CommonLit Insights How to Teach Writing Across All Grade Levels

Learn best practices on improving writing instruction and building students’ writing confidence

In a survey of 3rd to 8th grade teachers, nearly half of the respondents indicated that they don’t enjoy teaching writing. That’s due in part to the lack of instruction provided by teacher prep programs on exactly how to teach writing. While there are multiple courses dealing with helping students master reading skills and standards, courses on how to teach writing are much more scarce. 

Along with reading, however, writing is a lifelong skill and one that students need for high school and beyond. In the 2011 NAEP Writing Assessment, only 27% of 8th and 12th graders were considered Proficient in their writing skills. While NAEP won’t evaluate students’ writing again until 2030, many states are now requiring students to write essays on end-of-year assessments. This means that for most teachers and their students, demonstrating writing competence is vital. Keep reading to find out more about some key best practices that will help boost your writing instruction. 

Writing and Reading about Aligned Topics

A simple and effective strategy for how to teach writing is to have students write about the texts that they are reading. Research supports the benefits of this evidence-based writing practice as a way to increase and enlarge opportunities for all students to be successful. This strategy is in contrast to having students simply brainstorm or freewrite which can be limiting to some students whose lived experiences may not be as broad as others. In addition, evidence-based writing works to improve students’ reading comprehension as they seek out evidence in the text as they read. Providing opportunities for students to read texts and then base their own writing on them is a method of writing instruction that is seeing results and one that is central in the CommonLit 360 curriculum. Each unit has an Essential Question that all the reading and writing lessons align to, making it easier for students to feel confident in their writing.

Embed Grammar Lessons into Writing Instruction 

Incorporating grammar lessons into writing instruction is another strategy that can help students become stronger and more proficient writers. Grammar in isolation can be frustrating and tedious for both students and teachers, so using writing to give lessons on sentence structure and sentence combining is an effective way to help students become better writers. Letting students use published professional writing as a grammatical model is also a helpful tool for teaching grammar as well as writing. Students can find examples of grammar concepts, appositives or participles for example, in their favorite author’s work or in an assigned text, and then use those examples to strengthen their own understanding of the grammar concept as well as strengthen their own writing. For every CommonLit 360 unit, there are grammar lessons and accompanying assessments that mesh well with writing instruction and work to support it.

Provide Students with Samples of Strong Writing

Another effective method for teaching writing and improving students' results is to give them ample access to examples of student work that they can model their writing on. Showing students in advance what good writing looks like is not helping them to cheat or plagiarize, it is allowing students to visualize their goal of strong writing. Additionally, giving students lots of opportunities to write in low-stakes settings will also allow them to improve their writing and build their writing stamina. Throughout the CommonLit 360 writing lessons, not only can students see examples of robust student writing, they can also access videos that give specific writing instruction and tips that show students what to do rather than just tell them.

Increasing Students’ Writing Confidence

As any English teacher can attest, how students see themselves as writers also plays a key role in writing instruction. Many students dislike writing because they think that they cannot be successful with it. However, a study from CommonLit showed that students who completed CommonLit 360 writing lessons saw growth in terms of their writing self-efficacy and confidence.

While writing probably has a ways to go before it can be voted “Most Popular Subject” with teachers or students, there are ways to make this critical skill more accessible. With the CommonLit 360 curriculum, teachers can feel confident that they do know how to teach writing, and students can grow in their writing abilities.