Using Data to Determine What Students Need to Learn and Practice for Writing

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Feb. 7, 2021, 4:36 p.m.

When it comes to writing, some writing skills are constrained, meaning once they are learned there is no need to continue to teach or have deliberate practice. Grammar skills are constrained skills. After direct instruction, coaching, and practice, students will have learned these skills and are using them with automaticity as they move through the writing process. Only data will tell if students need to continue to learn or deliberately practice. We can gather this data by looking at student writing and giving students weekly spelling and grammar checks.

Read More »

Panther Talks: Starting the Year with Authentic Writing

  • by Randi Anderson
  • Oct. 20, 2020, 2:58 p.m.

By Randi Anderson

For the first major writing project of the year, students are creating an argumentative essay inspired by Ted Talks. At the end of the projects, students will present their talks to a live audience. We've decided to call our argumentative talks “Panther Talk Days” (similar to a Ted Talk).

Read More »

Picture Prompts for Quick Writes

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 21, 2020, 9:19 a.m.

Have you seen the NY Times picture prompts? These make a great quick-write-a-day.

Read More »

ELAR Resources for Secondary Teachers

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 17, 2020, 5:56 a.m.

As you create learning experiences for your students, here is a list of reading and writing resources to use for ELAR learning in the secondary classroom. 

Read More »

Writing During Reading

  • by Randi Anderson
  • Jan. 10, 2020, 12:31 p.m.

By Randi Anderson

Integration is key for being able to fit all the things in that we have to teach! Here are some ways to get students talking and writing during your reading block.

  • Interactive Reading Responses

After reading a selection, pose an open-ended question about the text to the students. Have students STOP (think time) and TALK (discussion with peers) about their responses to the question about the text. Allow students time to share (in a small group setting) their answers and reasons to the question. Then, have students STOP (revise their thinking) and WRITE to answer the text question. Make this writing time no longer than 5 minutes.

Read More »

Writing in Math

  • by Ashley Taplin
  • Jan. 10, 2020, 12:24 p.m.

By Ashley Taplin

I was recently sent this quote from math guru, Marilyn Burns, in which she said, “I can no longer imagine teaching math without making writing an integral aspect of students’ learning. . . . Writing in math class requires students to organize, clarify, and reflect on their ideas” (Schmoker, 2018). As I began to reflect on integrating more opportunities for writing in my own classroom, I realized it was these fundamental skills from writing that deepened my student’s mathematical comprehension. I also gained new insight into their level of understanding as it was a more personal mode of communication beyond route calculation. But, just like math, writing requires practice and intentionality, and the more exposure, encouragement, and feedback we can give to students, the more competent and confident they will become. Below are some ideas to incorporate as you are beginning or continuing to develop writing in your classroom.

Read More »

Starting the Year Off with Writing

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Aug. 13, 2019, 9:15 a.m.

To get students excited about writing (or anything) we need to begin by tapping into their interests. One way to do this is by having students start the year off with expert journals. Expert journals are small books of paper that students use to record their questions, findings, and information about a topic of their choice. Think of this as an introduction to research!

Read More »

Building a Learning Community

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Aug. 12, 2019, 1:04 p.m.

Building a community atmosphere at the beginning of the school year is so important for the emotional and academic well-being of your students. Here are a few tips to building a successful community of learning this year.

Read More »

Summer Writing Ideas

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • May 6, 2019, 2:15 p.m.

Want to keep your students writing all summer long? Here are some summer writing ideas for your school.

Read More »

Student Experts

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • April 23, 2019, 10:58 a.m.

Spring is a great time of year to have students dive into interesting topics and share their knowledge and expertise. Ask students to identify topics they know a lot about and have them write down any questions they might have about the topic. You can use these questions (and their answers!) to create shared "expert journals" in your classroom. In one second grade class, we brainstormed the topics using an alphaboxes chart and created expert journals from there.

Read More »

Writing Reviews

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 13, 2019, 2:06 p.m.

Ever heard of Ryan's Toy Reviews on Youtube? Ever use Trip Advisor or Yelp? Reviews of products, locations, and places hold vital information for us as consumers, and also as learners. They help us to decide where to go for dinner or whether or not to purchase that coffee maker on Amazon.

Read More »

Table Topics Cards

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Feb. 22, 2019, 9:47 a.m.

I LOVE using Chick-Fil-A Table Topics cards to get students talking and writing to explain!

Read More »

Do Your Students See You as a Reader & a Writer?

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Jan. 11, 2019, 1:49 p.m.

