Teachers can model how they revise their own drafts and anonymous student drafts.
Second, they need to read how the best writers write through mentor texts. Teachers can model and have students practice applying examples of writing strategies from mentor texts. The books Nonfiction Mentor Texts and Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne R. Dorfman & Rose Cappelli provide tons of mentor texts that can be used when focusing on a specific writing skill.
Some examples of revising strategies and skills to focus on with students include:
Add Figurative Language
Use Strong Word Choice
Small Moments Writing
Add Sensory Details
Create Flashbacks & Foreshadowing
These are writing strategies that can be challenging and take lots of teacher modeling and practice. Teachers can provide graphic organizers that break down each writing strategy in a way that makes it more doable for growing writers.
Some writing strategies will vary depending on the genre of the piece of writing. For example, when writing a persuasive piece, students need to use strong, convincing language. Teachers can provide checklists for revisions that can be made for each genre.
In order to edit writing, students need to really step out of the piece of writing and look at it as a reader. This is when students ask themselves, “does this sentence make sense?”, “is this part really even necessary?”, “why does this part sound weird?”, etc. They also check for spelling and grammar errors that could impede the reader from understanding the piece of writing.
The best way for students to get comfortable with what to look for while editing is to provide a simple checklist. I like to break up editing into 5 areas for students:
1. Capital Letters
A pneumonic that students can also use is the C.U.P.S. editing strategy. This makes it easy for students to remember when they don’t have access to a check list. This has students look at Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling.
Some teachers like to include conferencing as the fifth step of the writing process for elementary students, and others have students sign up for a conference at any point during the editing and revising stages.
1. Act as a listener and have the student leads the discussion.
2. Each conference should be different, and tailored to that specific student’s needs.
3. Keep it an encouraging conversation.
4. Have some focus questions prepared (i.e. “How does the hook capture the reader?” “Tell me about what happens in your piece of writing in just one sentence.”)
5. Start with what works before talking about what doesn’t work.
6. Have students read all, or parts, of their piece of writing out loud. This allows them to hear their writing from the reader’s perspective.
7. Give specific praises and criticism:
This is a celebration of their pieces of writing! Students can share with a partner, small group, parents, or the entire class. You can have students display work with illustrations on a bulletin board, laminate and make a class book, display on tables for a gallery walk, add to the classroom library, etc.
The purpose of practicing the writing process with elementary students often is for each student eventually to learn what process actually works for them as a unique writer. As students enter upper elementary grades, there is not always going to be 5 clear steps they must go through one at a time. They need to be comfortable with flowing through the steps in their own way, independently. This is how they will be become writers that can come up with a successful, published piece of writing.
All resources pictured above for teaching the writing process with elementary students can be found individually, or in a discounted Writing Process Bundle in my TpT shop:
Looking for tips on teaching Opinion Writing in the Primary Grades? Check out this blog post!