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Teaching Strategies to Engage Student Writers

Janelle Cox

These dos and don’ts will help them write better.

It takes time to learn to be an effective writer. That’s why today’s teachers are always on the lookout for teaching strategies that will engage their student writers, as well as improve their own teaching effectiveness. Here are a few teaching strategies for engaging your student writers.  

Teaching Strategies: Do Have Students Write Every Day

The more students write, the better they will get at it, and the easier it will be for them. Find a way for students to write daily in some form or another. Whether it’s an essay, a literary response, or a journal entry, daily doses of writing will make them a stronger writer.

Don’t Just Verbalize Your Expectations

When giving out writing assignments, most teachers think that just verbalizing their expectations is good enough. However, students need to visually see as well as tangibly hold their assignment instructions. This way, your students will have your actual words in the back of their mind, as well as be able to reference the assignment sheet that you gave them. Most of the time, the first step in writing is when a student refers to the assignment sheet. This is what they will refer to in order to make sure that they are doing the assignment right.

Do Offer Students’ Feedback

Don’t be afraid to give your students feedback on their writing, and the quicker you give it to them after they’ve written a piece, the better. All you need to write is just a few sentences for them to understand your comments. If you don’t have the time, then you can have students peer edit. Sometimes, a peer can prompt more thinking and writing from the student than a teacher can. If you can’t get to it right away, then try to give feedback within a day or two of the first assignment, and keep in mind that a few quick sentences of feedback right away is better than a whole page of feedback weeks later.

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Don’t Use the Traditional Seating Method

The best way for students to work and really learn from one another is by placing their desks together, or facing each other. When you use a nontraditional seating arrangement like this, then students learn to talk about their writing with one another. It’s also great to be face-to-face and give and receive feedback from each other. Over time, students will internalize these classroom discussions and learn how to put their own words into their writing.

Don’t Grade Everything Students Write

Steer away from grading any first drafts or informal writing. The point of the writing process is to teach students to try and not write the final copy on the first try. If you were to grade a first draft, then students would never be able to go the full writing process and really experience it. You are essentially sending the message that a draft should look completed.

Do Read Students’ Work Thoroughly

Most teachers take out their red pen and start marking a paper the first time they read it. Instead of doing that, try and take a moment to read it through one time with your pen down. On your second time around, you can read it more closely and make a few comments or suggestions. This method forces you to become a reader the first time through, not an editor. It allows you to get a sense of what the reader is trying to tell you the first time around. However, by the second time through the paper, you’ll have processed what your student may be lacking in their paper and be ready to make your comments.

Don’t Point Out Every Mistake

The last thing that you want to do is give a student back their paper filled with red marks. Students should be able to edit their own work not have it corrected for them. Do not copyedit your students’ work, just simply offer a few suggestions. However, if you see the same mistake over and over again, then you can make a note for them to find their own errors. Students will eventually be able to see their misunderstanding and correct this, which will lead to lasting learning on their part.

Do Show Students Their Writing Potential

Feedback doesn’t always have to be about what a student did wrong, but it can also talk about what the students did well in their writing piece. Instead of using your red pen to mark errors try and underline what’s promising and what has potential in their writing. This is a great way to encourage students to become aware of what they are good at. Just remember to let students know that the underlined sentences means they made a great point, or it was well-written, not what they did wrong.

Don’t Forget to Give Feedback After the First Draft

The first draft is probably the most important step in the writing process, because it is the basis for what the whole piece is about. When you comment after the first draft, then students who know they have to write a second draft will take the time to look to see what they did wrong, and what they did right. They can then take these comments and apply them to their second draft.

Do Let the Students See You Write

Students learn through seeing, and if you want your students to be good writers, then you must show them what that looks like. This means that you should let the students see that you, too, like to write. So join your students and show them that you’re committed to writing.

How do you engage student writers? Do you have any teaching strategies or suggestions? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear all of your ideas.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.