Seeing is believing and that certainly rings true when teaching your students reading and writing. One day several years ago, I had an epiphany about the reason my students weren't exhibiting reading and writing behaviors. I needed to share MY reading and writing life with my students. This included ME reading and writing for the same purposes and using the same skills I was asking my students to use. I immediately changed my lesson plans to include a daily sharing of my own reading and writing life as part of my focus lesson. When I planned a writing prompt or reading response, I wrote mine before I ever asked students to do the task. This helped me think about the mental processes students needed in order to do the task. It also helped me to determine what I needed to demonstrate for my students. This simple change of making time to read and write (model) in front of my students each day transformed my room to be more of a community of learners.

Read More »

Adding Descriptions to Student's Writing

  • Dec. 6, 2018, 3:38 p.m.

Sometimes when we review our students' writing we might feel like it's lacking the "pizazz" needed to make it interesting for the audience. Here is a quick idea to get students adding meaningful adjectives to their writing.

Read More »

Quick Writes in Action

  • Oct. 8, 2018, 9:34 a.m.

We love to show ideas from our newsletter and seminars in action! You have probably heard and read some of our posts about quick writes. It is one of the best instructional strategies for building writing stamina and confidence. Here are two educators who used quick writes in September!

Read More »

Modeled Writing "The Write Aloud"

  • Oct. 2, 2018, 11:18 a.m.

Writing is an abstract macro-process that must be taught explicitly, followed by guided and independent practice. Writers need to learn to make a series of decisions using their schema and executive skills for planning, organizing, avoiding distraction, and staying focused on the message. Becoming a proficient writer takes years and needs to begin early in life.

Read More »

Grammar Scavenger Hunts

  • Sept. 7, 2018, 10:03 a.m.

Grammar and conventions can be boring tasks to teach, but they don't have to be! Turn the learning into a game where students can engage and internalize the rules.

Read More »

Expository Writing Scoring

  • March 1, 2018, 10:42 a.m.

The goal of student writing is to communicate a message to the reader in an authentic and thoughtful way!

Read More »

Using Yelp as an Instructional Tool

  • Feb. 6, 2018, 1:28 p.m.

As an educator, I'm always looking for ways to make my teaching relevant and interesting to my students. I want to always be using apps and topics that catch their attention! Yelp does just that!

Yelp is a multinational corporation that hosts crowd-sourced reviews and information on businesses. Yelp is a great mentor texts resource! Yes, mentor texts! Reviews for restaurants, shopping, and gas stations are great expository and persuasive short texts.

Read More »

Crafting Phenomenal Conclusions

  • Feb. 6, 2018, 10:12 a.m.

Teaching students to write is one of the most complex processes to teach! Writing involves a multitude of high level thinking and the ability to make decisions based on purpose and audience. Students must be able to understand the task, produce a plan for completing the writing task, and make key decisions along the way to produce a meaningful composition. There is a tremendous amount of autonomous thought and experimentation that goes into writing a single piece.

Read More »

Digital Book Talks Using Tellagami

  • Oct. 9, 2017, 4:08 p.m.

Use the Tellagami app to achieve this learning goal:  I can create a recording of a report on a book or article I have read independently, giving important details and speaking in complete sentences.


Read More »

Writing Stations That Increase Achievement

  • Oct. 8, 2017, 4:06 p.m.

The purpose of a station or center is to give students independent practice on skills, strategies, or processes in order to become proficient. Stations are a "second stop” for practicing once students have conceptual understanding, but need time and new situations to apply in order to deepen their understanding and become more fluent.

So given what you’ve already taught so far this year (or last year), what do students need to review or practice when it comes to writing?

Read More »

Fall Inspired Writing Activities

  • Oct. 6, 2017, 4:03 p.m.

October Alphaboxes

Tap into students favorite traditions and activities by using Alphaboxes to brainstorm all things Fall. Give each student an Alphaboxes sheet and challenge them to list words related to October. They do not have to have a word under each letter. Also, a box may have multiple words. Students can use their Alphaboxes sheet to choose ideas to write about. Write stories, letters, poems, or expository essays all about Fall things! For an Alphaboxes PDF, click here!

Read More »

What Students Should be Doing in Writer's Workshop

  • Sept. 23, 2017, 4:03 p.m.

A good writing program begins and ends with authentic writing tasks. Focusing on retrieval level grammar skills, without any connection to context, does not help students learn to make the decisions writers need to make.

Read More »

Math Mad Libs

  • April 10, 2017, 3:41 p.m.

When students create their own problems they are able to internalize the text structure of the the word problem.  

In Susan O’Connell’s book Introduction to Problem Solving, the author suggests helping students understand word problems by showing students how to connect problem solving to their own lives and interests.  Using the idea of a creating a mad lib can accomplish this goal and add some fun to math class

Read More »

Authentic Writing Purposes

  • Nov. 13, 2016, 3:48 p.m.

Good writers are intentional.  They can take any topic they know a lot about and write for a variety of purposes.  In this handout, teachers and students choose a topic and brainstorm one-to-three central ideas for each purpose.  

For teachers, this is a tool for planning to write around a topic of study. Think about how writing helps you will know if students are grasping important concepts and understandings.  This tool will help you plan quick writes, as well as essay prompts. 

This is a great activity for helping students learn about purpose-driven writing.  Writers need to make decisions and one of the most important decisions is "what is the purpose of my writing?"  

For more information, visit the online resources on the Write for Texas website.  

Read More »

Learning Targets for Writing

  • Nov. 12, 2016, 3:47 p.m.

Writing is a macro-process that must be chunked into digestible pieces. Writing demands that the writer make a series of complex decisions.  In order to develop proficiency, instruction must be carefully planned.  

This resource helps teachers as they plan a unit of study for writing. Notice how the learning targets reflect a part of the standard and build towards mastery of the standard.  Be sure to check your grade level standards to ensure you are using the targets that relate to grade level expectations.  

Read More »

No More Daily Oral Language (DOL)!

  • Oct. 5, 2016, 4:44 p.m.

You will never get a second chance to make a first impression. The same rings true for the way we learn. Brain research tells us that we remember what we see the first time we see it. The first way our brain views something is a strong imprint. Seeing grammar, mechanics, and spelling incorrectly used is meaningless for most learners, but it is what they are likely to remember. It's very difficult to change and see it correctly used. Students need to spend a lot of time seeing, thinking, and experimenting with grammar and mechanic rules correctly before finding errors.

Read More »

Spooky Reading & Writing Activities

  • Oct. 2, 2016, 4:43 p.m.

October is a month full of spook & treats! Incorporating student interests into your reading and writing block is a win-win for students and educators. Here are some fun ways to get students excited about reading and writing in October!

Read More »

Getting the Day Started: #daystarters

  • Sept. 4, 2016, 4:41 p.m.

The first five-to-eight minutes of class sets the stage for the learning. Students need (and want) to be engaged and thinking from the moment they walk into our classrooms. Sometimes this can become a daunting task with all the morning routines we must complete before the first lesson of the day can begin. Being organized and intentionally incorporating student interests and natural curiosity will wake up the brain, get dendrites excited, and synapses firing!

We have compiled a list of some ways to wake up the brain and get students in a learning ready state of mind.

Read More »

Back-To-School Activities

  • Aug. 2, 2016, 4:39 p.m.

The beginning of the year is all about building RELATIONSHIPS and ROUTINES. As educators, we must build relationships with our students before they will trust our instruction and dive deep into learning. Here are several relationship building activities to do the first couple of weeks of school that will get your students reading, writing, and moving!

Scavenger Hunt / I Have, Who Has

The goal of this activity is for students to find out something special about each of their classmates. They will discover that they have many things in common and a few differences. This is a great opportunity for students to get up and move around the room too!

Read More »

The Walls of Your Classroom are Valuable Real Estate

  • Aug. 2, 2016, 4:38 p.m.

Here are some ideas for using your wall space to maximize learning.

Classroom Walls

The walls in your classroom should be thought of as great spaces to post critical information students will need to refer to as they learn new skills, strategies, and processes. You should designated areas for anchor charts and student work to be displayed. Here are some ideas for your designated areas.

Read More »

How am I Suppose to Teach Grammar?

  • March 7, 2016, 3:33 p.m.

Many times during our workshops we are asked about what the best way to teach grammar and mechanics is. We all know that grammar skills are important, especially in this day and age where your grammar skills are up for the world to see on social media. So what is the best way to teach essential grammar and mechanics rules and skills in an authentic and rigorous way? Here are 3 ways to teach grammar that STICKS with students!

Read More »

The Power of Journaling

  • Feb. 8, 2016, 3:30 p.m.

Many people practice the art or skill of journaling on a daily basis. Some look at journaling as a way of relaxing, while others see journaling as a way to keep memories for years to come. Either way, journaling is powerful when used in the classroom!

Read More »

Teaching Students to Develop a Theme or Thesis

  • Jan. 3, 2016, 3:28 p.m.

One of the hardest skills a developing writer must learn is how to establish and convey a message about their experience, topic or belief. This seems especially difficult when students seem to lack background knowledge and vocabulary needed to articulate the message. In narratives, there must be a theme. In expository and persuasive writing, a central or controlling idea serves as the thesis or position statement. The writing should be focused on conveying this message from the beginning to the end on this message. Unfortunately, the writing of so many students in elementary, middle, and high school lack a clear message or ramble on with only broad references to a focused message.  Are we doing enough to help students focus on "the message" during the planning stage of writing?

Read More »

Students Taking Action

  • Jan. 3, 2016, 3:27 p.m.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given in my teaching career is "Whoever does the thinking, does the learning." Students need to process the learning in order to develop comprehension of the concept or procedure. Here are some quick ways to get students to think through writing.

Read More »

Expository Writing 101

  • Nov. 5, 2015, 3:24 p.m.

Expository (aka explanatory) writing has taken on a new sense of urgency with most state curriculums calling for explicit teaching of strategies for processing and writing this text type. After all, the most real world type of writing is expository. Student writers need to understand that this type of writing explains or clarifies an idea about a topic. Developing the proficiency needed to write a variety of expository texts is a necessary part of becoming college and career ready. Emails, essays, and blog posts are all relevant and important types of writing that require proficient writing skills.

Here are three teaching tips for teaching expository writing.

Read More »

Teaching Students to Analyze Author's Craft

  • Jan. 6, 2015, 3:20 p.m.

The ability to analyze an author's work is the heart and soul of the being an active, strategic reader. On state tests, simply being able to summarize and answer basic retelling questions is a thing of the past. Proficient readers use the author's craft to understand the message and make connections to their lives and the world. Students need teachers to show them how to think about the author's use of literary elements, text structures, point-of-view, and word choice.

Read More »

Teaching Writing Genre

  • Sept. 30, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

Teaching writing is a challenging task in itself, but throw in genres and conventions, and you have taken expertise to a new level! As a fourth grade teacher I know the struggles of teaching writing first hand. Teaching the difference between writing a personal narrative and imaginary story or an expository piece is tricky. Make students develop knowledge in concrete and visual ways. Create an anchor chart to keep posted and have students can create their own notes about the key points after you have taught the genre. Checklists are easy tools to use as a study guide or reference. I created a checklist for students to keep in their writer's notebooks as an easy reference tool.

Read More »

Classroom Set-Up Must Haves

  • July 9, 2014, 5:38 p.m.

One of the best things about being a teacher is getting to set-up your classroom for the upcoming school year! (Especially your first year!) Sometimes getting a classroom ready can be an overwhelming task, what with bulletin boards, decor, student seating, storage, a library, and many curriculum subjects to think about.

Read More »

How important is it to post learning goals and use a scale to help your students gauge their understanding?

  • Sept. 30, 2012, 5:36 p.m.

Today during model writing lessons, I used a scale with all classes to help them assess their understanding at the beginning of the lesson (right after I shared the learning goal) and then again at the end of the lesson. Students really seemed to stay more focused on the specific writing goal and what they needed to know and do to meet expectations.

Read More »

Effective teachers model how to elaborate ideas by writing in front of children daily

  • May 11, 2012, 5:33 p.m.

This is first grade example showing students how to create a snapshot of the narrative experience, as well as a thoughtshot. This elaboration technique not only hooks the reader, but also keeps them reading.

Read More »

4th Grade Writing Anchor Chart

  • March 8, 2012, 4:31 p.m.

Teaching elementary students to elaborate in writing can be a challenge. Here is an anchor chart 4th Grade teacher Randi Anderson uses with her students to get them to add quality details.

Read More »

Gretchen Bernebei's Anchor Charts for Writing

  • March 4, 2012, 4:30 p.m.

Anchor charts for writing--Gretchen Bernebei writing strategies combined with STAAR writing must do's.

Read More »

Themes for Essay Writing

  • Feb. 19, 2012, 4:30 p.m.

These are some common themes for essay writing.  Written on tongue depressors, we can draw a theme out of our can and ask students to relate personal stories to the big idea.

Read More »

Must Haves for Writing A Great Essay

  • Feb. 11, 2012, 4:29 p.m.

Using the writing prompt and rubric provided by the state, we created a reference anchor chart for students.

Read More »

Creating a Grouping Mat for Student Writing

  • Feb. 8, 2011, 4:06 p.m.

On the inside of a file folder, divide the area into 6 sections. Using a composition written as a “pre-test” group the students based on a specific area for improvement. Place sticky notes with the names of the students who need a specific skill or strategy on the folder under the appropriate category.

During a 2-3 week period, meet with the small groups to provide direct instruction on the targeted skill. Document progress for each student by using a composition written as a pre-test and a composition written after 2-3 weeks of strategic, small group instruction.

Be sure to conference with each student and discuss his/her strengths and area for growth. The student should set a goal and make an action plan for achieving the goal.

Read More »